Mormon is a nickname given to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The name was initially given to these people by their enemies because of their belief in the Book of Mormon. Today, Mormons use the term themselves, but only for their people, not for their church. It is not Mormon’s church, but Jesus’. Mormons personally use the term LDS when speaking of themselves and their faith.
The Book of Mormon is not the “Mormon Bible.” The Mormon Bible is the same Bible used by Christians world-wide. In the English language, Mormons use the King James translation. Each language has its own approved version, but most are versions used by non-Mormons as well. The edition of the Bible used by Mormons is their own, but the actual Biblical text is unchanged. They have unique chapter headings, footnotes, and study materials, but most Bibles have their own versions of these, since they were not part of the original manuscripts.
The Book of Mormon is an ancient record of a group of people who came to the Americas just prior to the fall of Jerusalem, as well as a few smaller groups that came at other times. The primary focus of the book is a family led by a prophet named Lehi. He and his family fled, under direction from God, to what is today considered the American continent.
The Book of Mormon does not outline who else might have been here when they arrived. Some Mormons believed as a personal belief the family of Lehi was the entire ancestry of the Native Americans, but this was merely personal beliefs. Mormons believe that where there is no official doctrine, we are free to make our own decisions. Naturally, since these personal beliefs are not doctrinal, we are also free to change our minds as new evidences arise or as we learn and grow more. Today, because Mormon scholars have studied the Book of Mormon more carefully, very few Mormons still believe this is true. The Book of Mormon does not say the continent was empty, although it does not mention other people. Failing to mention them, however, does not render them not there. Population studies by Mormon scholars show there had to have been people here for them to mingle with, marry, and convert. DNA studies show a lack of Middle Eastern DNA, although experts also agree that is not proof, since DNA is lost every generation and there would be little to find today. Finally, the end of the Book of Mormon shows a great war which resulted in the deaths of one of the two resulting civilizations with the exception of one person. When this war ended, the wicked people of the other civilization began murdering each other, probably reducing the population to very few people by the end.
These two civilizations were all made up of Lehi’s descendents. His two oldest sons were generally rebellious and as adults, became very evil. The next four sons, two of whom were born during the journey, were righteous. After the death of the parents, the fourth son, Nephi, became the prophet and the leader of those who were righteous. The oldest son, Laman, led the wicked faction. Throughout the book, we see the wicked attacking the righteous and trying to put an end to both their faith and their civilization, while the righteous faction tried to convert and reclaim their wayward family.
The righteous, known as the Nephites, had a continual line of prophets. Each new prophet or leader received the religious and historical records of his people and added to it. Unlike the Bible, which consisted of many different records and which forced religious leaders to decide which were authentic and important, the Nephite records were kept together. The record contains more references to the Lord Jesus Christ than does the Bible and is considered a second witness of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon, besides containing many clear and easy to understand teachings that help us better understand the Bible, testifies of both the Bible and of the divinity of Jesus Christ. In 3 Nephi, a book within the Book of Mormon, Jesus visits the Nephite people after his death and resurrection. This post-death visit fulfills a statement Jesus made in the Bible:
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
The visit proves Jesus Christ is divine because He visited a people who could know of Him no other way and because the visit happened after His death. It proves the truthfulness of the Bible. This statement from Gordon B. Hinckley, a former Mormon prophet, explains how the Book of Mormon must be viewed:
The third cornerstone is the Book of Mormon. It is real. It has weight and substance which can be physically measured. I open its pages and read, and it has language both beautiful and uplifting. The ancient record from which it was translated came out of the earth as a voice speaking from the dust. It came as the testimony of generations of men and women who lived their lives upon the earth, who struggled with adversity, who quarreled and fought, who at various times lived the divine law and prospered and at other times forsook their God and went down to destruction. It contains what has been described as the fifth Gospel, a moving testament of the New World concerning the visit of the resurrected Redeemer on the soil of this hemisphere.
The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable people may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true, that it contains the word of God, that it outlines saving truths of the everlasting gospel, that it “came forth by the gift and power of God … to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ” (Book of Mormon title page).
It is here. It must be explained. It can be explained only as the translator himself explained its origin. Hand in hand with the Bible, whose companion volume it is, it stands as another witness to a doubting generation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is an unassailable cornerstone of our faith.
Gordon B. Hinckley, “Four Cornerstones of Faith,” Ensign, Feb 2004, 2–7