What did Joseph Smith mean when he declared the Book of Mormon “the most correct of any book on earth”? What did he mean by “correct?” Factually correct? Historically correct? Theologically correct? Did “correct” in Joseph’s mind mean the same as “true?” (Note that “most correct” implies that the book falls short of total “correctness”—i.e. neither Joseph nor the book’s purported authors considered the book flawless).
Over the years, the question of whether or not the Book of Mormon was actually written by ancient people about ancient people has produced a mountain of research and writing. Some very able minds have devoted much of their lives to demonstrating the historicity of the Book of Mormon, with some impressive, if not always entirely persuasive, results. Much of the best of this research is published on websites like FAIR and Book of Mormon Central.
Critics and skeptics have made the opposite case, with equal passion if not equal levels of sophistication. They have raised substantial questions that, it must be granted, pose some interesting challenges to the claim of Book of Mormon historicity.
For believers, the primary feature of the Book of Mormon is what Joseph said in the next breath after declaring it the “most correct book”—i.e. that readers “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” If that is true, all other questions, including historicity, are second-order questions. In other words, say the faithful, if the book serves to genuinely connect the reader to God and Christ, as it has for millions of readers, it is true (and perhaps correct?) in the most meaningful sense of the word.
So does the issue of historicity really matter? What is at stake in the question of Book of Mormon historicity?
To explore that topic, we brought together Terryl Givens and Joseph Spencer, a philosopher and professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University for a recorded conversation. You can watch or listen to it here.
We also asked Givens to share his personal view on the subject, which you can read here.