Blacks In Mormonism: Black and White in the Book of Mormon Pt 2

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

The first reference to color in the Book of Mormon describes a skin of blackness. Let’s see if it fits the pattern of blacks in Mormonism. First of all, it mentions that a cursing had come upon the Lamanites. So, what is a cursing? It can be helpful to look at the verse prior, where we learn that they are cut off from the presence of the Lord because they would not hearken to His words. That is what a cursing is. Alma 3:19 tells us that every man that is cursed brings upon himself his own condemnation, and in a prior verse, that the cursing will be upon the Lamanites from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to the Lord; then, He will show them mercy. So, the Lamanites were sorely cursed because of their iniquity, for behold, they hardened their hearts. Is that metaphorical or literal? Bible scholars tell us that bowels, kidneys, and hearts are the seats of strong emotions, conscience, and inner life. Therefore, to harden one’s heart is the numbing of your soul, a condition of moral atrophy. This is metaphorical. If it were literal, it would be very uncomfortable. 

That they had become like unto a flint is metaphorical. And as they were white, well, now that sounds literal, but we had been speaking metaphorically. Let’s take a closer look. In this scripture, in 2 Nephi, the very first printing of the Book of Mormon in 1830 says that the Lamanites, in the last days, will be a white and delightsome people. But in 1840, a new printing was made that corrected many of the printing errors in the first. In this printing, Joseph Smith changed the word white to pure, presumably so that we would better understand what was meant in that verse, that the Lamanites would become a pure and delightsome people. And that’s how it reads in our scriptures today. 

So perhaps we could ask the question as to whether white means Caucasian or does white mean pure. In the scripture in 1 Nephi, Nephi envisions Nazareth and a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and pure. Or was she exceedingly fair and Caucasian? In 3 Nephi, the people did pray steadfastly without ceasing unto Jesus, and He did smile upon them again. And behold, they were pure, even as Jesus. Or behold, they were Caucasian, even as Jesus. In the same chapter, we find this scripture: “And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto Him, and His countenance did smile upon them, and the light of His countenance did shine upon them, and behold, they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus. Behold, the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness. Yet even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof.” 

What I perceive here is that rather than referencing blacks in Mormonism, this is a verse from a prophet of God who is trying to describe the luminance of a countenance that cannot be described with words. Nothing on earth is as pure as the countenance of Jesus. Moroni encourages us that we may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white. Each of these words means cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. So when we look back on this word that the Lamanites had been white and exceedingly fair and delightsome, each of these words we’ve seen in connection with describing the righteousness and the countenance of one who has been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. I would propose that we are continuing to speak metaphorically in this verse, so that when we get to these skin of blackness, we are continuing to speak of the countenance, just like in the Old Testament. But is it used to describe the countenance spoken of in the Old Testament? 

In this scripture, the Lamanites are described as dark, loathsome, and filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations. The future Nephites too are described as dark, filthy, and loathsome people, beyond that even which has been among the Lamanites. Their behavior determines their countenance. This seems to be in line with what Jacob is saying in chapter 3, verse 8. He’s speaking here to the Nephites, and he says, “I fear that unless you shall repent of your sins, that their skins, the Lamanites’ skins, will be whiter than yours when you shall be brought with them before the throne of God.” Are we speaking literally, or are we talking about the purity of one’s countenance or the darkness of one’s countenance? After all, the Lord told Samuel, “The Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart.” So perhaps we are justified in seeing Nephites and Lamanites not differentiated by their skin color, but by their countenances, their culture, what they wear, how they act, what their hair looks like, and the language they use. In the next video, we’ll introduce some ideas about what that might look like and also look for opportunities in the scriptures themselves to introduce people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds that might be able to find their home in the Book of Mormon story.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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