The Stick of Joseph: Not the Book of Mormon

27 Jan 2017

Our Institute topic this week included the Bible and the Book of Mormon. As you might expect, Ezekiel 37:15-19 was a prominent reference in the reading material.

The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying,

Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:

And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become aone in thine hand.

FairMormon claims “Latter-day Saints have historically interpreted” the stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph to be the Bible and the Book of Mormon, respectively. The earliest reference I can find to this interpretation–at least off-hand–is from Boyd K. Packer in the October, 1982 General Conference. Elder Packer states unequivicolly that “The sticks, of course, are records or books. In ancient Israel records were written upon tablets of wood or scrolls rolled upon sticks.”

Unfortunately, that isn’t really all that obvious. In chapter 37, Ezekiel is making prophecies about the unification of the broken Kingdom of Israel–the 10 tribes of the Northern Kingdom, and the remaining tribes of the Southern Kingdom. The common LDS interpretation is that Ezekiel foresaw and was describing the Book of Mormon as an essential step in the fulfillment of that prophesy.

I’m skeptical. I’ve heard LDS scholars dismiss this interpretation out of hand. And the general academic concensus is that Ezekiel really had no intent of predicting the Book of Mormon. What’s particularly telling is that, after making his prophecy, Ezekiel is told “And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?”, Ezekiel’s answer makes not a single reference to books.

It doesn’t make sense to me that Ezekiel would make a cryptic prophecy about books coming together to restore the Kingdom of Israel and then not talk about said books when clarifying the prophecy. I think the best you could argue is “Ezekiel was predicting the Book of Mormon but just didn’t know it.” Which is another way of saying “He wasn’t.”

So I told the Institute students precisely what I am convinced of; that the LDS interpretation of Ezekiel 37:15-19 is a fundamentally flawed retelling of the scriptures. And we use it because it’s a convenient way to address the complaint that the Bible makes no mention of the Book of Mormon. Reinterpreting these passages gives us a convenient way to say “yes it does.”

I also told the students why I don’t like that we use this interpretation. 1) Of course the Bible doesn’t mention the Book of Mormon. and 2) It doesn’t need to.

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (Article of Faith 9)

The continuity of revelation–not just in our time, but in all times to all of God’s children–is fundamental to our religion. It is axiomatic. When we start justifying the Book of Mormon through the Bible, we are abandoning that belief. And we shouldn’t do it.

When someone says “Where does the Bible talk about the Book of Mormon”, the most correct response is “It doesn’t.” And if the follow up questions include “why do we believe in continuing revelation?” feel free to respond with “Because we do.” Because our personal experience and testimony tells us that God has not abandoned us, and continues to speak to us and to prophets. And he isn’t going to stop.

So let’s stop making excuses for him to do so.