James 1:5 and praying about the Book of Mormon

by Matt Slick

The most widely used and exegetically abused verse in the New Testament by Mormons is James 1:5.

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5).

Mormons typically quote this verse in support of praying about the Book of Mormon as is suggested within its pages.

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things," (Moroni 10:4).

Before we examine James, let's take a look at two things.  First, the verse in Moroni 10:4 says to ask God "if these things are NOT true . . . "  It is not asking to see if these things ARE true.  So, when a Mormon prays about the Book Mormon to see if it is "not" true and he receives a confirmation, then has it not been established that the book Mormon is not true?

Second, the Bible never tells us to pray about spiritual truth.  Instead, the Bible tells us to compare all things with Scripture (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 3:16) because it is through the word of God that we have spiritual truths revealed to us.  Furthermore, the Bible tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and that we are to be very cautious about trusting it--which is why praying about truth and getting a feeling is so dangerous.  Of course, the Mormons will say that when they're praying to God, they will receive an answer from God.  But this is only a hopeful assumption.  Think about it.  If God has told us to look at his word for truth (2 Tim. 3:16) and someone prays about the Book of Mormon in contradiction to that verse, then is he not violating the word of God?  Yes, he is.  Will God then answer the prayer of someone who has violated his word by essentially not trusting what God has said within its pages?

James 1:5

When looking at any verse in the Bible, the first thing that we must do is to look at its immediate context.  After all, if we take a verse out of its context, then we can make it say anything we want.  So, let's examine the first few eight verses of James.

  1. "James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings.
  2. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,
  3. knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
  4. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
  5. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
  6. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.
  7. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,
  8. being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

We can easily see from the context that James is writing to "the 12 tribes who were dispersed abroad."  This means that James is writing to those who are Jewish believers, and this was probably written before the year A.D. 50.  This means that there had been plenty of time since Jesus' crucifixion for evangelism to have brought many Jews throughout the Mediterranean area to the Christian faith.


"Flavius Josephus, first-century historian, records that James was martyred in a.d. 62, so the epistle must have been written prior to that date. Since no mention is made of the Jerusalem Council (a.d. 49) in which James took so active a role, it is likely that the letter was written between a.d. 45 and 48."1

So, James is written to Jewish believers, but its context is about facing trials.  Notice that verse two says "when you encounter various trials."  Verse three mentions the "testing of your faith."  Verse four talks about "endurance."  It is after these verses that James mentions attaining wisdom.  The context is about gaining wisdom through difficult trials and the testing of one's faith--not about praying to see if a book is true.  Then James goes on to tell them to have faith and trust God.

Joseph Smith said regarding James 1:5,

"Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."2

First of all, Joseph Smith said that of all people who ever lived, he is the one who has experienced the most power in his heart when looking at James 1:5.  That is quite a boast.  Second, he talks about a feeling in his heart.  This is highly subjective and is not based on scripture.  Third, he said that he did not have confidence by settling the question [of which Christian sect was true] "by an appeal to the Bible."

So he appeals to the Bible in James 1:5, yet he also says he has no "confidence of settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."  This is, of course, a contradiction--one that is not seen by very many Mormons.

Nevertheless, James 1:5 is improperly used by Mormons to justify praying about the Book of Mormon to see if it is true.  What they do is not biblical.  It is counter to Scriptural truth, and it essentially subjects truth to a feeling.   Because of this, the Mormons have believed in a false God (who came from another planet), a false Christ (who was brother of the devil and us in the preexistent), and a false gospel (deliverance of sin by faith and works).  We must pray that our Mormon friends will escape the lies of the enemy and come to a saving relationship with the real God of Scripture.

  • 1. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.
  • 2. http://www.lds.org/library/display/0,4945,104-1-3-3,00.html

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.