The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon

What is the difference between what we call "illumination" and what Mormon's call "revelation," especially concerning the canonization of Scripture? We believe that the church discovered what was inspired through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It would seem that we would have to believe this on faith.

The Mormon says that God speaks to him today. How can we defend what we have in Scripture? Looking back, the process seems very subjective. We can only say the Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God. The Mormon would rather trust in direct communication with God.
Answering your question is a little difficult because I'm not sure where or from whom you're getting your understandings of Mormonism. We already have one answer online (Inerrancy and Canonicity) that addresses some of these issues, but let me try to supplement that with a few additional comments. Let's begin with your first question, and then examine where Mormonism stands in relationship to it.

There are many reasons that Christians believe the Bible is the Word of God. For instance, there is a great deal of evidence that the manuscripts we have are very old and very accurate. This evidence includes such things as: the enormous number of ancient manuscripts of Scripture that we have, the similarity of the contemporary text to the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeological evidence, fulfilled prophecies, the correspondence of the Old and New Testament to historical events of which we are aware, as well as the lofty ideals and unique teachings that the Scriptures contain. This evidence suggests that we have the same Old Testament that Jesus and the apostles had and affirmed, and that we have the same New Testament letters that the early church received and preserved for us.

One way to supplement the evidence is through "presuppositionalism." For instance, one presuppositionalist method of proving the Bible true is to "presuppose" that the Bible is true, and then to proceed with the rest of "epistemology" ("theory of knowledge" or "how we know what we know"). When the Bible proves to be a sufficient foundation for knowledge and all other beliefs, it proves that it is a viable option for belief. When other presuppositions fail to produce the same results, our certainty that the Bible is truly the Word of God is increased.

There's a lot more to presuppositionalism than what I've outlined here, but just from this you can see that Christians do not simply believe the Bible is the Word of God because it says it is the Word of God. That type of argument is usually called "fideism" or "blind faith." After all, the Book of Mormon also claims to be revelation from God, and that leads naturally into your other question.

In terms of evidence, if we compare the Bible to the Book of Mormon, the Bible wins hands down. Among other problems, the Book of Mormon contains historical anachronisms (glass in windows, a compass used for maritime navigation) and a detailed description of advanced ancient civilizations on the North American continent for which there is no evidence. In addition, lengthy portions of this book correspond word for word to the King James translation, including the translation errors. This is all the more remarkable when one considers it was "translated" in the 19th century (into 17th century English!) from a language known as "Reformed Egyptian" there is absolutely no evidence that this language ever existed. Then there is the fact that many portions of the Book of Mormon parallel a novel that was printed by the same printer for whom Joseph Smith worked a short while before Smith "discovered" the golden plates containing the Reformed Egyptian version of the Book of Mormon.

Given all this, one could rightly conclude that the Book of Mormon was composed not by a divine agent, but by a fanciful writer of fiction with a penchant for plagiarism, and with little in the way of formal education. This corresponds well to what we know of Joseph Smith, who was known to his neighbors in upstate New York as an eccentric treasure hunter with a gift of gab.

There is much more that can be said on this matter, but the first point that I'm trying to get across is that the Christian and the Mormon are not beginning from equally legitimate starting points. Aside from what I've mentioned, the Book of Mormon has never met with widespread acceptance in Christendom (as have the books of Genesis, Psalms, Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews, etc.). More significantly, Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders such as Brigham Young never submitted to any church authority, whether from the past (the Church fathers and the councils) or their own time. This point is especially important.

When the Christian says that "God speaks to me through Scripture," he is actually making a very complex statement. He is saying that God is speaking to him through the text as it is interpreted via: the words themselves, the science of linguistics, hermeneutics, history, archaeology, logic, the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, the Church fathers, the ecumenical councils, theologians throughout the ages, the various creeds and confessions, teachers and leaders in the church today, the particular community of believers in which he finds himself, and his particular life-situation and all this through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Anyone Mormon or Christian who claims that God "speaks to him" without taking all of these factors into consideration is making a very grave mistake. This is, in fact, exactly the error that Joseph Smith made when he started the Mormon Church (known today as "Latter Day Saints").

So, when the Christian talks about "illumination," he is speaking (or should be!) of something very different from the Mormon's personal "revelation." The first comes out of a vast historical continuum that takes many factors into account, the second does not.

Related Topics

What is Mormonism?
The Fictitious Mormon Jesus
Mormonism and Celestial Marriage
The Mormon Plan of Salvation
Are Mormonism and Islam similar in any way(s)?
The Mormon View of their god

Audio Seminar

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, by John McWilliams

Answer by Larry Gwaltney

Larry Gwaltney is Vice President of New Production Initiatives at Third Millennium Ministries.