If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“There shall be among them those who will not believe?”
Things to consider:
Jesus taught the Nephites about a marvelous work to be done among the gentiles. As President Ezra Taft Benson taught, this work was the restoration of the gospel of Christ (April 1980 General Conference). Jesus went on to explain that when this work would go forth, “there shall be among them those who will not believe it” (3 Nephi 21:9, emphasis added).
Obviously, according to the Mormon Church, the restored gospel is the gospel that the Mormon Church teaches. The Mormon Church believes the complete or full restored gospel is found only in the Mormon Church. I think that presents a problem. To get at that problem, let’s consider some definitions.
surrounded by, in the company of, amid, in the middle of, between, in the thick of
included in, one of, some of, in the group of, in the number of, out of
By connotation, it would seem that if group A is “among” group B, group A is a smaller subset of the larger group B and not the vast majority of the lager group B. For example, apparently less than one percent of the world population has gray eyes (Healthline).
So, though it might be technically accurate, it would be odd to speak of all the people in the world saying something like, “there are among them those who do not have gray eyes” since more than 99 percent of them do not have gray eyes. Wouldn’t it seem more appropriate to say it the other way around? Something like, “There are folks all over the world with various different colored eyes, and there is among them a small portion with gray eyes.”
When I first thought about this a few years ago, the population of the United States was 324 million, and the Church said 6.5 million of those were Mormon. That’s 2 Mormons among every hundred Americans. So the percentage of the population that does not believe and is “among them” is 98 percent. Worldwide 99.8 percent are not Mormon so they do not believe. Here’s what that looks like in a pie chart:
In essence, the Book of Mormon is saying “there shall be among the 7.6 billion people of the earth 7.6 billion who will not believe the Mormon gospel.” But, those who actually consider themselves members of the Church is even lower than the numbers of members the Church says it has, so there are even fewer believers than what I’ve indicated above. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, those claiming to be LDS in the U.S. came to about 1.6% of the population in 2014 (“America’s Changing Religious Landscape”).
Now, I get that my argument about this is a matter of semantics, so it may not be as hard hitting as some other points I’ve brought up, but then again, for a book that is supposed to be the most correct of any on earth and translated by the power of God, I think the semantics ought to be pretty unambiguous and take connotations into account.
Of course, maybe my own assumed and unstated premise is wrong. Maybe there will be a day when those who believe are actually quite a significant portion of the population, and those who will not believe are actually just a small subset of the whole, but is there any rational justification to believe that will happen?
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
It seems almost no one is repenting as prescribed in the Book of Mormon (3 Ne 20:15-16).
I think the terms “sheep” and “lion” are without problem in a particular instance (3 Ne 20:16).
It says “they” (non-believers perhaps) will not hurt God’s servant. The servant seems to be a reference to Joseph Smith, and he was hurt various times and ultimately killed (3 Ne 21:10). But, spiritually they could not hurt him. So what? Isn’t that true for every living soul according to Mormon theology? If you don’t think so, I offer just two words—moral agency.
The Lamanites are supposed to tread down the unrepentant gentiles (3 Ne 21:12 -15), but, if anything, it seems to have worked the other way around.