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Come Follow Me: What If 'Skin' Doesn't Mean Human Skin? (January 30, 2020)

On January 18, 2020, the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about a controversy surrounding the Come Follow Me manual as published by the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints about the Book of Mormon. At issue is how there is a very distinct change from the original printed manual and the online version regarding the "skin of blackness" in 2 Nephi, and how the church is trying to rewrite their own teachings and scriptures to avoid the implications of the text.

We did a write-up about this issue, and I highly recommend reading that before reading this post. (Click here to read it)

I do not want to rehash that write-up, but this opinion piece has been making the rounds this week from the Salt Lake Tribune titled "What if 'skin' doesn't mean human skin" by Holly Richardson. One thing we've highlighted in other posts is how the church will literally tell you that words do not mean what they mean in order to avoid the difficult problems.

  • Translation no longer means translation thanks to the shifting narrative as to how the Book of Mormon was produced along with how the Book of Abraham papyrus have nothing to do with Abraham as the church is now forced to admit in their Gospel Topics Essay

  • Lamanites were taught to us as being the ancestors of the Native Americans, both through the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's claimed revelations from God. DNA however has shown that Native Americans arrived from Asia and not Israel, which makes the claim of Lamanites incorrect. We discuss the church's shifting use of words in the Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon.

  • What the First Presidency called "doctrine" on the ban on blacks is now considered policy.

  • In the Book of Mormon, horses don't mean horses, steel doesn't mean steel, etc because those things did not exist in Book of Mormon times in the Americas, but are prominently featured in the Book of Mormon.

Again I do not want to repeat our last write-up, so I want to just quickly go over the arguments in the Salt Lake Tribune article by Holly Richardson. I will skip the introductions or the overlapping paragraphs, but you can read the entire article here. Now to the actual piece:

"What if our interpretation was a cultural artifact of the mid-1800s, when slavery was still legal in the United States? What if we have misunderstood words like “skin” and “black” and “dark”? Could there be another interpretation?

I believe there is.

In 2015, Ethan Sprout, a professor of English at Utah Valley University, published an article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies that explored the idea of “skin” or “skins” referring to clothing and not to human skin.

Pointing to verses in Alma 3:5-6, he shows us why we can interpret “skin” as clothing: First, the Lamanites were naked, “save it were the skin which was girded about their loins,” and then, “the skins of the Lamanites were dark.” He asks — as we should ask — do they not refer to the same thing? Clothing, or garments? Surely that is a possibility."

As we've previously pointed out, this argument is just silly. Look at how Richardson frames the text of Alma 3:5-6 above to give the "possibility" that skins being worn over their loins equates to the skin that was darkened by the curse. Now let's look at Alma 3:5-6 in its entirety:

"5 Now the heads of the Lamanites were shorn; and they were naked, save it were skin which was girded about their loins, and also their armor, which was girded about them, and their bows, and their arrows, and their stones, and their slings, and so forth.

6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men."

It is just silly to think that the "skin which was girded about their loins" is being referred to in verse six. If the author of the Book of Mormon here was trying to make that direct connection, they would not mention the skin that was girded about their loins and then follow with five other items before coming back to the same "skin." Furthermore it is insulting to tell members that God would "curse" the skins covering their loins as a way to "not be enticing" to the white and delightsome.

Have you even found someone to not be attractive because they are wearing dark clothing? Are women not enticing in black clothing, because if so there is some serious issues with all of the black dresses and lingerie that is sold. This argument is silly and it is insulting to our common sense, lived experience, and teachings from this very church. And apologists know on some level how ridiculous this argument is, which is why even after this carefully selected text in the article, it is still called by Richardson as "a possibility." Just as we see with the Gospel Topics essays, they throw out a bunch of possibilities and hope members will settle on one and stop digging deeper.

Back to the article:

"Back to the Book of Mormon and its stories. In Alma 55, we read Captain Moroni searching for one of Lamanite heritage. If “skin” were a racial thing, rather than clothing that could be put on and taken off, why would it not have been immediately obvious? Further, when they do find a genetic descendant of Laman who, by the way, is a member of the Nephite Army, they send him with a small band of Nephite soldiers to go entice Lamanite guards to drink. If race was the separating factor, why did the guards not become immediately suspicious of a bunch of white soldiers coming toward them? I ask again — can “skin” actually mean animal skin and not human skin? Can “skin” be used symbolically?"

If this were the case, why did God tell Joseph Smith in multiple revelations that the Lamanites were the Native Americans in Missouri? If Joseph Smith merely introduced cultural racism into the Book of Mormon, why was God telling Joseph to preach to the Native Americans who could be identified by, wait for it, their skin color? Why did Joseph Smith talk of a revelation from God in 1831 where he was told if they took additional wives of these Lamanites their skin would turn white and delightsome?

I can't explain why the Book of Mormon talks about needing to search for a Lamanite to entice the guards because a lot of things in the Book of Mormon don't make sense when you read it without needing it to be true, but I will say this: If the curse was truly just darkening animal skins, the Nephites would not be searching for someone of Lamanite heritage, but for any dark animal to wear the skin from. Again, this is insulting to our intelligence and would make God out to be a really bad manager of things to have a curse that could be so easily manipulated by both sides. I mean seriously... if God changed my shirt black to mark me as cursed, I would just get a new shirt. This argument is so bad it makes me feel truly sorry for those who actually need to cling to it in order to maintain faith in something that is clearly a product of Joseph Smith's time. Back to the article:

"Indeed it can. There are multiple scriptural references in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants that refer to skins-as-garments (clothing). Think Adam and Eve, or Aaron and his sons, among many.

There are also multiple references to garments — (skin or skins) — being made white in the blood of the Lamb. Clearly, that is symbolic of Christ’s Atonement. It is not a literal interpretation of what happens if we dip clothing into blood. Could there be a symbolic meaning to “skin”? What about “black,” “blackness, “dark” or “darkness”?

Black and blackness can mean a color and dark or darkness can refer to hue. But they can also mean emotions, countenance or state of one’s soul. Words like “gloomy,” “despondent” or “dejected” are dark. Despair — and the pit of grief — are black. I would argue that Hitler had the blackest of souls while the white light that emanates from Reverend Desmond Tutu is inspiring in all the best ways."

If there was a scriptural reference that truly worked here, Richardson would be providing it. I've seen a number of apologists make the claim that the temple ceremony refers to "coats of skin" as Richardson is alluding to here with the Adam and Eve reference, but again that is in the context of Adam and Eve who were naked. So they were given something to coat their naked skin... in other words, coats of skin.

It's ridiculous to think that the prophets of God got this wrong for 150 years when they were literally claiming revelations from God that told them the Book of Mormon was preserved for the Native Americans, who just happened to be marked by darker skin.

The only reason the church is changing their stance is because of how incredibly racist, harmful, and blatantly incorrect their doctrine is. They are not changing their teachings because they received new revelations, but because the public (and younger members) are just not willing to accept such an obviously incorrect teaching to promote that the "white and delightsome" people were the superior race 2,500 years ago. DNA proved that the Native Americans are from Asia, which means the church has absolutely no idea who the Lamanites are because their teachings from Joseph Smith through today have been so clearly proven wrong.

This article is so dishonest and evasive that it makes my head spin. If we are to believe that Joseph Smith got the revelations from God about the Lamanites in Missouri wrong, then why in the world should we trust any leader of this church? They clearly have no more insight into the world than anyone else, and in turn have declared falsehood after falsehood when it comes to science, history, and how to treat people with respect and dignity whther it's Native Americans, Polynesians, African Americans, or the LGBT community.

Let's finish the article:

"For Latter-day Saints who truly believe that God is no respecter of persons, doesn’t it make sense to ask ourselves if there could possibly be other interpretations from a translated record written over 2000 years ago than the one passed down through the lens of Civil War and then Civil Rights culture? That perhaps our lens of white privilege has colored our view? I believe we can and should be asking those kinds of questions, especially as members of a church that began because of a counter-cultural question asked by a teenage boy."

This ending is really curious to me, because Richardson is making the point that critics have been making for almost 200 years: the Book of Mormon is written as if the author was only familiar with 19th century ideas and writings. There's nothing that matches ancient history of the Americas, and there's nothing that matches future events unknown to the author. Everything points to a 19th century worldview including the use of the King James Bible which is not even considered a good translation anymore since scholars have found older manuscripts to give us a better understanding of what the original texts actually said.

The reason the Book of Mormon discusses how the Native Americans got here is because that was a hot topic around Joseph Smith's lifetime. And it's the same reason people wondered how they got dark skin, because as the white settlers they felt superior to them and to their culture, but still couldn't make sense of their heritage. The racism of the 19th century made its way into the Book of Mormon not because we are misreading it today, but because Joseph Smith was writing the Book of Mormon using the material and questions surrounding him.

So maybe the real question Richardson should be asking here is not if there's another way to read the literal words in the Book of Mormon, but what all of these 19th century problems being in the Book of Mormon tell us about its authenticity as an ancient scripture preserved by God.

If we believe that words have meaning, the answer becomes quite clear: Joseph Smith made it up. And there's no better way to prove that than to look at the people trying to convince you that it can still be true by telling you that skin doesn't actually mean skin.

As we usually close out these posts, I want to mention how difficult it is to take in this new information and changes in policies, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey. And please email us if you disagree with our post - we welcome all comments!

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