I promise you

Michael Preece DevotionalDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

September 28, 2010
Michael Preece
Cardiologist
Former President, London South Mission

I've been praying that today I may successfully communicate to you a precious secret.  This secret is just how you can obtain and keep an unshakable testimony of the gospel that will never fail you for the rest of your life.  Please pay close attention.  I have chosen to title my remarks: "I Promise You."  I promise you I will teach you some of the most important things I know.  I promise you that if you do what I ask of you, your life will never be the same.

A little about my background:  I am a doctor, a cardiologist, but I'm also an avid student of the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.  I am not an expert, but after thirty-five years of study and prayer, something remarkable has happened to me.  Deep and poignant feelings for this book have grown in my heart, feelings that initially smoldered and sputtered, then they caught fire.  In recent years they have become a roaring flame.

About ten years after I began a regular study of the Book of Mormon a profound event occurred in the Church that had a powerful impact on me.  It actually had a powerful potential effect on you too, but, as yet, you may not even know of this event.  The year was 1985.  President Spencer Kimball had just died and was succeeded by Ezra Taft Benson.  Almost immediately after assuming leadership of the Church, President Benson received a startling revelation. The Lord told him of a condemnation that was resting upon the Church and its members.  The saints were in urgent need of repentance.  But why?  It was because of the way we were treating the Book of Mormon.  We were largely ignoring it!  In the very next general conference in April of 1986, President Benson sternly warned the saints and urged them to change, to repent.

The Church did repent. It immediately changed the curriculum for Sunday School and Seminary classes by working the Book of Mormon into a regular four year cycle.  Church leaders began using the book more frequently and systematically in sermons and in instructional situations.  But another thing happened that would directly impact my life and yours.  The large body of able scholars in the Church also repented.  These were men and women working in the church universities and in our institutes and seminaries.  Many of them began to focus their research and writing on the Book of Mormon.  They were specialists educated in many different fields including biblical studies, archaeology, classics, history, law, linguistics, anthropology, political science, philosophy, Near Eastern studies, literature, and numerous others.  They descended on the Book of Mormon and began to subject virtually every aspect of the book to intense and detailed study.  Their intent was not to prove that the Book of  Mormon is true.  Rather, it was to find out the truth about the Book of Mormon.  The rate of publications on Book of Mormon topics soared.  The quality, objectivity, and credibility of the scholarship and research were solid and undeniable.

A fascinating concept emerged from these scholars' efforts.  They began to discover what they came to refer to as "evidences" of the Book of Mormon.  It's important that you understand exactly what an "evidence" is.  It is a feature or concept in the text of the Book of Mormon that is particularly significant, important, and exciting.  But its significance and importance were not appreciated by Joseph Smith or anyone else in 1829, the year the book was translated.  Why?  Because, as Joseph translated, no one knew or understood anything about that feature or concept.  Recent scholarly research, however, has confirmed the importance of many of these concepts.  Once their importance is pointed out and explained by the scholars, we are inclined to say, "How could Joseph have possibly known to include that in the book?"  The fact is, Joseph did not know.  He simply wrote what the Lord revealed to him. Such a studied and confirmed feature is called an "evidence" of the Book of Mormon.

 

Today, we are blessed to have access to many fascinating evidences.  We are constrained by time here today, but I want to make you aware of just a few.

Chiastic Parallelism

          a  

             b  

               c  

                 d  

                   e  

                     f

                      f'  

                   e'  

                 d'  

               c'  

             b'  

           a'  

Lehi and his family lived in the area of Jerusalem, where Hebrew was spoken, written, and read.  They took their knowledge of Hebrew with them to the New World.  The Book of Mormon plates were written in Hebrew, but, to save space on the plates, the Hebrew was recorded using a system of glyphs or symbols patterned after Egyptian writings.  We have come to call this combination of Hebrew and Egyptian "reformed Egyptian."  It has been fascinating to learn that there are hundreds of words, phrases, and passages in the Book of Mormon that have an unmistakable Hebrew pattern.

One of the most exciting of these is called "chiastic parallelism" or "chiasmus."  I'll show you briefly what it is.  Then I want to tell you the inspiring story of its discovery a little over forty years ago by a young missionary.

Chiasmus is a form of Hebrew poetry.  It was first discovered in the Bible.  It tends to be found, not in the everyday descriptions of events, people, and places, but in the formal sermons.  It is a way of emphasizing the importance of the central theme of the sermon.  (Slide Two)  Please look at this diagram.  I have represented two lines of scripture in the center as "f" and "f prime."  These two lines both contain the central theme or main idea of the passage.  That main idea is repeated twice, once line "f" and again in line "f prime."  Preceding the first mention of the theme is a series of lines containing words or phrases that build up to the central idea.  Following the second mention of the theme is the same series of words or phrases, but in reverse order.

In this portion then, each letter represents a line of scripture containing a word or phrase.  The lines "f" and "f prime" contain the central theme stated in two consecutive lines.  A twelve-line passage is represented:Chiastic Parallelism"Chi" is the Latin word for "X" and this sequence is usefully illustrated as half of an "X."  The first sequence of lines, from "a" to "f" is followed by a second parallel sequence from "f prime" to "a prime".  Thus, this form of poetry is called chiastic parallelism or chiasmus.  I hope you get the idea.

I love the story about how chiasmus was discovered in the Book of Mormon.  In the summer of 1967, a missionary elder by the name of John W. Welch, who now goes by "Jack," was serving in Germany.  While out proselyting one day, he saw a poster advertising a lecture to be given by a Catholic scholar on the New Testament.  Since the lecture was taking place on his preparation day, he and his companion decided to attend.  The professor spoke of a form of Hebrew poetry in the Bible known as chiastic parallelism or chiasmus.  It was the first time Elder Welch had heard of the topic.  He was intrigued and subsequently read a book on the subject recommended by the Catholic lecturer.  The book was The Literary Art in the Gospel of Matthew, written by a man named Paul Gaechter.  I'll now quote from Brother Welch's own account:

So far . . . the idea of finding chiasmus in the Book of Mormon had not entered the picture.  That discovery occurred on August 16, a few days after I had finished Gaechter's book and my rereading of Matthew.  Early that Wednesday morning, I was awakened by what seemed to me to be a voice, whose words were these:  "If it is evidence of Hebrew style in the Bible, it must be evidence of Hebrew style in the Book of Mormon." . . . I got out of bed. . . . It was still dark.  I went over to the desk on the other side of our one-room apartment.  Picking up the copy of the German Book of Mormon I had been using that summer, I wondered:  If it is here, where?  I felt clearly prompted to begin reading where my companion and I had left off the night before, which happened to be in King Benjamin's speech.  I read Mosiah 4.  When I turned the page to Mosiah 5, the classic chiastic passage in verses 10-12 jumped off the page.  I do not believe that I ever would have found this through my own intellectual efforts ("The Discovery of Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon 40 Years Later," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 16/2: 79).

Here is an example showing a diagram of that particular passage.

Chiastic Parallelism in Mosiah 5:10-12:

 

 

          a  Take upon him the name of Christ

             b  Must be called by some other name

               c  He findeth himself on the left hand of God

                 d  I would that ye should remember also, that this is the name

                   e  Never should be blotted out

                     f  Except it be through transgression

                     f'  Take heed that ye do not transgress

                   e'  That the name be not blotted out of your hearts

                 d'  I would that ye should remember

               c'  That ye are not found on the left hand of God

             b'  The voice by which ye shall be called

           a'  Also, name by which he shall call you

Note that the central theme in this passage is sin or transgression.  Then note the parallel sequences of ideas, one leading up to and one leading away from the central theme.

There are a few other documented instances of chiastic parallelism in the Book of Mormon.  The most spectacular was discovered somewhat later by Brother Welch.  It is Alma 36:1-30.  Just take a quick look at the chiastic diagram of that passage.

Chiastic Parallelism in Alma 36:1-20 (verses in parentheses)

          a  My son give ear to my  words (1)

             b  Keep the commandments and  ye shall prosper in the land (1)

               c  Do as  I have done (2)

                 d  Remember the  captivity  of our fathers (2)

                   e  They were in  bondage (2)

                     f  He surely did  deliver them (2)

                       g  Trust in God (3)

                         h  Supported in trials, troubles, and afflictions (3)

                            i  Lifted up at the last day (3)

                              j  I know this not of myself but of God (4)

                                k  Born of God (5)

                                  l  I  sought to destroy the church (6-9)

                                    m  My  limbs were paralyzed (10)

                                      n  Fear of being  in the presence of God (14-15)

                                        o  Pains of a damned soul (16)

                                          p  Harrowed up by the memory of sins (17)

                                            q  I remembered  Jesus Christ, a son of God (17)

                                            q'  I cried,  Jesus, a son of God (18)

                                          p'  Harrowed up by the memory of sins no more (19)

                                        o'  Joy as  exceeding as was the pain (20)

                                      n'  Long to be  in the presence of God (22)

                                    m'  My  limbs received strength again (23)

                                  l'  I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)

                                k'  Born of God (26)

                              j'  Therefore my  knowledge is of God (26)

                            i'  and  raise me up at the last day (28)

                         h'  Supported under trials, troubles, and afflictions (27)

                       g'  Trust in him (27)

                     f'  He will  deliver me (27)

                   e'  As God brought our fathers out of  bondage and captivity (28-29)

                 d'  Retain in remembrance their  captivity (28-29)

               c'  Know as  I do know (30)

             b'  Keep the commandments and  ye shall prosper in the land  (30)

           a'  This according to his  word  (30)

Note that the central theme of this chiasmus is Jesus Christ.  And notice the parallel words and phrases lead up to and away from the central theme.

Well, so what?  Joseph Smith must have been just unbelievably lucky.  His writing just happened to contain complex examples of chiasmus.  It was a pure accident.  What do you think?  Was it luck?  Was it mere accident?  What is your opinion?  I promise you it had nothing to do with luck.  I promise you it was not accident.

Other examples of evidences are made more meaningful by knowing the process by which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery actually wrote the Book of Mormon.  It was a remarkable, flat-out miracle.  Joseph later said he translated "by the gift and power of God" (D&C 135:3).  You will readily agree when you learn just how it happened.  Joseph did not "translate" in the usual sense of the word.  He knew nothing about Egyptian writing, nor did anyone in the United States at that time.  Joseph was divinely empowered to read and dictate twenty to thirty words of the text at a time.  It was like reading writing on the repeatedly renewing screen of a digital planner.  After he dictated a passage, he then paused just long enough for Oliver to write it down and read it back to him.  The passage would then disappear and a new one would appear.  These sessions were not private.  Interested people came and went during the process.  Several of them have described exactly what they saw.  There was no desk piled with papers.  In fact, as Joseph dictated to Oliver, he never read from a paper or manuscript of any kind.  Joseph merely peered into his instrument, either the Urim and Thummim or his seerstone, and he read.  This process would go on for hours at a time.  Once a phrase was written, there was no polishing, revising, or editing.    There was no evidence of outside research.  When each new session began, following a break, they simply resumed exactly where they had left off.  There was never any going back or reminding of what had just been translated (Skousen, Royal J., "Translating the Book of Mormon, Evidence from the Original Manuscript" in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, The Evidence for Ancient Origins, 61-93).  In this way, they wrote about eight pages of the Book of Mormon per day and completed the entire book in 63 days.

 

Textual Consistency

Keeping  this process in mind, let me point out two examples of what we might call "textual consistency" in the Book of Mormon.  In Alma 36:22 the prophet Alma quotes a twenty-one word statement verbatim uttered some 500 years previously by father Lehi.  Lehi's statement is found in 1 Nephi 1:8.  Joseph had dictated 1 Nephi chapter 1 a few weeks and hundreds of pages before.  

How then might we explain the twenty-one word phrase that is shared by these two verses?  Joseph Smith didn't stop to look back.  He just kept on reading.  The answer is that it was Alma who looked back in the record and found the quote of father Lehi on the small plates of Nephi.  He then included it in his writings.  Perhaps this observation has not struck you as very remarkable.  If it has not, then just try quoting any twenty-one word passage of Lehi's without looking!

Another remarkable evidence of textual consistency was pointed out to me recently by Brother Jack Welch.  It hasn't even been published yet.  In the first chapter of Ether, the prophet Ether recounts his genealogy from himself back to the brother of Jared.  He mentions thirty individuals, in order, including himself and the brother of Jared.  Then, in the remainder of the book of Ether, he gives an account of each one of these thirty characters in exactly the reverse order.  How did Joseph keep them all straight if he was not able to refer to a list?  The answer is: He didn't need a list!  I promise you he didn't have the names written down anywhere.  He was just reading as the Lord revealed the book of Ether to him.  It was the prophet Ether who did the writing, editing, and organizing.

Complexity of the Book of Mormon Story

Perhaps the strongest evidence for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon is the amazing depth and complexity of the book.  This argument was first developed and perfected by Dr. Hugh Nibley.  Brother Nibley reminds us of Joseph Smith's lack of education.  He also reminds us of the way Joseph and Oliver wrote the book as I previously described.  Again, they dictated line after line without notes and without ever reviewing what was written previously.  Yet despite these circumstances, a large number of complex interrelationships are developed in the book and consistently maintained from beginning to end.  Many of these have taken scholars longer to sort out than it took Joseph to translate the entire book.

For example, the Book of Mormon employs at least three independent dating systems with remarkable accuracy.  It contains a complex system of religious teachings that is enriched as new sermons are added but is never confused or contradicted.  Many instances of non English language forms, like those in Hebrew we have mentioned, are woven seamlessly into the narrative. The book describes complex interactions of different ethnic groups without once losing track of even the most minor ones.  Hundreds of individual characters are successfully introduced and coherently tracked.  The geographical data in the text is diverse and complex, yet when carefully analyzed, it is perfectly consistent and matches a limited identifiable portion of the Western Hemisphere (Melvin J. Thorne, "Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. Reynolds, 179-93).  Did Joseph write this complex narrative?  I promise you he did not.

Wordprinting

Just one final evidence.  The Book of Mormon was obviously written by several different authors.  Each had his own style of writing.  It is true that the prophet Mormon's style would have dominated those parts of the book he abridged.  If Joseph Smith or anyone else wrote the book, it would all be in the writing style of that one individual.  What if we could analyze the writings of the book and determine if it contains the writings of more than one individual?  It turns out we can.  There is a technology available called wordprinting.

Using statistical models and sophisticated computer technology, scientists have long been able to characterize the writing pattern or wordprint of any given author.  Studies have shown that even the most skillful writers cannot change their pattern at will.  The wordprinting pattern of one author is statistically different from that of all other authors.

Some years ago, Dr. John L. Hilton, a member of the Church, and several of his PhD associates in Berkley, California, developed an especially rigorous wordprinting model with which to test the Book of Mormon ("On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, ed. Reynolds, 225-54).  Brother Hilton compared the writings of Nephi and Alma with one another and with writings of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Solomon Spaulding.  Nephi's writings were taken from the small plates of Nephi, and so had not been abridged by Mormon.  Alma's writings were abridged.  The results unambiguously showed that the writings of Nephi and Alma were distinct from one another and both were quite different from the writings of Joseph, Oliver, and Solomon Spaulding (Hilton, "Verifying Wordprint Studies," 241).

These are only a few of the literally hundreds of evidences now available to us.

If Joseph Smith, or any contemporary of his, had written the book out of his own head and from his own resources, it would have turned out to be, as Dr. Hugh Nibley termed it, "a great potpourri of the most outrageous nonsense" (The Prophetic Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989], 325-26).  It would have been completely unable to withstand the rigorous, scholarly scrutiny that has been brought to bear on the Book of Mormon.  Now please hear and understand this.  I promise you that when the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, there was not one person alive on the earth that had the qualifications to write a book that could have stood up to the painstaking analyses the Book of Mormon has received.

Has the Lord "Fudged" on the Rules?

It has occurred to me that the Lord has done a peculiar thing with the Book of Mormon.  This thing seems uncharacteristic of him.  It's almost as if he has broken his own rules for mortality.  He is usually careful to maintain a balance between knowledge and faith.  He doesn't want to give us so much knowledge that we don't have to exercise faith.  But in the case of the Book of Mormon, it almost seems to me he has "fudged" a little on his usual policy.  He has given us an overwhelming amount of knowledge in the form of these evidences.  He has given to us what seems to be an almost unfair advantage.  Let me point out to you that this advantage is available only to the two most recent generations, your generation and mine.  My parents and grandparents had no such advantage.  The evidences simply were not available to them.  They had not yet been discovered.

Are Evidences Important?

Some committed members of the Church have been critical of the idea of evidences of the Book of Mormon.  "After all," they maintain, "it is a spiritual witness of the book that is most important."  Are reading, study, knowledge, and logic really all that vital?  Are these evidences even worth noting?  It is clear that the Lord would have us fortify our testimonies with both prayer and study, with both faith and reason.  Through the prophet Joseph Smith the Lord counseled us:  "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118).  The Lord also said, "You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right" (D&C 9:8, emphasis added).  When you study diligently, the Spirit then delights in providing you a spiritual witness of what you have just studied.  The Spirit will not and cannot provide you a testimony when there is nothing in your head of which he may testify. 

Scholars in each discipline are always careful to say they cannot actually prove the Book of Mormon to be true using secular evidences.  However, I would like to go on record here today as saying this:  Given the many evidences available to us from all the various disciplines, I believe firmly it is impossibly unlikely that the book is false.  Let me say that in another way.  I have worked in a scientific field all my life and statistical probabilities have been an integral part of my professional life.  The likelihood that the Book of Mormon is true, based only on the evidences is so overwhelming that, in my view, the issue is settled.  Then I would add to these evidences the spiritual witnesses I've had on so many occasions as I have been studying the book.  Often these warm manifestations of the Spirit have come as I have contemplated the many evidences of the book.  I promise you that this book is true and authentic.  Please listen to me and believe me.  I know with all my heart this is so.  There is no doubt in my mind.  I promise you it cannot be anything else.  The Book of Mormon has become the very foundation and anchor of my testimony.  It can be the same for you.

What is Implied by the Book of Mormon's Being Absolutely True?

Now, consider for a moment the implications of this.  The Book of Mormon is absolutely true.  I promise you that.  What does this mean?  What does this imply?  Does it mean that Moroni actually appeared to young Joseph Smith?  Did Joseph just happen upon the plates by chance?  The Book of Mormon is true.  Does that mean that Joseph actually saw the Father and the Son in the grove?  Does it mean that there actually is a life after death and that we will live together forever.  It does.  It does.  Please know that.  This is all absolutely true!  I promise you!

Now, you know we have our detractors.  They maintain the book was written in the early nineteenth century by Joseph Smith or one of his contemporaries, and that it consists of a fanciful account of mythical characters, events, and locations.  Some of these critics have recently "done us the favor" of allowing that perhaps the book is "inspired fiction."  They are wrong.  I promise you that each and every one of these critics has a knowledge of the book that is sadly lacking.  There is no need for you to be defensive in any way around these critics.  They have closed their minds and have not spent sufficient time studying the book.  There is "no free lunch" in acquiring a testimony of the Book of Mormon.  It takes real effort.  And this applies to you as well.  You must read the Book of Mormon regularly.

Now, a bit of important advice:    As you read, please never leave a question that occurs to you about the gospel or about the Book of Mormon unanswered.  There are those around you who can help.  There is no such thing as an inappropriate or unimportant question.    There is no question you should not ask.  We have more spiritual truth in the Church today than any other religion in the world.  Your institute instructors here at BYU Hawaii are happy to help you.   I would be flattered if you were to email me any questions about this presentation or about the Book of Mormon.  I will leave you with my email address.  I'm not a gospel scholar.  I'm a cardiologist.  But I'm an enthusiastic student who has spent thousands of hours studying the Book of Mormon and the gospel.  I also have ready access to a few scholar friends who are willing to help me.  I've called on them before to answer my own questions.    If I don't know the answer to your question, I'll get it from someone smarter and better informed than I.    I'll do whatever I can to instill in you a love for this powerful book and for the gospel.

Why has he given your generation the remarkable gift of these many corroborating evidences?  He did not make them available to your grandparents' generation.  It is because he does not want to leave you in any way uncertain about the truth of the gospel.  He must have you as strong and committed servants.  There is much of opposition and even persecution ahead.  You are the soldiers in his army.  You will live during the earth's last gasp prior to the Lord's glorious second coming.  The gospel must be promulgated, and there are many strong people who will fight against you in that cause.  You have much to do.  The Lord will lean heavily upon you.  You are the "cream of the premortal crop", I promise you!   Bless your hearts, every one!

Michael J. Preece,  mmpreece7@gmail.com

Photo by Monique Saenz.