Skousen argues that the concerns for the Book of Mormon are more resonant with older Protestant concerns than with debates happening in Joseph Smith’s day.1 Nonetheless, these are evidence for a modern origin rather than an ancient one since the implied context necessary to have such naunced discussions can be considered anachronistic for any ancient peoples including Native Americans.
Below is an excerpt from The Language of the Original Text of the Book of Mormon, BYU Studies 57:3, 2018, by Royal Skousen:
… if one looks at the text from the perspective of Early Modern English and Reformed Protestantism (including what has been called Radical Protestantism, that is, a Protestantism that attempts to restore an original Christianity based solely upon New Testament practice), there are numerous issues which show that the Book of Mormon is concerned with what the Protestants dealt with and argued over during the 1500s and 1600s:
People are burnt at the stake for heresy (especially in the 1530s and the 1550s in England).
There is also evidence for burning their scriptures (especially in the 1520s in England).
Judgment day will occur at the bar of God (each person will stand at the bar when their case is tried before the Lord).
There is no bar of justice in the New Testament. Rather, the judicial bar dates from medieval times. Moreover, we have the term pleading bar dating from the 1600s (the bar at which a person makes their pleading or plea). On the other hand, there is no independent evidence for “the pleasing bar of God”.
The term secret combinations is used to refer to secret conspiracies against the government and the state church throughout the 1600s and the 1700s.
The earliest citation for secret combination(s) dates from 1602. Shortly thereafter, the phrase was commonly used in reference to the 1605 attempt by Guy Faux and other Catholics to blow up Parliament. The first reference of secret combination(s) to masons dates from 1796, but this refers to a union of brick layers attempting to control the price of labor.
There are four pairs of ecclesiastical words that William Tyndale and Thomas More debated in the late 1520s (congregation versus church; elder versus priest; love versus charity; and repent versus do penance); translators of the English Bible from 1526 to 1611 were forced to deal with these terms in their biblical translations.
The Book of Mormon text is informed by this debate: church is used with its dual meaning (the word congregation is ignored except in biblical phraseology); the church has both elders and priests; the word charity means ‘love’; and the word penance is completely ignored since the practice does not occur in the Book of Mormon.
The true church does not permit child and infant baptism, thus accepting the position of the Anabaptists (who were considered radical and were murdered by both Catholics and Reformed Protestants).
The prophet Mormon provides a very strong discourse against child baptism. Note his severe condemnation of those who advocated or even believed in child baptism (Moroni 8:14–16).
There is a strong preference for piety in living and worship (the Puritan lifestyle).
The Lord’s sacrament is “a symbolic memorial” (Zwingli, 1484–1531) but includes a spiritual renewal (Bullinger, 1504–1575).
These two concepts characterize the essence of the sacrament prayers, first given by Jesus in 3 Nephi 18:11 and 20:8–9 and then later by Moroni in Moroni 4–5. Any question of transubstantiation or any variant of it, such as consubstantiation, is ignored.
There is also a secondary issue relating to the sacrament, the reference in Moroni 4:2 to the congregation kneeling down with the elder or priest when he blesses the sacrament. In 1552, during the reprinting of the Book of Common Prayer under King Edward VI, the issue of the church kneeling with the priest was resolved in favor of the traditional kneeling. This practice had been criticized by the Presbyterian John Knox as an unnecessary Catholic practice that the Church of England had continued using.
The Catholic practice of secret confession to church leaders and required works of penance never shows up in the text.
Only once does the Book of Mormon refer to people going to an ecclesiastical authority (in Helaman 16:1, when Nephites converted by the preaching of Samuel the Lamanite go to Nephi for confession of sins and then baptism). In every case, repentance before God is required, and repentant souls must always be willing to publicly declare their repentance.
The Trinitarianism of the Book of Mormon is most clearly expressed by Abinadi in Mosiah 15 and best matches the Trinitarianism found in the Gospel of John.
God will come down among the children of men and take upon himself a body of flesh and be sacrificed for mankind. This was the heresy that led to the death of Abinadi (or at least it was the official accusation against him, described in Mosiah 17:7–8). This characterization of the Trinity is not the current LDS view of the Godhead.
The church is separated from the state and will act independently in dealing with questions of church discipline and excommunication.
In Mosiah 26, King Mosiah refuses, as the secular leader of the state, to intervene in the disciplining of church members and leaves that to Alma, the leader of the church. The Lord then instructs Alma that he is limited in his disciplining of church members to excommunicating them rather than physically punishing them. The separation of the church from governmental control is more significant than replacing hereditary kings with elected judges since in the Book of Mormon those judges end up acting much like kings. Ultimately, Campbell is wrong to assume that Mosiah’s change in governance was a good example of republican government. It should also be noted that the issue of separation of church and state is an important one in the development of American constitutional law, but it also played a significant role in debates between Reformed and Radical Protestants in Europe in the mid-1500s.
Given all of these similarities with Reformed Protestant issues of the 1500s and 1600s, it is not surprising then that the Book of Mormon resonates so well with a number of Protestants coming from the Radical Protestant tradition.
There are so many parallels with documents in the late 1700s and early 1800s (for example), that it seems such a statement can only be made by ignoring or downplaying all the modern parallels and favoring older parallels. ↩