An 1890 oil painting of Joseph Smith preaching to the Indians. The painting was commissioned for the Salt Lake Temple and it hung there for over fifty years.

An 1890 oil painting of Joseph Smith preaching to the Indians. The painting was commissioned for the Salt Lake Temple and it hung there for over fifty years.

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.”

Why It’s Weak:
Exaggeration erodes credibility. Overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This argument is weak because it’s both an exaggeration and an overstatement. It turns early Mormonism into an inaccurate, and untrue, caricature of itself. In actual fact, the historical record shows that what Mormon Church originally believed and taught until around the 1834 pre-Book of Abraham, Kirtland era was largely orthodox and was consistent with what other 19th Century Protestant churches, in general, and Restorationist churches of that time, in particular, were teaching at the time. The heresy came later.

1) The church originally founded by Joseph Smith was largely orthodox.
Like most cults, the church originally founded by Joseph Smith believed and taught the essentials of the Christian faith – albeit with error on non-essential doctrines mixed in. As Mormon Historian Thomas G. Alexander notes:

Early critics primarily attacked Mormons for receiving new revelations and scripture, and for claiming authority, but not for Mormon doctrines, which were quite Protestant…  before about 1835, the LDS doctrines on God and man were quite close to those of contemporary Protestant denominations.

The doctrines of God and man revealed in these sources [the "Book of Commandments" and the "Lectures on Faith"] were not greatly different from those of some of the religious denominations of the time. Marvin Hill has argued that the Mormon doctrine of man in New York contained elements of both Calvinism and Arminianism, though tending toward the latter…

As Marvin Hill and Timothy Smith have argued, much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to that of contemporary Protestant churches. The section on the nature of God in the “Articles and Covenants,” now Doctrine and Covenants 20: 17-28, was similar to the creeds of other churches. In fact, what is now verses 23 and 24 is similar to passages in the Apostles’ Creed.[1]

As aforementioned Religious Historian Timothy L. Smith, a Nazarene scholar, summarized:

The persuasive power of both the new scriptures and of the missionaries who proclaimed and expounded them lay in their confident testimony to beliefs that were central to the biblical culture of the evangelical Protestant sects in both Jacksonian America and early Victorian England. These beliefs seem in the early years, at least, to have also dominated the thought and devotion of the Saints themselves, even when debates with outsiders revolved around their special doctrines of continuing revelation, the gathering of Jews and Saints in the two Jerusalems, and the material nature of all reality, whether human or divine.[2]

In fact, one of the best period evidences of how closely aligned early Mormon doctrine was with the Protestant Christianity is Alexander Campbell’s pointed review of the Book of Mormon in which he notes:

This prophet Smith, through his stone spectacles, wrote on the plates of Nephi, in his book of Mormon, every error and almost every truth discussed in N. York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies – infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of freemasonry, republican government, and the rights of man. All these topics are repeatedly alluded to. How much more benevolent and intelligent this American Apostle, than were the holy twelve, and Paul to assist them!!![3]

The reader will note how Campbell attacks the Book of Mormon not on it’s content but, rather, on the author’s pretension to be the ultimate authority deciding for all Christians what’s right and what’s wrong on all these issues through his allegedly divinely inspired book.  In fact, Campbell would have been a fool to attack the content itself since so much of his own Campbellite doctrine could be found in the Book of Mormon.[4] As Thomas G. Alexander summarizes well:

Campbell and others before 1835 objected principally to Mormonism’s claims of authority, modern revelation,  miracles, and communitarianism but not to its doctrines of God and man.[5]

2) Error and heresy slowly overwhelmed Early Mormon’s adherence to historic Christian orthodoxy.
This point was best articulated by Timothy L. Smith who observed:

Several scholars have noted that many doctrines peculiar to the Latter-day Saints, particularly in the years since their settlement in Utah, rest not upon the Book of Mormon but upon the revelations to Joseph Smith which took place after the publication of that volume. Accounts by believers, apostates, and outsiders during the first decade or so of the church’s witness in America and England convince me that the movement would never have gotten off the ground if these unique teachings had constituted its major appeal. [6]

In 1887 this drift was confirmed by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer who, in denouncing the doctrine LdS Church of his day, squarely placed the blame on Joseph Smith for taking it into error:

We do not indorse the teachings of any of the so-called Mormons or Latter Day Saints, which are in conflict with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. They have departed in a great measure from the faith of the CHURCH OF CHRIST [the name of the Mormon Church until 1834]  from  as it was first established, by heeding revelations given through Joseph Smith, who, after being called of God to translate his sacred word — the Book of Mormon — drifted into many errors and gave many revelations to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings.[7]

3) The LdS Church’s dirty little secret: The Book of Mormon discredits modern Mormon Doctrine.
Now that you have an understanding what really happened in Early Mormonism you’re ready for the LdS Church’s dirty little secret:  The Book of Mormon not only doesn’t teach Mormon doctrine, it discredits much of it – as Mormon Researcher Aaron Shafovaloff explains in the following video.

In fact, and as previously noted, the Book of Mormon primarily teaches 19th Century American Restorationism in a way that’s for the most part aligned with historic mainstream Protestant Christian orthodoxy.[8] For example:

  • The Book of Mormon teaches that Jesus is Eternal God. And as such, Christ was neither created or procreated.
  • The Book of Mormon says that God is eternal and unchanging.
  • The Book of Mormon states that God is a Spirit.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that there is only one God.
  • The Book of Mormon states plainly that the One God consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that is, the Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the Trinity (albeit with a strong modalistic skew).
  • The Book of Mormon states that God created via nothing but His word – that is, “ex-nihilo” (out of nothing).
  • The Book of Mormon condemns Polygamy.
  • The Book of Mormon states that there is only heaven and hell.
  • The Book of Mormon denounces universalism as a “false doctrine”.
  • The Book of Mormon repeatedly condemns the type of secret oaths and combinations that are found in the Latter-day Saint Temple Endowment ceremony in the strongest terms.
  • The Book of Mormon denies that there is a second chance to repent and receive the gospel in the next life.
  • The Book of Mormon states that baptism isn’t an absolute requirement for salvation.
  • The Book of Mormon states that man was created by the power of God’s word not procreated by spirit parents.
  • The Book of Mormon makes a clear distinction between men and angels.
  • The Book of Mormon states clearly that Jesus Christ atoned for the sins of the world on the cross.
  • The Book of Mormon discredits key points of the First Vision.

So if you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”.  In the end it’s very much as  Shawn McCraney described it when he said, “[We] recognize the Book of Mormon as a piece of 19th century literary fiction aimed at teaching Jesus Christ. We reject the story of its origins.”[9]

Why the First Vision isn’t relevant here
Finally, please note that the First Vision isn’t in the Book of Mormon and didn’t make it’s first public appearance until 1838. Further it wasn’t a major factor in Mormon doctrine until it was canonized in 1880. This is well past the 1834-35 date when Mormon doctrine transitioned from being largely orthodox to being heretical. I mention this because many modern Christians erroneously point to the First Vision as proof that early Mormonism was heretical from the beginning when in fact it had no significant role in Mormon thought or theology until much, much, much later – about fifty years later to be precise.[10]

The Stronger Arguments:
By now you may, be wondering, “Well, that all that Mormon History is certainly all very interesting but does it have any practical application?”  Yes, indeed it does – this inside knowledge helps us make make powerful, credibility enhancing arguments that’s supported by a large body of verifiable evidence from Mormon friendly sources.

First Suggested Strong Argument: Don’t despise the Book of Mormon use it 
You knew this was coming didn’t you?  Simply put one of the quickest ways to erode your credibility as a Christian critic of Mormonism is to say that the Book of Mormon is filled with nothing but heresies. Strategically it’s the equivalent of taking out your sidearm, emptying of all it’s bullets and then throwing it away before you hit the front lines. Now please don’t get me wrong, the Book of Mormon still contains a lot of error so one has to proceed with caution and handle it with care – therefore, it should be holstered with the safety on most of the time. But that said, and given the right situation and set of circumstances, it can be a most powerful weapon against modern Mormon error.

For those special situations my article “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine” goes into fuller detail on what modern Latter-day Saint doctrines are discredited by the Book of Mormon and cites passages – with live links to official LdS Church sources to boot.  I would also encourage you to consider using my article entitled, “Mormon Doctrine Not Found in the Book of Mormon” for a list of modern LdS Church doctrines that are conspicuous in their absence from the Book of Mormon – the bulk of which comprise the many errors and many revelations that David Whitmer said Joseph Smith, “used to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings”

Another thing to consider in this regard would be to consider participating in “We Agree with Moroni 8:18″ day which occurs on August 18th of each year. Participation is easy: On August 18th just post the event video (see below or click here) on social media, blogs, etc. along with something along the lines of, “I agree with Moroni 8:18 – why doesn’t the Mormon Church?” Click here to view the “We agree with Moroni 8:18″ webpage for more details.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: “You’re following a false prophet with bogus credentials!”
This should come as no surprise the modern reader since Smith’s prophetic qualifications and credentials have always been the key issues in Early Mormonism.  And let’s make no mistake about it, since The Book of Mormon was Smith’s original prophetic credential it too is still a legitimate target for criticism. The key issue here is how the Book of Mormon is used rather than what it actually says. What if, for example, C.S. Lewis had claimed that the Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy were historically based, divinely inspired scripture and proof of his prophetic credentials and authority to restore the Christian church to it’s original primitive glory? If he had I suspect that the Christian response to Lewis and his work in the 20th century would have been, I suspect, quite similar  to the response Smith received in the 19th Century.  This is despite the fact that Lewis’ works, like the Book of Mormon, are largely doctrinally sound.

Simply put, if Smith’s original prophetic credential (and the one that Mormon Missionaries still use today) falls, so does Smith. And if Smith falls, so does Mormonism.  Even Mormon leaders agree on this point, for example, the tenth president of the LdS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith said:

Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.(bolding added)[11]

The twin issues of Smith’s character and the Book of Mormon were the primary arguments that were made against Mormonism back in the early 1830′s when Mormon doctrine was still largely orthodox. For example, consider how Alexander Campbell opens his scathing 1831 critique of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon…

"Delusions: An Analysis of The Book of Mormon..."  by Alexander Campbell circa 1832

“Delusions: An Analysis of The Book of Mormon…”
by Alexander Campbell
circa 1832

EVERY age of the world has produced imposters and delusions. Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, and were followed by Pharaoh, his court, and clergy. They for some time supported their pretensions, much to the annoyance of the cause of the Israelites and their leader Moses.

To say nothing of the false prophets of the Jewish age, the diviners, soothsayers, magicians, and all the ministry of idols among the Gentiles, by which the nations were so often deceived, the imposters which have appeared since the Christian era would fill volumes of the most lamentable details ever read.[12]

… and how he closes it:

If there was any thing plausible about Smith, I would say to those who believe him to be a prophet, hear the question which Moses put into the mouth of the Jews, and his answer to it – ‘And if thou say in thine heart, HOW SHALL WE KNOW THE WORD WHICH THE LORD HATH NOT SPOKEN?’ – Does he answer, ‘ASK THE LORD AND HE WILL TELL YOU?’ – Does he say ‘Wait till the day of judgment and you will know?’ Nay, indeed; but – ‘When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: THOU SHALT NOT BE AFRAID OF HIM.’ Deut.xviii.8. Smith has failed in every instance to verify one of his own sayings.[13]

As Thomas G. Alexander summarizes Campbell’s critique:

Campbell, in his Delusions, An Analysis of the Book of Mormon, lumped Joseph Smith with the false Christs because of his claims to authority and revelation from God, and he objected to some doctrines. He also attacked the sweeping and  authoritative nature of the Book of Mormon with the comment that Joseph Smith conveniently “decides all the great controversies-infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, eternal punishment, [and] who may baptize.” Nevertheless, he recognized, if somewhat backhandedly, that the Book of Mormon spoke to contemporary Christians: “the Nephites, like their fathers for many generations, were good Christians, believers in the doctrines of the Calvinists and Methodists.” Campbell and others before 1835 objected principally to Mormonism’s claims of authority, modern revelation, miracles, and communitarianism but not to its doctrines of God and man.[14]

Even the criticisms of a period ExMormon followed the same pattern:

Ezra Booth, a Methodist both before and after what he called his months of “delusion” as a Mormon convert, criticized at length Joseph Smith’s materialism, his autocratic rule and his claims to miraculous gifts, and noted what he thought was the failure of some of the prophet’s revelations to fit the subsequent facts. But Booth had no complaint at all of Smith’s doctrine of radical obedience to biblical commandments.[15]

"Mormonism Unvailed" by E.D. Howe

“Mormonism Unvailed” by E.D. Howe

And in 1834 E.D. Howe in what’s widely regarded as the first Anti-Mormon book, “Mormonism Unvailed”, consumed 290 pages with essentially the same themes.  Howe even went so far as to obtain and publish affidavits from those who knew Smith and his family prior to the his rise as a prophet so as to expose his lack of qualifications as true prophet and  reveal the character flaws (the “bad fruit”, if you will, in accordance with Matthew 7:15-23) that qualified him as a false one.  Howe had a vested interest in the matter of Joseph Smith and Mormonism: He had lost his wife, sister and niece to them.

And as LdS Historian Marvin S. Hill notes, even in the late 1830′s these were still the dominant criticisms of Mormonism even though by then it had drifted from general orthodoxy and was preaching full blown heresy:

The earliest pamphlets by those opposed to Mormonism s spread in England [which started in 1837] criticized their claims to authority, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith s reputation, and the [1838] Mormon war in Missouri but not doctrinal mysteries.[16]

Throughout history, these issues have anyways been the most common and strongest arguments against Mormonism. Nothing has changed.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: Consider adopting a “reformation not destruction” stance in regard to the LdS Church
Let me ask you something:  How inclined would you be to listen to someone whose goal is the destruction of your church?  If you’re like most people the honest answer is, “Not very, if that!” In fact, a Christian needn’t go further than an atheist discussion board to find out how “receptive” this attitude makes one to listening to anything that someone with such an agenda has to say.

On the other hand, what if the person’s goal is to reform your church so that it’s a better church? While you may still be skeptical of their intentions and motives you would at least be willing to listen.  In this case it would only be the closed minded die-hard defenders of the status quo – be it right or be it wrong – who would tend to take umbrage at such a stance right?[17] But even in those cases even the die-hards would be more inclined to listen to someone who’s trying to be constructive rather than someone who’s destructive right?

So here’s the irony: Relative to the largely orthodox Mormonism taught in early Mormonism the modern LdS Church is in a state of apostasy.  In fact, and even more ironically, just a few years after the formation of the church Joseph Smith had managed to lead his followers into blatant heresy and error. This is clearly what a former member of the First Presidency and his associates stated in the Nauvoo Expositor:

Nauvoo Expositor

The June 7, 1844 of the Nauvoo Expositor. This was the one and only edition of the paper before Mayor Joseph Smith had the printing press and all remaining copies destroyed.

As for our acquaintance with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we know, no man or set of men can be more thoroughly acquainted with its rise, its organization, and its  history, than we have every reason to believe we are. We all verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the Old and New Testaments, Book of Covenants [that is the original 1835 Doctrine & Covenants], and Book of Mormon, is verily true; and that the pure principles set forth in those books, are the immutable and eternal principles of Heaven, and speaks a language which, when spoken in truth and virtue, sinks deep into the heart of every honest man…We are earnestly seeking to explode the vicious principles of Joseph Smith, and those who practice the same abominations and whoredoms; which we verily know are not accordant and consonant with the principles of Jesus Christ and the Apostles; and for that purpose, and with that end in view, with an eye single to the glory of God, we have dared to gird on the armor, and with god at our head, we most solemnly and sincerely declare that the sword of truth shall not depart from the thigh, nor the buckler from the arm, until we can enjoy those glorious privileges which nature’s God and our country’s laws have guarantied to us–freedom of speech, the liberty of the press, and the right to worship God as seemeth us good.[18]

As tempting as it might be to chuckle at the amusing irony of a church that claims that all other other churches (other than theirs of course) need to be restored to their pure, primitive state, actually needs to be restored to it’s pure, primitive state itself, it’s still a fact. Mormons like D. Michael Quinn, Rock WatermanDenver Snuffer, and many others see this clearly and have been lobbying for it for years – though I don’t think that many mainstream Christians would completely agree with their vision of what a truly reformed Mormon Church would or should look like.[19]

And while I know that the idea of a “Reformation not destruction” stance isn’t popular among Christian critics of Mormonism – a fact I found out quickly when I asked for feedback on the concept on social media and promptly got thrown back about a mile by the explosive “Destruction not reformation!” outcries – I would ask the reader to still give the idea some thought and consideration despite how incredible it may sound to you now.  And as you consider the question, I would point you to the precedence of the Quakers, The Shepherding Movement, and the World Wide Church of God churches as examples of full reformations and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka “RLDS”) as an example of partial reformation.[20]

And to those who are still reluctant to consider a “Reformation not destruction” stance I would ask you to consider a few things:

  1. Some at BYU have already taken baby steps toward reform distancing themselves from some Mormonism’s most blasphemous doctrines. They’re also putting a greater emphasis on grace. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, there are still a lot of problems – there is both reason for hope and cause for concern at this point. However, if this trend continues (and if they don’t get excommunicated) this could possibly lead to even greater reform over time;
  2. There are reformers aplenty in the LdS Church right now.  I’ve only mentioned three, there are more. And the engine of internal reformation just seems to be gathering steam. It’s been said that Mormonism is not only emptying out, it’s hollowing out and that, combined with the Neo-Orthodoxy movement within Mormonism, is any indication it looks like we’re in for quite a ride!
  3. If the LdS Church were to fully reform it would be a completely different organization than it is today. Spoken plainly it would cease to exist just as the World Wide Church of God ceased to exist after it became Grace Communion International.  So in a sense one could say that “Reformation of the LdS Church = Destruction of the LdS Church”.  So if you’re really, really, really committed to the destruction of the LdS Church as we know it today perhaps one of the best things you could do to advance your agenda would be to push for reform!

The more things change . . .
For Christians new to Mormon Studies the idea that Mormon doctrine began largely orthodox and then drifted into greater and greater error tends to come as a shock. I understand completely, it was for me too.  Like those first 19th Century Anti-Mormons I was so focused on the character flaws and foibles of the charismatic false prophet Joseph Smith (who in my opinion, Mormon Historian Dan Vogel - who is an ExMormon – has correctly labeled a “pious fraud”) to even consider such a possibility.  After all, how could such a flamboyant, self-serving scoundrel have possibly ever taught anything remotely orthodox, right?

The answer is both simple and complex:  Most Christians cults start out with at the very least a veneer of orthodoxy and slowly drift into greater and greater error. As cult expert Ron Enroth explains:

Most sects [throughout American history have] offered variety rather than aberration, but a few could be categorized as extreme. As with their modern counterparts, they often began with noble aspirations and biblical foundations, but were led astray through human frailty.[21]

Mormonism is no exception to this pattern.  The people who were the first converts to Charles Taze Russell’s Bible Student movement (which later became the Jehovah’s Witnesses), Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, or David Koresh’s Branch Davidian group testified later – as David Whitmer and the dissenting 1844 Mormons did  in the Nauvoo Expositor passages quoted earlier in this paper – that the movement was originally fresh, exciting, pure, and thoroughly Christian – the problems came later. Again, Ron Enroth:

People who have been in close contact over a period of years with some of the pastoral leaders we have discussed have told me that their ministry was far more benign and subdued at the beginning. Gradually, as the pastors became aware of the influence they could exert and the power they could wield, they and their ministries began to change. Consciously or unconsciously, they took advantage of vulnerable people, and convinced them that God had given them, the shepherds, the right to exercise authority over the flock.[22]

And of course, that “authority” typically also includes mandatory new revelations for the flock that depart radically from mainstream, historic, Christian orthodoxy.

Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it

(click to zoom)

… the more they stay the same
Ironically, none of this should come as a surprise to today’s 21th Century Christians in Mormon Studies since we have been watching this very scenario unfold before our very eyes with Shawn McCraney. I won’t belabor this since I’ve written an entire series documenting the descent of Mr. McCraney and his CAMPUS sect into heresy.[23] However, the short version goes like this:

  • From March 2006 through  December 2013 Shawn McCraney, with the exception of a few cringe worthy wrinkle your brow and wonder moments, was aligned with mainstream Christian orthodoxy.
  • From January 2013 to January 2014  he attacked the modern Christian Church on non-essential doctrines (often using uncharitable, inflammatory language) but remained largely aligned with mainstream Christian orthodoxy.  The cringes and wrinkled brows turn into crossed arms, thoughts of deep concern, and some angry frowns.
  • In February 4th 2014  Shawn McCraney renounces all forms of ecclesiastical accountability except in regard to finances. He then proceeds to renounce the essential doctrine of the Trinity calling it, among other things, “garbage”. The first cries of “Heretic!” begin while Christian leaders in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 privately and publicly attempt to confront and reason Shawn out of his error.
  • Since then, and despite everyone’s efforts, yet more heresy has followed in the wake of McCraney’s rejection of the Trinity. This is not limited to but includes the heresies of modalism, and full preterism. At times it has seemed as if Mr. McCraney has yet to meet a heresy that he doesn’t love![24]

As the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Or, if you prefer, “Here we go again!” Or, if you really prefer, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

Summary and Conclusion
Consider this, what if 117-years from now you were still alive and heard critics of Shawn McCraney and McCraneyism giving, “Shawnite doctrine was heretical from the very beginning!” as an argument against it? It wouldn’t be true would it?  It would be an exaggeration wouldn’t it? It would be overstating things wouldn’t it? You would have serious doubts about the credibility of the person making that argument wouldn’t you? A knowledgeable Shawnite could shoot the argument down by simply presenting evidence from the historical record couldn’t they? In fact, you, yourself as a living witness could discredit those critics by simply saying, “I was there and that’s not true – it just wasn’t that simple, it was far more complex and nuanced than that!” couldn’t you?  Maybe, you would even say something like this:

“Exaggeration erodes credibility.  Overstatement turns strong arguments into weak ones. This argument is weak because it’s both an exaggeration and an overstatement. It turns early McCraneyism into an inaccurate, and untrue, caricature of itself. In actual fact, the historical record shows that what Shawn McCraney and those who attended CAMPUS originally believed and taught until around January 2014 was largely orthodox and was consistent with what other 21st Century Protestant churches were teaching at the time. The heresy came later.”

As it is with McCraneyism so it is with Mormonism: Keep your strong arguments strong – don’t exaggerate and don’t overstate. Rather, just speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

KeithWalkerQuote_Edited

NOTES
[1] Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology” Sunstone 5:4 (July-August 1980) pp.15-17

[2] Timothy L. Smith, “The Book of Mormon in a Biblical Culture” Journal of Mormon History, Volume 7 (1980), p.8

[3] Alexander Campbell,  “Delusions: An analysis of the book of Mormon with an examination of its internal and external evidences, and a refutation of its pretenses to divine authority”, The Millennial Harbinger, February 7, 1831

[4] See Fred W. Anson, “Campbellite Doctrine in The Book of Mormon”, Beggar’s Bread, February 11, 2013; also see Rock Waterman, “The Book Of Mormon Bait & Switch”, and Daymon Smith, “A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, Volume One: Setting, a Foundation, of Stones to Stumble Over”

[5] Op cit, Thomas G. Alexander, p.18

[6] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.8

[7] David Whitmer, “An Address to All Believers in Christ: By A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon”; Richmond, Missouri (1887), p.4

[8] The list that follows was extrapolated from my article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctine”.  A fuller explanation of each of these points can be found there or by using the embedded links I’ve included in the list on key points.

[9] Shawn McCraney, Born Again Mormon: Our Faith, The Book of Mormon (website)

[10] Fred W. Anson, et al,  “A Documented History of the First Vision”

[11] Bruce R. McConkie, compiler, “Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith”, (Bookcraft, 1954), vol. 1, p. 188.

[12] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.5

[13] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.15

[14] Op cit, Thomas G. Alexander, p.18

[15] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.10

[16] Marvin S. Hill, “The Shaping of the Mormon Mind in New England and New York”,  BYU Studies, Spring 1969, p.371

[17] One need only consider Pope Leo X‘s reaction to Martin Luther in this regard.  Luther’s letter to Pope Leo should, in my opinion, be an example to all reformers of how to respond to the harsh reaction of status quo die-hards.

[18] William Law, et al, “Nauvoo Expositor”, June 7, 1844, p.1

[19] At this point you may be wondering, “Sounds interesting but exactly what kind of  ’reform’ are we talking about? I gave my answer  here: “If I Were Mope [2013 Edition]“.  And I wasn’t the first or the last to offer up a suggested reform model for the LdS Church.  Here are some others to consider:

Mormon Reformation Day 2011 95 LDS Theses

Mormon Reformation Day 2012 95 LDS Theses
Mormon Reformation 95 LDS Theses
Mormon Reformation Day 2013 LDS Theses
95 Theses Against the Claims of the Mormon Church

Finally, I think it’s good to remember that Christians aren’t the only ones pushing for reform in the LdS Church – we have competition.  I’ve already mentioned a few Latter-day Saints who are pushing for reform and, as stated, I seriously doubt that many mainstream Christians would agree with what their view of a reformed LdS Church should look like.  This is even more true of Mormon polygamist leader Ogden Kraut who originally published his 95 Theses back 1975 (click here) and has updated it several times now. Therefore, this author is of the opinion that rather than abdicating or abandoning the Mormon Reformation space we should occupy it (see Luke 19:13, KJV) or at the very least have a distinct presence.

[20] Also see, Fred W. Anson, “Can A Mind Control Cult Reform Itself?”

And to clarify, while I’m pleased that the RLDS has made substantial strides toward mainstream orthodoxy I am hoping and praying that somehow, someday they go further and become fully orthodox. A good step in that direction, in this author’s opinion, would be a denunciation of Joseph Smith as a false prophet and a full decanonization of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.

[21] Ron Enroth, “Churches That Abuse”, p.28

[22] Ibid, p.112

[23] See the Beggar’s Bread series on Shawn McCraney, CAMPUS, McCraneyism, and the Shawnite movement for full documentation and supporting evidence:

by Fred W. Anson
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part One)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Two)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Three)
The Trial(s) of Shawn McCraney (Part Four)
Dear Michelle

by Cory Anderson
A Pastor’s Appeal to Shawn McCraney

Also related (written during Shawn’s still orthodox but “cringe worthy wrinkle your brow and wonder” period)
Fred W. Anson, Book Review: “I Was A Born Again Mormon”

[24] Shawn McCraney started teaching Full Preterism in August 2014 starting with Heart of the Matter Episode 406: Has Jesus Returned – Part 1.

BACK TO TOP

The 1611 Translators Preface to the KJV Bible.

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“Well at least you use the King James Bible – it’s the only true and inspired translation. It alone is God’s Word!”

Why It’s Weak:
This stance is from the “The King James Only Movement” (or “KJV Onlyism” as it will hereby be referred) which, in a nutshell, holds to the stance that the King James Version of the Bible is superior to all other English translations of the Bible and, therefore, the only version that should be used by individual Christians or Christian congregations. KVJ Onlyism also teaches that all other English translations are corrupt, hence the KJV is the only the English Bible that can be trusted.  Some KJV Onlyists even go so far at to teach that the King James Bible is without error and was divinely inspired. Some even teach that if there’s a conflict between what the original language manuscripts say and the KJV says you should choose the latter.

KJV Onlyism is fraught with a multiplicity of problems[1] that get exacerbated and amplified within a Mormon Studies context. And while I will make every attempt to show charity to my KJV Only brothers and sisters in Christ throughout my critique of their stance, I’m still going to be direct and honest about those problems throughout this article.

That said, let me be crystal clear: I love the King James Bible! The KJV was the Bible translation that I grew up with. It’s the Bible that I memorize from. It’s the Bible that I first fell deeply and passionately in love with, and it’s the one that I first read from cover-to-cover (and then read cover-to-cover several more times). To this day the KJV is still the first translation that I turn to first whenever I’m doing research. I also honor and respect it’s unique position and profound influence in the history of the English speaking world. In my opinion, the elegant English of the King James Bible has yet to be matched by any other translation of the Bible.

But objectively speaking, The King James Bible isn’t really God’s Word.  Neither is the New International Version of the Bible, the English Standard Version, the New American Standard, the New Living Translation, the New King James Version, the Common English Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, or even the Reina Valera (which is the topping selling Spanish Bible in the world).

The title page of a 1611 KJV Bible

The title page of a 1611 KJV Bible (click to zoom)

These are all translations of God’s Word.  Therein lies a difference – a big difference!

If one holds to Biblical inerrancy (as the author does) then God’s pure and unadulterated written revelation to mankind is only found in the original handwritten manuscripts that were produced by either the biblical author or their scribes.

These are known as the “autograph” manuscripts (or “autographa”) and none of them have survived.  What’s left are imperfect copies (or, more likely, fragments of copies) that, thankfully, we have in such an abundance that we have been able to reconstruct the autographa with a high degree of certainty.[2] Those reconstructed manuscripts are the closest thing we have to “God’s divinely inspired Word”.  Therefore, a translation is only as authoritative as it accurately reflects those original language reconstructions and they are only as authoritative as they reflect the autographa.

Further, translation is always an interpretative interpretative process since no two languages translate precisely word-for-word the same. For example, take a simple Spanish phrase like “¿Qué pasa?” The most common English translation is “What’s happening?” but if you transliterate it word-for-word it would be: “What passing?” So does that mean that the ONLY 100% accurate, true, or correct translation is “What passing?” Clearly, that’s nonsense.

“¿Qué pasa?” can also be translated:  “What’s up?”, “How’s it going?”, “What’s goin’ down?”, or even “Wazzup?” While all these translations are correct Spanish to English translations some are more accurate, some more elegant, others more vernacular, but all are valid translations appropriate to different English speaking contexts and dialects. So if it’s this complex for just a simple two word translation between two living contemporary languages consider how much more so it is going from complete sentences and paragraphs from ancient languages into modern English.

All that to simply say, getting fanatically dogmatic about a translation – any translation – of the Bible is bound to get you in trouble.

1) King James Onlyism is a non-essential of the Christian faith
As previously mentioned in article #4 of this series, focusing on non-essentials weakens our arguments when engaging Mormons:

Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever has a a great saying, “The gospel is offensive enough – let’s make sure we offend Mormons with what really matters!” Arguing from dogma, preferences, and non-essential doctrine dilutes the message to Mormons that really matters.

… strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith.  Specifically, strong arguments will always be some variation on the themes we introduced earlier in this article:

1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus.
2) Mormonism teaches another salvation.
3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong.
4) Mormonism teaches another gospel.
5) Mormonism teaches polytheism.
6) Mormonism follows a false prophet.

Like the notes in a musical theme these six points can be woven into a seemingly endless array of strong, persuasive arguments. Use them skillfully and creatively and your arguments against Mormonism will be as moving as a Mozart symphony. But if you deviate too far from them, we’re talking Spike Jones.[3]

2) King James Onlyism mirrors Mormonism’s irrational, feelings based epistemology.
As Robert C. Newman and Douglas S. Chinn of the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute explain, KJV Onlyism is very “Mormon” behavior:

So, if scholarship is not the ultimate basis for the present TR-KJV [Textus Receptus-King James Version] movement, what is? What kind of non-scholastic methodology is thought to allow God to be the final authority on what constitutes the Bible instead of men? Their answer is FAITH! The same kind of faith that God demands when one believes in Jesus as his Lord and Savior — so they claim. By this method, one can be independent of other men and come to a final conclusion by himself concerning what constitutes the Word of God.

Desiderius Erasmus in 1523 as depicted by Hans Holbein the Younger. Erasmus was responsible for the Textus Receptus.

Dutch humanist and Roman Catholic Priest, Desiderius Erasmus in 1523 as depicted by Hans Holbein the Younger. Erasmus was responsible for the Textus Receptus.

An example of this kind of faith is seen in the following case. When confronted with a difference between the KJV and (say) the NASB [New American Standard Bible], how does one tell which reading is genuine? By the method of scholarship, one would have to study the manuscripts and their history. By the method of “faith,” however, one only has to pray and ask God to reveal to him in some way (without scholarship) which reading is correct. If one has been saved under preaching from the KJV, it is very easy to appeal to one’s personal experience as God’s revealed “proof.” They would say, “I can see the changes that have taken place in my life since I believed what was taught in the KJV. These changes are evidence that God is really working in my life. Therefore, I know that the KJV is the best text without any manuscript evidence.” This methodology, of course, is then later used to defend every word in the KJV text. In our discussions with pro-KJV people, it is not uncommon for them to claim that even the TR [Textus Receptus, the manuscript the KJV New Testament was translated from] can be wrong, but the KJV cannot.

However, is this the kind of “faith” the Bible talks about? Blind faith based on personal experience and independent of other evidence such as manuscripts and history? In I Corinthians 15:14, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” How does one determine whether Christ has actually risen from the dead? Are not historical and archaeological evidence (using scholarship) for the reliability of Scripture involved? Did not Paul give historical evidence when he told the Corinthians to ask the other Apostles and the five hundred brethren who saw saw the risen Christ (I Co.15:4-7)? Would this not involve some scholarship in determining whether a person actually saw Christ or was lying? Should not every Bible believer be ready to renounce his faith if a grave in Palestine were ever identified unmistakably to contain the remains of Jesus Christ? If not, what would be the difference between that person and a liberal who says that it does not really matter what happened, only what a person believes happened is important?

We fundamentalists sometimes claim that some of the hymns we sing are doctrinally unsound. Is this not the case for that line in the hymn “He Lives” which says “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!”? There is more to Biblical faith than belief without objective evidence. If not, then how does one witness to a Mormon?

Present day Mormons claim that scholarship can never prove or disprove that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God or that the Book of Mormon is also the Word of God. That would make other men the final authority on Mormonism, not God. If one should point out some of the abundant evidences against Mormonism, Mormons will usually respond that these problems will eventually be resolved in favor of Mormonism given enough time. The primary evidence for the truth of Mormonism comes from the Holy Spirit working in one’s life, so their claim goes.

A KJV-Onlyist's car sign leaves little doubt where he stands.

A KJV-Onlyist’s car sign leaves little doubt where he stands.

Prospective converts are first given a presentation of Mormonism. Then they are asked to pray to God and sincerely ask Him to show them by divine revelation whether or not Mormonism is true. By this methodology, many people do indeed become Mormons while others do not. With the passing of time, many converts will be able to give glowing testimonies of the changes God has supposedly wrought in their lives. If one asks why certain people who prayed decided not to become Mormons, Mormons will typically answer that such people must have prayed (at least subconsciously) with an insincere heart. Otherwise, they would have become Mormons! Indeed if the growth of a church is the evidence of God’s blessing the use of a particular text, the Book of Mormon would do well. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in America.

Does the methodology of faith without scholarship produce any more certainty than faith based on scholarship? Has not every person once thought he was certainly right on some issue only to later change his mind and believe he was totally wrong? Is God really the final authority in this methodology? If He is, then why do people become Mormons and claim to have peace and assurance in their times of need? Has not God really been replaced by “leading by feelings” concerning their experiences using the KJV in this methodology of faith without scholarship? Nowhere in the Bible are we taught that the feelings about our experiences, even after sincere prayer, are the voice of God.[4]

Whenever I’ve had discussions with KJV Onlyists I’ve encountered exactly the same type of evidence denial, thought stopping and information control tactics, ad-homineming, testimony bearing, subjectivity, apologetic spin doctoring, and feelings based irrationality that I see in my engagements with Mormons.  Making non-essentials essential is a very Mormon thing to do – and KJV Onlyists in this regard are very Mormon.

3) KJV Onlyism reinforces Mormon Article of Faith Eight dogma.
Joseph Smith’s Article Eight of the canonized Articles of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as follows:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.[5]

Taken at face value, I agree with the first part of Article Eight – the Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. However, what Joseph Smith’s words actually say and how they’re understood and applied by Mormons are often two different things.  As Robert N. Hullinger observed in his award winning book, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Joseph Smith’s real agenda from the beginning was to undermine the absolute authority of the Bible and replace it with his own:

“In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism, which excluded the supernatural, and the static revelation of traditional Christianity contained in a closed canon. But to enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, Smith supported the deistic attack on the Bible’s being complete and errorless. Rejection of the traditional view left him free to pursue special revelation specific to his own cause.”[6]

Article eight reflects this subtle deviation and Mormon orthopraxy confirms it. So while KJV Onlyists may feel like they’ve had a major break through when they see their Mormon friends smiling and nodding in agreement at their attacks on non-King James translations of the Bible, they’re really just helping to dig the grave that those very same Latter-day Saint will later throw both them and the Bible (including their KJV Bible) into down the road.

Photo Credit: British Library

The Codex Sinaiticus was handwritten well over 1600 years ago. This manuscript contains the entire Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

4) KJV Onlyism takes the focus off source manuscripts – and in Mormon Studies source manuscripts are a critical issue.
Whenever we’re talking about translated text the source manuscripts are vitally important.  In the case of the Bible they’re important for the all reasons outlined above. In the case of the Book of Mormon they’re important because: a) Not only do we not have the original autographs (that is, the Golden Plates) we have no evidence that they existed at all, and; b) In the case of the extant Book of Mormon manuscripts we have exactly the same type of text variants that Latter-day Saints use to create doubt about the integrity of the Bible.[7] In the case of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (which we’ll discuss later) there is no manuscript support for his revisions to the KJV text. Further, in the case of the Book of Moses, we have no manuscripts to support Joseph Smith’s “translation” – period.  Finally, in the case of the Book of Abraham the autograph manuscripts actually discredit Joseph Smith’s “translation”. When it comes to Mormon Studies, manuscripts are a constant topic of conversation – it never seems to end.

Taking the focus off of the source manuscripts puts the Bible, which has strong manuscript support, on the same level as Mormon scripture which doesn’t.

5) KJV Onlyism eliminates a powerful tool: The appeal to better translations.
By today’s standards the King James bible is a good translation but not a great one.  The King James bible translators didn’t have benefit of  the earliest manuscripts  nor did they have the overwhelming volume of source manuscripts that we have today.[8] Further, the Textus Receptus Greek manuscript that they used was rife with problems.  Many examples could be cited here but I’ll just point to one that’s rather telling:

Perhaps the most ironic part of the pro-TR-KJV [Textus Receptus-King James Verse] position is their use of Revelation 22:18-19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The point usually made in connection with these verses is that it is a very serious thing for a manuscript to have even one word added, missing, or altered from what God originally inspired. However, the phrase “book of life” in verse 19 is found in no Greek manuscript. Every Greek manuscript has “tree of life.” The phrase “book of life” appears to be an uninspired change imported by Erasmus from the Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate.[9]

From a Mormon Studies perspective, since the King James is the only officially endorsed version of the Bible it’s membership may benefit from it’s strengths but it also gets dragged down by it’s weaknesses. Without the ability to appeal to better, alternate translations of the original languages and manuscripts it’s hard to overcome this.

Consider, for example, how Mormons use the King James mistranslation of the Hebrew words for “copper” or “bronze” (nechushah or nechosheth, see 2 Samuel 22:35Job 20:24Psalm 18:34Jeremiah 15:12) to justify the anachronistic usage of steel in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 16:18,  1 Nephi 4:92 Nephi 5:15Ether 7:9, Jarom 1:8).  If you hold to the stance that the translation of the KJV Bible was divinely inspired then translations of the Hebrew words as “copper” or “bronze” in modern translations are actually corruptions – right? However, the exact opposite is true – making the KJV Onlyist stance for KJV “steel” just as fallacious as the Mormon Apologist rationalization for steel in the Book of Mormon is.

6) The archaic English of the King James Bible can be hard to understand and lead to misinterpretation.
Has this article left you astonied? Do you suffer from blains? Are you afraid of cockatrices?  Do you do a lot of downsitting? How do you feel about evilfavouredness? Can you help me with a little furbishing?  Does all this Jacobean English leave you vexed?  If so, you’re not alone, most of us find this archaic 17th century dialect confusing. KJV Bible aside, do your remember your first Shakespeare read?  How many trips to the glossary or annotations did that “adventure” take?  Well, that too is Jacobean English – I rest my case.

All languages change and fragment over time, this is nothing new. As Theologian and educator D.A. Carson explains:

Clearly, what is reverent and respectful to one group is stuffy and artificial to another; what is irreverent and disrespectful to one group is a sign of personal relationship and boldness of access to another.

In the first century, books written for the literati were still written in Attic Greek [aka, "Ancient Greek" the posh, formal, scholarly dialect of the time]. Is there something to be learned from the fact that the New Testament documents were written by men who, moved by the Holy Spirit, chose rather the colloquial Hellenistic Greek?

Moreover, there is a decreasing number of people today who can read Elizabethan English and readily understand it. The person brought up on the KJV knows that “deny” in Matthew 26:34 really means “disown”; that “Suffer little children …” really means to permit them to come; that “prevent” in I Thessalonians 4:15 really means “precede.” But not many others do.[10]

Further, the use of archaic language can also lead to gross misinterpretation:

Genesis 1 in a 1611 KJV Bible.  (click to zoom)

Genesis 1 in a 1611 KJV Bible.
(click to zoom)

Another problem we need to be aware of in using the King James Version is that the English language has changed. For example, what does the following verse mean?

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’” – Genesis 1:28

The word I’m focusing on is “replenish”. We understand this word to mean to replace, or fill, or build up again. In other words, if we replenish the water in a bucket, we are replacing water that used to be there but no longer is.

This makes this verse seem to be saying that the earth was once populated, and Adam & Eve are to fill the earth with people again.

However, at the time the King James Version was translated, the word “replenish” meant to “fill to capacity.” It did not mean to refill. So it had a totally different meaning. Thus in Genesis 1:28 God is telling Adam & Eve to fill the earth to its capacity.[11]

In this author’s opinion that any English Bible that requires a glossary of English words in order to be properly understood by common, modern, native English speakers is best approached with caution.

7) KJV Onlyism reinforces Mormon Great Apostasy dogma.
Most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches, that all Christian churches other than theirs are nothing but a big ball of confusion. Watching Christians do their “in house” debating over non-essentials on Mormon discussion boards is what some (but thankfully not all) Mormons live for. I’m an administrator on several Mormon themed discussion boards and I have seen more than one Mormon deliberately bait the King James Onlyists to get them arguing with those who don’t hold to that stance (or vice versa) simply so they can sit back and watch the Christian fur flying and get the heat off of the errors of Mormonism.  They love it because the spatting, hair pulling, caterwauling cat fight the Christians are having in front of a worldwide audience is something that they can point to and (incorrectly) say, “See what I mean? Mormons never bicker like this! We have a living prophet to guide us! We have unity, peace, and serenity in our church! We don’t bicker over  silly little things like Bible translations – our leaders have settled the matter for us. We’re homogenized and boring – and we love it that way!”

Yes, this is really how many Mormons see us!

Yes, this is really how most Mormons see us!

Overall Theologian and Apologist James White summed things up well when he said:

The KJV Only controversy is, in reality, a non-issue when compared with the serious challenges that face the Christian Church today. That so much time and effort has to be put into debunking the wild allegations of such individuals as Gail Riplinger [a writer and speaker known for her support of the King James Only movement] is more of an indication of how easily American Christianity is distracted from its true purpose than anything else.[12]

The Stronger Arguments:
As stated repeatedly in this series, strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith. Arguing over a non-essential like which Bible translation that all Christians should be using isn’t even an argument, it’s at the very least a pointless distraction and at the very most it’s a public embarrassment. That said, here are some basic guidelines and suggestions for when you’re discussing those essentials of the faith with Mormons:

When engaging Mormons use the King James Bible but don’t be limited by it:
The KJV Bible is the only translation of the Bible that Latter-day Saint are authorized to use.  As explained in the 2010 Church Handbook of Instruction:

English-speaking members should use the Latter-day Saint edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This edition includes the Topical Guide; footnotes; excerpts from the Joseph Smith Translation; cross-references to other passages in the Bible and to the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price; and other study aids. Although other versions of the Bible may be easier to read, in doctrinal matters, latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations.[13]

This is further explained in a 1987 Ensign magazine article:

When the Church was organized in 1830, the King James Version (KJV), also known as the Authorized Version, was the translation predominantly used in the English-speaking world. Latter-day Saints relied on it in their meetings, and the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price were written in a style of language similar to that in the KJV.

Joseph Smith also used an 1828 edition of the KJV to prepare an inspired version of the Bible. President J. Reuben Clark lists the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) as one reason the Church uses the KJV:

“For our Church membership, the Authorized Version is to be followed in preference to others because the Inspired Version by the Prophet Joseph Smith [that is, The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible] agrees with the Authorized Version in those essential particulars where other versions vary.” (Why the King James Version? Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956, pp. 60–61.)[14]

2 Thessalonians from a 1611 KJV Bible. Can you read this?  (click to zoom)

2 Thessalonians from a 1611 KJV Bible. Can you read this?
(click to zoom)

So if you want to be heard by Latter-day Saints you must at least start with the King James Bible.  However, as the same Ensign article explains:

Is there any value then for the Latter-day Saint in using modern English translations? Although the Church prefers to continue with the KJV for its English-speaking members, we should not assume that the many other translations are not useful. They oftentimes explain passages that are difficult to understand. In cases of confusing phrases and archaic words, readers can quickly compare the verses with those in other translations. In addition, comparing many different translations will often expand one’s understanding of a particular verse.[15]

So even the LdS Church recognizes the limitations of the KJV and supports considering alternate English translations of the Biblical text. If one is unencumbered by KJV Onlyism this can be a powerful tool in leading Mormons to the true meaning of the biblical text that they or their church have abused or twisted.  That’s the good news! Now for the bad news, The Church Handbook of Instructions also states:

The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical translation is not by comparing different text, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.[16]

So, the question is, “How do you overcome that?” The answer can be found in the next section.

Better yet, when engaging Mormons use the Joseph Smith Translation (aka “Inspired Version”):
You may have noticed the passing references to the Joseph Smith Translation (also known as “The Inspired Version”) in the LdS Church sources above.  As Mormon Researchers Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson explain:

The LDS Church officially sanctions the King James Version Bible, although church manuals and publications have been increasingly giving more attention to Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version, it “translation” of the Bible he claimed to have “finished” in 1833 (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, 1:368: Deseret News 1999-2000 Church Almanac [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1981, 483). In the June 1999 edition of the LDS magazine Ensign, Andrew Skinner, department chair of ancient scripture at BYU, apparently agreed with its importance: “In the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915-85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, ‘The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.”‘ Skinner went on to say, “The JST is a special gift given of the Lord. It is one of the great evidences of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s divine calling.” Despite such accolades, the LDS Church does not give away copies of the Joseph Smith Translation.[17]

And as LdS Church manuals explain, the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) is considered to be more accurate than the KJV since it was “translated”[18] under the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit:

While translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith learned that over the years many “plain and most precious” parts of the Bible had been taken away or lost (see 1 Nephi 13:26). The Bible is a sacred book that contains the word of God, but mistakes were made as it was copied and translated into different languages. Words were left out, changed, or added, changing the meaning of some of the scriptures. During the apostasy following Jesus Christ’s death, there were no prophets or apostles to make sure the scriptures were copied and translated correctly. Joseph Smith was instructed to prepare a new translation of the Bible that would restore and correct these plain and precious parts…

Image courtesy of Library-Archives, Community of Christ, Independence, Missouri.

Detail of Joseph Smith Translation Old Testament Manuscript 1, page 19, lines 40–50. The dictated text is in the handwriting of Sidney Rigdon. The subsequent corrections are in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery. (click to zoom)

In 1830 Joseph Smith began working on a correct translation of the Bible. Sidney Rigdon was his scribe. In preparing this translation of the Bible, Joseph was not translating from an ancient language, as he did with the Book of Mormon, but was restoring the Bible to its original meaning. As Joseph studied and pondered the Bible, he was inspired through the power of the Holy Ghost to correct errors in it.

As Joseph Smith worked on his inspired translation of the Bible, his knowledge of the gospel grew, and he was blessed by the Holy Ghost. Many revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are answers to questions about statements in the Bible that Joseph did not understand.[19]

Therefore, when dialoguing with Latter-day Saints it’s actually better to cite from the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible than the King James because it takes the Articles of Faith, Article 8 “as far as it is translated correctly” weapon out of the Mormon’s hand – the Latter-day Saint presumption is that the Joseph Smith Translation is translated correctly and no other Bible is.

I would also point out to my fellow Evangelicals that Joseph Smith left about 90% of the original KJV text that he was working from intact.  For the remaining 10% that he corrupted I simply switch back to the KJV and use it instead.[20]  So while it’s a bit more work to use the JST, I certainly don’t hear the “that’s not translated correctly!” objection as much as I did back when I was exclusively using the KJV with Mormons.

Oh, and by the way, you can get a copy of the Joseph Smith Translation/Inspired Version right here, right now for free:

Even better yet, take them all the way them back to the Biblical manuscripts:
Charles Larson, in his 2009 ExMormon Foundation address, told the story of how he overcame one Mormon’s Article Eight bias by taking him directly to the source manuscripts and then comparing them to the KJV, the JST, and several modern English translations. The Mormon could see for himself that Article 8 was nonsense – the English Bibles, old and new, were translated correctly relative to their sources.  However, in the case of the JST, he saw that Article Eight was true – there was a huge disconnect between the manuscripts and Smith’s “translation.”  Thus, it became readily apparent from the body of evidence who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. So I thought I would try it, and sure enough, it works.

This is actually easier that you might think, just use an Interlinear.  I prefer this one since it also includes the English transliteration of the original language:

1 Timothy in a Greek Interlinear.

1 Timothy in a Greek Interlinear. (click to zoom)

Scripture 4 All Bible Interlinear
Hebrew Interlinear Bible
Greek Interlinear Bible

This final approach is a lot of heavy lifting so I use it sparingly – typically only for the really hard cases.  However, it works really well.  Of course, all too often when painted into this corner many Mormons will play the, “well Article 8 actually means that the Bible wasn’t transmitted correctly!” and start quoting Bart Ehrman in a, “Bart said it! I believe it! That settles it!” fashion in a last ditch effort in order to find an escape hatch – but that’s yet another article (and a long a complex one to boot) for another day.[21]

Summary and Conclusion:
The KJV Only stance opens up can of worms, after can of worms, after can of worms.  In the end, and after the body of evidence has been examined, KJV Only truth claims don’t hold up to scrutiny any better than Mormon truth claims do. Both belief systems are ultimately irrational and feeling, not fact, based.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise that I have heard more than one Atheist ExMormon state it was extreme “escape from reason” type stances like King James Onlyism on the Christian side of the divide that convinced them that there was no difference between it and Mormonism. In their words, they’re both just two sides to the same fanatical coin. And, frankly, if Mormonism and King Onlyism were the only two things that I’d ever known I might be inclined to agree! In fact, and to open the kimono a bit here, it was the legalistic “escape from reason” Christianity that I experienced as a child that caused me to go atheist in my younger days.

Thankfully, the infinite, personal God revealed in the Bible is bigger than that. The God that I worship delights in His children’s ability to think, reason, question, seek and grow. This is the God who in response to a skeptic’s, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!” bares those wounds and says, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.” (see John 20:24-29, NET Bible).  This is the God who says, “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV) not “Shut up, believe and obey!”  The God that I worship doesn’t require new believers to get lobotomies immediately following their baptism. Rather, through the Apostle Paul, He instructs us to, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NKJV)

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

In my opinion, at the core of both the Mormon “follow the prophet” and King James Only dogmas is a self deceptive denial that the world isn’t as simple, easy, or straightforward as we would like it to be.  Thus the deniers try to turn this incredibly complex, often overwhelming life passage into something it’s not: A simplistic melodrama in which everyone is either the faultless and righteous Eliza or the purely evil Simon Legree. A world in which the ne’er do wrong good guys always wear white hats and never miss when they shoot. And, of course, the ne’er do right scheming bad guys in the black hats are out to get ‘em one way or another! The orderly world of the deniers is one in which, unless the black hats get in their way, there’s a place for everything and everything is in it’s place.

Rather, we live in a messy, fallen, broken world in which the Biblical New Testament autographa was preserved by massive, unsupervised, dissemination by all God’s people – commoner, priest, and king – who, with the best of intentions and motives; and with as much skill as they could muster, still managed to create a massive jigsaw puzzle for those who followed in their wake to reassemble.  It’s both a blessing and a curse that there are multiple pieces for any given part of the original picture on the box – which oh by the way is long gone. But the good news is that we have so many pieces and clues between pieces that we  can reconstruct the original picture with a high degree of certainty – thank God for that! Oh, and, by the way, we’re still finding new pieces so the reconstruction of the original just keeps getting better and better and better.[22]

In the end, the best we can do is produce the best translations from what we’ve got. And, according to the original 1611 preface that was all the was the only thing the King James Bible translators claimed to do – and nothing more (click here for text, here for photographs, and here for a good summation by a seminarian).

Further, no so-called prophet can sort all this messy complexity out it by simply uttering a “Thus saith the Lord!” waving his hand and then offering up some contrived clarifying set of revelations, divine inspired interpretations, or even a new Bible. The history of Christian cults shows the utter failure of such a proposition. Rather, the sloppy business of daily dependence on God continues for us all until our pilgrimage ends. We must daily love and trust Him heart, mind, soul and strength if we are to live and  finish well – and that’s just as God intended isn’t it? At least that’s what the Bible says. (see Matthew 22:35-40 in any translation)

Now that’s not simple and it’s certainly not easy but it’s what we’ve got – it’s reality, and we should be grateful for it. And when it comes to God’s Word I think that John Ankerberg and John Weldon expressed it well when they said:

Both KJO [King James Only] promoters and those who use modern translations have been more than blessed by God as far as His Word is concerned. They are privileged to have the Word of God more complete than the vast majority of God’s people throughout history.

Abraham and his family did not have the Word of God at all. Moses and the early Israelites had only the first few books of the Bible (the Pentateuch). King David had less than half the Old Testament. Even the apostle Paul had only the Old Testament. Early Christians to the fourth century had only the relatively few copies that were made and circulated in their particular locale. Christians from the fourth through sixteenth centuries had to be content with those few versions that existed prior to the King James—which were usually not even produced in their own language. Christians from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries had only the King James Version and a few others. And, until the use of the printing press became widespread the vast majority of believers couldn’t even own a Bible. Copies were simply too expensive—even if they were available. Christians had to rely upon what was heard at church services.

By comparison, Christians of today are immeasurably richer—not only to have the King James translation, but to also have reliable modern versions. All believers should give thanks for the great wealth they do have rather than bickering over relatively minor differences among translations.

If you are a Christian who uses the King James Version—if you understand what you read and are comfortable with it—then by all means continue to use it. If you are a Christian who uses a good modern translation, you should also feel free to continue to use it. Don’t be deterred or intimidated  by those who would tell you that you do not have the true Word of God in your hands.[23]

A final note:
Finally, and in closing, I encourage every reader to learn the history of the English Bible.  That said, and to that end, I can’t recommend the following series of lectures from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace highly enough, it is superb:

And for those who interesting in hearing both sides of the of the KJV Only issue I recommend the following debate:

NOTES
[1]  It’s outside the scope of this article to articulate and deal with all the problems of The King James Only Movement.  Suffice to say, the problems are immense and deep as I found out as I researched this article. For a good overview I would refer the reader to the Wikipedia article (click here) on the movement – which contains links should the reader wish to take a “deeper dive” into the controversy.  Dr. Daniel Wallace’s article, “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible Is the Best Translation Available Today” is also an excellent primer as is the GotQuestions? article on the subject, “What is the KJV Only movement?”

For those looking for even greater depth, I would recommend the following books:
John Ankerberg; John Weldon, “Facts on King James Only Debate”
Short (54-pages), concise, and direct – an excellent primer.

Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn, “Demystifying the Controversy over the Textus Receptus & the King James Version” Even shorter (33-pages) but a bit technical. A good next step after Ankerberg and Weldon since it assumes some degree of prior knowledge on the subject.

D. A. Carson, “King James Version Debate, The: A Plea for Realism”
Written in 1978, this was the watershed critique of KJV Onlyism. All other works listed here cite extensive from this book.

James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?”
This is a nearly exhaustive treatise on the subject for layman. It’s now considered the definitive critique of KJV Onlyism – even D.A. Carson recommends this book now.

Finally, I would refer the reader to the Preface of the 1611 edition of the King James Version - go directly to the source. 
(click here for text, here for photographs, and here for a good summation by a seminarian).
In the 1611 KJV preface the translators explicitly state that they don’t consider their translation perfect, just an incremental improvement over past translations. They also state that a translation can never be infallible since it’s not exactly like the original manuscripts. They even state that they fully expect better translations to follow theirs since this had been the pattern in English Bible translation since the Reformation. In other words, the KJV translators considered their work to merely be a link in a long chain of good translations, not the final end-all, be-all translation that the KJV Only Movement claims that it is.

[2] As Michael J. Kruger of The Gospel Coalition notes:

“Historically, Christian affirmations of biblical authority are often expressly restricted to the “autographs.” And there are obvious reasons for this view. Biblical authority does not apply to whatever a later scribe might happen to write down—it applies to what the biblical authors actually wrote.

But does the lack of autographs mean such affirmations of biblical authority are meaningless? No, because the authority does not reside in a physical object, but in the original text. And the original text has been preserved in another way, namely through the multiplicity of manuscripts.”
(Michael J. Kruger, “The Difference Between Original Autographs and Original Text”)

Also see: Mark D. Roberts, “Can We Know What the Original Gospel Manuscripts Really Said?”

[3] Fred W. Anson, Weak Arguments #4: “The Bible says that my sectarian, partisan, non-essential doctrine is the only true truth!”

[4] Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn  (2012-07-20). Demystifying the Controversy over the Textus Receptus & the King James Version (IBRI Research Reports) (Kindle Locations 441-490). Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute. Kindle Edition.

[5] The Pearl of Great Price, The Articles of Faith 1:8

[6] Robert N. Hullinger, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p. 150

[7] Royal Skousen is the leading expert on on the extant Book of Mormon manuscripts. In regard to Mr. Skousen’s work on the text variants between the original BoM manuscripts and the published 1830 Book of Mormon, the fly leaf of his book, “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text” summarizes nicely:

Over the past twenty-one years, editor Royal Skousen has pored over Joseph Smith’s original manuscripts and identified more than 2,000 textual errors in the 1830 edition. Although most of these discrepancies stem from inadvertent errors in copying and typesetting the text, the Yale edition contains about 600 corrections that have never appeared in any standard edition of the Book of Mormon, and about 250 of them affect the text’s meaning.

In other words, the Book of Mormon has exactly the same kind of manuscript text variants that source Biblical manuscripts do – the same variants that Mormons point to regarding our so-called “compromised” Bible. And proportionally there are more of them relative to the size and scope of the manuscript record.

[8] The KJV New Testament was translated from Desiderius Erasmus‘ Textus Receptus which was the best Greek manuscript reconstruction available at the time.  To compare and contrast, Desiderius Erasmus but had only six Greek manuscripts to work from and they all dated from the 12th Century or later – over 1,000 years after the autographs were authored. Erasmus also lacked a complete copy of the book of Revelation and was forced to translate the last six verses back into Greek from the Latin Vulgate. Further, Erasmus adjusted the text in many places to correspond with readings found in the Vulgate rather than adhering tightly to his source Greek manuscripts.

By comparison, today translators have over 5,800 Greek manuscripts to work from ranging from fragments to complete editions of the New Testament.  And the oldest manuscripts date back to the 2nd Century.

[9] Op Cit, Robert C. Newman; Douglas S. Chinn. (Kindle Locations 414-422)

[10] D.A. Carson, “King James Version Debate, The: A Plea for Realism” (Kindle Locations 1666-1674). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[11] Mission to America website, “Two things Mormons should know about the King James Version.”

[12] James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations?”, VI-VII

[13] Official LdS Church publication, Church Handbook of Instructions: Handbook 1 Stake Presidents and Bishops, 2010 edition, p.152

[14] Ensign, June 1987, “I Have a Question: With so many English translations of the Bible that are easy to read, why does the Church still use the King James Version?”

[15] Ibid, Ensign

[16] Op Cit, Church Handbook of Instructions, p.153

[17] Bill McKeever; Eric Johnson. “Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints” (Kindle Locations 3178-3184). Kindle Edition

[18]  The word “translation” is a misnomer since Smith was “translating” from the same language (English to English) rather than from one language to another. Further, in many cases new words were inserted into the text of the Bible based on no source manuscript support at all. As Rob Bowman of the Institute for Religious Research notes:

If there was a “problem” with the New Testament of Joseph’s day it was that it had just a bit more material than was original to those New Testament books. (Scribes almost never deleted anything from the manuscripts they copied, but they sometimes added words or phrases, often in the margins as explanations that later scribes copied as if they were part of the book.) The additional material is insignificant except in two places: the ending of Mark (16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11). The consensus of New Testament scholars is that these two passages of a dozen verses each were later additions to the Gospels. And here is something worth noting: in his revisions to the Bible, Joseph did not indicate that either of these two passages should be omitted. In fact, Joseph added some words to the passage about the adulterous woman (in John 8:6).

The LDS view of the “corruption” of the text of the Bible, then, has things exactly backwards. The original text of the books of the Bible has survived with no significant omissions. “Many plain and precious things” were not lost. Instead, scribes added words here or there, and in a couple of places short passages, that were not part of the original text. Joseph Smith’s revision to the Bible consists almost entirely of additions, several of them lengthy, that we can say with reasonable certainty were not part of the original books of the Bible. Furthermore, Joseph failed to identify those two major additions to the New Testament that did not belong.
(Rob Bowman, “The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible”)

[19] Official LdS Church Manual, “Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History: Lesson 20, Joseph Smith Translates the Bible and Other Scriptures” (1997), pp.104–109

[20] This Kindle title makes the process of picking Joseph Smith’s revisions easy by bolding Smith’s additions and including but showing the removals as strike-throughed text:  Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes, “Joseph Smith Translation” [Kindle Edition]   The authors have also included the original KJV chapter and verses numbers – which is a big help when cross referencing against the KJV.

[21] Those interested in the issue of manuscript transmission as it relates to the reliability of the New Testament should consider these articles:  Matt Slick, “Manuscript evidence for superior New Testament reliability”; Greg Koukl, “Is the New Testament Text Reliable?”;  Mark D. Roberts, “Can We Know What the Original Gospel Manuscripts Really Said?”

Those interested in a good, even toned critique of Bart Ehrman and methodologies should consider this article from one of Ehrman’s most well known and long standing colleagues: Ben Witherington, “Misanalyzing Text Criticism–Bart Ehrman’s ‘Misquoting Jesus’”

Also recommended on the subject of critiquing Bart Ehrman’s scholarship and methodology are these debates featuring Mr. Ehrman versus various debate opponents from the British “Unbelievable” radio program:
Unbelievable? 3 Jan 2009 “Misquoting Jesus” Ehrman & Williams
Unbelievable? 16 Apr 2011 – Biblical evidence for the Resurrection – Bart Ehrman & Mike Licona
Unbelievable? 6 Aug 2011 – Bart Ehrman & Darrell Bock on “Forged”

Unbelievable? ‘How Jesus became God’ debate Pt 1 – Bart Ehrman vs Simon Gathercole
Unbelievable? ‘How God became Jesus’ debate Pt 2 - Bart Ehrman & Simon Gathercole

And this Ehrman debate versus James White:

[22] As James White articulated so well on this point:

“When we see how God lead His people to recognize the canon of Scripture, the listing of the books that were inspired over against those books that were not, we note that He did not therein engage in any celestial fireworks. No angels showed up with golden tablets marked, ‘Divine Index’. Instead, God worked with His people over time, leading them to recognize what He had already done through the act of inspiration. Some might wish that it had happened faster, and some might wish for a more spectacular process, but God did it in His way, in His time.

The same is true regarding the protection and preservation of the biblical text. One might well see tremendous divine wisdom in the way God worked over the years. By having the text of the New Testament in particular explode across the known world, ending up in the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire in relatively short order, God protected that text from one thing we, centuries and millennia later, could never detect: wholesale change of doctrine or theology by one particular man or group who had full control over the text at any one point in its history.

You see, because the New Testament books were written at various times and were quickly copied and distributed as soon as they were written, thre was never a time when anyone or any group could gather up all the manuscripts and make extensive changes in the text itself, like cutting out Christ’s deity or inserting some foreign doctrine or concept. Neither could someone gather up the texts and try to make them say the same thing by harmonizing them. If someone had indeed done this, we could never be certain what the apostles had actually written, or what the truth actually is.”
(James R. White, “The King James Only Controversy”, pp.77-78)

[23] John Ankerberg; John Weldon, “Facts on King James Only Debate” (Kindle Locations 816-829). ATRI Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Top of Article Banner Photo: The 1611 Translators Preface to the KJV Bible.

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Presbyterian 95 ThesesOn October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses or propositions against the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences – - the claim that for the right amount of money you could buy forgiveness of sins. Indulgences were hostile to the very heart of the Christian faith. Martin Luther challenged this practice from the Scriptures and called men back to the Bible and back to Jesus. In the spirit of that challenge, we present 95 theses against the claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We implore you to search the Scriptures to know what is true (Acts 17:11) and seek the real Jesus while He may be found.

1. Your god is not the God of the Bible, nor even truly a god. He is not the creator and sustainer of all things (Colossians 1:16-17), but an exalted man or “super-man” who transformed eternal matter. Your god is more akin to the Norse god Thor than the God of the Bible.

2. On dedicating the temple in Jerusalem, King Solomon stated that the “heavens of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house that I have builded.” (1 Kings 8:27) Yet, your god could have easily fit inside that temple.

3. The Lord, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:22, condemns the pagans, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. . .” Yet, you take pride that your god is man with a body of flesh and bone (D&C 130:18).

4. Even if your god existed, he would be pitifully small.

5. Jesus was God before He took a body (John 1:1). There is no similarity between God condescending to become a man, and a man exalting himself to become a god.

6. Your god is one among many gods, but the God of the Bible states, “ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:8)

7. Your god had a father, who had a father. The Bible states, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” (Isaiah 44:6)

8. Your god had a wife. The Bible states, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me.” (Isaiah 45:5)

9. You twist Psalm 82 to claim a multitude of gods, yet it does not say, “ye may become gods,” but “ye are gods.” Even your apostle, James Talmage, wrote that these are human judges (Jesus the Christ, p.501) who die like men.

10. Your god has not always been a god. Achieving A Celestial Marriage states, “God was once a man who, by obedience, advanced to his present state of perfection. . .” Psalm 90:2 states, “. . . from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”

11. This concept of your god having to obey a law external to himself sets something superior to your god. There is nothing higher than the God of the Bible (Hebrews 6:13).

12. Your God is subject to human free agency, but the God of the Bible works all things together for good (Romans 8:28) and according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Those who crucified Christ were guilty, yet Jesus was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23)

13. Joseph Smith in his “inspired translation” changed the Bible to remove the statement that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus. The Apostle Paul in Romans 9 confirms the reading in Exodus, contrary to Joseph Smith.

14. You claim that the Bible contradicts itself because it says that no man has seen God at any time. You ignore the context and figures of speech. The Lord “spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11), but it is only nine verses later that God explicitly states, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20)

15. You confuse seeing Jesus with seeing the Father. To see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9), but there is a difference. Jesus, the Word, is God (John 1:1); “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. . . (John 1:14). Yet, “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)

16. You confuse sentimentality with reverence, since you seek to rob God of His unique glory.

17. Your religion seems to be more focused on God as a means to your own glory, rather than us being the means of revealing His glory.

18. You claim we undergo a mortal probation to become a god, and yet Jesus already was God before his incarnation (John 1:1-14).

19. Because John 1:1 contradicted Joseph Smith, in his “inspired” translation of John 1:1 Smith tried to make the gospel rather than Jesus the focus. Nowhere in any of the thousands of Greek manuscripts of this passage do we find anything resembling Smith’s translation.

20. Jesus was worshiped by angels before His incarnation and was so holy that they had to cover their faces in His presence. (Isaiah 6, John 12:41) Yet you have reduced him to our elder spirit brother, along with Satan.

21. Since you believe that we all began as eternal intelligences, all that really separates us from Elohim and Jesus are time and exaltation.

22. Your god is limited in time, power, justice, holiness, love, and glory.

23. You assert that we existed before this world because God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee. . .” It is only because your god is too small that you cannot fathom a God who “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17) God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and Adam “became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:17)

24. You twist the words of Jesus and the apostles to claim that we can become gods. Christians will become like Jesus, yet God explicitly states, “Before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:10)

25. Isaiah 43:10 and 44:8 also debunk your idea that Jesus became a god at some later date. In the beginning, Jesus already was God (John 1:1), yet the Bible is also clear that there is one God.

26. You ignore what Christians really say about the Trinity and seek to portray it as modalism: one God playacting in three different roles. Christians believe what the Bible teaches: that there is one God, who exists eternally as three distinct persons. We do not believe Jesus was “talking to Himself” in His prayers, but speaking to the Father.

27. You claim there is only one god for this planet, but don’t you claim that Elohim and Jesus are different gods?

28. You are unclear whether Jesus is to be worshiped, and yet He and the Father are worshiped in the Bible by the people of this world.

29. Your god is not holy; he is the author of sin. He gave Adam two contradictory commands, so that Adam had to rebel against God to obey the command to be fruitful and multiply (2 Nephi 2:25). The God of the Bible does not tempt, much less command men to sin (James 1:13).

30. Your apostle, Bruce McConkie stated, “Properly understood, it becomes apparent that the fall of Adam is one of the greatest blessings ever given of God to mankind.” The Bible presents the Fall of Adam, not as a “fall upward,” but treason against God.

31. Our Creator declared all things good, except for man to be alone. When that was resolved, God declared everything “very good.” Adam, in his rebellion, believed things were not good and substituted his judgment for the revelation of God. Mormons agree with sinful Adam.

32. You trivialize sin. The Fall of Adam was not a blessing, but ushered in this world of rape, lies, murder, cancer, and death. Jesus wept over death, but you would have us believe the Fall that brought it a blessing.

33. Your God is the author of lies. He commanded Abraham to lie to Pharaoh (Abraham 2:24). The God of the Bible does not lie (Titus 1:2). Numbers 23:19 states, “ God is not a man, that he should lie. . .” You believe he is both a man and a liar.

34. You trivialize the effect of sin on us. Rather than working out our free agency, the Bible presents man as dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), an enemy of God (Romans 5:10), and insensible to the things of God (1 Corinthians 2:14).

35. You see men as seeking after God, but God tells us, “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.”

36. You characterize all those who disagree with you as presenting a cheap grace that does not involve repentance. This is as unfair as your critics refusing to differentiate between Thomas Monson and Warren Jeffs.

37. You equate regeneration and the new birth with water baptism and ignore the need for a new heart and new life.

38. You make salvation a matter of grace, only after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23) and ignore that even our best works are only “filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

39. Since your god is not holy, sin is not that bad, and man is not lost, you do not understand grace as the unmerited love of God. Moroni 10:31 states, “. . .if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you . . .”

40. You ignore that we are not merely sick, but dead in our sins. The things of God are foolishness to us and cannot be understood. The gospel is not about God helping good people save themselves, but raising the spiritually dead to life and justifying the ungodly.

41. Joseph Smith in his “inspired translation” guts the gospel of grace by changing Romans 4:5 to say that God “ justifieth not the ungodly.” None of the thousands of Greek manuscripts of this passage support his reading. It also contradicts everything around it and the rest of the New Testament.

42. You are currently unclear as to what you believe about the cross. Your emphasis in the atonement used to be on Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. You present a moving target in terms of anything substantive in your teaching. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine has been allowed to go out of print, and no substitute has been offered.

43. You make salvation to mean only resurrection and ignore the reconciliation between God and man.

44. You claim that we are all spirit children of God by birth, but the Bible says that Christians are creatures who are adopted as children of God. (Ephesians 1:5)

45. Your claim that we all pre-existed as spirit children does not fit with what Jesus told the unbelieving Jews, “If God were your Father, ye would love me. . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”

46. You equate godliness with the Word of Wisdom, not with true love for God as He is.

47. Your Word of Wisdom creates man-made traditions forbidding wine that God gave as a blessing (Psalm 104, Ecclesiastes 9) and part of the Lord’s Supper.

48. You ignore the biblical warnings of legalism, such as Colossians 2:20, “Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?”

49. You pride yourself against other groups because of the law of consecration, but do you practice it? Do your apostles and other leaders live the law of consecration?

50. You claim the three heavens are degrees of glory. You ignore the Jewish understanding to which Paul referred: the first heaven as the sky, the second heaven where the stars and planets are, and the third heaven (heaven of heavens) being the abode of God.

51. You think that you have a higher view of heaven, because you get to become gods, but you have to redefine the term god. The reality is that God promises far better to Christians. It is only because you don’t know Him that you think an eternity of His presence would be boring.

52. You promote James 1:5 as grounds to pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true. You ignore that the rest of the Bible contradicts this idea.

53. James 1:5 does not lead us to ignore “the Scriptures . . .[which] are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)

54. Trusting in the feelings of our hearts is contrary to God’s Word. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 28:26 states, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool. . .”

55. You claim to believe the Bible “as far as it is translated correctly,” yet you dismiss arguments from the original languages.

56. You claim the Bible has been corrupted, yet ignore that it is the best authenticated ancient text and was sufficiently preserved for Jesus and the apostles to cite it as authoritative.

57. You claim that God has not preserved His Word in His church, but you believe He preserved it in a hillside and in a traveling Egyptian sideshow.

58. You believe your god preserved records for hundreds of years only to be thwarted when Lucy Harris stole the first 116 pages of translation. Rather than retranslating the same plates, Smith claimed he had to translate others that were similar.

59. You dismiss the Bible as authoritative since people disagree over it, yet there are over 200 groups who claim to follow the Book of Mormon, and they disagree about many, many things.

60. You assert contradictions in the Bible, but will not hear any response to your claims.

61. You are not a religion of any book, but of a man; and your prophets have contradicted themselves and one another.

62. You claim that the church lost its priesthood authority through a great apostasy. Once again, your God is too small. Jesus stated that all authority was given to Him in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18) and the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. (Matthew 16:18)

63. You claim that the church lost its priesthood authority, yet your concepts of priesthood and temples are hostile to the Bible. Solomon’s temple had nothing to do with celestial marriage or baptism for the dead, but offering sacrifices and worship to God.

64. Your temples are more rooted in pagan Freemasonry than in the Bible.

65. Your interpretation of “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 is hostile to the rest of the Bible.

66. Celestial marriage is not mentioned in the Bible, nor in the Book of Mormon.

67. You build temples made with hands and do not understand that the temple in Jerusalem was replaced with a temple not made with hands – - the church of which Christians are living stones. (1 Peter 2:5)

68. If your temple ceremonies came from God, why were they changed by men? Why do you no longer refer to Protestant ministers as “hirelings of Satan” and take oath to have your throats slit “from ear to ear”?

69. You argue that a true church has apostles, but ignore that the church did not have apostles in the Old Testament, nor did the apostles appoint new apostles, except one in preparation for Pentecost.

70. Your apostles do not meet the biblical qualifications. They are not witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.

71. Your apostles do not have the gifts of the apostles. They do not have miraculous powers of healing the sick or raising the dead.

72. You falsely claim to be the fastest growing church in the world and think this proves the truth of your church. The false prophet Mohammed has 1.6 billion followers. Seventh-day Adventists trace their origins to the Great Disappointment in 1844 and the false prophet Ellen G. White; they have over 18 million members. The Assemblies of God traces its roots to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 and has over 66 million members.

73. According to Deuteronomy 13, Joseph Smith was a false prophet because he declared a god different from the God of the Bible.

74. According to Deuteronomy 18, Joseph Smith was a false prophet, since he predicted things that did not come to pass.

75. Joseph Smith gave false prophecies, declaring the Second Coming of Christ in the generation of those alive in the 1830′s. Apostle Parley Pratt said in 1838, “Now, Mr. Sunderland, you have something definite and tangible, the time, the manner, the means, the names, the dates; and I will state as a prophecy, that there will not be an unbelieving Gentile upon this continent 50 years hence; and if they are not greatly scourged, and in a great measure overthrown, within five or ten years from this date, then the Book of Mormon will have proved itself false.”

76. The accusations of Joseph Smith’s false prophecies are based not merely on our reading of him, but your own general authorities. For decades, your prophets and apostles declared in General Conference that the generation alive in 1832 would see both the building of a temple in Independence, Missouri, and the Second Coming of Jesus.

77. The best claim you have to Smith’s prophetic gifts is Doctrine & Covenants 87. You claim that Joseph Smith predicted the American Civil War in 1832, but you ignore that this prediction was made in the midst of the Nullification Crisis, when the newspapers were speculating about civil war and President Andrew Jackson was threatening to invade South Carolina. The fact that these tensions eventually did lead to war does not undermine the other issues of false prophecies and declaring a false god.

78. Brigham Young taught over and over that Adam was God, but you dismiss this as not being canonized. He stated, “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture.”

79. Does it concern you that the prophet to whom you trust your souls and the souls of your children could be so wrong on who God is?

80. Your recent statements on the Book of Abraham seek to confuse the issues.

81. Decades before the rediscovery of the papyri, Egyptologists pointed out the errors in Facsimile 1, and these are the places where the papyrus was missing and images clearly drawn in.

82. You hold open the possibility Smith’s “translation” came from lost papyri. Did Smith not claim that Facsimile 1 came at the beginning of the record? Is not all the text connected with that image from the Egyptian Book of the Dead and has nothing to do with Abraham?

83. Doesn’t Joseph Smith’s Egyptian Grammar translate characters from the existing papyri into the Book of Abraham?

84. Your church lied about polygamy before 1852. Joseph Smith publicly denied that he practiced polygamy. (History of the Church, vol 6, p. 411)

85. The original Doctrine and Covenants lied about the practice of polygamy in Section 101. Apostle and future prophet John Taylor publicly cited this to dismiss accusations of polygamy while secretly practicing it.

86. Though the original section 101, can be “spun” to allow polygamy (it does not say “but” one wife), it specifically prohibited a woman from having more than one husband. Neither Joseph Smith, nor Brigham Young obeyed this.

87. Your church lied about polygamy after the Manifesto in 1890. Polygamy was still secretly practiced by general authorities until the Second Manifesto.

88. Brigham Young stated at General Conference, “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110). Yet this and numerous revelations about Blacks have been relegated to the dustbin of LDS history.

89. Christians in the early church chose torture and death rather than compromise their faith, but the LDS church only had to be threatened with jail to give up polygamy. Jimmy Carter only had to threaten the LDS church tax status to spur a new revelation on blacks in the priesthood.

90. You display a double standard when others criticize you. You declare that you are “sharing” when you claim that God said Joseph Smith should join none of the existing churches because all their professors are corrupt and all their creeds are an abomination. When others respond to your claims, you accuse them of being “anti-Mormons,” or “Mormon-bashers.”

91. Your Scriptures state “Presbyterianism is not true,” (Joseph Smith – History 1:20), but you become upset when others state that Mormonism is not true.

92. You portray yourselves as victims, because Governor Boggs issued an extermination order if Mormons did not leave Missouri. Yet Governor Boggs’ took this language from a sermon by Sidney Rigdon, threatening non-LDS in Missouri with extermination.

93. You portray yourselves as victims, but Mormons killed far more non-Mormons in the name of religion in one day at the Mountain Meadows Massacre than non-Mormons have ever killed Mormons in the name of religion.

94. You insist that Brigham Young did not order the massacre, but he was clearly an accessory after the fact, blaming the Indians. After the massacre, the California Militia found the bones of the victims and gathered them together and placed stones over them. They placed a cross with a sign on top that said “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.” According to eyewitnesses, when Brigham Young found the monument, he supervised its destruction. According to your future prophet, Wilford Woodruff, in his journal, Brigham Young stated about the sign, “it should be vengeance is mine and I have taken a little.”

95. You have the wrong god, the wrong Jesus, and the wrong gospel. You have been deceived by false prophets who lie and tell you that you have peace with God by following them.

We say these things out of love for Christ, love for the truth, and love for you. Jesus describes the sincerely deceived in Matthew 7:21: Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

We plead with you to search the Scriptures. You will find that God is far greater and more holy than the LDS believe. You will find that sin is far worse than you ever thought, but you will also find that Jesus is far more loving and glorious than you can imagine.

The Elders of Christ Presbyterian Church
A Congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Magna, UT
(801) 969-7948
http://www.gospelutah.org

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Graphic.OpenBible.16x9_Edited
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The Bible says that my sectarian, partisan, non-essential doctrine is the only true truth!”

First A Little Background:
A few years ago I was listening to the audio recordings from a conference that was held in Utah to educate Christians on the differences between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity. The vast majority of the presentations were given in a non-partisan manner that any Christian – even non-Evangelical Christians – could agree with. That’s because they focused solely on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith or simply on the actual text of the Bible itself.

But then there was this one . . .

While the conference was non-denominational and featured speakers from a number of groups, it was held at a Calvary Chapel. One of the speakers (the wife in a husband and wife team who were members of the host church) gave a presentation that, frankly, had me grinding my teeth. That’s because she would first give the Mormon position on something, then say, “But the Bible says . . . ” and proceed to spew pure Calvary Chapel dogma and jargon (most notably on eschatology and demonology) as if it were absolutely and universally held to by all Christians in the way that she was articulating it.

By the end of the presentation, I was so frustrated by such overt “in yer face” bias that whenever she said, “But the Bible says . . . ” I would just talk over her voice on the recording with my own, “But Calvary Chapel says . . . “

Now on the essential doctrines of the Christian faith there’s clearly no “wiggle room”. In their case, please dear reader, by all means, say “The Bible says” all you like – I do. However, on the non-essentials isn’t it better to preface our statements with a more gracious and qualified, “As I understand it the Bible says” or “To me the Bible says”? If that dear but sincerely misguided sister had done so, I would have had no issues with her presentation and wouldn’t be using it as an illustration of how not to do it.

Why It’s Weak:
1) It needlessly buries the essential doctrines of Christianity underneath a pile of non-essentials.
Here’s a question for my fellow Christian readers: Do you know what the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are? Do you know what the non-essentials are? If you were asked to do so could you list them? Please don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if the answer to any or all of these questions is no – I didn’t have a good grasp on them when I entered Mormon Studies.  But boy, oh boy, did I learn them, and learn them fast – I had to in order to survive in this rough and tumble world where acrimony too often reigns supreme!

What was most helpful to me was Theologian Matt Slick’s primer on the subject where he explains:

The Bible itself reveals those doctrines that are essential to the Christian faith.  They are 1) the Deity of Christ, 2) Salvation by Grace, 3) Resurrection of Christ, 4) the gospel, and 5) monotheism.  These are the doctrines the Bible says are necessary.  Though there are many other important doctrines, these five are the ones that are declared by Scripture to be essential. [1]

(click for larger view)

Figure A: The Different Types of Essentials and Non-Essentials by C. Michael Patton (click on chart to enlarge)

Once again for emphasis, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith are as follows:

The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

On these issues there is – and always has been – unity among Christians. Simply put if you’re not aligned with these Biblical essentials you and/or your group isn’t aligned with orthodox, mainstream, Biblical Christianity. As Mr. Slick goes on to explain, “A non-regenerate person (i.e., Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, atheist, Muslim), will deny one or more of these essential doctrines.   Please note that there are other derivative doctrines of scripture that become necessary also and the Trinity being one.”[2]

Everything else is non-essential.  As theologian C. Michael Patton’s chart illustrates (see Figure A above) that’s not to say that the non-essentials are unimportant, it’s just to say that the Bible is silent, ambiguous, or unclear on them – or that they’re not essential for salvation.  Therefore, there’s “wiggle room” on them. We’re talking about things like:

  • Eschatology (how and when the end times will unfold, the rapture, the millenium, the role of Israel today, etc.)
  • Earth Age (young v. old earth creationism, etc.)
  • Bible translation preferences (King James v. modern translations, word-for-word v. thought-for-thought, etc.)
  • Ecclesiology (church government models, the roles of clergy and laity, are Apostles and Prophets for today, etc.)
  • Soteriological Systems (Arminianism v. Calvinism, etc.)
  • Demonology (can a Christian have a demon or not, teachings on various kinds of spiritual warfare, etc.)
  • Sacrament practices (wine v. grape juice, leavened v. unleavened bread, who can administer, etc.)
  • Modes of baptism (sprinkling v. full immersion, infant baptism, etc.)
  • Worship styles (liturgical  v. contemporary, hymns v. choruses, choirs, drums v. organs, etc.)
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues v. no tongues, cessationism v. continuationism, etc.)
  • Worship observances (Sabbatarianism v. Sunday worship, observance of special holy days, tithing, etc.)
  • Food and drink (consumption of alcohol v. abstinence,  kosher v. non-kosher food, etc.)
  • Various do’s and don’ts (tobacco consumption, playing cards, dancing, makeup, “acceptable” dress, movies, etc.)
  • Etc., etc., etc. This is far from an exhaustive or comprehensive list of Christian non-essentials – it seems endless at times!

On these issues there’s liberty. Christians can and will have legitimate differences of opinion and beliefs on them.  Thus for modern Christians, the words of 17th century Theologian Rupertus Meldenius still ring true today:

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.

Or as Christian Theologian C. Michael Patton explains, “I often tell people that there are some things which I believe that I would die for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose an arm for; there are some things which I believe that I would lose a finger for; and then there are some things which I believe that I would not even get a manicure for.”[3]

2) It takes the focus off of the essentials.
Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever has a a great saying, “The gospel is offensive enough – let’s make sure we offend Mormons with what really matters!”  Arguing from dogma, preferences, and non-essential doctrine dilutes the message to Mormons that really matters, specifically:

1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus. Jesus Christ wasn’t the procreated son of God. He’s not an exalted man who acheived deification. He is, and always has been, God eternal. (The Deity of Jesus Christ)

2) Mormonism teaches another salvation – specifically that additional works (baptism into a church, temple ordinances, temple marriage, etc.) are all required for full salvation. Rather, the Bible teaches repeatedly that we are saved by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ on the cross, plus nothing. (Salvation by Grace)

3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong. Thank you our Mormon friends for getting the resurrection of Jesus Christ mostly right! However, the teaching that Jesus by his resurrection assures immortality in some heavenly kingdom for virtually everyone not isn’t biblical, it’s universalist heresy. (The resurrection of Jesus Christ)[4]

4) Mormonism teaches another gospel. Paul told us plainly what the gospel is: “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,”[5] Mormonism requires works in addition to Christ’s atonement (by making observance of laws and ordinances a salvific issue) thus nullifying God’s grace and putting Mormons back under the law. (The gospel of Jesus Christ)

5) Mormonism teaches a form of henotheistic idolatry. The Bible is clear from cover-to-cover that there is one – and only one – eternal being known as God who consists of three co-equal, co-eternal persons.  The Bible does not teach that there is a plurality of gods, be they exalted, deified men or otherwise. In fact, the Bible repeatedly denounces such teaching. (Monotheism)

6) Mormonism follows a false prophet. And of course, since all the errant, unbiblical, and heretical doctrines above were introduced to the world by Joseph Smith, the Christian message to Mormonism has also first and foremost always been:  You’re following a false prophet!  While that’s not directly tied to the essentials of the Christian faith it’s still an important Biblical distinctive[6] and has always been at the core of Christian arguments against Mormonism.

3) Making non-essentials essential is a very Mormon thing to do.
Stop for a moment and consider this:  Mormonism specializes in making molehills into mountains and non-essentials into essentials.  There’s a reason for this: Because systematic theology is impossible in Mormonism, it’s also impossible to distinguish essential doctrines from non-essential doctrines.[7]

To cite just one of many examples let’s consider baptism.  Mormonism is absolute in its belief that getting baptized in the right way, with the right words, by the right person, into the right church is essential for salvation. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

Baptism by immersion in water by one having authority is the first saving ordinance of the gospel and is necessary for an individual to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to receive eternal salvation. All who seek eternal life must follow the example of the Savior by being baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.[8]

In fact, baptism is so critically important in Mormon soteriology that Latter-day Saints make proxy baptism for dead folks (that is, the ones who got it “wrong” while they were alive) a major focus and priority. They consume countless hours and expend untold resources in this effort. Just notice how in the following excerpt from the LdS Church website the criticality of proper baptism for the dead is dogmatically stressed:

Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.[9]

Yet, when one considers the Biblical record, baptism isn’t nearly as cut and dry – or even as vital – as Mormon doctrine makes it:

Requiring anything in addition to faith in Jesus Christ for salvation is a works-based salvation. To add anything to the gospel is to say that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to purchase our salvation. To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to say we must add our own good works and obedience to Christ’s death in order to make it sufficient for salvation. Jesus’ death alone paid for our sins (Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’ payment for our sins is appropriated to our “account” by faith alone (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). Therefore, baptism is an important step of obedience after salvation but cannot be a requirement for salvation.

Yes, there are some verses that seem to indicate baptism as a requirement for salvation. However, since the Bible so clearly tells us that salvation is received by faith alone (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), there must be a different interpretation of those verses. Scripture does not contradict Scripture. In Bible times, a person who converted from one religion to another was often baptized to identify conversion. Baptism was the means of making a decision public. Those who refused to be baptized were saying they did not truly believe. So, in the minds of the apostles and early disciples, the idea of an un-baptized believer was unheard of. When a person claimed to believe in Christ, yet was ashamed to proclaim his faith in public, it indicated that he did not have true faith.[10]

Trust me, I have very strong opinions on baptism – how it should be done, when it should be done, etc. – and I’m pretty darn certain in my little mind that they’re utterly biblical and totally legitimate. However, I still qualify them as my opinion as such when dealing with Mormons because I understand that other Christians can have equally biblical, equally legitimate positions on baptism.   After all, I would much rather have them focusing on what really matters rather than whether someone should be dunked, sprinkled, or doused after they’ve accepted the gospel and made the decision to follow Jesus – wouldn’t you?

4) The argument unravels when and if it’s challenged by Christians who hold to equally valid positions.
This has happened to us all hasn’t it?  On more than one occasion when presenting an argument to a Mormon I’ve glossed poetic giving the logic, reason, and language of my church’s views on a particular non-essential of the faith. I’ve uttered the very words that gets the congregation nodding their heads in agreement and giving a hardy “Amen!” in our church.  I’ve been articulate. I’ve been clever. I’ve been witty.  I’ve been wise. And I’ve rested my case and sat back down smug and self-satisfied only to have some “loser” from another church or group say, “Really?  Well what about . . . ?” and then proceed to present evidence that demonstrates that’s there’s more than one valid view on the matter.  And so there I’ll sit, frowning with egg on my face while I watch while my beautiful and glorious “watertight” argument springs a leak right before my eyes (not to mention a worldwide audience). Yes folks, if humbling experiences build character then I must have a lot of character by now!

Curb Your DogmaIn the end, and to paraphrase and abuse an oft quoted Mormon colloquialism, “When your pastor has spoken all the thinking hasn’t been done!”  I know you love your pastor – I love mine too; I know you love your church – I love mine too, and; I know you think you’re absolutely, positively right in your theology – so do I.  But the fact remains that on the non-essentials there are a lot of good, thoughtful, valid positions out there. Getting too dogmatic on them will only get you in trouble in the marketplace of ideas and make you unpleasant to be around. If you do it too much, you’ll simply be ignored. And like I said, that egg on the face thing has happened to us all hasn’t it? So, perhaps when it comes to the non-essentials we would all do well to “curb our dogma”.

5) It reinforces the Mormon Great Apostasy dogma.
Most Mormons think, and the LdS Church teaches, that all Christian churches other than theirs are a big ball of confusion. Consider this from the official LdS Church website:

During the Great Apostasy, people were without divine direction from living prophets. Many churches were established, but they did not have priesthood power to lead people to the true knowledge of God the Father and Jesus Christ.[11]

Public bickering in front of Mormons on non-essentials just validates and reinforces this stereotype and prejudice.

Further, watching Christians do their “in house” debating over non-essentials on Mormon discussion boards is what some (manipulative) Mormons live for. I’m an administrator on several Mormon themed discussion boards and I have seen more than one Mormon deliberately bait the Calvinists to get them arguing with the Arminians (or vice versa) simply so they can sit back and watch the Christian fur flying and get the heat off of the errors of Mormonism.  They love it because the spatting, hair pulling, caterwauling cat fight the Christians are giving to a worldwide audience is something that they can point to and (incorrectly) say, “See what I mean? Mormons never bicker like this! We have a living prophet to guide us! We have unity, peace, and serenity in our church! We’re homogenized and boring – and we love it that way!”

The Stronger Arguments:
Normally at this point in the articles in this series we provide a series of suggested arguments to use instead of the weak argument that was originally presented.  However, this article is really more of an introduction to an overall problem that we see in weak arguments that Christians regularly make – just go onto a Mormon themed discussion board on Facebook after you’re done reading this and within minutes you’ll see what I mean.

Coming articles will echo this article in that we will present some common weak arguments that we’ve seen regularly that fall into the general category of arguing dogmatically over non-essentials.

That said, it should also be said that strong arguments against Mormonism are always rooted and grounded firmly in the essentials of the Christian faith.  Specifically, strong arguments will always be some variation on the themes we introduced earlier in this article:

1) Mormonism teaches another Jesus.
2) Mormonism teaches another salvation.
3) Mormonism gets Christ’s resurrection mostly right but is still wrong.
4) Mormonism teaches another gospel.
5) Mormonism teaches polytheism.
6) Mormonism follows a false prophet.

Like the notes in a musical theme these six points can be woven into a seemingly endless array of strong, persuasive arguments. Use them skillfully and creatively and your arguments against Mormonism will be as moving as a Mozart symphony. But if you deviate too far from them, we’re talking Spike Jones.

in-essentials-unity-in-non-essentials-liberty-in-all-things-charity-43988

NOTES
[1] Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website. While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject. Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider the short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

[2] Ibid, Slick

[3] C. Michael Patton, “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell”, Credo House website

[4] Yes, Mormonism gets this one mostly right – let’s give some credit where credit is due. Never-the-less, Theologian Rob Bowman of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) explains how and why Mormonism still manages to get the resurrection of Christ wrong:

According to the LDS Church, Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees resurrection to immortal life for practically everybody—Christian or not, moral or not—in one of three heavenly kingdoms. (The only exception are the “sons of perdition,” incorrigibly evil people that include some ex-Mormons.) We cannot discuss the three Mormon heavenly kingdoms here, but the Bible is clear that the wicked will be resurrected only to face, in their bodies, their condemnation to eternal punishment (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 10:28; 25:46; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). They derive no benefit from Christ’s atoning death. Only the righteous “in Christ”—those who belong to Christ—will be made alive and given immortality (1 Cor. 15:22-23, 53-54).

Finally, although the LDS Church affirms that Jesus ascended bodily into Heaven and will return bodily to the earth one day, it wrongly claims that Jesus has visited the earth bodily on other occasions between his ascension and second coming. The Book of Mormon claims that Jesus visited the Nephites in the Americas several separate times, destroyed whole cities of the wicked, preached to the righteous, and formed a church for them. In the First Vision story, Joseph Smith claimed that Jesus (and God the Father!) appeared personally to him to instruct him to join none of the existing churches. These LDS claims may seem innocent enough, but their significance is that they call into question the sufficiency and, ultimately, the reliability of the New Testament revelations of Jesus Christ.
(Rob Bowman, “The Mormon View of Jesus Christ: The Bottom-Line Guide to Mormonism, Part 5″, IRR website article)

[5] 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (New International Version)

[6] Please consider Deuteronomy 13:1-5 in light of this which says:

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
(New King James Version)

[7] Systematic Theology is impossible in Mormonism because any established theological system or doctrine within that system can be overturned at any time via a new revelation from the current “Living Prophet”.  The latest example of this is Official Declaration 2 which overturned long standing doctrine which banned Negroes from holding the Mormon Priesthood.  Due to the Mormon doctrine that new continuing revelation from the Mormon god can contradict his past revelation(s) no Mormon doctrine is safe from such potential action. Mormon history is rife with examples which BYU Professor Charles Harrell has done a masterful job of documenting in his two-volume, “This Is My Doctrine” book series. (link to Amazon pages for these titles: Volume 1; Volume 2)

Hence the saying:
“As heresy is, Mormon doctrine once was.
As Mormon doctrine is, heresy will it become.”

[8] Official LdS Church website, “Topics: Baptism”

[9] Official LdS Church website, “Topics: Baptisms for the Dead”

[10] “Got Questions?” website, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?”

[11] Official LdS Church website, “Apostasy”

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Mormon Doctrine Large_Edited

An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Bobby Gilpin
The Argument:
“I know what you believe, because Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie or some other general authority said…..”

Why It’s Weak:
In making this argument you are assuming the beliefs of an individual you have likely only just met. This is never a good thing to do. If you’re an LDS member with any experience of speaking with Evangelicals, or any other critics of Mormonism before, you have likely had a discussion like this before.

Beheld-Virgin-Bearing-AD

Scenario One
Critic You deny the virgin birth don’t you?
LDS No, as a matter of fact I don’t, please let me explain to you my belief on this.
Critic I don’t need to hear it, I have a great quote from Brigham Young when He says the birth of Christ was as natural as anyone else’s.[1] I know what you guys believe.
LDS As I said that is not my view, would you please let me explain my view on this?

This far from only applies to Brigham Young quotes. Lets try another – one that I have personally experienced and learned from by my mistakes:

Scenario Two
Critic Ah, so you’re a Mormon. Well I think it’s totally heretical that you believe God was once a man.
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that either. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I ‘m sorry but I think you’re just being dishonest, Joseph Smith taught this in the King Follett Discourse, so you must believe it.
LDS There are some renderings of Joseph Smith’s sermons that seem to suggest this. I’m not too persuaded by them as these are not scripture. Would you please let me explain what I believe.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

Joseph Smith delivering The King Follett Discourse on April 7, 1844 at Spring General Conference.

1) Point One.
We as evangelicals often have this notion that Mormons are all brainwashed and are in some big mind controlling cult, where they all believe the exact same thing – that they would never dream of questioning anything that their leadership says. This is not the case, there is a mass diversity of views within the LDS Church, some people take everything the general authorities say literally, some do not.

It’s always worth bearing this in mind when conversing with LDS people. Some are of the view that if it’s not in the Standard works, then it’s not binding; some may take a lot from the likes of Bruce R. Mcconkie and his book, “Mormon Doctrine”; some may look to James E. Talmage and his writings; some may take closer stock of Gordon B. Hinckley. It often depends on when they grew up or developed their faith.

2) Point Two.
This does not, for a second, take away the validity of your arguments against the teaching of Mormon leaders. What it does mean is that you need to word your argument a little differently. Rather than saying, “I already know what you believe Mr./Ms. Mormon”, instead say: “Here is what your leaders have taught, can we talk about it?”

3) Point Three.
You will inevitably come across the issue of what is official doctrine in the LDS Church. This is a question that no one really has an answer too, LDS or not. And can be a bit of a red herring in discussions. I could not possibly put forward a response to this that’s better than what Keith Walker from Evidence Ministries has done here – this is well worth a watch.

The Stronger Arguments:
First Suggested Strong Argument:
So with all this in mind lets try that first scenario again.

Critic Do you believe that Jesus was born of a virgin?
LDS No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. I affirm what the Bible says that Jesus was born without an earthly parent.
Critic Could you explain what you mean by an earthly parent?
LDS As a latter-day Saint I do not accept the idea that the Holy Ghost somehow “overshadowed” Mary then making her parent – no child is ever born this way. I believe that Jesus was a literal son of His Heavenly Father, and thus in the way that we would usually understand a birth to occur, Jesus was in fact born of a virgin. Bruce R. McConkie said this:

“For our present purposes, suffice it to say that our Lord was born of a virgin, which is fitting and proper, and also natural, since the Father of the Child was an Immortal Being”
(Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, pg. 466)

This sums it up well for me.
Critic Thank you for explaining this. This to me still very much sounds like Jesus was not actually born of a virgin if you are saying that Heavenly Father impregnated Mary naturally.
LDS I guess we define virgin birth differently then, but this is my belief.

(Quick disclaimer: I know this last paragraph does not represent all LDS people – however it will some. It’s more the style of conversation than the content that I am attempting to model here.)

Do you see the difference? Rather than presuming what the Mormon believes, you ask, and then in the ensuing process you get them to tell you their view so you can discuss it from there. More often than not you will still have plenty of places to go with that based what the LDS person says. And sometimes you will even speak with a Mormon who is very “Evangelical savvy” and will give answers that sound identical to your view. That’s where the second stronger argument comes in.

Second Suggested Strong Argument:
While it is not good to make the assumption that Mormons believe something on the basis of a Mormon leader saying it, there is still a lot of ground for discussion on the back of what Mormon leaders have said. Lets try my scenario two again.

Critic Ah so you’re a Mormon, well I think it’s totally heretical that Joseph Smith taught that God was once a man, what is your view on this?
LDS As a matter of fact I don’t believe that. As Moroni 8:18 and Psalm 90:2 say, God has always been God.
Critic I appreciate your response, its good to know that LDS people can look past some of these statements and hold onto the truth about God. But is it not then an issue to you that people who are modern-day Prophets and Apostles are clearly teaching falsehoods about God?
LDS I don’t see LDS leaders as infallible, they are men and sometimes speak as such.
Critic That does not seem to measure up with the teachings of your church. For instance the 2013 LDS Manual, Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, said this:

President Snow later recalled, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me. …

“As man now is, God once was:
“As God now is, man may be.”

Feeling that he had received “a sacred communication” that he should guard carefully, Lorenzo Snow did not teach the doctrine publicly until he knew that the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught it. Once he knew the doctrine was public knowledge, he testified of it frequently. [2]

Critic It seems that one of your Prophets saw that as a sacred communication, if he is the one with the authority to speak for your church, and this was reprinted in 2013 by your church, where is your authority to say that this is wrong?
LDS I guess I have no authority to say that this is wrong, I just don’t believe it.
Critic Ok I respect your view, however this seems to be what your church teaches, can we please focus on that as I see some massive issues there.

Dallin H Oaks Tweet

LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks’ tweet of September 26, 2014 regarding the upcoming Fall General Conference. (click to zoom)

Again not all LDS people will respond this way. Many LDS people will simply affirm that God was once a man, stop there and go no further. It’s more in LDS apologetic circles today where it’s being completely denied that it ever was or still is doctrine. But the point here is that while an LDS member may not believe what their leaders have taught on an issue, that does not change the massive issue that their leaders have actually taught it or that it’s still taught in current church manuals.

LDS Missionaries all over the world are knocking on doors talking about how amazing it is that they have a Prophet in their church that brings revelation today. So it’s not sufficient for LDS members to simply shrug off their Prophet’s statements past and present in discussion.

The fact is that those prophets have taught so many problematic things – such as Adam being God, black skin being a curse, and so many more issues – that there’s massive ground for discussion. Don’t just assume that the person you are speaking too holds this view, whatever it may be.

In fact, just this week Dallin Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “tweeted” that they only say what the Spirit directs them to say at general conference, that’s well worth noting for these discussions.

So in conclusion there is massive ground for discussion with LDS members. There are so, so many areas that you can discuss with them, challenge them on, and help them to know who Jesus really is and what His grace really means. Just don’t assume because you may have read a book about Mormonism, or read some quotes somewhere that you know where any given Mormon comes from on that issue. Ask where they are coming from and then take it from there.

NOTES
[1] “The birth of the Saviour was as natural as are the births of our children; it was the result of natural action. He partook of flesh and blood – was begotten of his Father, as we were of our fathers” (Brigham Young, July 8, 1860, Journal of Discourses 8:115).

[2] Official LDS Church Manual, “Teaching of the Presidents of the Church”, Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful 

This article originally appeared on the Mormonism Investigated UK website.
Beggar’s Bread wishes to express it’s appreciation to the author and this website for allowing us to republish it here.

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RA-Cover-Final-Front-Only-300Reviewed by Richard Packham for the Association for Mormon Letters

Title: Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control
Author: Luna Lindsey
Publisher: CreateSpace
Genre: Non-fiction, psychology
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 343
Binding: Soft cover
ISBN10: 1489595937
ISBN13: 978-1500290863
Price: Paperback $24.99, Kindle $9.99

[This review is based on an advance review copy]

This is one of those books that will most likely never be read by the people who most need to read it.

Luna Lindsey is a former Mormon who writes science fiction. She grew up in the LDS church, divorced, raised a son, and left the church in her late twenties. That story is in itself not unusual. Nor is it unusual that a former Mormon would write a book about Mormonism – with the present-day ease of getting a book into print there are hundreds of exmormon exit stories. But this book is not an exit story. Instead, the author writes about the psychological problems when one tries to leave a culture and belief system that promises “free agency,” but effectively prevents adherents from actually using it. Thus, the title: “Recovering Agency.” The purpose of the book is to help people regain the freedom of choice which they unwittingly have lost.

Lindsey has gathered together from dozens of sources a compendium of the techniques used by most organizations (usually religious, but also political) which tend to take over control of more and more aspects of members’ lives. She describes the methods such organizations use to attract new converts, and how the convert gradually becomes more and more enmeshed in the work of furthering the organization’s goals, and gives up more and more of her individuality and freedom in doing so. She has gathered here thousands of quotes from psychiatrists and sociologists who are experts in the field of mind control, as well as reports by former members of such organizations: Unification Church (“Moonies”), Branch Davidians (the Waco cult), People’s Temple (the Jonestown suicides), the Spiritual Rights Foundation (a California Christian cult), the Heavens Gate cult (which committed group suicide to ride a comet to heaven) and, yes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Now just wait a goldarn minute!” you are thinking. “Those are cults! The Mormons aren’t a cult!”

Labels (like “cult”) are often not very useful, and all too often function as inefficient shortcuts to conclusions that may be false. That is one of the excellent things about this book. Lindsey does not label, but rather places side-by-side descriptions of similar techniques or practices from many organizations, shows how they affect members in unhealthy and negative ways, and how they are all similar. Including the LDS church. If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…

“But those other groups were teaching false doctrine!” you may say. “We Mormons have the Truth, the Only True Church on the face of the earth!” One of the important points Lindsey (and the authorities that she cites) makes is that ALL of those “cults” claimed to be the only source of truth, and their adherents also firmly testified of the miraculous evidence that confirmed their belief.

Another important point made by Lindsey and the experts she cites is that the actual content of the doctrines of mind-control organizations are generally irrelevant to the emotional damage which many of their members suffer. It is rather the methods used to recruit and hold members, and the psychological control that they exert on members.

This book is not the first attempt to deal with the psychological problems of the devout Mormon. Blair Watson published his essay “The Psychological Effects of Mormonism” several years ago ( http://members.shaw.ca/blair_watson ). Marion Stricker wrote “The Pattern of the Double Bind in Mormonism,” appearing first online and later in an expanded book version. But Lindsey’s effort is broader. She relies much more extensively than Watson on similarities with other mind-controlling organizations, and a broader base of experts in psychology and sociology. She also writes more broadly than Stricker, who limited herself to the “double bind” problem. Lindsey spends three chapters on the double bind, but also deals with many more problems and techniques.

The chapter headings indicate the scope of treatment: Cognitive Dissonance, Commitment, Obedience to Authority, Mirror Neurons, Love Bombing, Sacred Science, Mystical Manipulation, Milieu Control, Loading the Language, Thought-terminating Cliches, Black and White Thinking, Indirect Directives, Emotion Over Intellect, Guilt and Shame, and many others.

In each topic, the author quotes statements from leaders of cult-like organizations, statements by LDS general authorities, comments from former cult members and from former Mormons, and analyses by experts in the study of mind control. The juxtaposition is powerful.

The author’s intended audience includes devout Mormons and Mormons who are feeling doubts or unhappiness in Mormonism. Her intent is to help especially those Saints who are hesitant about doubting, by showing them what may be the source of their discomfort. One of the aspects of mind-control is that one subject to it is not aware of it. Cult members universally deny that they are in a cult. Those who have fallen victim most thoroughly to the manipulation of group leaders continue to insist that they are really free to do as they wish, even as their every motion and choice in life is made in obedience to the leaders.

Another intended audience is the non-Mormon reader. For their benefit, the author tries to explain peculiar Mormon terminology and customs. She is not always consistent in this. Frequently she will use a term or mention a name which any Mormon or ex-Mormon would recognize, but would leave a non-Mormon puzzled. This is not a problem for a Mormon reader, of course.

Sometimes a reader might also be confused as to whether it is the author speaking for herself, or whether she is paraphrasing a Mormon voice. Generally, however, she leaves her most personal comments to the end of the chapter, when she offers suggestions to her Mormon readers about how to process that chapter’s information.

As I commented at the beginning of this review, those who really should read this book will likely refuse even to look at it. For starters, the cover is an image of the Salt Lake temple being split apart by lightning. That would be off-putting for any Mormon. And what devout Saint would not immediately deny the implication in the title and subtitle: “I HAVE my free agency! I am NOT a victim of mind control! Ridiculous!”

But if any Mormon, especially one in church leadership, is secure enough in his faith to read this book, there will be benefits, even though the reader retains his faith. He will recognize more clearly what is going on, he will be more aware of the subtle techniques influencing him, just as it benefits any consumer to be knowledgeable about the techniques used by advertisers to increase their sales. To that extent, a reader of this book will indeed recover more of his agency than he had before.

About the Reviewer:
Richard Packham was raised in a fifth-generation Mormon family in Zion, graduated from BYU, married in the temple, and had no doubts about the church until he began studying church history and doctrine intensively in his 20s. His leaving the church cost him his marriage and his three children. His professional career has been as a college teacher (primarily in foreign languages) and attorney. After his retirement, he became active in the Recovery From Mormonism groups, and in 2001 incorporated the Exmormon Foundation. He lives with his never-Mormon wife of forty years on their ranch outside of Roseburg, Oregon. 
Mr. Packham’s website is http://packham.n4m.org
(reviewer biography from the Exmormon Foundation website)

This review originally appeared on the Association of Mormon Letter’s (AML) Discussion Board on August 31, 2014. Beggar’s Bread wishes to express it’s appreciation to Mr. Packham and AML for allowing us to republish it.

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An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“None of the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimonies.”

Why It’s Weak:
Based on the body of available evidence we don’t really know if the eleven Book of Mormon witnesses ever signed their testimony or not.

Yes, it is true that the signatures on the extant manuscript page that we have for the testimony of the eight and three witnesses were done by Oliver Cowdery. However, that manuscript was “P”, the Printer’s Manuscript, not “O”, the Original Manuscript, which P was copied from.  O was water damaged and almost nearly completely destroyed after being placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House – Joseph Smith’s divinely mandated (see D&C 124:56-83) but never completed boarding house. As Book of Mormon manuscript expert Royal Skousen explains:

The printed versions of the Book of Mormon derive from two manuscripts. The first, called the original manuscript (O), was written by at least three scribes as Joseph Smith translated and dictated. The most important scribe was Oliver Cowdery. This manuscript was begun no later than April 1829 and finished in June 1829.

A copy of the original was then made by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes. This copy is called the printer’s manuscript (P), since it was the one normally used to set the type for the first (1830) edition of the Book of Mormon. It was begun in July 1829 and finished early in 1830.

Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, late June 1829 Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Jr., and others, Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palymra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)

Exhibit A: Testimony of Eight Witnesses, Palmyra, NY, late June 1829; in Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, p. 464; handwriting of Oliver Cowdery; (credit: Joseph Smith Papers Project)

The printer’s manuscript is not an exact copy of the original manuscript. There are on the average three changes per original manuscript page. These changes appear to be natural scribal errors; there is little or no evidence of conscious editing. Most of the changes are minor, and about one in five produce a discernible difference in meaning. Because they were all relatively minor, most of the errors thus introduced into the text have remained in the printed editions of the Book of Mormon and have not been detected and corrected except by reference to the original manuscript. About twenty of these errors were corrected in the 1981 edition.

The compositor for the 1830 edition added punctuation, paragraphing, and other printing marks to about one-third of the pages of the printer’s manuscript. These same marks appear on one fragment of the original, indicating that it was used at least once in typesetting the 1830 edition.

In preparation for the second (1837) edition, hundreds of grammatical changes and a few textual emendations were made in P. After the publication of this edition, P was retained by Oliver Cowdery. After his death in 1850, his brother-in-law, David Whitmer, kept P until his death in 1888. In 1903 Whitmer’s grandson sold P to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns it today. It is wholly extant except for two lines at the bottom of the first leaf.

The original manuscript was not consulted for the editing of the 1837 edition. However, in producing the 1840 edition, Joseph Smith used O to restore some of its original readings. In October 1841, Joseph Smith placed O in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. Over forty years later, Lewis Bidamon, Emma Smith’s second husband, opened the cornerstone and found that water seepage had destroyed most of O. The surviving pages were handed out to various individuals during the 1880s.

Today approximately 25 percent of the text of O survives: 1 Nephi 2 through 2 Nephi 1, with gaps; Alma 22 through Helaman 3, with gaps; and a few other fragments. All but one of the authentic pages and fragments of O are housed in the archives of the LDS Historical Department; one-half of a sheet (from 1 Nephi 14) is owned by the University of Utah.[1]

Again, and to summarize, P was copied from O by Oliver Cowdery and two other scribes to prepare it for the typesetting process. Therefore, it’s only logical and reasonable that the dominant handwriting be his. Further, the portions of O that were destroyed were the first outside and last outside pages (water saturation works from the outside in on books – just like it does on a dry sponge) which included the page (or possibly pages) with the testimonies of the witnesses on it.

Therefore, it’s impossible to know for if the witnesses autographed their respective testimonies on O or not. Hard conclusions either way – no matter how dogmatically or emphatically stated – are nothing more than speculation.

Where Did This Weak Argument Come From?
This argument was practically non-existent until a photograph of the page from the P manuscript with the signatures in Oliver Cowdery’s handwriting was published as a part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (see Exhibit A above). At that point some Mormon Critics who were unfamiliar with the history of the Book of Manuscripts drew wrong conclusions from the photograph based on the presumption that it was the only Book of Mormon manuscript ever created by Joseph Smith and his colleagues. They then went on to make uninformed, absolutist statements publicly which served only to spread ignorant inference as fact to a worldwide audience.

Further exacerbating the problem was Jeremy T. Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director” in which he used the following as an argument against the Book of Mormon:

The closest thing we have in existence to an original document of the testimonies of the witnesses is a printer’s manuscript written by Oliver Cowdery. Every witness name on that document is not signed; they are written in Oliver’s own handwriting. Further, there is no testimony from any of the witnesses directly attesting to the direct wording and claims of the manuscript or statements in the Book of Mormon.[2]

MormonInfographics Book of Mormon Witnesses

Exhibit B: MormonInfographics meme with the questionable “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” headline.

Mr. Runnells’ argument is, at it’s core and presented in it’s entirety, for the most part sound. But again, his point can easily be misunderstood by those who don’t have a full understanding of the manuscript history of the Book of Mormon thus leading to misstatement and wrong conclusions.

For example, after the “Letter to a CES Director” was published a graphic (see Exhibit B) appeared on the MormonInfographics website with the words, “Book of Mormon ‘Witnesses’ didn’t even sign their names” as the headline – that is, as if their missing signatures on the original testimonies were an established and verified fact rather than speculation based on the absence of evidence.

The MormonInfographics meme quickly went viral on social media further disseminating this weak argument.  Further, weakening the argument was the fact that Mr. Runnells overstated his case since Oliver Cowdery’s signature as a Book of Mormon witness on the page is legitimate. This oversight was later corrected in the revised 2014 edition of his “Letter to a CES Director”.[3]

And, as they say, the rest is history – this argument continues to be used by critics despite it’s fragility.

The Stronger Arguments:
When it comes to the Book of Mormon witnesses it often seems like there’s no end to strong, compelling, cogent, persuasive arguments against them and their testimonies to choose from. MormonThink has pages of them (click here) as does the aforementioned “Letter to a CES Director” (click here). And if that’s not enough the “Letter to a CES Director” companion piece “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” (click here) has yet more.  That said, we offer a small sampling of those arguments for your consideration.

First Suggested Stronger Argument:
Use the fully formed and nuanced argument that Jeremy Runnells uses in “Letter to a CES Director” and “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking” in it’s entirety rather than anything short or cryptic:

From “Letter to a CES Director”:

From a legal perspective, the statements of the testimonies of the Three and Eight witnesses hold no credibility or weight in a court of law as there are a) no signatures, b) no specific dates, c) no specific locations, and d) most of the witnesses made statements after the fact that contradict and cast doubt on the specific claims made in the statements contained in the preface of the Book of Mormon.
(page 61, revised edition)

In discussing the witnesses, we should not overlook the primary accounts of the events they testified to. The official statements published in the Book of Mormon are not dated, signed (we have no record with their signatures), nor is a specific location given for where the events occurred. These are not eleven legally sworn affidavits but rather simple statements pre-written by Joseph Smith with claims of having been signed by three men and another by eight.
(page 62, revised edition)

From “Debunking FAIR’s Debunking”:

[LdS Apologist group] FAIR again misses the point, which is that no original, signed document of the witnesses’ testimonies exists.

We do not have an actual document of actual signatures of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We just have a document, in Oliver’s own handwriting, of the names of the Witnesses. We have a claim that there was a document of actual signatures and a claim that this document was “placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House” and that it was “destroyed by water damage” years later.

We’re asked to put faith in a claim as opposed to being able to observe and analyze actual individual signatures written by actual individual witnesses. Without the original document, of course, there is no way of knowing with certainty whether the witnesses actually signed it. And, as explained below, subsequent accounts of two of the witnesses (Martin Harris and David Whitmer) conflict with key details of the account given in the Book of Mormon.
(link to source)

Second Suggested Stronger Argument:
Instead of using this argument argue that the body of evidence that strongly suggests that the witnesses never physically or tangibly saw or handled the golden plates. Mormon Researcher Bill McKeever explains:

Several LDS sources give the eleven men who bore their testimony to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon the special title of eyewitness; however, it appears doubtful that any of them actually saw the plates apart from a supernatural and subjective experience. While they all claimed to have handled what they were told were ancient plates, they did so while the plates were covered up and not visible. That being case, how is their experience any different from others who also claimed to handle the plates? Such persons include Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy admitted she never saw the plates, but she claimed to have handled what she was told were plates of “pure gold.” As mentioned earlier, Joseph Smith’s wife Emma also claimed that she handled the plates when she moved them to “do her work” in the Smith home, though she insisted that she never uncovered them.

I maintain that if the eleven are called eyewitnesses, why not Lucy and Emma as well? After all, their experiences with what they thought were gold plates are really not much different than that of the eleven. Mormons might find this conclusion troubling since it tends to take away some of the mysterious sensation associated with the accepted folklore, but it is a consistent conclusion when it comes to comparing the experiences of those involved. If Mormons want to insist that a person can’t be considered an eyewitness to the authenticity of the gold plates unless they actually saw them, then there were no eyewitnesses to Joseph Smith’s gold plates.[4]

Third Suggested Stronger Argument:
Compare and contrast how credible testimony should be done versus how it was done in the case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses. Here’s an example of how to present this argument from MormonThink:[5]

If someone was going to have witnesses to some earth-shattering event, and they wanted people to believe them, they would have done it very differently than Joseph did. The whole witnesses’ portion of the BOM would have been much better served if the following things had been done:

  1. None of the witnesses should have been related to Joseph or each other.
    Most of the witnesses were either related or good friends. Having unrelated people as witnesses would be far more effective than using your brothers and father.
  2. The witnesses should not have already been eager believers.
    There should have been some skeptics.
  3. There should have been no financial motive.
    Martin Harris mortgaged his farm and invested at least $3,000 of his own money into printing the Book of Mormon, so of course he had incentive to ‘promote’ the book.
  4. Each of the witnesses should each have written their own testimony instead of merely signing a prepared statement written by Joseph.
    If the prepared document wasn’t 100% accurate many people would simply sign it anyway as it would be too much of a hassle to have it completely rewritten by hand – especially in the 1800s.
  5. The witnesses should have been much more detailed about this amazing event.
    What did the angel look like? What exactly did he say? How did he speak? There are almost no details provided which can be analyzed and compared. If each witness had simply written their own account and provided significant details then their individual testimonies could corroborate each other.
  6. The witnesses should have been interviewed independently immediately after going public.
    They should have been interviewed the same way police do with witnesses to crimes or that investigators do with UFO cases. Ask questions to see if their stories match; How was the angel dressed? How tall was he? How did he speak?, etc.
  7. The witnesses should not have used subjective language and say strange things like comparing seeing the plates with seeing a city through a mountain or using spiritual eyes instead of their natural eyes to view physical plates.
  8. The witnesses should not have been gullible people that believed in things like ‘second sight’, divining rods, finding treasure by placing a rock in a hat, etc.
    That the Three Witnesses were a gullible sort is illustrated by an incident in July, 1837. Joseph had left on a five-week missionary tour to Canada, only to find on his return that all three of the Witnesses had joined a faction opposing him. This faction rallied around a young girl who claimed to be a seeress by virtue of a black stone in which she read the future. David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery all pledged her their loyalty, and Frederick G. Williams, formerly Joseph’s First Counselor, became her scribe. The girl seeress would dance herself into a state of exhaustion, fall to the floor, and burst forth with revelations. (See Lucy Smith: Biographical Sketches, pp. 211-213).
  9. All of the witness should have been much more vocal and been interviewed much more often.
    There are very few interviews done with the witnesses that provide any additional information or corroboration of their statements. You would think that these people, after seeing such a magnificent sight, would spend their time testifying to the world about their experience instead of largely just signing a prepared statement and avoiding interviews by the media. Only three of the eight witnesses made separate statements that they had handled the plates. They were Joseph’s two brothers, Hyrum and Samuel, and John Whitmer.
  10. And of course it would have helped had all the witnesses remained loyal to the Church for the rest of their lives instead of having most of them abandon it later on.
    It doesn’t make much sense to leave the one, true Church of God if you have really received an indisputable witness that it was true. Why would these people risk being cast in Outer Darkness for all eternity for denying what they KNEW to be true unless they maybe had some doubts?
    (link to source)
The "three witnesses" to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris

The “three witnesses” to the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdrey, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris

NOTES
[1] Royal Skousen, “Book of Mormon Manuscripts”, article in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1992 edition. For those who would like to go deeper on this subject the following video is recommended: Royal Skousen, “The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts”

[2] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (first edition), p.55

[3] Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director” (revised edition), p.60

[4] Bill McKeever, “Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?”

[5] Author uncredited, “How should it have been done?”, Mormon Think website

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