Why is the issue of scriptural historicity important? One answer I have heard is that it's a matter of truth: that it's important to know whether they are historical or not so that we don't believe something false. And yet, as a matter of truth, historicity generally seems pretty unimportant. For example, it doesn't much matter to me whether the story of the good Samaritan was just a story Jesus made up to teach a principle or a historical event. The point is not the history, it is the message of the story. And it seems to me that most scripture fits into this category.
But are there matters in the scriptures where the point is the history? The one that I think has the strongest case is the historicity of the atonement of Jesus Christ, including his death and resurrection. Why is the historicity of these events important? It seems to me that one primary reason is that belief in their historical reality encourages hope, faith, and repentance.
What makes this particularly interesting, though, is that in the Book of Mormon, we have the story of people who lived prior to Jesus, who were able to exercise faith and hope in him. Historicity was not the driving factor of their faith; it was a forward-looking faith. Their faith was efficacious even though Jesus had not yet gone through his suffering and resurrection. How was this possible?
Unless we are willing to posit some strange backwards causation to the atonement (which may not be so far-fetched?), it seems that their faith, even in the absence of an already-wrought atonement, was sufficient to secure their salvation -- with the exception of a physical resurrection. If they were able to exercise redemptive faith without the historical events having occurred, would the same be possible for us?
More on issues of historicity coming soon...