This story really is the proverbial ‘tempest in a teacup’. When I first read about it I didn’t bother to post on it and still won’t put a link to it because I found the jest of it to be ridiculous and lacking in proper research. But now the reaction to this ‘non’ story continues and some of the comments are bordering on the surreal.
What is the story? The Mormon Church changed one word in the ‘introduction’ of the current printing of the Book of Mormon and the press has gone over the top over it.
I find myself pushed into the strange position of defending the Mormon Church in this case, yet what I am really doing is merely defending the truth, as I understand it, which is what this blog is all about.
1. First of all, the LDS Church is not making any changes in the text of the Book of Mormon itself here, one word or otherwise.
All the unfortunate comments about the Mormons changing their scripture to reflect current ideas are misplaced and wasted in this instance.
There have been over 3,000 changes made in the text from the 1830 edition to the current. Most reflected punctuation and spelling, but some were more substantial and changed the actual meaning of the text. Nearly all of those changes were made by Joseph Smith in the 2nd and 3rd editions.
2. The one word change is in the current ‘introduction‘ to the Book of Mormon.
My two favorite Bibles that I use for study are the NIV Study Bible and the ESV Reformation Study Bible. Both have extensive introductions to the Bible in general, the Old and New Testaments, and to every separate book. The ‘intros’ are subject to the writers and scholars themselves and do not affect the text or the truth of it. If they change the intros in the next edition to reflect current scholarship, so what?
While the introduction printed in the Book of Mormon does reflect the official view of the LDS Church, it does not change the text in anyway.
3. Does the one word reflect any change in understanding or view of the LDS toward the Book of Mormon and American aborigine origins?
No. Not even that.
Many Mormons that I have talked to over the years have conceded that the American aborigines probably had a variety of ancestors while believing that the majority were descendants of the Jewish migration recorded in their Book of Mormon. Nearly all that I know admit that the Eskimos on both sides of the Being strait are directly related. Some will grant that Mongoloid (Asian) characteristics are found among the American Indian tribes.
Bruce R. McConkie, an LDS Apostle at the time, who wrote the 1981 edition introduction, states in his book Mormon Doctrine (published in 1979):
“The American Indians, however, as Columbus found them also had other blood than that of Israel in their veins.” … “It is quite apparent that groups of orientals found their way over the Being Strait and gradually moved southward to mix with the Indian peoples. We have records of a colony of Scandinavians attempting to set up a settlement in America some 500 years before Columbus. There are archeological indications that an unspecified number of groups of people probably found their way from the old to the new world in pre-Columbian times.” (p.33)
4. What exactly is the change and why was it made?
The current introduction to the book of Mormon now states:
“After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”
The word ‘among‘ was added to the phrase in order to acknowledge a limited understanding of all the possible ancestors the American aborigines according to the official statement of the LDS Church made by Kim Farah:
“That change takes into account details of the Book of Mormon demography which are not known.”
Interestingly, I have an earlier 2006 edition which reads:
“…and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”
The word ‘principal’ does reflect the common understanding of most Mormons that I have talked to over the years who do admit and allow for other possible origins. Now however, DNA research has definitely discounted the idea that Jewish migrants to America could have been even the ‘principal’ ancestors of the American aborigines, much less the only. The word ‘among’ allows for a much diminished contribution to the aborigine ancestry.
Response and Reflection:
It is distressing that so many have over reacted to this article and have concluded that the LDS have made some kind of important change in the actual text of the book, which is not the case in this instance.
The AP writer claims:
“…it represents a huge change to teachings that have been passed on for generations within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
This is completely false, it is not a change in teaching but merely an adjustment to the new DNA facts that are now in play. Mormons have always admitted that the American aborigines probably had other ancestors but believed that the people of their book (Book of Mormon) were the principle progenitors.
The word change merely recognizes that there is a number of possible origins for the American Indians including the people of their book.
I do believe that the word change does indicate an admission that maybe the contribution of their ‘Lamanites’ (a people from the Book of Mormon story) to the ancestry of the original Americans may be far less than they historically proposed. So in that regard, it does seem to represent some slight change.