When Did Mormon Give the Sermon in Moroni ch. 7?

Spoiler: I’m going to propose that this amazing, majestic sermon was probably written and delivered by Mormon when he was just a teenager.


I read Moroni chapter 7 this last weekend. That’s where Moroni records his father’s great sermon about faith, hope, and charity. The rhetorical background of this text intrigues me.

First of all, we know to whom it was delivered; Mormon says quite clearly at the beginning that it’s for “you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven” (v. 3).

We can infer from the text, and what we know of that period of history, why it was given: surely, this was during a period of societal decline, and these faithful church members–no doubt a beleaguered minority–needed encouragement and guidance for dealing with their troubled times.

The text does a great job of achieving that goal. Here’s how: Mormon counsels them to, first and foremost, maintain righteous desires in their hearts (vv. 5-11), then proceeds to remind them of how to discern between good and evil (vv. 12-19–note that here he also stresses that everyone originally has the light of Christ in them [v. 16], which would be a striking teaching as they were surrounded by an increasingly wicked, crumbling society).

Mormon goes on to comfort and motivate them by preaching of the blessings of having faith (vv. 20-39), which leads to the blessings of enjoying hope (vv. 40-43), which leads to the blessings of exercising charity (vv. 44-48).


But my big question here is when it was given. Mormon’s most typical teaching mode–extrapolating morals from historical narratives (i.e. all of his famous “and thus we see” statements)–is completely absent here. Indeed, even the many contextual details that he drops in his second letter to his son in Moroni ch. 9 about the imminent doom of their ruined society has no corollary in ch. 7. In fact, the odd absence of that facet of Mormon’s modus operandi leads me to the theory I propose here.

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9 Book of Mormon Insights Into Human Nature

One of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is its pragmatic view of human nature. Undoubtedly, its authors knew the best and worst of the human experience, and weren’t pulling any punches.

An example of this is the honest depiction of missionary work here, namely its tediously frustrating reality. Though the Book of Mormon does have some more neutral general observations about how people are (such as here and here), most of the time the text is pessimistic.

Here are nine such passages:


1. People tend to resent the truth when it corrects them

1 Nephi 16:2

…the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.

2. People tend to think that they know all that is necessary

2 Nephi 9:28

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
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A Nephite / Jaredite Parallel?

Reading Ether chapter 6 in the Book of Mormon this week, I was struck by some quick and minor details in these verses:

19 And the brother of Jared began to be old, and saw that he must soon go down to the grave; wherefore he said unto Jared: Let us gather together our people that we may number them, that we may know of them what they will desire of us before we go down to our graves.
20 And accordingly the people were gathered together. Now the number of the sons and the daughters of the brother of Jared were twenty and two souls; and the number of sons and daughters of Jared were twelve, he having four sons.
21 And it came to pass that they did number their people; and after that they had numbered them, they did desire of them the things which they would that they should do before they went down to their grave.
22 And it came to pass that the people desired of them that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them.

Any time I’d read these before, I’m sure I just assumed that the “numbering” mentioned in verses 19 and 21 was some kind of census, and moved on. Certainly, the totals given in verse 20 seem to indicate a census.

But I wonder if there’s more going on here. A formal meeting needed to count a few dozen people? Hardly seems necessary.

What if the “numbering” here isn’t counting, but is a ritualistic ceremony meant to culminate the work of one generation and sanctify the next?

Webster’s 1828 dictionary suggests this possibility in its final definition of “number,” as:

To reckon as one of a collection or multitude.

“He was numbered with the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:12.

In that light, if we consider that “number” in verses 19 and 21 might be synonymous with the verb “to name,” as in “to give somebody a name,” then we see a pattern here that reminds us of Mosiah 5-6 earlier in the text: one generation of leaders is about to die, the people are gathered, the people are numbered or named, a new king is anointed, and then the old generation passes away. Was the spiritual purpose of both of these ceremonies, Nephite and Jaredite, to identify the people as, and have them covenant to be, followers of God?

On this note, a comment about Ether 6:20 on the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum points out that

According to Brant Gardner, the numbers given in Ether 6:20 are too neat to plausibly be actual counts.  There are twenty-four [from the family of the brother of Jared — 22 sons and daughters plus the brother of Jared and his wife] (twice twelve).  Jared had four sons and twelve total children.  All of these numbers are symbolically important in either the Bible (twelve) or Mesoamerica (four).  In other words, the only numbers given have symbolic meaning.  [Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Vol. 6: Fourth Nephi through Moroni,  p. 233]
This further suggests that this episode was not just a practical census, but a religious ritual.

An Open Letter to Trent Horn

Hi Trent!

I heard you on the radio last Monday talking about Mormonism. I tried calling in but the lines were busy. I tweeted you on Tuesday asking to talk about it, but you haven’t responded yet–maybe you’re busy?

At any rate, I thought this post might be a good way to open a dialogue, if you’re OK with that. Feel free to respond to any and all of the items I discuss here, or proceed as you see fit. I look forward to a friendly and respectful, but candid and productive discussion!

I didn’t hear the entire program, as I was driving around and running errands at the time, but I think I got the gist of it; certainly, I heard enough to be able to address what I think your major points were.

First, I want to offer some general observations, in the form of questions, about what I heard you say on the radio. (I’d love to hear your actual answers to these questions, please–they’re not meant to be merely hypothetical!) Then I’ll cover a few of the biggest specific issues you raised.

10 questions regarding general observations

1. You invited Mormons to call in and discuss your teachings, and this leads me to wonder: have you engaged many Latter-day Saints in conversation about your claims regarding us? Have any of them had the equivalent education and training in their religion that you’ve had in yours? Do you feel you have a solid understanding of what LDS answers to your objections are?

What have their responses been? Have you found any of those responses compelling at all?

If not, doesn’t it strike you as odd that a religion with so many adherents should be incapable of adequately explaining *any* of your claims? Might that seem to indicate the presence of confirmation bias on your part?

Do you ever address these responses in your presentations on Mormonism? If not, why not?

2. If you have not sought out responses from qualified Latter-day Saints, why not? Shouldn’t someone who professionally teaches about the perceived negatives of another group seek out responses and even rebuttals from that group as assiduously as possible as part of their own preparation? Wouldn’t that bolster your credibility and, frankly, be the most civil thing to do?

3. What have been the primary sources of your education about Latter-day Saints? What would say are your top five sources? Continue reading

The Book of Mormon Loves the Bible and Leads Us Back To It

Some anti-Mormon critics have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several dozen times.  They’re wrong, of course.

The Book of Mormon uses specific and unique phrases from the Bible several hundred times.

This amazing presentation by a BYU scholar at a recent conference on the complex language of the Book of Mormon goes into this.  There’s no concrete explanation for how this phenomenon is to be accounted for: for the faithful, we don’t know exactly how so many of these non-quotation uses appear in the Book of Mormon; for the critics, since there’s so much subtlety and deep understanding evident in the phrasing (and it in no way helped any hypothetical hoax), there’s no way to simply write this off as lazy copying.

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William Faulkner and the Book of Mormon

I recently shared with some classes the acceptance speeches of great American authors who had won the Nobel Prize in literature.  I’m always struck by William Faulkner‘s declaration that:

The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.

It reminds me so precisely of this statement from Moroni at the end of the Book of Mormon:

give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

Another reminder that the greatest literary achievements tend to admit the inherent darkness of existence, because only then can we actually rise above it.

An Important Book About the Book of Mormon

downloadI’ve been reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon again.  It does the Book of Mormon a great service: it examines that text with an eye towards figuring out how it does what it tries to do.

He analyzes how each of the book’s three main voices–Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni–organize and present their thoughts, with careful conclusions drawn from close study of those evident agendas.

Here is a brief summary of the largest lessons:

Mormon and Moroni are very close in the narrative—father and son—but their editorial approaches are radically different.

Mormon demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a factual, historically sourced record with very light editorial intrusion.

Moroni demonstrates the reality of Christian doctrine by presenting a didactic, spiritually plaintive record with very heavy editorial intrusion.

Nephi, meanwhile, is largely content to preach directly from scripture and base his attendant remarks primarily on those texts.

Indeed, though Hardy never uses these exact formulas, his book suggests that the three narrators’ messages could be summarized as follows:

Nephi: come to Jesus by studying the scriptures

Mormon: come to Jesus by following the prophets

Moroni: come to Jesus by seeking the Spirit

The Book of Mormon and Female Scandinavian Olympians

Talking online with a critic of the Book of Mormon recently, I was reminded of a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s last good movie, 2002’s Signs.

In the film, two brothers living on a farm in the Midwest investigate noises outside at night.  In classic suspense style, movement just off screen causes the characters and camera to look, just in time to miss whatever was there, but it was clearly someone.  When a police officer comes out the next day to look into it, the following exchange takes place:

How certain are you, that this was a male?

I don’t know any girls can run like that.

I don’t know, Merrill. I’ve seen some of those women on the Olympics. They could out run me easy.

This guy got on the roof in like a second. That roof is over ten feet high.

He’s telling you the truth. Whoever it was, is very strong and can jump pretty high.

They got women’s high jumping in the Olympics. They got these
Scandinavian women who could jump clean over me.

I know you’re making a point. I just don’t know what it is.

Yesterday afternoon, an out of town woman stopped by the diner and started yelling and cussing cause they didn’t have her favorite cigarettes at the vending machine. Scared a couple of customers. No one’s seen her since… My point is, we don’t know anything about the person you saw. We should just keep all possibilities available.

Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night, what else is a possibility?

So, what does this have to do with the Book of Mormon?

In my online conversation, I offered to share three of the best evidences for the Book of Mormon, and invite the critic to analyze and account for them if the book is a hoax.  I suggested 1) the accurate, previously unknown geography of Arabia (Nahom, Bountiful, etc.), 2) the ancient texts that nobody had access to, given in 2 Nephi 12:16 and 3 Nephi 4:28-29, and 3) chiasmus.

His responses were quick.  Continue reading

Complete Chronological Standard Works-DRAFT

CCSWThis graphic on the left is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.

For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.

Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.

We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.

We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.

Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.

Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.

I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at lds.org for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.

The Bible chronology is one that is widely available online (for example, here, here, and here); I have modified it only very slightly where I thought useful.

The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).






Everything About The Book of Mormon

Here’s everything significant I’ve ever written here about the Book of Mormon:

1 Nephi

Recommended: Jeremiah

2 Nephi

The Psalm of Nephi: Strength and Peace Through God’s Love

The Nephi Complex

Illustrating Jacob’s Definition of Easter

“Truth comes from the earth”


Jacob’s Temple Sermon


200 Years For Three Generations

Book Of Mormon In New York Times Crossword!


The Complicated Book of Mosiah

Testifying of Testimonies

Spoiled Brats

The Relationship Between Discipleship and Love

King Benjamin On Happiness

A Book of Mormon Verse Endorsing Welfare


Sacrament Talk: Pioneer Faith Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

Answering Alma’s Questions

Linguistic Links Unlock Alma 13

Missionary Reality Check

The Book of Mormon and Agnostic Prayer

The “Gift” Of Faith


A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

Chiasmus in Helaman 13:29-39

Ayn Rand and the Book of Mormon

3 Nephi

The Sermon on the Mount and the Temple Endowment

On America’s Future

Jesus Christ Teaches Us How To Minister

Ironic Rhetoric Advances the Book of Mormon’s Thesis

Notes On The Ministry And Character Of Jesus Christ


The Mysterious Religion of the Jaredites

A Nephite / Jaredite Parallel? 

The Book of Ether and “The Power Cycle”


When Did Mormon Give the Sermon in Moroni ch. 7?

“Let Us Labor Diligently”

Whole Book

The Book of Mormon as Clickbait: 10 Awesome Examples That Will Totally Blow Your Mind Forever!

Catholic Scholar at First Things Gives Book of Mormon Backhanded Praise

Explaining the Book of Mormon

The Condensed Book of Mormon, In 15 Verses

The Exodus Pattern In Scripture And History

An Important Book About the Book of Mormon

Towards a Book of Mormon Study Edition

9 Book of Mormon Insights Into Human Nature

Apologetics / Evidence

God’s Gift to Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics

The “Racist” Book of Mormon

Top 10 Book of Mormon Evidences

The Moon Landing and The Book of Mormon As Hoaxes?

Volcanoes and Lightning

The Book of Mormon and Gulliver’s Travels As Hoaxes

Ironic: Current Anti-Mormons Just Copying Anti-Mormons in Book of Mormon

Defending Internal Book of Mormon Evidence: The Lesson of Proto-Indo-European

Book of Mormon Birthers

The Secret Book of Mormon

A Silly Test of Book of Mormon Authorship

The Book of Mormon and Female Scandinavian Olympians

Faith and Teachings

Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

Spiritual Lessons From Difficult People

The Book Of Mormon and the Heart On the Window

Death and Perspective

Worshipping Through Prayer, Singing, and Fasting

I Give A Morningside At Seminary

Disciples Of Jesus Christ Are Ministers

On The Virtue Of A Soft Heart, Despite Discouragement

Ten Conservative Principles Endorsed By The Book Of Mormon

William Faulkner and the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon Loves the Bible and Leads Us Back To It

Linguistic Links Unlock Alma 13

Alma 13:1-20 may be the most linguistically and theologically dense section of the entire Book of Mormon.  The first half–about ordination to the high priesthood–has been considered in pieces such as this, and the second half–about Melchizedek–has been analyzed in works such as this.

I see these as part of a whole–a single sermon where Alma not only elucidates several tough ideas in a masterful lecture, but does so in a way that was appropriate for the context and powerfully motivates us to act on the implications of his teachings.  This is actually part of a longer work I’m drafting about Alma’s standard teaching template, where his unique pedagogical paradigm in the Book of Mormon–establishing authority, delivering content, and inspiring with a challenge–is briefly repeated towards the end of each of his sermons.

The colors, italics, underlining, etc. in the chart given here are meant to connect the many words and phrases that are identical, or at least synonymous.  Just glancing at this arrangement shows how dense the concepts are, especially in the first half of the pattern.  We see priesthood, discipleship, and Atonement themes discussed here, and this colorful arrangement shows how they are entwined in Alma’s sermon.

As the punctuation was not part of the original translation, I’ve taken some liberties with it here, modifying it as needed to clarify the meaning of the passage.

I hope this helps demystify a difficult passage for Book of Mormon students.


Alma 13



Alma 13

The Relationship Between Discipleship and Love

I’m not a people person by nature.  I can enjoy company, but I don’t often seek it out.  Usually, I try to avoid it, though I’ve been working on this.

Yesterday I re-read something that had jumped out at me when I read it earlier this year.  Actually, I’d read this many times before, but it was upon this reading that something new struck me.  Such is the experience of those who study the Book of Mormon.

I’d often wondered how to increase my capacity for charity–the inherent desire to know people, to love them, to want to help them.  I’ve prayed for growth in this capacity, but I still have a long way to go.

But then I read these verses:

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200 Years For Three Generations

On Thursday of this week, people in my stake read the Book of Mormon’s little Book of Enos.  At the end of that short work, Enos says that as he approached the end of his life, “an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.” (Enos 1:25)

That actually used to bug me–it seemed implausible that nearly 200 years could pass in the space of only three generations.  Any time I tried to make the math work, it just didn’t seem realistic.

But upon reading it again this week, I remembered this story from a couple of years ago: John Tyler, 10th president of the United States, who was born in 1790, has grandsons who are still alive.

Not great-great-great-grandsons, mind you.  Grandsons.

That’s well over 220 years covered by only three generations, more than 40 years longer than the time mentioned in the Book of Mormon.  If you figure that Lehi might have been about 40 when he “left Jerusalem,” the chronologies aren’t far off at all.  Indeed, the Book of Mormon says that Enos’s father Jacob was the next-to-youngest son of a large family (1 Nephi 18:7), and that his parents were quite old at the time (1 Nephi 18:17-18).  Enos may well have also been a youngest son of old age.

179 years from 1 Nephi 2 until the end of Enos is perfectly plausible.

Create a Book of Mormon Day

Please sign the petition and share!


Here’s the text:

Create an annual Book of Mormon Day | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government

// //

Since being published in 1830, the Book of Mormon has had an enormous impact on American history and culture.

More than 150 million copies have been printed. It has appeared on multiple polls of the most influential books in people’s lives. It has appeared in both scholarly editions and a Penguin Classics version.

The Book of Mormon played a pivotal role in the settlement of the American West. More recently, it has even inspired an award-winning Broadway play of the same name.

It’s time to formally recognize the large contributions made to the United States, its history, and its people, by the Book of Mormon.

March 26–the day it was first published, in New York–should be declared a national Book of Mormon Day.

Notes and Quotes, June 2014


  • List of technology-enhanced activities for secondary English classes.
  • Examples of worthwhile technology-enhanced lesson plans.
  • Quick thoughts from the Hardings, homeschooling parents of ten who have sent seven kids to college by age 12.
  • Recently found this silly video I made for a class I was taking two years ago.  Amusing.
  • Instapundit nails it: the humanities lost relevance when they decided to preach that nothing has intrinsic value.  It’s been my experience that students (yes, even at-risk, underprivileged minorities!) appreciate the classics.  Everybody likes the egalitarian ideal of participation in the uniting, universal canon, rather than manufactured niche curricula that only panders to trends.


Language & Literature

  • Great WSJ essay on one of my favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  • Cute chart collects insults from famous authors who hated each other’s work.
  • Fascinating memoir of writing the script for Star Trek: Insurrection. Included here because it shares so much about that specific writing craft.  Also, Insurrection is often over-maligned—it is not great, but not nearly as bad as many say.  This long essay shows how it could have been great.
  • Long lost introduction by Anthony Burgess to Dubliners.



Living Well

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