Criticisms of Moroni’s Promise

At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni includes the following promise in Chapter 10:

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things

Moroni’s promise has a number of criticisms raised against it which are discussed below.

Begging the question / circular reasoning

One accusation of the Book of Mormon is that choosing to follow Moroni’s exhortation to pray is circular reasoning or begging the question. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion is used as one of the premises and therefore gives no reason to accept the conclusion even though the conclusion may be true.

If one was to believe that the Book of Mormon is true because of 1 Nephi 1:3, it would be quite circular:

And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

Even though Nephi is within his rights to say he knows it is true, this would not be good enough justification for us to know it is true, because in order to use Nephi’s testimony, we must first assume the actual conclusion (that the Book of Mormon is true).

Let us now look at Moroni 10:4

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

The accusation is that in order to pray over the Book of Mormon, one must first assume that Moroni’s promise is true and therefore the Book of Mormon is true. In other words, why should we trust that Moroni’s promise is true unless we first assume he is telling the truth?

There are a few problems with this accusation and in short, Moroni’s promise is not inherently circular but members of the Church should take care not to present the promise in a way which is circular.

  • Point #1: Moroni does not say that praying is the only way to know if the Book of Mormon is true. He simply exhorts us to ask God to find out for ourselves. This method of finding truth is echoed in the Bible (see below).
  • Point #2: Moroni does not give any “success-criteria”. It would be a very different had Moroni said “And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, you will feel a burning in your chest and this is proof the Book of Mormon is true”. Moroni simply says that God will answer by the “power” of the Holy Ghost.
  • Point #3: It isn’t circular to follow someone’s exhortation. Imagine, two policemen arrive at work and find a letter on the floor that says “Last night down the high street Matthew and Mark robbed the local bank. When you receive this letter I urge you to look at the CCTV footage from 10.30pm to know if this story is true, and if you do this you will see for yourself by the power of technology”. Should the policemen throw the letter in the trash because looking at the CCTV would be circular?
  • Point #4: Assuming that Moroni’s exhortation is a valid means of determining truth does not mean one assumes the entire Book of Mormon is true. This commits the fallacy of composition (inferring that something is true of the whole because it is true of some or every part of the whole). Again, in the case of the story above, if the policemen decided to go to the CCTV room, have they assumed at this point that the robbery has actually taken place? No, they have decided that this test will be a valid way to finding out if the robbery has taken place. When one accepts that Moroni’s promise is a way to find truth, one does not accept the entire Book of Mormon to be true, which is the very thing being investigated.

So if there is no sign of circularity then what do the critics mean when they say praying over the Book of Mormon is circular? In this instance, the critics teach us a good principle, we should avoid doing an injustice to those investigating the Book of Mormon by avoiding conversations like the following:

Missionary: If you want to know the Book of Mormon is true, you must follow Moroni’s exhortation and pray

Investigator: How do I know that’s the way to find out it’s true?

Missionary: Because that’s the promise the Book of Mormon gives

In the example above, the reason the investigator is given for thinking that praying will establish the truth of the Book of Mormon is purely the Book of Mormon itself, which is circular. However that should not be the only reason, for example it says in the Bible:

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 15:26

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

1 John 5:6

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

Bruce R. McConkie said:

“[Moroni] is not, be it noted, asking us to draw a curtain around the Book of Mormon as though it were the only book of scripture ever to flow from prophetic pens. All things must be kept in perspective. He is asking us to ponder what is in the biblical record and to put the writings of Mormon in their proper relationship to all else that has come from the Lord. All these things are to be pondered.” 1

The method that Moroni exhorts us to follow should not be taught as “the way because Moroni says it is the way”, this structure of teaching would indeed be circular. Instead, we should invite all to follow Moroni’s exhortation, to go the source of all knowledge to ask for a personal confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true.

On this topic, Neal Rappleye has said:

How do you test the Book of Mormon without doing Moroni 10:3-5? By archeology? Geography? DNA? All of the above? The problem here has already been noted: by refusing to use the testing method the book provides (because it is supposedly a deficient method), you are already assuming the book is false. Thus, by deciding out of hand that you won’t use Moroni 10:3-5 to test the Book of Mormon, you are deciding not to test the book at all. How, then, can you know if it is false (or true)? In order to know if something is true or false, you have to test it. In order to accurately test it, you have to be open to the possibility of it being either true or false. If you accept that it is possible for the Book of Mormon to be true, then you are accepting that it is possible that if a person prays and asks God if the book is true, God will respond by sending the Holy Ghost. Now, if that is possible, then why not try it? After all, what could be a better, more accurate way of testing something then asking an all-knowing being? 2

Therefore, in summary Moroni’s promise is not inherently circular but we should be mindful to present it in a logically coherent way.

Only for Lamanites

It is clear that in verse 1, Moroni is writing to the Lamanites:

Now I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites; and I would that they should know that more than four hundred and twenty years have passed away since the sign was given of the coming of Christ. 

It is also clear that Moroni is speaking to the world from verse 24 when he says:

And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.

On the face of it, it appears that verses 1 to 23 are specifically to the Lamanites, and verse 24 onwards is for everyone. So even though the exhortation is specifically to the Lamanites, will the promise only “work” for Lamanites? If so, then what justification do we have for this? If we conclude that Moroni’s promise will not “work” for everyone else then we commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent. Denying the antecedent reasons as follows:

If you are a Lamanite, the promise will work for you

If you are not a Lamanite, then the promise will not work for you

This is the same logic as:

If you are a beetle, then you are an insect

If you are not a beetle, then you are not an insect

It would be more appropriate to say that even though Moroni specifically exhorts the Lamanites, there is no reason to think that non-Lamanites cannot apply the promise. In fact there is good reason to think it would work for non-Lamanites. The title page of the Book of Mormon (written by Moroni himself) says:

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile

…to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever— And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations

And the promise is echoed in the Bible which is not specifically for Lamanites:

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

John 15:26

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

1 John 5:6

This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth

Stacking the deck / too many qualifiers / No true scotsman fallacy

One accusation of the Book of Mormon is that Moroni’s promise stacks the deck. Stacking the deck is a logical fallacy where the argument is stated in such a way that it is impossible to lose, and all evidence to the contrary is therefore rejected.

The accusation is that if someone does not have a manifestation that the Book of Mormon is true then any believer of the promise can simply assert that one of the requirements was missed and there is no possibility that the Book of Mormon is simply not true.

To put it another way, it has been argued that:

If a person does not feel that the Holy Spirit testifies that the Book of Mormon is true, then the Mormon has a ready answer, provided by the passage itself—such a person must not have a sincere heart, or have real intent, or have faith in Christ. If a person were sincere, honest, and believed in Christ, then that person would have to know, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that the Book of Mormon is true. That makes things quite easy, for everyone who doesn’t believe in the Book of Mormon must be dishonest at heart, lack the proper intentions, and certainly does not have faith in Christ. 3

The accusation that Moroni’s promise is stacking the deck is only valid if the promise isn’t true. Imagine if another promise was given to you: 

If ye shall add one, two and three, ye shall have six in total.

This would hardly be considered stacking the deck. Moroni’s promise necessarily is verifiable on an individual basis and cannot be tested objectively therefore those who have applied Moroni’s promise and know the Book of Mormon to be true are fully entitled to question any negative response. To deny this would be to assume that the promise is not true which would be begging the question.

If these things are not true?

One key point to remember is that Moroni’s promise is not a test to know whether the Book of Mormon is either true or not true, it is simply an invitation to ask God if your conclusion is correct.

But why does Moroni exhort us to ask if these things are not true, rather than asking if they are true?

James E. Faulconer has said:

Why are the Lamanites told to ask “if these things are not true” rather than “if these things are true”? Why not omit the word not since the two clauses mean the same thing in English, the language that, for us, is the base language of the book? The difference is rhetorical, but it is an important rhetorical difference. If I say, “Is this true?” I am just asking a question. The person I address can answer either yes or no. But if I say, “Isn’t this true?” I am implicitly assuming the truth of what I ask about when I ask. My addressee can say no, but I am urging him or her to say yes. Moroni is assuming the truth of what he asks them to pray about and urging them toward a particular answer, but he isn’t just playing mind games with his readers. 4

Anthony E. Larson makes a similar point:

Asking “if these things are not true” (v. 4) is not the same as asking “if these things are true.” The word “not” changes the presupposition of the phrase from one of incredulity to one of belief. In other words, by asking “if these things are not true” the presupposition is that they are true things, and we are asking if our belief is incorrect. On the other hand, by asking “if these things are true” the presupposition is that they are false things, and we are asking if our incredulity is incorrect. So, we don’t approach God in prayer, believing that the Book of Mormon is false, and wanting to know if it is true. Using such an approach, we will get no answer. Instead we approach God in prayer, believing that the Book of Mormon is true and wanting to know if it is false. Then the Lord confirms to us that it is true. 5

What appears at first to be negligible, in fact turns out to be of great importance to understanding Moroni’s promise.

Takes advantage of cognitive dissonance

This criticism argues that the person praying experiences the following:

  • dissonance between the state of not knowing the Book of Mormon is true and the desire to believe it is true
  • dissonance between the state of not knowing the Book of Mormon is true, and the behaviour of praying to know it is true

The criticism then argues that cognitive dissonance theory suggests the person’s belief is likely to change, therefore it is not a fair test.

However this confuses the manner in which Moroni is exhorting readers to pray and has already been explained above. Asking God if it is “not true” means you have already accepted that it is true. That is very different to asking God “Is it true?” and hoping the answer is yes. Therefore there is no dissonance between the state of not knowing the Book of Mormon is true, and the behaviour of praying to know it is true.

Relies on subjective emotions

Moroni does not mention emotions at all and certainly doesn’t give a success criteria of “emotions” in verse 4:

he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost

All Moroni explains is that the truth will be manifested by the Holy Ghost.

However it is true that many will understand an emotional response as a manifestation, however this is no fault of Moroni and has been counselled against by prophets:

Let me offer a word of caution. … I think if we are not careful … , we may begin to try to counterfeit the true influence of the Spirit of the Lord by unworthy and manipulative means. I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself” 6

Claiming that a manifestation of the Holy Ghost is necessarily an internal, subjective feeling is not a fair representation of the teachings of the church.

Only supposed to try it on the Book of Mormon

One criticism of Moroni’s promise is that it is only supposed to be tried on the Book of Mormon and then should never be used on any other book.

This is not true. There is nothing in Moroni’s promise which says you should not pray about anything else or that there will not be other true books. In fact it claims the complete opposite. Verse 5 says:

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

All things would surely include other writings such as those mentioned in 2 Nephi 29:12

For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

And similar to the response of other criticisms, Moroni 10 echoes the words of the Bible such as John 14:26 and 1 John 5:6 which speaks of the Holy Ghost bearing truth, but is not specific to be limited to one book.

Why would it occur to Moroni to suggest praying to find out if it’s true?

There are different ways to determine the historicity of the Book of Mormon, such as archaeology etc, however this would only prove that the people existed and that they kept records. These methods would not be sufficient to determine that these people were prophets, called of God and that they speak the words of Christ.

Mormon 7 says:

8 Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.

9 For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is that we may believe the Bible (the record from the Jews). Therefore knowing the teachings in the Book of Mormon are “true” as opposed to simply knowing the Book of Mormon record is historical, is key.

In what sense is it true?

This is a great question as the subject of truth is of huge philosophical debate.  

The most obvious meaning of truth as used by Moroni is that the record which he makes is genuine, real and accurate. The Book of Mormon itself (Mormon 8:17) claims that there may be “faults of men”, and to claim that the Book of Mormon is true does not necessarily imply that every detail is true.

There are however several meanings of the word true/truth mentioned in the Book of Mormon such as Moroni 10:6 which links truth to that which is just and good:

And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.

On a similar note, Yoram Hazony said:

…in biblical Hebrew, that which is true is something that is reliable, steadfast, faithful; while that which is false is something that cannot be counted upon, or which appears reliable but is not. In these instances, truth and falsity are simply qualities of objects or persons, which parallel the English usage of terms such as reliable, steadfast, or faithful. 7

Joseph Smith echoed this point:

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book

Note: The debate over historical points in the Book of Mormon is an ongoing debate and pursuit, we should be careful to prematurely point to any “howlers” which turn out to evidence of the book’s authenticity.

Many people don’t read the book of Mormon before praying about it

The question here is how much of the Book of Mormon does one need to read in order to pray? None, some, all?

However why should we focus on simply reading the book? Shouldn’t we also be concerned with understanding it? One can easily read the book with no understanding at all of what it contains.

As a worst case scenario, it seems indeed possible to read nothing at all of a book yet be justified in believing it to be true. For example, we do not need to read any of the latest version of a reputable dictionary series to at least be justified in believing it is true.

In any case, Moroni asks the reader to pray once they have read and received these things. There appears to be no criteria for how much to read before the person is able to receive these things.

Moroni’s promise inoculates the believer against the effects of real evidence

This cannot be used as a criticism of Moroni’s promise unless it is already assumed that Moroni’s promise is not counted as real evidence (as argued above in other criticisms).

As an example, if we switched Moroni’s promise with “archaeological findings” we have the following:

Archaeological findings inoculate the believer against the effects of real evidence.

We would dismiss this as a valid criticism because archaeological findings would be assumed as real evidence. Therefore as a criticism it is simply question begging.

  1. McConkie, (A New Witness For the Articles of Faith, p. 465[]
  2. Neal Rappleye. 2011. MORONI 10:3-5 AND THE TRUTH OF THE BOOK OF MORMON. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/2011/04/moroni-103-5-and-truth-of-book-of.html. [Accessed 20 August 2016][]
  3.  James R. White, Letters to a Mormon Elder (Southbridge, MA: Crown Publications, 1990), 159-160[]
  4.  James E. Faulconer. 2013. Sealings and Mercies: Moroni’s Final Exhortations in Moroni 10. [ONLINE] Available at: http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/jbms/22/1Faulconer.pdf. [Accessed 27 August 2016].​[]
  5. Anthony E. Larson. The real meaning of the promise in Moroni 10: 3-5. [ONLINE] Available at:https://ldsanarchy.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/the-real-meaning-of-the-promise-in-moroni-10-3-5/. [Accessed 20 August 2016][]
  6. The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p.184[]
  7.  Yoram Hazony, 2012. The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. Edition. Cambridge University Press[]