The Keystone of Our Religion

Daniel C. Peterson

In a famous comment made in November 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as "the keystone of our religion." A keystone, of course, is the center stone of an arch. If it is removed, the arch will collapse. If it is in place, and if the arch is properly built, the structure will stand even without cement or mortar.

In what sense is the Book of Mormon "the keystone of our religion"? In many senses, of course. But it should be obvious that, if the Book of Mormon were false, little or nothing that is distinctive to our faith would stand. Joseph Smith's prophetic mission and all of the other revelations that came through him would be called into question. On the other hand, if the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph Smith was clearly a divinely called prophet, and the Church that he founded was divinely ordained. Even more vitally important than that, the Book of Mormon, if true, stands as a witness that God lives, that he is active in the issues of human life and history, and that Jesus is the redeeming Christ, the Son of God. Nothing, no fact or conclusion, could conceivably be more important.

It is not surprising therefore, that, although he does not seek to compel our belief, God has provided many supporting evidences for the Book of Mormon. Among these are the Witnesses to the golden plates. Their testimonies have appeared in the Book of Mormon since it was first published, and they have never been refuted. Intensive scholarly study of the Witnesses over the past few decades has only strengthened our confidence in their integrity and in the consistency with which they told of seeing the plates and the angel of God, of hearing the voice of God declare the truthfulness of the translation. (The standard book on the subject is Richard Lloyd Anderson's Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, first published in 1981. Lyndon Cook's collection of David Whitmer Interviews [1991] is also very useful, as is Susan Easton Black's anthology of Stories from the Early Saints: Converted by the Book of Mormon [1992], which makes it clear that the Three and the Eleven Witnesses were not alone in their testimony.)

And evidence continues to emerge, supporting the claims of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Much of this evidence is now being brought to light through the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at Brigham Young University. This column, produced under the auspices of FARMS, will summarize and discuss selections from that evidence as we move through the Book of Mormon during the Church's curriculum year 2000.

But we will not concentrate only upon evidence, as if the Book of Mormon needed constantly to prove itself to its modern audience. In a real sense, the witness of the Book of Mormon has been given to prove us. In its present form, the Book of Mormon is a creation of Mormon and Moroni in the dying days of Nephite civilization; its own ancient peoples never actually saw it as we have it. No other copies were made when it was finished; it was immediately sealed up in a hillside to come forth at a later time. It was written for us. It is imperative, therefore, that we read it as deeply and searchingly as we can. And it is here that new studies of the Book of Mormon can perhaps serve their most vital function: They can teach us to recognize things in the Book of Mormon that we should have seen before. They can help us to appreciate its richness and complexity, to understand the ancient background from which it comes so that we can apply its modern message more adequately.

For finally, of course, we must choose either to accept or reject the message of the Book of Mormon and its prophet-authors. And that choice cannot be made with any certainty on the basis of the shifting sands and always-incomplete answers of scholarship. The most convincing and convicting evidence for the Book of Mormon is that of the Holy Spirit. Many, in the nineteenth century and the twentieth, have received such evidence. (A fine collection of statements by modern witnesses is Eugene England, ed., Converted to Christ through the Book of Mormon [1989].) Millions more will receive it in the twenty-first century. And, receiving it, they will come to know with confidence that God lives, that Jesus is our Savior, and that the Gospel has been restored. The Book of Mormon really is "the keystone of our religion." For it is also, as another author has rightly noted, "the key to conversion."