As Mormon prepares to relate the most extraordinary sequence of events in the Book of Mormon, he begins by emphasizing the reliability of his source, followed immediately by an admission that the source may have gotten some of the details wrong:
And now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record—for he truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus; and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity—
And now it came to pass, if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time, the thirty and third year had passed away.3 Nephi 8:1-2, italics added
What is Mormon trying to tell us in this passage? After insisting that he knows the record to be true, he introduces an element of doubt with the phrase “if there was no mistake.”
The record-keeper in question was presumably Nephi. (See 3 Nephi 1:2-3.) At the end of the prior chapter, we read about Nephi’s extraordinary ministry: preaching with such power that the people could not disbelieve, interacting with angels, casting out devils, and even raising his brother from the dead (3 Nephi 7:15-26). He was absolutely a reliable source, but he was also human and capable of making mistakes.
The Book of Mormon authors were remarkably candid about their weaknesses and imperfections. Here are some examples:
- “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ” (Title Page of the Book of Mormon)
- “I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself” (1 Nephi 19:6).
- “And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking…. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts… [and] cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught…. But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth…. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong” (2 Nephi 33:1-4).
- “And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these” (Mormon 8:12).
- “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather 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” (Mormon 9:31).
- “And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing…. And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness” (Ether 12:26).
These authors were painfully aware that some of their readers would not be forgiving. Small errors would cause some to reject the entire message of the book. Their admonition to us is simple: Don’t deny yourself the blessing of a divine message just because the messenger is human. As the readers, we have a responsibility to see past any real or perceived imperfections in the text in order to comprehend and absorb its meaning.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave the following counsel:
Be kind regarding human frailty…. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all.Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.“Lord, I Believe,” General Conference, April 2013
Today, I will remember that God’s perfect work is carried out by imperfect people. I will strive to understand and accept God’s messages as they are delivered to me and not to be distracted by the way they are delivered.