There is a fascinating story in the Book of Mormon about a man named Sherem. He is the first of a number of anti-Christs that appear in this book. An anti-Christ is someone who knowingly tries to convince people there is no Christ—even when they know that isn’t true.
If you’ve been following this series, you’ll remember that we’ve been studying the teachings of a man named Nephi. We are skipping a lot of great stuff now in order to get closer to the most important part of the Book of Mormon and today we’re reading the works of Nephi’s brother Jacob. When he began to keep the records, he said that God told him to keep those records that testified of Jesus Christ, because they were the most precious of all teachings.
Follow along as we read about Sherem in the Book of Mormon free online.
Anti-Christ in the Book of Mormon
Jacob noted that under the next kings, the Nephites started turning away from Jesus Christ. A man named Sherem showed up and began teaching the people that Jesus Christ would not come to earth as the prophets had testified. He told people whatever they wanted to hear (which is usually whatever makes salvation seem easy and without sacrifice of worldly pleasure) in order to lead them away from the church. He succeeded, but he really wanted to teach Jacob, knowing Jacob had a personal testimony of Jesus Christ. His plan was to use his power of speech to mesmerize Jacob into losing his testimony. He was also very learned and thought he could reason him out of a testimony.
What he didn’t understand was that a true testimony is pretty unshakable if you are living according to your faith. Jacob knew Christ was real. He’d received personal revelation, he’d seen angels, and he’d personally heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him. He lived his faith and knew its value. His faith was unshakable because he had chosen to make it that way.
Sherem’s methods were similar to those used today by people who prefer to convert by attack, taking away but giving nothing in return. Let’s look at what he did to try to shake Jacob’s faith and how Jacob was able to resist Sherem’s lies.
How People Try to Rob Us of Our Faith
First, Sherem used false labels. He said that Jacob was committing blasphemy by saying there would be a Christ and by teaching people that the Law of Moses was not the way to salvation. It should be noted that the people kept the Law of Moses, but they taught that the law did not save them—that was done only by Jesus Christ. Using the term blasphemy—incorrectly—was designed to frighten Jacob into changing his ways. Jacob wasn’t impressed. He knew he was not the one committing blasphemy because he knew the scriptures and the gospel.
Then he uses an argument that is pretty silly for anyone who is thinking. He says, “And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come.”
What is wrong with this argument? If no one can know the future, then how does Sherem know there will not be a Christ? This is a common tactic that involves holding the other religions to a different standard than you hold your own. Turning a question around often reveals the error in this method.
Jacob didn’t argue. He simply asked Sherem if he was, then, denying the Christ. Sherem said if Christ were true, he wouldn’t deny him, but the idea of Christ was false. Jacob then turned to one of the ways we can prove what is true. He asked if Sherem knew the scriptures. Sherem said he did. Jacob gently informed him that if he knew the scriptures, then he didn’t understand them because they taught of Christ.
It’s interesting to note that the scriptures these people had were what had been written just prior to the fall of Jerusalem, not the entire Old Testament. They had what was in
existence when they left Jerusalem. “And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.” He taught Sherem that without an atonement, all mankind would be lost.
Proof or Faith?
Sherem then followed a typical pattern, asking Jacob to prove what he was saying. So many want to take the easy path to faith. Instead of studying, making a decision, praying for confirmation of our choice, and waiting for an answer, they want God to do all the work and send a visible sign that takes no familiarity with God or experience in asking for His help.
Jacob, as a prophet, warned Sherem that he was asking for proof of something he already knew. Sherem know there was a Christ—he was preaching for his own selfish purposes. He warned him that asking for a sign was inappropriate, but said that if God chose—and it was God’s choice—to send a sign, it would be that Sherem would be smitten.
This, of course, wasn’t what Sherem wanted. He wanted easy and painless confirmation, not something that would harm him. But he had been warned not to demand a sign. Religion is based on faith and testimony of the Holy Ghost. Only God could choose to give a sign, and He would choose one that met His needs, not Sherem’s needs. This was because Sherem was intentionally and knowingly playing a dangerous spiritual game and was not a sincere seeker of truth.
Sherem was stricken for several days. Then, knowing he was about to die, he asked for the people to gather so that he could confess he had been lying. He did so and then died. This was in response to Jacob’s prayer that the people would have their testimonies restored and understand that there are evil people willing to deceive them.
How to Know What is True
What is the message in this story for us? There are three steps we must take in order to find out what is true. Ezra Taft Benson, a former Mormon prophet, said this story teaches us these three steps to avoid being deceived by modern-day Sherems:
- Find out what the scriptures say. It’s not enough to take an isolated verse you learned in a witnessing to Mormons class. You need to read all the scriptures and understand them in context and in their entirety.
- Find out what the prophets have taught—especially the most recent prophets in modern times.
- Gain a witness through the Holy Ghost. This comes through prayer that is sincere and seeks truth, not just what you want to hear. Let the Holy Ghost testify to you of truth after you have studied it out in your own mind and made a choice. There are some who will falsely tell you that you can’t know who is answering. Since James 1:5 says that if we lack wisdom, we can ask of God, we know this is a false Sherem-type of answer. If God tells us to pray, He will answer our prayers and He will find ways to make sure we know who is answering. It takes time and practice and patience—but the truth is worth it. Don’t you agree?
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.