The title page of the Book of Mormon is a really fascinating passage of scripture. I think that it provides a very useful model for thinking about scripture in particular and revelation in general.
In two paragraphs, it summarizes the contents of the Book of Mormon, repeatedly emphasizing divine involvement in the production of the book. The Title Page insists that the book:
Was “[w]ritten by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and revelation”
Was “hid up unto the Lord”
Came “forth by the gift and power of God”
“The interpretation thereof by the gift of God”
“[I]s to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers”
Was written “that they may know the covenants of the Lord”
Was made for “the convincing of Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD”
In short, the Title Page is uncompromising in its insistence on the divinity, inspiration, and importance of the Book of Mormon. It closes, however, with this intriguing passage:
An 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-set of Christ.
Having insisted on the divinity of the book and the reality of the revelations from which it came, Moroni frankly acknowledges that it may contain “faults.” I have heard the Title Page used on more than one occasion as a proof-text against the notion of scriptural or prophetic infallibility. I’ve used it this way myself. However, I suspect that we are missing something fundamental if we stop there. Moroni is doing more than simply acknowledging faults. He is also giving us some clues as to how to deal with them. First, he provides us with a source for the faults. They are “the mistakes of men.” I take it that what Moroni is saying is that the prophets and authors of the Book of Mormon, inspired men that they were, were also human and it is unfair and unrealistic to suppose that what they teach will be without fault or mistake. Notice, what Moroni is providing here is essentially a conceptual coping mechanism. How do we deal with the apparent contradiction of finding faults in scripture? If God is perfect, then his work should be without fault, right? The answer is that scripture is both human and divine and the faults are human.
Moroni, however, wants to do more than provide an intellectual coping mechanism. There is more at stake here, he in effect says, than simply our understanding. Hence, he couples his coping mechanism with a warning. Having found the faults and knowing their source, what we do is even more important than how we understand. Notice, being confused doesn’t seem to place us in danger when we are brought before the “judgment-seat of Christ.” Rather, we are in danger if the “faults” and “mistakes of men” cause us to “condemn . . . the things of God.” In other words, understanding — and even I take it discussing — that there are mistakes and faults is not sinful. Condemning God’s work because of those mistakes and faults is. Notice, it is only a particular kind of speech that is flagged as sinful, yet we can nevertheless sin in our speech.
In the end Moroni provides both a conceptual and a moral response to the fallibility of scripture. We must both understand why the faults should not vitiate our faith and how our reaction to those faults can be sinful or not.