For someone who has just decided to learn about God and come to some decisions, it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to start. There are so many books, articles, and churches to choose from. Where should the search begin?
The best place to begin is always with God’s own words. For most people, this will mean turning first to the Bible. The Old Testament of the Bible tells us the story of the creation of the world and the beginnings of God’s church. He teaches us what He wants us to know about truth through his prophets, who received revelation directly from God and then shared that information with the world. In the New Testament, we learn of God’s great gift to us: His only begotten Son. The New Testament tells us of the birth of Jesus Christ and His ministry. During His ministry, we have God’s word directly from His Son. After Jesus was crucified, the records continued for a time with the teachings of His chosen apostles.
versions selected for other languages. This is the same Bible that has been read by millions of others. In 2007, an apostle pointed out that in the previous General Conference (a meeting held twice a year and broadcast to all church members world-wide), the Bible was quoted from over 200 times in two days.
However, the Mormons do have other sources for learning of God’s word. One such source is the Book of Mormon, which is not the Mormon Bible, but a compliment to the Bible. It serves as another testament that the Bible is true, and that Jesus Christ lived, and often helps us to understand portions of the Bible that are unclear.
Honest, diligent study of the Bible does make us better and better, and we must ever remember the countless martyrs who knew of its power and who gave their lives that we may be able to find within its words the path to the eternal happiness and the peace of our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.
Although these early Christian reformers agreed on many things, they ultimately disagreed on many points of doctrine. This resulted in the organization of numerous Christian denominations. Roger Williams, an early champion of religious liberty, concluded that there was “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking” (see William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America; or, the Land We Live In, 2 vols. [1872-74], 1:502).” (M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” Ensign, May 2007, 80-82)
Once Jesus and His apostles died, the world entered into an apostasy. There were no longer prophets and apostles on the earth to explain confusing doctrine, as Roger Williams noted. Through translation errors and efforts to interpret the scriptures, the original meanings were often lost.
The Book of Mormon did not face this challenge. It was translated only once into English, by a prophet of God, and in English, it’s not subject to translation error. Often doctrines are explained more clearly there.
The Book of Mormon was written by a series of prophets, beginning with those who lived around the time of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. The first prophet, whose writings we no longer have, was Lehi, one of many prophets in Jerusalem at that time. He was commanded by God to flee into the wilderness to save his life. He took with him his family and a few other people and they eventually landed on the American continent. After his death, his son, Nephi, took over leadership of the family church and kept careful records of the history and the teachings of God to his people. The records were handed down from prophet to prophet, unlike the Bible, which was compiled by committee from scattered records. They were written for the last days and were not read by the people of that time. The content was chosen for the needs of our day, under inspiration from God.
This book was part of the restoration of the gospel in the 1800s, and that restoration began with the Bible. Joseph Smith, as a fourteen-year-old boy who was concerned about finding God’s own church, read James 1:5 in the Bible. This verse was written by the brother of Jesus Christ:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5, King James version of the Bible)
Recognizing the wisdom of this advice, Joseph went to God in prayer and learned that the complete gospel was no longer on the earth. In time, he was trained by an angel and then allowed to bring to light the Book of Mormon and participate in the restoration of the Gospel.
This allows us yet another source of God’s word: The words of the prophets. With the restoration of the gospel, the earth once again had prophets. Just as God sent prophets to prepare His children for the first coming of Christ, He has also restored them to the earth to prepare us for the second coming. Today, we have a source from which we can receive God’s words.
Mormon beliefs include the knowledge that one can receive personal revelation from God. The prophets reveal God’s words to us, and we then have a responsibility to learn whether or not they are true. Those learning about the church are instructed to pray to God to find out what is true and then to act on it, rather than merely taking the words of the missionaries. We can receive personal knowledge in the same way Joseph Smith did. While it’s unlikely God will come in person to answer our prayers, He has promised to reveal His wisdom to us if we pray with faith, just as the scripture Joseph Smith read promised.
The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and modern-day revelation, as well as personal revelation, are the sources God has given us to receive His word.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.