Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-one: Use of the Word “Because” in the Book of Mormon©

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet

Why I Believe: Evidence Fifty-one
Use of the Word “Because” in the Book of Mormon

I maintain that the Book of Mormon is designed to teach correct religious doctrine and principles.  This may not be considered as surprising by many. Aren’t all religious books of scripture designed for that purpose? Of course, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition the Book of Mormon appears to stand out in that respect. For example, in the early portion of the Book of Mormon the prophet Nephi exhorts his readers to “liken” the scriptures to themselves and apply them in their own lives.(1) In addition, it contains about fifty “thus we see” lessons which are largely insights by the compilers and abridgers of the book attached to many of the stories they include in it. They are as it were, the prophetic moral to the story.

Another very interesting, but little discussed evidence of the teaching nature of the Book of Mormon is the extensive use of the subordinating conjunction “because” in the text. It appears almost 800 times, 799 according to a computer search.(2) Why is this number important? It all lies in the nature of the conjunction “because.”

A conjunction in English grammar is a word which connects parts of a sentence. There are many such as and, or, but, for, and so. In standard English usage “because” is a subordinating conjunction.  This means that it comes at the beginning of a subordinate or dependent clause and establishes the relationship between the dependent clause and the rest of the sentence. Specifically, the word “because” involves clauses of result and reason. In other words it helps highlight relationships between cause and effect. This is of course very useful in many areas of life. Understanding cause and effect in spiritual matters is especially important. This is why the use of “because”in the Book of Mormon is so vital. 

As of this writing I have not looked up all 799 instances of its use in the Book of Mormon, but I have printed out each verse where the word appears; it requires more than sixty-six pages of text. One thing that stands out when one reviews these passages is how many of them are devoted to connecting spiritual cause and effect. Many of course appear in the normal course of telling a story such as in 1 Ne. 1:6 where Nephi speaks of the effects of a vision upon his father, “and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.” Or, in 1 Nephi 15:5 where the prophet says “I was overcome because of my afflictions.”  

It appears, however,  that the vast majority of the uses of the word “because” in the Book of Mormon convey a spiritual lesson. For example, of the first five uses of the word in 1 Nephi four are spiritually instructive, and the first one in 1 Ne. 1:6 cited above can also fall in this category, teaching us that having a spiritual vision may cause a high emotional impact on the physical body. I could have said most of the first ten or even most of the first fifteen or twenty instances of the use of the word in the Book of Mormon are spiritually instructive, but in interest of space I will reproduce the first five as examples, all incidentally from the first chapter of First Nephi.
1 Ne. 1:6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. 
1 Ne. 1:14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth, and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish! 
1 Ne. 1:15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. 
1 Ne. 1:19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. 
1 Ne. 1:20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.
In quick review: Lehi quakes and trembles exceedingly because he saw a vision of a pillar of fire; because God is merciful, he will not suffer those who come unto him to perish; Lehi’s heart was filled because of the things which he saw in vision; Lehi was mocked because of the things of which he testified; and finally, the tender mercies of the Lord are upon those whom he has chosen because of their faith.  Some readers may say that there is nothing very astounding here in terms of spiritual insight, and that may be the case. On the other hand, a closer and deeper look may in fact show that there are profound lessons to be gained by attending to the relationships established by the many “becauses” found in the Book of Mormon. 

One of the vital purposes of scripture is to teach us about the nature of God so that we may understand his character, perfections, and attributes so we may have greater faith in him.(3)  1 Ne. 1:14 teaches us that God is merciful–a common teaching of scripture–but a very important lesson accompanies this description of God. Because he is merciful, he will not permit those who come unto him to perish. This is a profound and refreshing message of hope. One might expect such a teaching may be found in the biblical book of Proverbs or perhaps Psalms. To my amazement however, a computer search for the word in the Bible shows that the word “because” is used only five times in Proverbs and seventy-two in Psalms. “Merciful” is found eighteen times in Psalms and only once in Proverbs at 11:17. A search for both “because” and “merciful” produced only three instances where the two words were in close enough proximity to permit a meaningful cause and effect relationship. None were in the Bible; all three were in the Book of Mormon, at 1 Nephi 1:14; 13:34 and 2 Nephi 4:7. The latter has some similarities to 1 Nephi 1:14. So this principle is not found in similar language in the Bible.

Continuing, at random one can pick many examples of the use of the word to teach an important principle. A potent early illustration is found in 1 Nephi 2:12. Only a brief way into Nephi’s story of his father Lehi’s family we learn of his oldest sons Laman and Lemuel described as stiffnecked murmurers.(4) They resented having to leave their home, possessions, and wealth to “perish in the wilderness” as they saw it.  In the next verse Nephi explains why they murmured. “And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.” Here again we have a simple spiritual relationship that is all too easy to pass over without much thought. The boys murmured because they didn’t understand the ways of the Lord. The clear implication is that had they understood how the Lord deals with his children they would not have murmured.

It turns out that understanding the ways of the Lord is a very important sub-theme in the Book of Mormon.  Above, I mentioned there are about fifty “thus we see” lessons in the Book of Mormon. I have categorized them under five headings. One is “the ways of the Lord,” of which there are five; nearly matched by the second which is “the ways of Satan and his agents” with three examples.(5) Ten percent of the “thus we see” lessons teach us about how the Lord deals with his children. There are many elements of the remaining “thus we see” lessons which are relevant or related to understanding God’s ways.  

Perhaps the most important one, illustrating the importance of this sub-theme, may be found in 1 Nephi 16:29.  It is part of a pericope describing the function of the Liahona and the spiritual principles upon which it operated. The ball had within it two “pointers” which also had writing upon them, which changed from time to time.  A statement in verse 29 is extremely interesting. “And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give them understanding concerning the ways of the Lord....” Of all the things which Lehi’s colony needed as they traveled through the wildernesses of southern Israel and western Arabia, Nephi highlights that this miraculous tool gave them “understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.” That of itself is a great lesson.

Those familiar with the Bible see many parallels between the wilderness trek of Lehi’s family with the Israelite Exodus and sojourn in the Sinai. There the people of Moses frequently murmured about the heat, hunger, thirst and other difficulties they experienced. It is obvious in light of Nephi’s explanation as to why Laman and Lemuel murmured, that this was the same problem with the Israelites. Two differences, however, exist in the comparison.  Moses did not have, as far as we know, a tool like the Liahona which taught such lessons,(6)  nor did he teach the Israelites that their problem was that they didn’t understand the ways of the Lord. It was Isaiah, centuries later who understood and taught the people:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thought than your thoughts.(7) 
The disparity between the ways of man and God is the crux of the problem. First, since his ways are higher than ours, it is impossible to know them unless he reveals them to us. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob explains, 
Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.(8)
Second, when children do not know how and why parents do things it often leads to complaint and even rebellion. Adults frequently exhibit the same tendency with God.  In our ignorance of his ways and reasons, fueled by our pride, we may assume we see things more clearly than the prophet-leader and withhold our support and obedience, or even worse actively resist and oppose him. It is possible this is one of the root causes of some Church members who challenge the Church’s position on such things as defining the family, gay marriage, women and the priesthood, and numerous political-moral issues.

Returning to the Liahona, we have yet another passage regarding its purpose in which another important “because” lesson may be found. Alma explains to his son Helaman several spiritual principles to be drawn from the history of the use of the Liahona by which they enjoyed the miracle of guidance in the wilderness “and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day.”(9) Then he observes,
... because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. (10)
The syntax of the first two sentences of this passage is somewhat unusual. The punctuation was not done by Joseph Smith, but by John H. Gilbert.(11) In keeping with good usage for subordinate conjunctions, these sentences might be punctuated differently, highlighting more clearly the message of the passage.
....because those miracles were worked by small means--it did show unto them marvelous works–they were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey....
The cause and effect relationship in this passage is obvious; Lehi’s colony was slothful in following what Alma considers the miracle of receiving directions through the Liahona, because they were accomplished by what some in the colony considered “small means”–implying insignificant and/or unimportant means.  

The outcome, however, was not insignificant or unimportant. They “did not progress in their journey,” they “tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel in a direct course....” In his narrative of this journey found in 1 Nephi 17:4, Nephi gives us what on the surface may seem to be an insignificant detail. He said “we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.” If one knows where one is going in Arabia, the trek from the Gulf of Aqaba down the western coast to Nahom and then southeast to Bountiful does not require eight years, even for a colony of men, women and children, perhaps largely on foot, and especially not if they had pack animals such as camels. Moreover, Nephi describes the journey as one of great hardship.  He said we did “wade through much affliction in the wilderness.”(12) A large south central portion of Arabia is today called “The Empty Quarter,” one of the largest uninhabited places on earth. That is for a reason–it is a hot, dry, inhospitable desert, as is most of the peninsula. Arrival at Bountiful was a great relief to them, largely because it was a fairly fertile coastal region, one which they may have considered  “the promised land” in comparison to what they had been through, until the Lord told them their journey was not complete.  

Why take eight years in this desolate and forsaken region if it was not necessary? Alma provides one reason–they did not travel in a direct course because they would not follow directions, because the source of those directions was unimportant in their eyes! Goodness! Here we have an amazing example of the all too common phenomenon of unnecessary suffering. Suffering brought on ourselves because of ignorance, and pride, and jealousy, and selfishness, and lack of faith. The spiritual “liken” lessons to be drawn from this episode are numerous and obvious.

In the interest of time and space, these few significant “because” lessons from the early portion of the Book of Mormon must suffice as examples of the rest which are sprinkled liberally among the remaining 790 plus uses of the word in this inspired, instructive book. As we read the Book of Mormon it is helpful to concentrate and stay attuned, not only to the frequency with which “because” punctuates the text, but more importantly to stop and consider the spiritual principles which are being highlighted by its use. Understanding and using this simple tool can greatly enrich our understanding of the book’s message and suggest applications of vital principles in our personal lives. I hope I have convinced you they merit such consideration and that with thought and reflection they will yield precious insights. 

There is another aspect of this that is also worth considering. Joseph Smith was between the ages of 21 and 25 when he translated this book. For me the sheer number, depth, breadth, and intricacy of some of the “because” relationships found in the Book of Mormon are more easily accounted for on the basis of Joseph’s affirmation that he translated the book by the gift and power of God than it is to ascribe them to religious genius, especially at his young age and limited experience.

My hope is that this brief essay will stimulate some enterprising scholar to study this potential treasure trove of spiritual wisdom and compare it with the Bible.  My prediction is that not only will many important spiritual principles be highlighted in the Book of Mormon which would bless the Church by having them innumerated and explained, but that we will also find a significant difference in the way the word "because" is used in the Bible.  I also suspect that many of the insights derived from the Book of Mormon will not be duplicated in the Bible.  I believe the Book of Mormon will prove to be the richer source of instruction on cause and effect in spiritual matters.

Thank God for Joseph Smith!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1. See 1 Ne. 19:23; also 2 Ne. 6:5; 11:2, 8.

2.  In the first draft of this article, according to a friend, I used incorrect numbers.  He provide numbers based on his computer search.  He came up with 799 in the Book of Mormon (I said 699), and 1209 uses of the word in the Bible; 908 in the Old Testament and 301 in the New Testament.  I am indebted to him for this correction.

3. Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith, 3:2, 4. 

4. 1 Ne. 12:11.

5. The five “thus we see” lessons teaching the “ways of the Lord” are in 1 Ne. 16:29; Al. 24:27; 26:37; 29:8; 44:4.  The “ways of Satan and his agents” are in: Al. 24:30; 30:60: 46:9-10.

6. Moses did have the “rod,” but it is not characterized in the Bible as an instrument of revelation.

7. Isa. 55:8-9. 

8. Jac. 4:8.

9. Al. 37:40. 

10. Al. 37:41-43.

11. Gilbert was a typesetter who worked for E. B. Grandin, who published the first edition of the Book of Mormon.  The original mss of the Book of Mormon contained little or no punctuation, consistent with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian. Thus, it was left to Gilbert to punctuate the text.  See among others, George Horton, “Understanding Textual Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Ensign (December 1983): 25-26.  See Gilbert’s recollections online, here:  For some interesting remarks about the nature of the punctuation, by Royal Skousen who has been studying the manuscripts of the Book of Mormon for more than three decades, see his “Changes in the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 11 (2014): 164.

12. 1 Ne. 17:1.

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