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Episode 169: Elder Dale G. Renlund on his testimony of the Book of Mormon and the Church’s distribution of 200 million copies of the sacred text

‘Who could have imagined going from 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon to 200 million? ... It is a miracle,’ says Elder Dale G. Renlund during a Church News podcast interview

The collective “Come, Follow Me” study of the Book of Mormon for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2024 comes as the Church celebrates a significant milestone for the distribution of the sacred book. In 1830, the Church printed 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon; that number grew to 100 million copies distributed by the year 2000; and as of the summer of 2023, that number had doubled to 200 million copies.

Now, as the Book of Mormon continues to find individuals worldwide seeking to know more about Jesus Christ and His role in their lives, Church members embark on a year of “Come, Follow Me” study of this sacred book of scripture. 

This episode of the Church News podcast features Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sharing his testimony of the Book of Mormon, as well as his invitation for all to study and discover the truthfulness of the book for themselves.

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Transcript:

Elder Dale G. Renlund: Who could have imagined going from 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon to 200 million? We know that Joseph saw the gospel rolling forth and covering the earth, but this is just a miracle. It is a miracle that it got published in the first place. It is a miracle that it came forth. It is a miracle that it was accepted by so many. But it is a profound miracle in my life, that I have come to know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. And the real miracle happens when you come to know for yourself. That is what changes lives. That is what changed my life. And so that is the encouragement to read the Book of Mormon: to find out that it is true and thereby come to know that Jesus is the Christ.

1:02

Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The collective “Come, Follow Me” study of the Book of Mormon for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2024 comes at a time when distribution of the sacred book has hit a significant milestone. The Church printed 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon in 1830. The organization had distributed 100 million copies by the year 2000. And as of the summer of 2023, that number had doubled. Now, more than 200 million copies of the Book of Mormon have entered the hands of individuals worldwide seeking to know more about Jesus Christ and His role in their lives.

1:55

This episode of the Church News podcast features Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sharing his testimony of the Book of Mormon during this significant time in Church history.

Elder Renlund, thank you so much for being willing to talk to us today about the Book of Mormon, which is the course of study for 2024 for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As we prepare to study the Book of Mormon next year, can you share some of your thoughts with us?

2:23

Elder Dale G. Renlund: Well, I think that the Book of Mormon is really a keystone, a cornerstone, of our faith, and it testifies of Christ, and it helps everyone come to Christ. So I think it is a wonderful course to study for the year.

2:40

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have spoken before about finding Jesus Christ as the treasure in the Book of Mormon and not getting too bogged down with the history or chronology of that. Can you talk about that again?

2:51

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think that sometimes the question is “How do you avoid getting into the history and losing Christ?” And I think it is important, every time we pick up the Book of Mormon, that we see that it is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” And that is actually worth noting every time, is that we are picking up something that is another testament of Jesus Christ.

When he was a mission president, President Marion D. Hanks taught his missionaries coming out of the chute that what they should do is take a new copy of the Book of Mormon, and they should mark or underline every passage that refers to Christ, names Christ or is somehow referencing Him, and underline or mark that. And as they do that, it keeps the focus on Jesus Christ. I think the other piece that is important is that the history is not bad; it just needs to be in the context. And so understanding the history is good if it gives the context to the testimony of Christ that is there.

So, it is not that it is this dichotomy — we either know the history or we know of Christ — it is actually we do both. And the history forms a foundation that helps us understand Jesus Christ more and what is going on through His prophets throughout the Book of Mormon history.

An interior view of E.B. Grandin’s shop in Palmyra, New York, in 2017 with a replica of the Smith Acorn Press.
An interior view of E.B. Grandin’s shop in Palmyra, New York, in 2017 with a replica of the Smith Acorn Press. The first edition of the Book of Mormon was printed by Grandin. | Photo by Kenneth Mays

4:20

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, because of the four-year cycle of how we study the standard works in the Church, the last time that we studied the Book of Mormon for “Come, Follow Me” was during a pandemic. And during that time, a lot of people had more time at home; they got more into the scriptures. What are some of the lessons that we learned from the pandemic that could be relevant to us in 2024?

4:42

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think one of the most important lessons we learned during the pandemic is how it really is best when it is home-centered, Church-supported. And that is the lesson that should not be lost now, because the same thing is true. It is home-centered, Church-supported. So as we learn in “Come, Follow Me,” as we go through those lessons and we try to get those lessons at home, we come to church to have those lessons reinforced.

And so, one of the great things about the pandemic — and there are not many, but one of the great ones — was it reinforced a home-centered, Church-supported way to study and learn the gospel. And that is what should continue.

A copy of one of the first copies of The Book of Mormon to be translated into Spanish.
A copy of one of the first copies of The Book of Mormon to be translated into Spanish was part of an exhibition of the history of the Church shown at the Provo City Library by a private, non-profit group on October 27, 2007. | Mike Terry, Deseret News
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5:24

Sarah Jane Weaver: This is an exciting time for the Book of Mormon. We, as a Church, have just published the 200 millionth copy of the Book of Mormon. Can you talk about that very impressive milestone?

5:37 

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think that President Nelson has said that the Book of Mormon is the tool of the gathering and that as the Book of Mormon increases in distribution, it is a manifestation of the Lord hastening His work. And we have so many other channels in which we can receive it or learn about it or share the Book of Mormon. And I think the Lord is giving us tools to use to hasten His work. And part of that is using the tool of the gathering, which is the Book of Mormon.

And so it is a remarkable achievement, but I do not think it is the achievement that we should be satisfied with; it is: “What is it to achieve?” It is to invite people to come to Christ and to be converted to Him, to become His disciple, to get on and stay on the covenant path. That is the purpose of the tool. The tool may be beautiful. The tool is wonderful. But it is really what it is to accomplish as it is distributed in the world that is key.

6:40

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, it took 170 years to get the first 100 million, 25 years to get the second 100 million. I’m glad you spoke about the hastening. But now we are blessed to have the Book of Mormon through so many other channels. How can we find the Book of Mormon in all of these channels?

6:58

Elder Dale G. Renlund: It is easy to go to them. I think the key, though, is that not everybody needs to use every channel. I think most of us will be fine picking one or two or three that we use, and then use them well and effectively, become familiar with them. But it means that there are so many different ways — people deal with it in so many different approaches — but it can work for anybody. So nobody needs to use all of them, but everybody can use at least one of them to share or to learn.

7:31

Sarah Jane Weaver: President Nelson has extended a prophetic invitation to everyone to immerse themselves in the Book of Mormon. How does daily immersion in this sacred book of scripture draw us closer to the Savior?

7:46

Elder Dale G. Renlund: So, President Nelson has clearly talked about it. But even in the introduction to the Book of Mormon — and I am going to read it — is that it started with Joseph Smith saying this: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” So, Joseph Smith said it. President Nelson said it. And virtually every prophet in between has said the same thing. They are saying the same message, that it is by abiding by the precepts that we find in the Book of Mormon, that we draw closer to Jesus Christ.

I think the other issue is President Nelson has talked about daily immersion in it, daily study. And I think if we think of our spiritual health, daily doing it is better than not doing it for six days and then bingeing. And so just as it is not good for my health if what I choose to do, out of efficiency, is I fast for six days and then gorge myself the seventh day, that is not a recipe for good health. Instead, a recipe for good health is a good diet every day. In the same way, daily immersion in the Book of Mormon is the right way to acquire the spiritual nourishment that we need.

9:16

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have this great way to study the Book of Mormon with “Come, Follow Me.” What message do you have for individuals or families that have never really embraced “Come, Follow Me” or home-centered study of the gospel?

9:34

Elder Dale G. Renlund: The wonder of “Come, Follow Me” is that it is terrific for busy moms and busy dads because of the way it is organized. So if we are really busy, the worst thing that we can do is to make it overly complex, to think that it has to be done in a certain way, it has to be a lesson, it has to be that way. Instead, what we can do is we can take out our little Gospel Library app, we can go to “Come, Follow Me” 2024 tile, we go to Individuals and Families, we go to the material, you go to the week and you see what is there. And you can scroll through it, and you get to a place that talks about ideas for family scripture study and home evening, and all of a sudden, you have some passages. You can just read those, you can ask what the application is, or you find where there is a video that you can show and ask people in the family what they saw.

And it does not require a huge amount of preparation to do that, because it is laid out, it is simple. And I think then, you do just that; you show the video, ask your children, and then you say, as a busy mom or busy dad, “Well, that was great. Let’s have prayer and go to bed.” And so I think the biggest challenge is thinking that there is a huge preparation that is needed, whereas just getting into it, just starting at picking the week, just looking through and seeing what little piece you want to read out of there, I think that helps.

A Latter-day Saint missionary in Charlottesville, Virginia, holds a copy of the Book of Mormon.
A Latter-day Saint missionary in Charlottesville, Virginia, holds a copy of the Book of Mormon on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

11:17

Sarah Jane Weaver: What difference will this make in their lives?

Elder Dale G. Renlund: Well, if we abide the precepts in the Book of Mormon, we draw closer to Jesus Christ. That is the promise from the prophets. And I think that the difference it makes is that if you help young children or old children draw closer to the Savior by means of “Come, Follow Me,” by means of the Book of Mormon, it makes all the difference — because the success, I think, as a parent is measured primarily by your commitment to helping your children become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And this is the tool by which it can be done.

11:57 

Sarah Jane Weaver: The Church is in the process of releasing new illustrated Book of Mormon stories and videos. Can you talk about these and how these can be an additional tool to families?

12:08

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think we think of these stories — the Book of Mormon Stories and things — that they might be for children. I find them fascinating, because they are so engaging. And so, if I were new to the Church, either as a friend or as a new convert, these Book of Mormon Stories and illustrations that the Church is preparing and using can give me a broad overview, so I get the picture, and then I can read, and then I read with greater understanding.

I do not think it is just for children. I think it is for all of us, so that we see things in a little different way, we imagine things in a little different way, we get more into the story, and we realize what it would have been like to be in a certain situation.

12:56

Sarah Jane Weaver: President Nelson has said the Book of Mormon contains the answers to life’s most compelling questions. Is this something that you have found as well?

13:05

Elder Dale G. Renlund: President Nelson said, “My dear brothers and sisters, I promise that as you prayerfully study the Book of Mormon every day, you will make better decisions — every day. I promise that as you ponder what you study, the windows of heaven will open, and you will receive answers to your own questions and direction for your own life.”

And so that is the promise from President Nelson. But I think the reason he can make that promise is that as we study the Book of Mormon, as we abide by its precepts, the Holy Ghost becomes more of a constant companion. And it is by inspiration and revelation through the Holy Ghost that we make better decisions in our lives. And so, I have found that to be true, that when studying in the Book of Mormon, when that is part of what I do every day, it helps me have the Holy Ghost with me in a better way. And that always leads to better decisions.

The other thing that President Nelson has taught us very recently is to “think celestial.” And part of that is to have an eternal perspective. And as we immerse ourselves in the Book of Mormon, it helps us understand the Savior and His role in the plan of salvation and exaltation. It helps us have that eternal perspective. And that helps us that instead of being myopic and focusing on the challenge right at hand, we see the bigger picture, and that bigger picture allows us to have hope and faith in the future.

14:44

Sarah Jane Weaver: What advice do you have for members as they study the Book of Mormon? Do you have any advice that will make their Book of Mormon study more compelling or more successful?

14:56

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think that what Marion D. Hanks taught his missionaries; focus on Jesus Christ as you go through it, the marking or underlining anytime the Savior is mentioned. The next time through the Book of Mormon, he told his missionaries, they should focus on the doctrine of Christ, underlying whatever relates to that. What is terrific about that kind of an approach is you are not just reading to get to an end of a chapter; you are reading to see something.

It is like having a question as you go into the Book of Mormon. If I have particular questions that are on my mind, and I am reading the Book of Mormon with those questions in mind, I will find those answers. So, one of the things that I think is great for everyone is to ask themselves, “What are the challenges I am struggling with? What are the questions that I have?” and approach the study of the Book of Mormon with those questions in mind, because it is those questions, those concerns, that somehow serve as a springboard for revelation to come as we read the Book of Mormon.

Blue hard-cover copies of the Book of Mormon on a table in English, Spanish and other languages
Blue hard-cover copies of the Book of Mormon on a table in English, Spanish and other languages. | Deseret News archives

16:03

Sarah Jane Weaver: Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from an ancient language. Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in recent decades, have translated it into so many more languages so that it can be available to all people in their own tongue. Can you comment about that?

16:20

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I think the Savior said this — in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 90, Verse 11 — and this is the foundation of why we translate it into so many languages: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

And I think that that is the foundational doctrine or principle for us to translate it, so that regardless of language, the language of your heart is what it touches. And so, we are doing this almost as fast as we can, and just on and on and on so that everybody can receive this in their own tongue. And you think about the languages that exist in so many countries in the world, there are scores or hundreds of major languages that we are going to need to translate it to, because it is the language of the heart.

Now, Swedish was my first language. And then my family lived in Sweden when I was a teenager for a few years. And then I went on a mission to Sweden. So I am pretty good at Swedish. But I remember after my mission and coming home to my home ward and hearing the sacrament prayers for the first time in two years in English, and it made me weep, because English had become the language of my heart. And I think that is what we are trying to do, is to have it so that the language of the heart is what people will have the Book of Mormon in, that it can resonate in that way for them.

18:09

Sarah Jane Weaver: When we think about history and we think about all that they went through to print that first copy of the Book of Mormon, that first batch, and now we contemplate 200 million copies, what does that tell you about the rolling forth of the Restoration?

18:28

Elder Dale G. Renlund: That the Lord is in control. Who could have imagined going from 5,000 copies to 200 million? And we know that Joseph saw the gospel rolling forth and covering the earth, but this is just a miracle. It is a miracle that it got published in the first place. It is a miracle that it came forth. It is a miracle that it was accepted, and by so many. But it is a profound miracle in my life, that I have come to know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that it was received and translated as Joseph said it was. And that is a miracle that I know this myself. And that blessing is available to everyone, to know for themselves that the Book of Mormon is true, and the things that that leads to.

If I may, let me just read from the Book of Mormon introduction again, because this is what I found to be true. When I was 11 years old, I had been invited, as the youth had, by the mission president in Sweden to read the Book of Mormon. And then later, a counselor in the mission presidency invited us to pray about what we were reading. And I remember the very night when it happened for me. I remember waiting until my brother had gone to sleep, kneeling on a very cold floor to ask if what I was reading in the Book of Mormon was true. And this amazing warmth filled me, as if I were being told, “I have been telling you all along it is true.” That was the beginning for me.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets attendees prior to a devotional at the Tempe Arizona Institute of Religion.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets attendees prior to a devotional at the Tempe Arizona Institute of Religion on Jan. 29, 2023, in Tempe, Arizona. | Kary Ann Hoopes

20:10

So I tested the promise that is in Moroni, and then this is really what happens: “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3-5.)

“Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.”

I learned for myself that that is true. And so, knowing Jesus Christ, knowing who He is and what He does for us in our lives now, started with that testimony of the Book of Mormon, and it continues to this day.

21:18

Sarah Jane Weaver: As a special witness of the Savior, as we close today, can you share your testimony of Jesus Christ?

21:26

Elder Dale G. Renlund: I know that He lives. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and your Savior, my Redeemer and your Redeemer. That babe in Bethlehem was the God of the Old Testament. He lived in premortality, and He came to earth to fulfill the Father’s plan. He lived a perfect life, and then He brought about this infinite and extraordinary atoning sacrifice. And then He ascended to heaven and claimed the rights of mercy on behalf of Heavenly Father’s children, on behalf of you and me, because He fulfilled the ends of the law.

I know that that is true. It is not a cunningly devised fable. I absolutely know it is true. And I have learned that He is intimately involved in directing His Church on the earth today. I know this. But that does not help you very much. I mean, it is OK. There is a spiritual gift to believe on those who know. But I think that is intended to be temporary. The real miracle happens when you come to know for yourself. That is what changes lives. That is what changed my life. And so that is the encouragement to read the Book of Mormon: to find out that it is true and thereby come to know that Jesus is the Christ. That is my testimony. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

23:00

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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