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by Fred W. Anson
Well I’ve just found out that I’m an Anti-Mormon. Boy am I surprised!

It all started with Facebook. Some Mormon family members saw some things in my news feed that they didn’t like and BAM! just like that I’m an Anti-Mormon.1

Well since it appears that I’ve been judged, labeled, and pigeonholed I’ve got some work to do – some “heavy lifting” penitence for my “sin” if you will! Specifically I need to answer the questions – the really big ones – that I think every Anti-Mormon, like myself, shoud ask:

1) Who am I?
2) Where did I come from?
3) Why am I here?
4) Where am I going?
(and, of course, if you have a filmstrip that will help me in my search for happiness . . . ) 2

Who am I?
Well, I thought that I was a Mormon Studies Scholar specializing in Mormon History and Culture. After all doesn’t the dictionary tell us that a scholar is:

schol·ar
[skol-er]
–noun
1. a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject.
2. a student; pupil.
3. a student who has been awarded a scholarship.

You see, studying Mormonism and interacting with Mormons and doing the same with non-Mormons involved in Mormon Studies is pretty much what I do, whenever I’m not doing anything else. It’s my passion. My joy. My calling. So I certainly qualify for #2.

#1, from what I’ve seen, always seems to be a matter of opinion depending on whether the work of the “learned or erudite person” is approved of by the person doing the assessment (“Yes, they are!”) or not (“What are you crazy? They’re clearly a hack!”). In my case I’m even “loopy” enough to publicly talk about and write on the results of my research with others. But apparently I’m no scholar since sometimes my work upsets people who disagree with it – especially True Believing Mormons. So that, apparently, automatically makes me an “Anti-Mormon” rather than a “scholar”.

However, I suppose I should take some consolation in the fact that in recent years I’ve heard the following people labeled “Anti-Mormon” by True Believing Mormons:

– D. Michael Quinn
– Grant Palmer
– Gordon B. Hinckley3

And oddly enough these are all believing Mormons! So apparently even being a believing Mormon doesn’t immunize one from being an “Anti-Mormon”. In fact, I’m sure that if queried these men would all declare (as they have) that they have a profound and love and respect for the Mormon people, culture and history – and I echo those sentiments. So how then are we all “Anti”? To me, it’s both illogical and irrational.

So I can’t help but wonder if this, “I’m upset because I don’t like what you’re saying so you must be an Anti-Mormon!” is a validation of that infamous quote:

“All too often [Latter-day] Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

“Man’s Search For Happiness” (1964 Mormon Missionary filmstrip)

Where did I come from?
I’ve never been a Latter-day Saint but I’ve had Mormon family members and friends my whole life. I like them, I get along with them (at least I think I do), and I like to think that my main concern is my Mormon friends and family member’s best interests. Further, I can’t help but believe that what’s true for me is even more true for the distinguished gentlemen in the above list.

Never-the-less, I do have something else in common with all those men: I’ve criticized the LdS Church and suggested that all isn’t well in Zion. Yes, I have had the gall and the audacity to criticize “God’s perfect Church” and call it to account for I see as it’s deficiencies. In addition, I have this in common with all but one of them: Whenever I study and discuss Mormon History it’s always true rather than faithful Mormon History.4 And since I have been on a quest to acquire and speak truth my entire life, I’m not inclined to give that up.

You see, to me, to present the white washed, spin-doctored view of the LdS Church that’s presented to the membership and the public as well as limiting one’s self to the “Faithful” history pontificated by the Church Educational System is akin to lying via omission or commission. Now I’m far from perfect but to the best of my ability I speak the truth as I see it, as I understand it, and as it’s aligned with the best available evidence – if that makes me an “Anti-Mormon” in the eyes of some . . . oh well!

Why am I here?
So how in the world did I get here at all? To answer that question we must “rewind” to the passing of Gordon B. Hinckley . . .

A Mormon family member sent out a mass email praising him and expounding on the time that he shook his hand. The “hook” that got me was when this normally rational, logical relative used these words, “When I looked into his eyes it was if I was he and I were the only people in the room – it was if I were looking into the eyes of Christ himself.”

That was wake up call #1.

Then a few months later Mitt Romney drops out of the Presidential race on the same week that the Wall Street Journal publishes an article revealing that most Americas consider Mormon beliefs troubling and thus would have second thoughts about having a Latter-day Saint as President of the nation.

Apparently the Mormon Leadership sent out some type of communique to the Wards about this article and Romney’s departure from the race because that Sunday that same Mormon family member sent out another email about how Mormons are just normal, average people and how we non-Mormons shouldn’t persecute them for their faith.5

That was bad.

What was worse when someone else in my family (who’s not Mormon) immediately replied with words of comfort and reassurance ending with, “… after all we all worship the same Christ”6 I sat there stunned and realized that I wasn’t equipped to reply intelligently to either of these bright, intelligent, well read family members even if I wanted to.

So I resurrected my long dormant (it had fallen to the side decades ago due to pressure of finishing college, starting a career and raising a family) study of Mormonism and got to work.  Well to my shock and surprise I found that I had discovered a new passion: Mormon Studies.

I’m hooked.

My favorite Mormon Studies quote – and the one the epitomizes my philosophy and experience – comes from LdS Scholar Kathleen Flake who said:

Superficially, one thinks of revealed religions as providing answers, and Smith provides as many questions as he does answers. Nobody is exempt from struggling with who he is. Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, thinking about Smith causes you to struggle, and that struggle brings as much of you into the question as it does Smith himself. He’s a bit of a religious Rorschach test.
— Kathleen Flake, Historian 
(from the PBS Series “The Mormons”)

That quote matches my experience to a “T”. I have been changed, I believe for the better, through the craft and discipline of Mormon Studies – it touches on everything and it stretches you everywhere! It’s funny that way. Further, I just find Mormonism downright fascinating in and of itself – period.

So, yes, Mormon Studies has become my “thing” – it’s what I really enjoy and, frankly, I seem to be pretty good at it. So, for better or worse, here I am pursuing what seems to be a unique gifting and doing the best that I can to steward that gift well. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but whatever happens I just keep learning, struggling, growing, and stretching.

Where am I going?
In addition, I see some good things in the LdS Church and I see even more in Mormon Culture. There’s also much – particularly in the former – that, in my opinion, is really, really bad and needs to change. Never-the-less I’m just crazy enough to believe that there must be a way to keep the good and jettison the bad. After all isn’t that what happened to the Worldwide Church of God?7

falsely-accused-on-social-mediaHowever, to get there from here the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from my perspective, must reform. And that, at least for me, is still a work in progress. That’s to say, it’s a work in progress for me because while I think I have an idea as to what end state might look like, I know that I’m not alone in this vision and I’m find the ideas and thoughts of others often more interesting than my own – hence the need for ongoing dialog.

I also know that time is on my side since the LdS Chuch keeps changing – and, it seems, usually for the better. Thus, I think that we will see a better more mainstream Mormon Church in 1-2 generations (that’s 40-80 years for those of you who are counting). That also means that I won’t be around to see it so I must be content to shoot arrows into the future via ideas carried on written words.

And you dear reader have just picked one of those arrows up. May I ask you to please carry it into the future for me? And if you do, on behalf of myself, my family, my Mormon friends, and my Mormon family members: Thank you!

And if anyone ever asks you where you got it from just say, “From some guy on the Beggar’s Bread website. I don’t know much about him – but I do know that he’s no Anti-Mormon!”

NOTES:
1 Now those of you have listened to the recent “The History of Online Mormonism: The Board Wars” podcast will know what I mean by “the problem of Facebook”, for those who haven’t here’s the short version: The great thing about Facebook is that it connects us. The problem is sometimes, those connections can be awkward (as any teenager who’s had their Mom friend them on Facebook will tell you!)

2 Yes folks, that was coded language. Link here (or see the embedded video above) to decode that great mystery!

3 Yes, believe it or not, some Mormons consider Gordon B. Hinckley an Anti-Mormon. When John Dehlin reported this in an early episode of Mormon Stories I didn’t believe it either. That was, until I saw this YouTube page – wow, just wow!

4 The best discussion of the differences between “True” and “Faithful” Mormon History is “Faithful History: Essays on Writing Mormon History” Edited by George D. Smith which can be read online here or purchased from Amazon here. Marvin Hill’s Dialogue Article, “The ‘New Mormon History’ Reassessed in Light of Recent Books on Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins” (Dialogue volume 21, number 3, p.117) is also a good short overview.

5 Though I didn’t realize it at the time this was reflective of the infamous “Mormon persecution complex” which was described thusly in the first part of the aforementioned Mormon America quote:

“The thin-skinned and image-conscious Mormon can display immature, isolationist, and defensive reactions to outsiders, perhaps because there is no substantive debate and no “loyal opposition” within their kingdom. With some, it almost seems that the wilderness is still untamed, the federal ‘polyg’ police are on the prowl, and the Illinois lynch mob is still oiling muskets and preparing to raid Carthage Jail. All too often Saints use the label “anti-Mormon” as a tactic to forestall serious discussion.”
(“Mormon America: The Power and the Promise (2007 Edition)”; Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling; p. 115)

6 Big topic. Controversial topic. However, I would encourage the reader to please consider the following articles from the critical perspective on this point:
What is the difference between the Mormon Jesus and the Jesus of the Bible?
Hinckley says Mormons Believe in a Different Jesus
The Biblical Jesus vs. the Book of Mormon Jesus
Is Mormonism Christian?: A Comparison of Mormonism and Historic Christianity
A Comparison Between Christian Doctrine and Mormon Doctrine
Differences Between Mormonism and Christianity

7 A portal page on the Worldwide Church of God’s transition to mainstream orthodoxy can be found can here. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. If the LdS church will go this way is anyone’s guess but I holding out hope that the answer is, “Yes!”

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on July 11, 2011)

galatians-4-16-large-and-heavy-with-cartoon-baloonBACK TO TOP

A Response to Hugh Nibley’s “Book of Mormon Challenge”

On April 16, 2016 Jeremy “Gogo” Goff, republished the Hugh Nibley “Book of Mormon Challenge” on his website in a manner that suggested that it was some type of unassailable proof for the Book of Mormon from back in the day. Unfortunately for Mr. Goff, skeptics had already thoroughly debunked and demolished Mr. Nibley’s confirmation bias driven, straw man filled debacle decades ago. Apparently Mr. Goff never got the memo. Here’s Sandra Tanner’s classic deconstruction and analysis of this “challenge” that isn’t. — Editor

Legendary BYU Professor, Hugh Nibley

BYU Professor and Mormon Apologist, Hugh Nibley

by Sandra Tanner
Some years ago a member of the Church of Jesus Christ  of Latter-day Saints gave us the following outline. (Several variants of this have been circulated through the years but all seem to contain the same major points.) While no author is given on this copy, we have another copy that was distributed in 1976 at the St. George, Utah, LDS Temple Visitor’s Center that bears the name of Hugh Nibley. We have been told that Nibley used to hand out copies of this paper in some of his classes at Brigham Young University.

Since this challenge has once again been sent to us for our comments, we present the following critique.

The original “Challenge” text appears in this color, with our comments following in regular type.

The Challenge the Book of Mormon Makes to the World
If one scoffs at the missionary’s explanation of the Book of Mormon, he is in so many words claiming it to be false: That it is a deceiving fraud formulated through the efforts and talents of a common man. What is produced by one man can always be duplicated by another. The challenge that the Book of Mormon makes to the world is that of duplication. Because the book complies with every one of the following conditions, in order to produce a similar record, one must comply with the same conditions.

Here is the challenge: Can you accept it?

1. Write a history of ancient Tibet covering a period from 600 B.C. to 450 A.D. Why ancient Tibet? Because you know no more about Tibet than Joseph Smith (or anyone else) knew about ancient America.
107coversmallAncient American ruins were already known in Joseph Smith’s day. In the early 1800’s there was high interest in the American Indian culture and artifacts resulting in many books and newspaper articles. Also, there were a number of books printed before the Book of Mormon discussing the origin of the American Indians specifically claiming that they descended from Israel—the very idea put forward in the Book of Mormon.

In 1652 Menasseh Ben Israel’s Hope of Israel was published in England. This Jewish rabbi was a firm believer that remnants of the ten tribes of Israel had been discovered in the Americas (Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon, by Dan Vogel, 1986, p. 117).

In 1775 James Adair published The History of the American Indians. He theorized that there were twenty-three parallels between Indian and Jewish customs. For example, he claimed the Indians spoke a corrupt form of Hebrew, honored the Jewish Sabbath, performed circumcision, and offered animal sacrifice. He discussed various theories explaining Indian origins, problems of transoceanic crossing, and the theory that the mound builders were a white group more advanced than the Indians (Indian Origins, page 105).

A popular book of Smith’s day was View of the Hebrews, by Rev. Ethan Smith, printed in 1823, with a second edition in 1825.

LDS General Authority B. H. Roberts wrote extensively about the parallels between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon (see Studies of the Book of Mormon). Rev. Robert Hullinger gave the following summary of B. H. Robert’s parallels:

According to Roberts’s later studies, some features of View of the Hebrews are paralleled in the Book of Mormon. (1) Indians buried a book they could no longer read. (2) A Mr. Merrick found some dark yellow parchment leaves in “Indian Hill.” (3) Native Americans had inspired prophets and charismatic gifts, as well as (4) their own kind of Urim and Thummim and breastplate. (5) Ethan Smith produced evidence to show that ancient Mexican Indians were no strangers to Egyptian hieroglyphics. (6) An overthrown civilization in America is to be seen from its ruined monuments and forts and mounds. The barbarous tribes—barbarous because they had lost the civilized arts—greeting the Europeans were descendants of the lost civilization. (7) Chapter one of View of the Hebrews is a thirty-two page account of the historical destruction of Jerusalem. (8) There are many references to Israel’s scattering and being “gathered” in the last days. (9) Isaiah is quoted for twenty chapters to demonstrate the restoration of Israel. In Isaiah 18 a request is made to save Israel in America. (10) The United States is asked to evangelize the native Americans. (11) Ethan Smith cited Humboldt’s New Spain to show the characteristics of Central American civilization; the same are in the Book of Mormon. (12) The legends of Quetzacoatl, the Mexican messiah, are paralleled in the Book of Mormon by Christ’s appearing in the western hemisphere. . . . Roberts came to recognize that, at least in the case of Ethan Smith’s book, such works were widely available (Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, by Robert N. Hullinger, Signature, 1992, pp. 183-184).

For more information the similarities between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews, see Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon, by David Persuitte.

2. You are 23 years of age.
Why this age would be necessary is unclear. Many young people have accomplished things that seem beyond their years. Alexander the Great led an army at age 18 and Mozart was composing music by the age of 6. In his late teens Joseph Smith showed signs of being a creative and charismatic leader, as evidenced by his leadership in various money-digging schemes. According to his mother, Lucy Smith, he was a creative storyteller as well:

During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them (Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, by Lucy Smith, 1853, p. 85; reprinted under the title Joseph Smith’s History by His Mother).

3. You have had no more than three years of formal school education, and have spent your life in backwoods farming communities.
Simply because Smith did not spend a number of years in a formal school setting does not mean that he was uneducated. He even enrolled in school when he was 20. Further instruction could have come from Smith’s father, who had been a school teacher and subscribed to the local newspaper (Inventing Mormonism, by Marquardt and Walters, pp. 43-45).

To the right is a sample of Smith’s handwriting in 1832 which shows that he had been instructed in writing and penmanship.

From Dean C. Jessee, “Personal Writings of Joseph Smith” (2002), page 16 (click to enlarge)

Author Dan Vogel observed:

Certainly, Smith had less schooling than his wife, but he managed to write reasonably well. After examining several letters from the early period of Smith’s life (1831-32), historian Dale Morgan concluded that they exhibit “a flair for words, a measure of eloquence, and a sufficient degree of schooling” (Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel, 2004, Signature Books, p. 119).

Similar claims of no education have been made for Muhammad. He had limited schooling, received visions, started a new religion and produced the Koran, a book considered scripture by over a billion people. (For more comparisons, see Joseph Smith & Muhammad, by Eric Johnson.)

Another similar claim has been made for Ellen White (1827-1915), of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has grown to over 14 million members in less time than it has taken the LDS Church to reach 12 million. One Seventh-day Adventist writer gave the following summary of White’s life:

One morning four women gathered in a humble home in New England for their regular season of earnest prayer. After the three older women had prayed, Ellen Harmon, a shy girl of eighteen, began to pray. Suddenly she stopped praying and after a few moments of silence the women turned to Ellen and noticed that her eyes were wide open. . . . And Ellen told them that she must have been in a vision, but it seemed like she was right there. . . . Later, Ellen received another vision and this time the Lord asked that she tell her visions to the people.

A meeting was arranged for in Portland, Maine. About 200 people gathered to hear this young woman tell her vision. . . . She married James White a year after her first vision and she lived 70 more years, dying at the ripe old age of 87. During her lifetime she had more than 2,200 visions from the Lord. . . .

Though Ellen White had less than four years of formal education, she was instructed by the Lord to write and give counsel to the Church. If we had one copy of each book she has written placed one upon another, they would make a stack of books over seven feet high. She has, no doubt, written more than any modern writer. . . . The same God who gave her the vision, has given her the gift of inspired writing (The Spirit of Prophecy—Modern Prophets: Are They of God?, by L. E. Tucker, California, nd—possibly 1960’s).

Such claims do not prove that Muhammad, Ellen White or Joseph Smith truly received communication from God. But they do illustrate that Joseph Smith is not the only one from humble beginnings to claim the role of a prophet with millions of followers.

4. Your history must be written on the basis of what you now know. There was no library that held information for Joseph Smith. You must use none. There is to be no research of any kind.
Contrary to the above statement, the New England area abounded in literature speculating on the origin of the American Indian. In Smith’s neighborhood there was a library, bookstore and newspapers.

Both Palmyra and Manchester had a lending library. Even though there is no evidence that Joseph Smith borrowed from the Manchester library, he could have used the Palmyra library. There were also plenty of other sources for information. Robert Paul, writing for the BYU Studies, observed:

Moreover, if Joseph had wished to explore the literary materials of the day, it would have been unnecessary to travel the five miles to Manchester when in Palmyra, only two miles distant, there were several bookstores and at least one library, the contents of which he would have been free to peruse. . . . As early as 1819, and occasionally thereafter, book auctions were held in Palmyra. . . . The availability of bookstores and libraries in Palmyra, together with the fact that the Smith family regularly obtained the Palmyra Register and later the Wayne Sentinel from the newspaper office which doubled as a bookstore, would have mitigated the need to travel nearly three times the distance to acquire literary materials from the Manchester area (BYU Studies, Summer 1982, p. 340).

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.

Robert Hullinger commented on the popularity of View of the Hebrews:

View of the Hebrews circulated widely in New York. It was also condensed in Josiah Priest’s The Wonders of Nature and Providence, one of the more widely circulated books of the Manchester rental library in 1827 (Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism, p. 186).

The local newspapers occasionally ran stories about the Indians. The Palmyra Register for May 26, 1819, reported that one writer

believes (and we think with good reason) that this country was once inhabited by a race of people, at least, partially civilized, & that this race has been exterminated by the forefathers of the present and late tribes of Indians in this country (Palmyra Register, May 26, 1819).

Furthermore, the following was published in the Smith’s local newspaper, the Wayne Sentinel, in 1825:

Those who are most conversant with the public and private economy of the Indians, are strongly of opinion that they are the lineal descendants of the Israelites, and my own researches go far to confirm me in the same belief (Wayne Sentinel, October 11, 1825).

The Book of Mormon parallels the views of Smith’s day; it does not parallel archaeologists’ findings today. This is one of the areas which demonstrate that the Book of Mormon was written in the 1820’s, not 600 B.C. to 421 A.D.

5. Your history must be 531 pages and over 300,000 words in length.
There are a number of books of equal or greater length claiming to come from God. Examples are the Koran, A Course in Miracles, Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Oahspe, the prophecies of Anna Katharina Emmerick and the writings of Ellen G. White. These all claim to come from God.

Another group claiming divine instruction and visions were the Shakers. They published a number of pamphlets and books written in a scriptural style.

One of their books is A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth. More than sixty individuals gave testimony to the “Sacred Roll and Book.” Although not all of them mention angels appearing, some of them tell of many angels visiting them—one woman told of eight different visions. On page 304 of this book we find the testimony of eight witnesses. They claim that they saw an angel and the “Roll and Book”:

We, the undersigned, hereby testify, that we saw the holy Angel standing upon the house-top, as mentioned in the foregoing declaration, holding the Roll and Book.

Betsey Boothe. Sarah Maria Lewis. Louisa Chamberlain. Sarah Ann Spencer. Caty De Witt. Lucinda McDoniels. Laura Ann Jacobs. Maria Hedrick. (A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth, 1843, page 304)

Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to have seen an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Roll and Book. There are over a hundred pages of testimony from “Living Witnesses.”

(For more on the Shakers, see www.passtheword.org/SHAKER-MANUSCRIPTS/index.html)

Of particular interest is that Martin Harris, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, also joined the Shakers. He evidently had a testimony of the Shaker book as well as for the Book of Mormon (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality?, p. 63).

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

6. Other than a few grammatical corrections, you must have no changes in the text. The first edition as you dictate it to your secretary must stand forever.
Besides the approximately 4,000 grammatical and spelling changes that have been made in the Book of Mormon, there have been both historical changes and doctrinal changes.

In two places the name of a king has been changed from Benjamin to Mosiah. In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon we read as follows:

. . . king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings . . . (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 200)

In modern editions of the Book of Mormon this verse has been changed to read:

. . . king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings. . . (Book of Mormon, 1981 ed., Mosiah 21:28)

The same change was made in Ether:

. . . for this cause did king Benjamin keep them . . . (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 546)

In the 1981 edition, Ether 4:1, we read:

. . . for this cause did king Mosiah keep them . . .

According to chronology found in the Book of Mormon, king Benjamin should have been dead at this time; therefore, the name was changed to his successor, Mosiah.

(For more information on changes, see our Topical Index: Book of Mormon: Changes.)

Four important doctrinal changes relating to the godhead were made in the second edition of the Book of Mormon. The original Book of Mormon clearly taught that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost were one God. However, through the years Joseph Smith’s concept of God evolved into three Gods (see chapter 7 of our book The Changing World of Mormonism).

One of the most significant changes was made in 1 Nephi 13:40. In the 1830 edition it was stated that the very purpose of the Nephite records was to make known that Christ is the Eternal Father:

These last records, . . .shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world . . . (Book of Mormon, 1830 ed., p. 32).

In the current edition three words have been interpolated:

These last records, . . . shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world. . . (1 Nephi 13:40)

A second important change was made in 1 Nephi 11:18; this is on page 25 of the 1830 edition. In the first edition it read:

Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.

In modern editions it has been changed to read:

Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

Notice that the words “the Son of” have been inserted in the middle of the sentence. Verse 21 of the same chapter originally read:

And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!

It was changed to read:

And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!

Verse 32 of the same chapter, which is on page 26 of the original edition, was also changed. In the 1830 edition it read:

. . . the Everlasting God, was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

It was changed to read:

. . . the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world: and I saw and bear record.

While most of the changes in the Book of Mormon were done by Joseph Smith in the 1837 edition, a number of changes were made as recently as 1981. (See Intro to 3,913 Changes: Major Changes Between the 1920 and 1981 Editions of the Book of Mormon.)

"Jesus Christ visits the Americas" by John Scott. It doesn't get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the "Jewish" Temple in the background.

“Jesus Christ visits the Americas” by John Scott. It doesn’t get much more Jewish than this does it folks? Especially the “Jewish” Temple in the background.

7. This record is to contain the history of two distinct and separate nations, along with histories of different contemporary nations or groups of people.
This point assumes that Smith correctly identified the different groups. Strangely missing is any reference to the Maya. Surely the Book of Mormon people would have encountered them.

To date, none of the Book of Mormon people groups have been identified through independent archaeological research. The Introduction to the Book of Mormon declares that

After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

Thus one would assume that it would be easy to identify descendants of the Lamanites. Yet DNA shows that the “principal ancestors” of the American Indians were Asians.

Many writers have produced complicated novels dealing with various fictional groups of people. Just look at the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (www.tolkiensociety.org).

8. You must describe their religious, economic, political, and social cultures and institutions. Cover every phase of their society, including the names of their coins.
The Book of Mormon does not match any culture here in the Americas. It fails totally in the areas of religion, economics, politics and social culture, including their “coins.”

While the Book of Mormon does not use the term “coins” it is used in the heading of Alma, chapter 11, which describes the Nephite monetary system: “Nephite coinage set forth. . .” The chapter goes on to state:

And the judge received for his wages according to his time—a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given. Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value (Alma 11: 3-4).

However, when Europeans landed on the New England coast they did not find the American Indians using gold or silver as money. The first medium of exchange seems to have been shell beads, called Wampum (www.mohicanpress.com/mo08017.html). Later Indians exchanged such items as animal furs for the foreigner’s knives, axes, and other utensils (http://countrystudies.us/united-states/history-9.htm).

Further south, the Maya did not value gold as part of their trade system. Instead, they traded such items as salt, cacao, quetzal feathers, obsidian, colored shells and jade (The Maya, by Michael D. Coe, 2005, seventh edition, p. 206).

Whether or not the Book of Mormon refers to coins or measurements of metals, there is no evidence that gold and silver formed the basis of Native American commerce.

The Book of Mormon, An Angel Appears to Alma

The Book of Mormon, An Angel Appears to Alma

9. Change your style of writing many times. Many ancient authors contributed to the Book of Mormon, each with his own style.
Much of the book has the same long, rambling type of narrative one would expect from one author. Those instances of differences could be accounted for by the fact the book plagiarizes extensively from the various authors of the books of the Bible.

Joseph copied sections from Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, Paul’s letters, etc. For example, in Galatians 5:1 Paul wrote “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.” This same phrase appears in the Book of Mormon, prior to the time of Christ. Alma 58:40 reads “stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free.” For more examples see our book Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible.

10. Weave into your history the religion of Jesus Christ and the pattern of Christian living.
Instead of being a proof of divine inspiration, this is evidence that the book is a modern work. The Old Testament has no mention of Jesus Christ by name, or the Christian concept of baptism. Yet these are an integral part of the Nephite religion during the period before Christ. For instance, in approximately 550 B.C. God instructs the Nephites “repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son” (2 Nephi 31:11).

Also, the Book of Mormon repeatedly borrows phrases from the New Testament (King James Version). The problem is that these are found throughout the Book of Mormon prior to Christ’s birth and prior to the writing of the New Testament. Below are three examples of how Smith wove together parts of the Bible to make his new scriptures. The parallel biblical phrases are in brackets. In Alma 5:48 (about 83 B.C.) we read:

. . . I know that Jesus Christ [John 1:17] shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father [John 1:14], full of grace, and mercy, and truth [John 1:14]. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world [John 1:29], yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name [John 1:12].

Supposedly written about 550 B.C., Jacob declared:

And he commandeth all men that they must repent [Acts 17:30], and be baptized in his name [Acts 19:5], having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel [Isaiah 43:3], or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God [Acts 8:12]. (2 Nephi 9:23)

Compare the following Book of Mormon passage with the Bible:

Mosiah 5:15 [about 121 B.C.] Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, . . .

1 Corinthians 15: 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

11. You must claim that your smooth narrative is not fiction with moral value, but true and sacred history.
The Book of Mormon may have a complicated story line but it lacks a “smooth narrative.” Dan Vogel observed:

The book Joseph dictated abounds with examples of his poor grammar and Yankee dialect as well as his penchant for digression, redundancy, and wordiness. Rarely are his characters’ inner moral conflicts reflected. Most often we encounter flat, uncomplicated, two-dimensional heroes and villains. Generally the plots are simple and frequently improbable (Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, p. 119).

There are a number of religious books claiming to be “sacred history.” Many imitation gospels were written after the New Testament claiming to have been penned years earlier by various apostles (see http://wesley.nnu.edu/biblical_studies/noncanon/writings.htm).

"The Book of Zelph: Another Testament of the Book of Mormon"

“The Book of Zelph: Another Testament of the Book of Mormon”

12. You must include in your book fifty-four chapters dealing with wars, twenty-one historical chapters, fifty-five chapters on visions and prophecies. Remember, when you begin to write visions and prophecies, you must have your record agree meticulously with the Bible. You must write seventy-one chapters on doctrine and exhortation, and you must check every statement with the scriptures or you will be proven a fraud. You must write twenty-one chapters on the ministry of Christ, and every thing you claim he said and every testimony you write in your book about Him must agree absolutely with the New Testament.
The author of this challenge seemed to be unaware of the fact that the Book of Mormon was not divided into its current chapters and verses until 1879. The original chapters were much longer, resulting in fewer chapter numbers. Regardless of the number of chapters, it is sufficient to show that others have written books claiming to come from God that are equally, if not more, complex than the Book of Mormon.

In fact, there are people on the Internet claiming to have translated other portions of the gold plates. One man claims to have the lost book of Lehi. Another person claims to have restored the lost book of Zelph. And yet another person claims to have the sealed portion of the plates.

As for including chapters on the ministry of Christ, Smith plagiarized many portions of the gospels, including the Sermon on the Mount from the book of Matthew with only slight variations (3 Nephi 12).

Also, by Smith’s own admission he had sufficient exposure to Christianity to write the religious material in the Book of Mormon. According to Joseph Smith’s 1832 history, he had studied the Bible since he was 12 and had already determined that all churches were in error prior to his first vision:

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest [p.1] with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to searching the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that <they did not adorn> instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository [the Bible] this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mand <mankind> did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, edited by Dean Jessee, Deseret Book, 2002, pp. 10-11; photo on page 2 of this newsletter).

As for “checking every statement with the scriptures” the Book of Mormon contradicts the Bible on a number of points. It does not “agree meticulously with the Bible.” For example, the Bible plainly states that the gospel, with its inclusion of Gentiles, was not fully revealed until after Christ’s death. In Ephesians 3:3-7 Paul writes:

by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister. (See also Col. 1:26; 1 Peter 1: 1-12; Romans 16:25-26)

However, the Book of Mormon maintains that the knowledge of Gentile inclusion existed in 545 B.C. In 2 Nephi 26:12 we read:

And as I spake concerning the convincing of the Jews, that Jesus in the very Christ, it must needs be that the Gentiles be convinced also that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God

And in 2 Nephi 30:2 we read:

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off. . .

For other examples of contradictions, see Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions and (www.irr.org/mit/bombible.html).

13. Many of the facts, claims, ideas, and statements given as absolute truth in your writing must be entirely inconsistent with the prevailing beliefs of the world. Some of these worldly beliefs must be the direct opposite of your claims.
If the Book of Mormon’s claims contradict anything, it is the current scientific views of American Indian origins, rather than the views of Joseph Smith’s time. Nevertheless, it is not clear why such a contradiction with “prevailing beliefs of the world” would necessarily lend proof to the divine authenticity of any claim, as required in the above challenge. The fact that some Book of Mormon claims contradicts other widely accepted claims could be evidence for Joseph Smith’s own imaginative, yet inaccurate, thoughts.

When we examine the literature of Smith’s day we find that books such as View of the Hebrews argued that the American Indians were descended from the lost tribes of Israel. A similar concept is found in the Book of Mormon, where the people are descended from Israel. However, scientists today believe, and DNA confirms, the Indians descended from Asians, not Israelites. (See Quest for the Gold Plates by Stan Larson and Losing a Lost Tribe by Simon Southerton.)

An artist's rendering of the Jaredite barges from an LDS Church manual.

An artist’s rendering of the Jaredite barges from an LDS Church manual.

14. Included in your narrations will be authentic modes of travel; whether or not those ancient people used fire; description of their clothing, crops, mourning customs, and types of government. You must invent about 280 new names that will stand up under scrutiny through the years as to their proper application and derivation.
The Book of Mormon does not describe the “authentic modes of travel.” When Lehi and his family landed in the New World they supposedly found “the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse” wandering in the wilderness, animals supposedly brought by the Jaredites years before (see 1 Nephi 18:25; Ether 6:4; Ether 9:17-19). In Alma 18:9-12 we read of the king’s “horses and chariots.” In 3 Nephi 3:22 we read of the Nephites “horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and . . . their grain.” Alma 1:29 specifies that they had “silk and fine-twined linen.” Yet there is no archaeological evidence for these things prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the Americas.

Evidently Joseph Smith thought a group of people from the Old World could simply bring their way of life, animals and seeds with them and create the same lifestyle in the New World. For instance, Mosiah 9:9 tells that the people planted “wheat.” However, archaeologists depict a very different lifestyle for the region most favored by LDS scholars as the Book of Mormon lands. Michael Coe, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, describes the diet of the Maya:

While there are profound differences between the subsistence base of the lowlands and that of the highlands, the ancient foursome of maize, beans, chile peppers, and squash formed then, as it still does, the basis of the Mesoamerican diet, . . . (The Maya, p. 13)

The Book of Mormon also claims that cattle, sheep, swine and goats were “useful for the food of man” (Ether 9:18). However, the animals most hunted in Mesoamerica were the deer, cottontail and dog (Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, by Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz, 2002, p. 89).

Metallurgy is another problematic claim of the Book of Mormon. It refers to steel swords produced in the New World (2 Nephi 5:14-15; Ether 7:9). It states also that the people worked with both iron and gold. Stan Larson observed:

William J. Hamblin, professor of history at BYU, criticized those who see “large-scale metal ‘industries’ ” among Book of Mormon peoples, affirming that the text “claims only that certain metals were known to the Nephites.” However, the Book of Mormon attributes advanced metallurgical skills to both Jaredites and Nephites. Glenna Nielsen Grimm said that “sophisticated metallurgical processes were engaged in that involved the mining and refining of both ferrous [i.e., iron] and non-ferrous ores.” Consider the impressive description of metallurgical technology during the time of Kish, a Jaredite king about 1500 B.C.:

And they did work in all manner of ore, and they did make gold, and silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals; and they did dig it out of the earth; wherefore, they did cast up mighty heaps of earth to get ore, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of copper. And they did work all manner of fine work (Ether 10:23).

One must keep in mind the important distinction between mere metalworking and true metallurgy. Metalworking means the cold hammering and shaping of metal, while metallurgy requires temperatures of 700° to 800° C and involves some or all of the following technological processes: smelting, casting, gilding, annealing, soldering, and alloying. The Book of Mormon does specify the practice of smelting among the Jaredites, for Ether explained that Shule “did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel” (Ether 7:9).

Raymond Matheny described the metallurgical technology needed to produce iron objects:

A ferrous industry is a whole system of doing something. It’s just not an esoteric process that a few people are involved in, but ferrous industry—that means mining iron ores and then processing these ores and casting these ores into irons and then making steels and so forth—this is a process that’s very complicated. . . . In other words, society would have to be organized at a certain level before ferrous industry would be feasible.

The technology of mining is problematical for the Book of Mormon. Where do you find iron ores in sufficient quantity to create an industry? . . . No evidence has been found in the New World for a ferrous metallurgical industry dating to pre-Columbian times. And so this is a king-size kind of problem, it seems to me, for so-called Book of Mormon archaeology. This evidence is absent.

Matheny also pointed out that the extraction of iron from ore needs high temperatures and various fluxing substances which produce slag, which in turn become indestructible rock forms. In the 1920’s B. H. Roberts summarized the situation, saying that “there is nothing on which the later investigators of our American antiquities are more unanimously agreed upon than the matter of the absence of the knowledge of, and hence the non-use of, iron or steel among the natives of America” (Quest for the Gold Plates, Stan Larson, pp. 195-196).

Michael Coe gives further background on items used by the Maya:

From the time of their initial contact with the Maya, the Spaniards learned to their bitter disappointment that there were no sources of gold and silver in the Maya lowlands, and the foreign colonizers soon came to look upon the region as a hardship post. Yet the native inhabitants, to whom the yellow metal was of little value and in fact unknown until about AD 800, had abundant resources which were of far greater importance to them in their daily life, in their rituals, and in their trade. . . . .

As archaeologist Robert Cobean has noted, obsidian—a natural volcanic glass—was to ancient Mesoamerica what steel is to modern civilization. It was turned into knives, lance and dart points, prismatic blades for woodworking and shaving, and a host of other tools. . . .

The Maya elite had their special needs, above all jade, quetzal feathers, and marine shells (The Maya, pp. 22-23).

Oddly, the Book of Mormon never mentions these items that were so important in Mesoamerica.

In the 1996 statement from the Smithsonian Institution we read:

One of the main lines of evidence supporting the scientific finding that contacts with Old World civilizations, if indeed they occurred at all, were of very little significance for the development of American Indian civilizations, is the fact that none of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre-Columbian times. American Indians had no wheat, barley oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)

Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron (Smithsonian Letter, 1996. Also see http://blog.mrm.org/2012/03/the-smithsonian-institution-and-the-book-of-mormon/).

As for the topic of authentic names, almost half of the Book of Mormon names are from the Bible, while many others are variations of biblical names. “Lehi” is a Hebrew place found in the Bible (Judges 15:9, 14, 19). “Nephi” is from the King James translation of the Apocrypha. In
2 Maccabees 1:36 we read:

And Neemias called this thing Naphthar, which is as much as to say, a cleansing; but many men call it Nephi.

The main hill in the Book of Mormon is called “Cumorah.” However, the spelling is somewhat different in the first edition. The original text of Moroni 6:2 reads:

. . . we might gather together our people unto the land of Camorah, by the hill which was called Camorah, and there we would give them battle.

Captain Moroni Raises Title of Liberty Mormon while a chorus of steel Nephite swords are raised in honor.

Captain Moroni Raises Title of Liberty Mormon while a chorus of steel Nephite swords are raised in honor.

One of the main leaders in the Book of Mormon was “Moroni.” Interestingly, there are islands off the east coast of Africa named the Comoro Islands (also spelled Comora), and the capital is Moroni. A common school book in Smith’s day was Geography Made Easy, by Jedidiah Morse, 1813. On page 356 he mentions the “Comora Islands” off the coast of Africa.

Smith could have also heard of these islands in connection with his treasure-digging, as the famous pirate Captain Kidd, along with many other pirates, stopped there. It was rumored that he later buried his treasure somewhere in New England. Ron Huggins informs us:

One day in late March 1697, a ship . . . arrived at the Island of Mohilla, one of the Comoro Islands. . . . It would not depart again until April 18. Its captain, William (a.k.a. Robert) Kidd, did not know he would soon become one of history’s most famous, and notorious, pirates.

In those days pirates, even famous ones, were no oddity in the Comoros. . . .

But it was the rumor of an enormous treasure trove buried somewhere, or scuttled along with the mysteriously missing Qedah, which did most to immortalize the man. The fact that Kidd was arrested so soon after arriving in Boston made it highly likely, or so many believed, that his treasure was still out there, somewhere, waiting to be discovered. Thus, Kidd’s treasure became the most vigorously sought pirate’s prize of all. For Mormons, the fact that the pirate was hanged for crimes allegedly committed in the vicinity of Moroni on Grand Comoro is significant because the hunt for his treasure came to play a part in the story of Moroni on Comorah (“From Captain Kidd’s Treasure Ghost to the Angel Moroni,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 36, no. 4, Winter 2003, pp. 17-19).

Further on in the same article, Huggins relates various statements connecting Joseph Smith with an interest in Kidd:

Stories about pirates and, especially, stories about Captain Kidd, played a particularly important role in the young Joseph’s imagination. According to J. H. Kennedy, Joseph “made confession” that the autobiography of Captain Kidd “made a deep impression upon him.” Kennedy does not say in what context Smith made this “confession.” Palmyra native Phietus B. Spear recalled in an 1873 interview that as a boy Joseph “had for a library a copy of the ‘Arabian Nights,’ stories of Captain Kidd, and a few novels.” Pomeroy Tucker also mentions Joseph’s youthful fascination with Captain Kidd, Stephen Burroughs the counterfeiter, and others, noting that such stories “presented the highest charms for his expanding mental perceptions.”. . . E. D. Howe [in his 1834 book, Mormonism Unvailed] describes the prophet’s parents as “having a firm belief in ghosts and witches; the telling of fortunes; pretending to believe that the earth was filled with hidden treasures, buried there by Kid[d] or the Spaniards”. . . .

Rumors of Kidd’s treasure were not limited to sites on the Eastern seaboard. Nor were the Smiths particularly unique in digging for it. John Hyde, Jr., wrote in 1857: “It was quite common in the western part of New York, about thirty years ago [i.e. 1827], for men to dig for treasure which they supposed had been hidden by Captain Kidd and others.” (“From Captain Kidd’s Treasure,” pp. 37-38; also see John Hyde, “Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs” p.263).

Another prominent Book of Mormon name is Mormon. This name was already in use prior to 1830 as the name of a species of puffin birds on the east coast of North America. For more information on Book of Mormon names, see Possible Sources for Book of Mormon Names.

15. You will have to properly use figures of speech, similes, metaphors, narrations, exposition, descriptions, oratory, epic lyric, and parables.
Ideas for parables, figures of speech, etc. could have come from reading the Bible. The book of Revelation speaks of “the four quarters of the earth” (Rev. 20:8), which is echoed in the Book of Mormon, “four quarters of the earth” (1 Nephi 19:16). For other similar copying, see The Changing World of Mormonism, chapter 5 and Joseph Smith’s Plagiarism of the Bible.

Another source of ideas is the Apocrypha. It was readily available in Smith’s day and was published in many Bibles. For examples of Joseph Smith’s borrowing from the Apocrypha see our Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 89.

"Nephi Fashioning the Plates" by Bill L. Hill

“Nephi Fashioning the Plates” by Bill L. Hill

When one considers the effort needed to make the original gold plates of the Book of Mormon and then to engrave them, one would expect a scribe to be as concise as possible, not wordy. Nephi’s brother, Jacob complained:

I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates (Book of Mormon, Jacob 4:1).

However, lengthy sentences abound. Here is just one example:

And now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record—for he truly did many miracles in the name of Jesus; and there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity—And now it came to pass, if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time, the thirty and third year had passed away; And the people began to look with great earnestness for the sign which had been given by the prophet Samuel, the Lamanite, yea, for the time that there should be darkness for the space of three days over the face of the land (3 Nephi 8:1-3. For other examples see Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 105).

One could more easily imagine such long, rambling descriptions coming from someone spontaneously dictating to a scribe (as Joseph purportedly did) than from someone painstakingly engraving each word of a long historical record.

In order to maintain the impression of “properly using literary styles” the author of the Book of Mormon not only plagiarized verse after verse from the Bible, he also lifted wording from other sources. The Preface to the King James Bible (prepared for the 1611 printing) uses certain words which do not appear in the Bible, such as “clouds of darkness” and “overshadowed.” Yet the Book of Mormon contains similar wording:

. . . the cloud of darkness, which had overshadowed them, did not disperse. . . (Book of Mormon, Helaman 5:31)

In fact, Smith repeated these words over and over again in the book of Heleman:

And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness . . . behold the cloud of darkness, which had overshadowed them, did not disperse . . . the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them . . . he saw through the cloud of darkness . . . the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness maybe removed from overshadowing us? And Aminadab said . . . You must repent.. and when you shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you . . . the cloud of darkness was dispersed. And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about . . . by a pillar of fire (Helaman 5:28, 31, 34, 36, 40-43).

After this repetitious section of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith never used the words “cloud of darkness” again; instead he used the words “mist of darkness” or “mists of darkness.” It is interesting to note that the word “mists” (plural) is not found in the text of the Bible either, but it does appear in the Preface of the King James Bible (see Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 84).

Also, in order to “properly use . . . descriptions” one should not produce any anachronistic references. Yet many items are mentioned that would not have been known in Book of Mormon times, such as candles. In 3 Nephi 8:21 we read:

And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled . . .

16. You must invite the ablest scholars and experts to examine the text with care, and you must strive diligently to see that your book gets into the hands of those eager to prove it a forgery, and who are most competent to expose every flaw in it.
Actually, the first scholar to denounce the Book of Mormon was Professor Charles Anthon in 1828. Martin Harris took a small sample of the text, known as the Anthon Transcript, to Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Anthon. Professor Charles Anthon wrote:

The whole story about my pronouncing the Mormon inscription to be reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, apparently simple-hearted farmer [Martin Harris] called on me with a note from Dr. Mitchell, of our city, now dead, requesting me to decipher, if possible, the paper which the farmer would hand me. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick—perhaps a hoax. . . . I have frequently conversed with friends on the subject since the Mormon excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained anything else but Egyptian hieroglyphics (as quoted in Mormonism Unvailed, by E.D. Howe, 1834, pp. 270-272 )

43anthontranscript

Anthon Transcript (click to enlarge)

Also, the Book of Mormon characters bear absolutely no similarity to Mayan characters. Below is a sample of Mayan hieroglyphics.
Mayan Hieroglyphics from M.T. Lamb, "The Golden Bible", p. 264 (click to enlarge)

Mayan Hieroglyphics from M.T. Lamb, “The Golden Bible”, p. 264 (click to enlarge)

Many scholars since Prof. Anthon have looked at the Book of Mormon and have come to the same conclusion. After discussing the Mormon belief in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, Michael Coe, one of the best known authorities on the Maya, frankly stated:

Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, . . . nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon . . . is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42, 46).

17. Thorough investigation, scientific and historical evidence, and archeological discovery for the next 125 years must verify its claims and prove detail after detail to be true, for many of the details you put in your history are still buried beneath the soil of Tibet.
There are no archaeological sites, writing samples or artifacts that can be identified as Nephite, Lamanite, or Jaredite. The LDS Church does not even publish a map designating the location of the Book of Mormon story. In fact, they seem to discourage attempts to designate any place as a Book of Mormon site. In 1978 the LDS Church News warned members not to get involved in trying to figure out where the Book of Mormon story took place:

The geography of the Book of Mormon has intrigued some readers of that volume ever since its publication. But why worry about it? . . .

To guess where Zarahemla stood can in no wise add to anyone’s faith. But to raise doubts in people’s minds about the location of the Hill Cumorah, and thus challenge the words of the prophets concerning the place where Moroni buried the records, is most certainly harmful. And who has the right to raise doubts in anyone’s mind?

Our position is to build faith, not to weaken it, and theories concerning the geography of the Book of Mormon can most certainly undermine faith if allowed to run rampant.

Why not leave hidden the things that the Lord has hidden? If He wants the geography of the Book of Mormon revealed, He will do so through His prophet, and not through some writer who wishes to enlighten the world despite his utter lack of inspiration on the point (Deseret News, July 29, 1978, Church News Section, p. 16 and Where is Cumorah?).

Though never endorsed by the Mormon Church, Latter-day Saint Vernal Holley’s map (top) based upon his opinion or “pet theory” of the Land of Promise location; The bottom is Holley’s map of the same area as it existed around the time of Joseph Smith, showing the same or similar names. (click to enlarge)

Though ever endorsed by the Mormon Church, Latter-day Saint Vernal Holley’s map (top) attempted to reconcile the Book of Mormon with Northeastern U.S. geography; The bottom is Holley’s map of the same area as it existed around the time of Joseph Smith, showing the same or similar names. (click to enlarge)

This LDS editorial leaves us with several questions:

1. If the Book of Mormon recounts historical events and places, why would it “undermine faith” to search for those sites? Researchers do archaeological studies for biblical sites, why not for LDS scriptures?

According to challenge number 17 it would seem that scientific testing of Book of Mormon geography would be welcomed. Yet the LDS Church leaders discourage it. In a recent LDS student manual is a theoretical map of various Book of Mormon sites. However, the caption states:

No effort should be made to identify points on this map with any existing geographical locations (Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1996, p. 163).

They evidently know that Book of Mormon sites do not fit the geography of the Americas.

2. Current editions of the LDS scriptures contain maps of the LDS Church migration across America. If maps aid in understanding the Doctrine and Covenants, why wouldn’t they be important for studies of the Book of Mormon?

3. If only the prophet can determine Book of Mormon geography, why doesn’t he?

4. If the prophet is the one who can correctly speak on these issues, then shouldn’t Joseph Smith’s statement that Lehi landed in Chile be authoritative? (See www.irr.org/mit/bomarch1.html)

5. Are the ? Then of what value are speculations on geography by BYU scholars? (See http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/cumorah.htm)

One of the LDS Church’s official web sites is still promoting the hill in New York as the place Moroni buried the plates. See (http://www.hillcumorah.org/cumorah.php).

18. You must publish it to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people declaring it to be the word of God and another witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Other books have done the same. James Strang, one of the contenders to succeed Joseph Smith, claimed divine revelation. Strang declared that

he was visited by an angel at 5:30 p.m. on June 27, 1844—the exact moment of Joseph Smith’s death—and anointed to be Smith’s successor (“God Has Made Us A Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons, by Vickie C. Speek, 2006, p. 22).

Later Strang claimed to find a buried record. Vickie Speek explains:

On September 1, 1845, Strang told followers he had learned by revelation about some ancient plates of brass buried in a nearby hillside. He claimed an angel appeared before him and showed him the plates in vision and gave him his own urim and thummim to translate the records (God has Made Us a Kingdom,” p. 24).

For more on James Strang, see (http://www.strangstudies.org/James_Jesse_Strang/).

19. The book must not contain any absurd, impossible, or contradictory statements. Your history must not contain any statement that will contradict any other statement elsewhere in the volume.
There are many absurdities in the Book of Mormon, such as the story of the Jaredite barges, in Ether 2:16-21 and chapter 6.

According to the Book of Mormon, after the time of the Tower of Babel, Jared and his brother, together with their extended families, were told to build “barges” to carry them from the Middle East to the promised land (America). These eight barges were to be “small” and “light upon the water.” They were to be made the “length of a tree” and “tight like unto a dish.” At first God gave no instructions for light or ventilation. But the brother of Jared brought it to His attention and the Lord instructed:

Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood (Ether 2:20).

One wonders how long they would be able to breathe, let alone deal with the problems of pressure, with the boat sealed up and “swallowed up in the depths of the sea” (Ether 2:25)? This sounds like modern submarine capabilities. Also, when did one use the hole in the bottom? Did the boats flip over, thus requiring two holes? How does one transport people, flocks, herds, water and food in rotating vessels?

Then the brother of Jared complained that there was no lighting inside the barges. The Lord instructed him that they couldn’t have “windows, for they will be dashed in pieces” (Ether 2:23). Remember, this supposedly took place thousands of years ago before glass windows.

The brother of Jared then suggested that God touch sixteen stones, “molten out of a rock,” to make them “even as transparent glass” to provide light in the barges (Ether 3:1-2). This gives them two stone lights for each barge, full of people, animals and supplies.

They are next instructed to prepare “all manner of food” for themselves and “food for their flocks and herds, and whatsoever beast or animal or fowl that they should carry with them” (Ether 5:4). How would they have room on eight small barges the length of a tree to store food and fresh water for a trip that would take a year?

One wonders how these eight small barges stayed together and on course? No instructions are given as to any means of steering the vessels which are “light” and “tight like unto a dish,” yet they are driven by furious winds and at times “buried in the depths of the sea.” Amazingly, all eight barges arrive at the same spot at the same time. This horrible trip is summed up as follows:

And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water (Ether 6:11).

No such trip could have been made thousands of years ago.

The HIll Cumorah (c.19th Century)

The Hill Cumorah (19th Century photograph)

The account of the decapitation of Shiz (Ether 15:29-31) is equally unbelievable. Supposedly the Jaredite civilization came to an end with a terrible battle involving millions of people at the hill Ramah. The Nephites and Lamanites would later choose the very same location for their last battle but named the hill Cumorah.

The last two opponents were Shiz and Coriantumr. After Coriantumr beheaded Shiz, “Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died.” Did his head struggle for breath or his body? Either situation is impossible.

An important example of anachronistic contradictions in the Book of Mormon is found in the use of the name “Jesus Christ.” Some time around 550 B.C. an angel revealed to Jacob, brother of Nephi, that the Redeemer would be named “Christ” (2 Nephi 10:3).

After this, Nephi had it revealed to him that “Jesus is the Christ” (2 Nephi 26:12). However, according to the first edition of the Book of Mormon, Nephi already knew this name years before:

And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and Jesus Christ, which is the Lamb of God . . . (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 28).

Since the Book of Mormon states that the name was first made known to Jacob, then to Nephi, Joseph Smith had to change the words “Jesus Christ” to “the Messiah” in the 2nd edition. Thus in the 1981 edition we read:

And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God, and the Messiah who is the Lamb of God. . . (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:18).

This change allows Nephi to refer to the “Messiah” without using his name, leaving it to Jacob to later reveal that the Messiah would be called “Christ.”

The same mistake is made when King Benjamin (about 124 B.C.) revealed to his people that the name of the Messiah would be “Jesus Christ” (Mosiah 3:8). According to Book of Mormon chronology, this name would have been known for hundreds of years, having been revealed earlier to Jacob and Nephi (see Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 74).

In fact, it had already been revealed to the Jaredites hundreds of years before Jacob and Nephi. In the record of the Jaredites is an account of the appearance of Jesus to the brother of Jared:

Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son (Ether 3:14).

20. Many theories and ideas as to its origin must arise, and after discovering and examining the facts, they must fail. You have claimed that your knowledge had come from divine origin, and this claim continues to stand as the only possible explanation. The strength of this explanation must not decrease as time passes, but actually increases to the point where it becomes the only logical explanation.
The Book of Mormon has grown less credible through non-LDS scholarly study, not more so.

The Book of Mormon tells of three migrations to the Americas, a land held in reserve for these people. It never mentions other groups occupying the land prior to the arrival of the Book of Mormon peoples. Yet the DNA of the American Indian shows that 99.6% descended from Asians, not Israelites. For more information on DNA problems, see Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 103 and the book, Losing a Lost Tribe, by Dr. Simon Southerton. For other problems, see (www.lds-mormon.com/bomquest.shtml).

21. Your record is to fulfill many Bible prophecies, even in the exact manner in which it shall come forth, to whom delivered, its purposes, and its accomplishments.

No Bible scholar sees the Book of Mormon as fulfilling prophecy. Mormons often cite Ezekiel 37:15-21 as a prophecy regarding the Book of Mormon. Mormonism claims that the two sticks refer to the Bible and the Book of Mormon. However, the chapter gives its own interpretation of the passage. At that time Israel was divided into two groups. Verse 18 states the people will ask for an interpretation of the joined sticks. In verses 19-22 the Lord declares that the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel shall be joined into one nation. It is a promise from the Lord relating to the restoration of Israel. See Book of Mormon Overview and (http://www.mrm.org/ezekiel-sticks).

22. Call down an angel from heaven in the middle of the day and have him bear testimony to four honest, dignified citizens of your community that the record is the word of God. These witnesses must bear the angel’s testimony to the world, not for profit or gain, but under great sacrifice and severe persecution, even to their death beds. You must put that testimony to the test by becoming an enemy to these men.
The witnesses to the Book of Mormon were involved in magic and money-digging prior to testifying to the book. They were not the most “dignified” citizens of the area. Several years after Joseph Smith started his church he denounced Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, even calling him a “wicked man” in two different revelations (D&C 3:12-13; 10:6-7). The other two witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, were accused of uniting

with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs of the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, . . . (Letter quoted in Senate Document 189, Feb. 15, 1841, pp. 6-9).

Since Smith himself lost confidence in these men, why should anyone today trust their testimony about angelic visions? For more on the witnesses, see chapter 5 of our book, The Changing World of Mormonism.

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

Other movements, such as the Shakers and Strangites, have claimed revelations, angelic visitations and listed various witnesses. In fact, Martin Harris joined both of these groups (Changing World, chapter 5, pp.100-101).

Besides this, many Catholics and Protestants have recounted visions. Two famous Catholic visions were the appearance of Mary in 1531 to Juan Diego in Mexico and her appearance in 1858 to Bernadette at Lourdes. Two Protestants claiming visions of Christ were Rev. Elias Smith, in 1816 and Asa Wild in 1823 (Changing World of Mormonism, pp. 159-160). Thus Smith’s claim of visions is not as unique as many LDS people believe.

23. Thousands of great men, intellectual giants, national and international personalities, and scholars for 165 years must accept your history and its teachings even to the point of laying down their life rather than deny their testimony of it.
This could equally be applied to Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. See response to points 2 and 3.

24. You must include within the record this promise: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, He will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost.”
This challenge provides Mormons with a comforting explanation if one does not get the same confirmation that they did. If you pray about the Book of Mormon but do not receive a witness in your heart that it is true, you did not pray with “a sincere heart.” Latter-day Saints seem unaware of the thousands of people who claim to have sincerely prayed about other religious texts and are equally convinced that they have found the truth. Prayer alone is not enough to ensure that one is not misled. It didn’t keep Book of Mormon witness Martin Harris from gaining an equal testimony to the Shakers and James Strang.

25. Missionaries must bear record to the world for the next 165 years that they know the record to be true because they put the promise to the test and found it to be true. The truth of it was manifested to them by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Christian missionaries have put their faith and lives on the line for almost 2000 years. One need only read Fox’s Book of Martyrs for examples.

"Mormons visit a country carpenter" (1856) by Christen Dalsgaard, depicting a mid-19th century visit of a missionary to a Danish carpenter's workshop. The first missionaries arrived in Denmark in 1850. (click to enlarge)

“Mormons Visit a Country Carpenter” (1856) by Christen Dalsgaard, depicting a mid-19th century visit of a missionary to a Danish carpenter’s workshop. The first missionaries arrived in Denmark in 1850. (click to enlarge)

26. Over 52,900 plus [This number is different in other copies] competent salesmen must be so sold on your book that they gladly give up two or more years of their lives to take it to all parts of the world for distribution. They not only pay their own way during these years, but return bearing testimony that the time spent will remain as one of the highlights of their lives. They receive nothing in return for their efforts but the joy of having shared your book with others.
The number of committed followers does not guarantee that the movement has the truth. Also, not all LDS missionaries pay their full expenses. The LDS Church has a general missionary fund to help those who are not able to pay for a mission. How is this any different from any Christian missionary society where funds are pooled to send out missionaries? This represents a great sacrifice on the part of Christian missionaries who have generally spent years in college to prepare for such a calling. Plus, they do it as a lifetime commitment, not just two years.

27. Your book must not only raise the standards of millions of people but do it in such a way that they become one of the great moral, ethical, and dynamic marvels of the day. They must become world renowned for this.
The Book of Mormon simply echoes the moral teachings of the Bible. In Alma 16:18 is a list of sins, all of which are dealt with in the Bible:

Now those priests who did go forth among the people did preach against all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and malice, and revilings, and stealing, robbing, plundering, murdering, committing adultery, and all manner of lasciviousness, crying that these things ought not so to be—(Alma 16:18).

We read in Mark 16:16 “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Yet an ocean away Moroni writes “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mormon 9:23).

Paul cautions that to “be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life (Rom. 8:6). However, hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, the Book of Mormon recorded “Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal” (2 Nephi 9:39).

Philippians 2:12 states “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Again, Moroni uses the same language, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Mormon 9:27).

Of course the Book of Mormon sounds Christian; it simply plagiarizes verse after verse from the Bible.

Christians, Jews and Muslims have traditionally promoted honesty and family values. The LDS Church does not have a corner on the concept.

28. For the next 20 years you must watch those that follow and you, your family, and the dearest of your loved ones persecuted, driven time after time from their homes, beaten, tortured, starved, frozen and killed. Tens of thousands must undergo the most extreme hardships in your presence just because they believe your claims concerning the origin and content of what you have written on ancient Tibet.
Early Christians were arrested, thrown to the lions, and died in various terrible ways for their faith. Mormons have never suffered to the extent that Catholics, Protestants and Jews have done. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted far beyond anything experienced by the LDS Church. See (www.persecution.org) or (www.bibleleague.org).

29. You must gain no wealth from your work, but many times lose all that you have. Like those that believe you, you must submit yourself to the most vile persecution. And finally after 20 years of this, give your own life in a very savage and brutal manner, for your testimony concerning your history book. This must be done willingly on your part.
Joseph Smith brought on many of his problems with his secret doctrines like polygamy and the kingdom of God. He did not die as a martyr, but in a gun battle while in jail (See Joseph Smith’s Death).

Zealots have been sacrificing and dying for their various causes for thousands of years.

30. Start right now and produce this record which covers 1,000 years of history, doing it, not in the peaceful atmosphere of your community, but under the most trying of circumstances which include being driven from your home several times, and receiving constant threats upon your life. Please have your book completed, talk a friend into mortgaging his farm to raise money to have it printed — all in 60 days.
The Smiths had moved a few times during Joseph’s childhood due to financial reverses. But Joseph was hardly “driven” from his home several times during the production of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph and his father traveled to the border of New York and Pennsylvania to work for Mr. Stowell in 1825 and 1826. Mr. Stowell hired Joseph Smith specifically because he claimed to have magical powers to find hidden treasure. After Joseph married Emma in 1827 they lived with his parents. However, his former partners in money-digging were hounding him about the gold plates, feeling that he owned it to them to share the treasure. Martin Harris, who financed the printing of the Book of Mormon, told a newspaper editor:

The money-diggers claimed that they had as much right to the plates as Joseph had, as they were in company together. They claimed that Joseph had been traitor, and had appropriated to himself that which belonged to them. For this reason Joseph was afraid of them, and continued concealing the plates (Tiffany’s Monthly, August 1859, as quoted in The Creation of the Book of Mormon, by LaMar Petersen, p. 136).

"Joseph Smith Translating" by Nelson

“Joseph Smith Translating” by Nelson

In the winter of 1827-1828 Joseph and Emma moved south to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to live on her parent’s property while he did his translation (see Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, by Dan Vogel, p. 106). During this time Joseph’s father lost the family farm due to debt and moved in with his married son, Hyrum. Joseph later moved north to the Whitmer home in Fayette, New York, where he finished the translation. These moves seem to relate more to monetary necessity than religious persecution. (See Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, by Newell and Avery, pp. 24-29)

The Book of Mormon project was not restricted to “60 days.” Smith seems to have been working on his story prior to getting the plates in 1827.

Joseph’s mother said that he used to entertain the family with tales about the Indians. Since Smith’s mother places this after the time the angel first told Joseph about the plates (1823), some have argued that he was merely repeating information he got from the angel. However, it is hard to imagine God sending an angel to tell Smith entertaining stories of the Indians’ “dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode,” etc. It sounds more like a young man practicing his story.

Joseph Smith first started dictating his book in 1827, so he had at least three years to record the story prior to its publication.

Also, Martin Harris, the man who mortgaged his farm to finance the printing of the Book of Mormon and one of the witnesses, had been involved with Joseph Smith for three years. He didn’t make a quick decision to finance the project. In fact, he seems to have gone into the venture with an eye to making money. Dan Vogel explains:

According to his [Martin Harris] wife and sister-in-law, Harris boasted in 1828 that the Book of Mormon would be a financial windfall. According to Tucker, “Harris was led to believe that the book would be a profitable speculation for him, and very likely in this [fact] may be traced his leading motive for taking the venture. He was vouchsafed the security of a ‘special revelation’ commanding that the new Bible should in no instance be sold at a less price than ‘ten shillings,’ and that he himself should have the exclusive right of sale, with all the avails. . . . Indeed, he figured up the profits . . . thus: 5,000 books at $1.25 per book, $6,250. First cost, $3,000. Showing a clear speculation of over one hundred per sent upon the investment” (Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet, p. 481).

However, when the book failed to sell, Martin became concerned about the mortgage on his farm and the possibility of foreclosure to cover the printer’s bill. In response to this Joseph received a revelation denouncing Martin for hesitating to pay the bill:

I command thee [Martin Harris] that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of God—. . . Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage (Doctrine and Covenants 19:26, 35).

LDS historians James Allen and Glen Leonard observed that the Book of Mormon “was not a commercial success, however, and a year later Martin Harris, true to his word, sold his mortgaged farm and paid the $3,000” (Story of the Latter-day Saints, 1992, p. 53).

There is only one answer: The Book of Mormon is a divine record. If not, its origin must be stated and its claims must be explained by the critic. It isn’t enough to merely discard it as false and forget about it!

The first thing to do in examining any ancient text is to consider it in the light of the origin and background that is claimed for it. If it fits into that background there is no need to look farther, since historical forgery is virtually impossible.

Forgeries that fit the historical background that is claimed for them are not only possible, but are prevalent. For example, there were the infamous Hitler diaries, consisting of 60 volumes, created by Konrad Kujau in the 1980’s:

. . . Kujau might have remained a small-time crook had he not come into contact with Gerd Heidemann. A Stern reporter whose career had reached something of an impasse, Heidemann had developed an unhealthy interest in the personalities of the Third Reich and an expensive appetite for the artefacts associated with them, . . .

He was immediately fascinated by the “Hitler Diaries”. Kujau’s first production was no more than a single volume labelled Political and Private Notes from January 1935 until June 1935. Adolf Hitler. . . .

Believing — or wanting to believe — this extraordinary volume authentic, Heidemann went to Stern with his “revelation”. His star began to rise at once. Amid great secrecy, the magazine’s publishers agreed to give him the funds to pay Kujau for more diaries, to be secured, at some risk, via his high-ranking contact in the East German military.

Kujau set to work. For three years, he wrote Hitler’s daily thoughts in Gothic script into a black A4 notebook. On to each page he would pour tea, to give it an aged appearance. He would then slap the pages together and batter them against the table to wear and age the volumes. Finally he affixed two red wax seals in the form of a German eagle on the covers.

The diaries purported to run from June 1932 to April 1945. In composing the content, Kujau worked from a library of reference books, newspapers and medical records. The result was not immediately impressive, though it was only after the hoax was revealed that the banality of the entries seemed so strikingly clear (www.mishalov.com/Kujau.html).

mark-hoffmannews

Master Forger Mark Hofmann presenting one of his forgeries to the highest ranking leaders of the LDS Church. (click to enlarge)

The forgeries were announced to the world through Stern, then exposed by David Irving:

Adopting high-powered marketing methods at their press conference to sell the multi-million dollar diaries, Stern began by presenting to the hundreds of television and newspaper journalists a one-hour video film describing how the documents had been found in East Germany by their star journalist Gerd Heidemann. . . .

The diaries had been faked, it turned out, by Konrad Kujau, a gifted Stuttgart confidence trickster. Irving located Kujau’s abandoned “workshop” in May 1983. . . . Irving was in court in Hamburg on July 8, 1985, to hear sentence passed on Kujau, who had confessed to forging the documents, . . . (www.fpp.co.uk/bookchapters/Torpedo/Intro.html).

One need only look at Mark Hofmann and his numerous documents and letters to see an LDS example of historical forgery. Like Kujau, Hofmann used historical research, artificially aged ink, etc. to create his documents. He was even able to deceive the president of the LDS Church. In 1980 the Deseret News carried a picture of Hofmann examining the supposed Anthon Transcript with President Spencer W. Kimball (see chapter 6 of our Tracking the White Salamander). Not only were the LDS leaders unable to discern that Mark’s documents were forgeries, they were buying them. After Hofmann killed two people the whole forgery scheme was exposed and he is now serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison.

Summary
Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:

The Book of Mormon claims to be a divinely inspired record. . . . If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions . . . if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it: if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it. . . .

If, after a rigid examination, it be found an imposition, it should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments on which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated. . . .

But on the other hand, if investigation should prove the Book of Mormon true . . . the American and English nations . . . should utterly reject both the Popish and Protestant ministry, together with all the churches which have been built up by them or that have sprung from them, as being entirely destitute of authority (Orson Pratt’s Works, “Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon,” Liverpool, 1851, pp. 1-2).

When we look at the origin and background of the Book of Mormon we find that the only one to actually examine the record was Joseph Smith, a young farmer-turned-magician. He announced to his family and neighbors that a long dead inhabitant of the Americas had appeared to him in a vision and eventually showed him where to find the ancient record of his people.

However, no one was allowed to go with Smith to retrieve the plates from the hill and no one was allowed to see them, except in vision. When a sample of the Book of Mormon characters was shown to scholars it was denounced as a fraud. While translating the record, the plates were either hid in a box or secreted outside the home. After the translation was completed the plates were returned to the angel and have not been seen since that time, thus making it impossible for experts to examine the record.

Over the next 178 years scholar after scholar has concluded that the book is a product of the 19th century, not an ancient record (see Salt Lake City Messenger, No. 105).

Where is the non-LDS scholar who views the Book of Mormon as a historical document? Where are the artifacts, buildings or samples of writings of the Nephites, Lamanites or Jaredites? These groups supposedly numbered in the millions and built great cities. There are thousands of artifacts relating to the Israelites, early Christianity, Maya and Olmec civilizations. Why are there none for the Nephites and Lamanites? Where is an official LDS map?

There were no elephants, horses or cows in the Americas prior to the Europeans’ arrival. Also, American Indians did not have wheeled vehicles, metallurgy, or wheat during the Book of Mormon time period. Nothing has been found that directly relates to the Book of Mormon civilizations. Obviously it is a fictitious work of the nineteenth century and should be rejected. As John warned centuries ago:

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

Marching out an army of straw men doesn't win an argument.

Marching out an army of straw men not only doesn’t win an argument, it shows that you have no strong arguments to present.

About the Author
One can’t talk about Sandra Tanner without also talking about her late husband Jerald.  Jerald Tanner was born in Provo, Utah and reared as a Mormon. He studied at the University of Utah and received a degree from Salt Lake Trade Technical Institute. He was a fifth-generation Mormon; his great-great-grandfather, John Tanner, gave large donations to LDS founder Joseph Smith when the fledgling church was deeply in debt.

Sandra McGee was a fifth-generation Mormon. She is a great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS church. Both families had longstanding ties to the Mormon community.

Soon after they were introduced, Jerald Tanner and Sandra McGee began jointly researching the subject of Mormonism. Each had been raised in the LDS faith, but discovered that they each as a teenager had begun to question the church.

Sandra Tanner

Sandra Tanner

Jerald and Sandra Tanner were married in Mission Hills, California on June 14, 1959. Soon afterward, both resigned from the LDS. In 1964, they began an outreach to Mormons at their house in Salt Lake City, which grew into Utah Lighthouse Ministry. They had two daughters and a son together. After 47 years of marriage, Jerald Tanner died in Salt Lake City on Oct 1, 2006, as a result of complications arising from Alzheimer’s disease. He had retired a few months before his death. This article was published the month of his death.

Jerald and Sandra Tanner are considered two of the more influential Mormon Studies scholars of the 20th and 21st Century. Beggar’s Bread considers it an honor to be granted permission by Sandra Tanner to republish this classic article.
(source for author’s bio: Wikipedia)

This article was originally published in the Salt Lake City Messenger #107,  October 2006. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author. 

BACK TO TOP

by Fred W. Anson
At what point does recontextualized music drift into syncretism and/or compromise?

Once a year the Los Angeles Bonaventure hotel that I pass through on my way into work gets overrun by the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF). For those unfamiliar with the SRF here’s a quick synopsis:

Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) is a worldwide spiritual organization founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920 and legally incorporated as a non-profit religious organization in 1935, to serve as Yogananda’s instrument for the preservation and worldwide dissemination of his writings and teachings, including Kriya Yoga. Yogananda wrote in God Talks With Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita that the science of Kriya Yoga was given to Manu, the original Adam, and through him to Janaka and other royal sages.

Self-Realization Fellowship continues to disseminate Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings following his stated Aims and Ideals. SRF publishes Yogananda teachings of home-study lessons, writings including Autobiography of a Yogi, lectures, and recorded talks; oversees temples, retreats, meditation centers, and monastic communities bearing the name Self-Realization Order. It also coordinates the Worldwide Prayer Circle, which it describes as a network of groups and individuals who pray for those in need of physical, mental, or spiritual aid, and who also pray for world peace and harmony.

SRF is based at Mount Washington in Los Angeles, California, which is the international headquarters for SRF and for Yogoda Satsanga Society of India (YSS). YSS was founded by Yogananda in 1917 before he came to America. In countries outside the Indian subcontinent the organization is known as Self-Realization Fellowship.1

20150816_122835

A shot looking into the gift shop that the SRF sets up at the LA Bonaventure Hotel each year.

That’s the long version, the short version is this: It’s Hinduism. Or, more precisely, according to Elliot Miller of Christian Research Institute (CRI) it’s, “a kind of New Age Hinduism in Christian garb.”2 So once a year for about a week, I wander through this strange hindu-land on my way to pick up my lunch on my way to my job in the building next door. And as I do, when I’m not quieting praying, this is what I sing:

Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Let me fulfill thy will
Come by my side

Let me fulfill thy will
Come by my side

Let me fulfill thy will
Come by my side

Let me fulfill thy will
Come by my side

Let me fulfill thy will
Come by my side

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Of course anyone who was a Jazz Fusion aficionado in the seventies will tell you that I’m singing, “Eternity’s Breath, Part 1” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra3 from the 1975 album “Visions of the Emerald Beyond”. Of course I’m not singing it to Vishnu as the original artists were, I’m singing it to the only true God – the God of Israel, Yahweh Elohim. I’m singing it to the only true Lord, my Lord, Jesus Christ.

However, this song was written to neither. The composer and founder of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin, was a disciple of Sri Chinmoy and a Hindu.4 As McLaughlin explained in a 1982 interview:

By the time I was 27, I’d already started doing Hatha Yoga and doing mind and breathing exercises. I felt more capable mentally, but I had this feeling I was being tuned up but not being played very well, which relates to what we were talking about a while ago. I felt the need to learn from somebody who really knows.

I arrived one evening at a meditation featuring Sri Chinmoy and he invited questions. I thought, “Great, this is the first time anyone has ever invited questions,” so I said, “What’s the relationship between music and spirituality?” and he said, “Well, it’s not really a question of what you do. It’s what you are or how you are that’s important because you can be making the most beautiful music sweeping the road, if you’re doing it in a harmonious way, in a beautiful way.” It sounds so simple, of course, but it was everything I wanted to hear and I felt I should stay with him, which I did for five years.5

jmvlargelive2

John McLaughlin working his craft with the Mahavishnu Orchestra around the time that Eternity’s Breath was recorded.

All that aside, what I do know is that I love this song! McLaughlin’s incendiary but elegant guitar, Jean Luc Ponty’s soaring violin, Narada Michael Walden’s driving drums, Ralphe Armstrong’s melodic bass, Gayle Moran’s inspired keyboard work, all combined with gorgeous, tightly harmonized vocals. It’s a classic.

And I know that when I sing it I’m worshiping my God not the god of Sri Chinmoy or John McLaughlin. Further, I would go so far as to say that if there’s such thing as a Christian mantra this contextualized song is mine – it captures my deepest heartfelt desire for living my life Coram Deo (Latin for “Before the eyes of God” or “In the presence of God”), as the words so simply yet profoundly say:

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

Is that syncretism? Is it compromise? Or is it, Jesus Christ redeeming this song and taking it captive to His purposes; conquering it for His Kingdom, and; putting it under His foot? I think it is – but you tell me, for I’m only an fallen man, and prone to be deceived. Which is why I sing:

Oh Lord Supreme, Supreme
Let me fulfill thy will
Let me fulfill thy will

As originally performed on "Visions of the Emerald Beyond"

As originally performed on “Visions of the Emerald Beyond”

NOTES
1 “Self-Realization Fellowship”, Wikipedia

2 Elliot Miller, “Swami Yogananda and the Self-Realization Fellowship”

3 According to Wikipedia, “Mahavishnu” means, “Mahavishnu (Devanāgarī : महाविष्णु) is an aspect of Vishnu, the Absolute which is beyond human comprehension and is beyond all attributes.”

4 As were guitarist Carlos Santana, percussionist Narada Michael Walden, singer Roberta Flack, saxophonist Clarence Clemons and Russian rock legend Boris Grebenshikov. Wikipedia explains:

“Chinmoy offered the musicians a disciplined spiritual path that forbade the use of drugs and alcohol and encouraged music and poetry as expressions of thankfulness to the Divine.

“[Carlos] Santana and [John] McLaughlin stayed with Chinmoy for a number of years before leaving. In 1973 they released an album based on Chinmoy’s teachings, titled Love Devotion Surrender. McLaughlin was a Chinmoy follower from 1970 to 1975. In 1971 he formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra, named for the spiritual name Chinmoy had given him. Santana was introduced to the guru when McLaughlin took him to one of Chinmoy’s weekly prayer meetings at the United Nations. Santana and his wife Deborah were Chinmoy followers from 1972 to 1981, and Santana said, “Without a guru I serve only my own vanity, but with him I can be of service to you and everybody. I am the strings, but he is the musician. Guru has graduated from the Harvards of consciousness and sits at the feet of God.” Santana released three albums under the spiritual name Devadip – meaning “Lamp of God”, “Eve of God”, and “Light of God” – that Chinmoy gave him: Illuminations (1974), Oneness (1979), and The Swing of Delight (1980). In 2000, he told Rolling Stone that things soured between him and Chinmoy in the 1980s. Santana emphasized that he took much that was good from his years with the guru, even though when he left, Chinmoy “was pretty vindictive for a while. He told all my friends not to call me ever again, because I was to drown in the dark sea of ignorance for leaving him.”‘
(“Sri Chinmoy”, Wikipedia)

5 Robert Fripp, “Coffee and Chocolates for Two Guitars”, Musician magazine, number 45, July, 1982

Later that night the lights were brought down and this California Ballroom was filled with 3,000 singing, dancing, chanting and meditating SRF practitioners.

Later that night, after this shot was taken, the room lights were brought down, the stage lights came on, and the California Ballroom at the L.A. Bonaventure Hotel was filled with 3,000 singing, dancing, chanting and meditating SRF practitioners.

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We Agree with Moroni 8--18

“God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
Moroni 8:18

There was a time when Mormons agreed with Moroni 8:18. As Mormon historian Thomas G. Alexander writes, “Much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to contemporary Protestant churches.”1

Mormonism has apostatized from its own Book of Mormon, and now Christians—who don’t even believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture—agree with Moroni 8:18 more than Mormons do. It is a verse that we Christians profoundly wish Mormons would agree with. It is far more important of an issue than tithing, baptism, priesthood authority, or whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet. It concerns an eternal truth of the fundamental nature of God.

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
Psalm 90:2 (JST)

“Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.”
Isaiah 43:10 (JST)

“I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.”
Isaiah 44:6 (JST)

Doctrine and Covenants
In what was originally read to Church membership as the “Articles and Covenants of the Church,” D&C 20:17 spoke of the God who was always the same unchangeable God: “By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God…” D&C 76:4 spoke of this same God: “From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail…”

The Lectures on Faith, which was a canonized part of D&C from 1835-1921 agreed with the Book of Mormon that God is a spirit (from the fifth Lecture on Faith, page 53.) Click on image to zoom and read.

The Lectures on Faith, which was a canonized part of D&C from 1835-1921 agreed with the Bible and the Book of Mormon that God is an eternal, unchanging, triune Being (from the fifth Lecture on Faith, page 53). Click on image to zoom and read.

Lectures on Faith
In what was originally a part of Mormon scripture, Lecture 3 of the Lectures on Faith taught, “A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes” is “…necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.” It goes on to quote the word of God, Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” The lecture then goes on to say that, “he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday today and forever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.”

Book of Mormon
This echoes Mosiah 3:5, which speaks of “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity…” Moroni 7:22 also speaks of “God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting…” A chapter later we learn in Moroni 8:18 that “God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” Other passages in the Book of Mormon also reaffirm God’s eternal, unchangeable nature:

“For behold, I am god; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
2 Nephi 27:23

“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
2 Nephi 29:9

“For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever , and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?”
Mormon 9:9

“And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchanging Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.”
Mormon 9:19

Mormonism Radically Changed
The Book of Mormon was published in March of 1830. Fourteen years later, Mormon theology had dramatically changed. On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith preached his famous King Follett Discourse. In it he taught:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens…

It is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some; but they are simple…

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you…2

Lorenzo Snow summarized the big idea that further developed like this: “As man is God once was, and as God is man may be.”

Since then, Mormonism has never been the same. Mormons now radically re-interpret verses like Moroni 8:18 and essentially reject the original teaching that God was unchangeably God from all eternity to all eternity. Mormons are now even in disarray and confusion over whether Heavenly Father was once a sinful mortal.3

Again, Mormonism has apostatized from its own Book of Mormon, and now Christians—who don’t even believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture—agree with Moroni 8:18 more than Mormons do. It is a verse that we Christians profoundly wish Mormons would agree with. It is far more important of an issue than tithing, baptism, priesthood authority, or whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet. It concerns an eternal truth of the fundamental nature of God.

NOTES
1 Thomas G. Alexander, “The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology.” Sunstone 5:4; July-August 1980

2 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. On June 16, 1844, Smith went on to teach that Heavenly Father has his own Heavenly Father (History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 473-479). Also see Ensign, April 1971 and May 1971.

3 See http://GodNeverSinned.com

JST = The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (aka “The Inspired Version”)

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The Difference a Vowel Makes
"Communion of Saints" (stained glass window)

“Communion of Saints” (stained glass window)

by Keith A. Mathison

The twentieth century could, with some accuracy, be called a century of theological anarchy. Liberals and sectarians have long rejected outright many of the fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy. But more recently professing evangelical scholars have advocated revisionary versions of numerous doctrines. A revisionary doctrine of God has been advocated by proponents of “openness theology.” A revisionary doctrine of eschatology has been advocated by proponents of full-preterism. Revisionary doctrines of justification sola fide have been advocated by proponents of various “new perspectives” on Paul. Often the revisionists will claim to be restating a more classical view. Critics, however, have usually been quick to point out that the revisions are actually distortions.

Ironically, a similarly revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has arisen within Protestantism, but unlike the revisionist doctrine of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has caused very little controversy among the heirs of the Reformation. One of the reasons there has been much less controversy over the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is that this doctrine has been gradually supplanting the Reformation doctrine for centuries. In fact, in many segments of the evangelical world, the revisionist doctrine is by far the predominant view now. Many claim that this revisionist doctrine is the Reformation doctrine. However, like the revisionist doctrines of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is actually a distortion of the Reformation doctrine.

The adoption of the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has resulted in numerous biblical, theological, and practical problems within Protestant churches. These problems have become the center of attention in recent years as numerous Protestants have converted to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy claiming that their conversion was due in large part to their determination that the doctrine of sola Scriptura was indefensible. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have been quick to take advantage of the situation, publishing numerous books and articles devoted to critiquing the doctrine of sola Scriptura. One issue, however, that neither the converts nor the apologists seem to understand is that the doctrine they are critiquing and rejecting is the revisionist doctrine ofsola Scriptura, not the classical Reformation doctrine. In order to understand the difference, some historical context is necessary.

Unknown Artist, "The Great Cloud of Witnesses" (20th Century)

Unknown Artist, “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” (20th Century)

Historical Observations
Part of the difficulty in understanding the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura is due to the fact that the historical debate is often framed simplistically in terms of “Scripture versus tradition.” Protestants are said to teach “Scripture alone,” while Roman Catholics are said to teach “Scripture plus tradition.” This, however, is not an accurate picture of the historical reality. The debate should actually be understood in terms of competing concepts of the relationship between Scripture and tradition, and there are more than two such concepts in the history of the church. In order to understand the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura we must understand the historical context more accurately.

The Reformation debate over sola Scriptura did not occur in a vacuum. It was the continuation of a long-standing medieval debate over the relationship between Scripture and tradition and over the meaning of “tradition” itself. In the first three to four centuries of the church, the church fathers had taught a fairly consistent view of authority. The sole source of divine revelation and the authoritative doctrinal norm was understood to be the Old Testament together with the Apostolic doctrine, which itself had been put into writing in the New Testament. The Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church within the context of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”), yet neither the church nor the regula fidei were considered second supplementary sources of revelation. The church was the interpreter of the divine revelation in Scripture, and the regula fidei was the hermeneutical context, but only Scripture was the Word of God. Heiko Oberman (1930-2001) has termed this one-source concept of revelation “Tradition 1.”1

The first hints of a two-source concept of tradition, a concept in which tradition is understood to be a second source of revelation that supplements biblical revelation, appeared in the fourth century in the writings of Basil and Augustine. Oberman terms this two-source concept of tradition “Tradition 2” (Professor Oberman had many gifts. The ability to coin catchy labels was apparently not one of them). It is not absolutely certain that either Basil or Augustine actually taught the two-source view, but the fact that it is hinted at in their writings ensured that it would eventually find a foothold in the Middle Ages. This would take time, however, for throughout most of the Middle Ages, the dominant view was Tradition 1, the position of the early church. The beginnings of a strong movement toward Tradition 2 did not begin in earnest until the twelfth century. A turning point was reached in the fourteenth century in the writings of William of Ockham. He was one of the first, if not the first, medieval theologian to embrace explicitly the two-source view of revelation. From the fourteenth century onward, then, we witness the parallel development of two opposing views: Tradition 1 and Tradition 2. It is within the context of this ongoing medieval debate that the Reformation occurred.

When the medieval context is kept in view, the Reformation debate over sola Scriptura becomes much clearer. The reformers did not invent a new doctrine out of whole cloth. They were continuing a debate that had been going on for centuries. They were reasserting Tradition 1 within their particular historical context to combat the results of Tradition 2 within the Roman Catholic Church. The magisterial reformers argued that Scripture was the sole source of revelation, that it is to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it is to be interpreted within the context of the regula fidei. They insisted on returning to the ancient doctrine, and as Tradition 1 became more and more identified with their Protestant cause, Rome reacted by moving toward Tradition 2 and eventually adopting it officially at the Council of Trent. (Rome has since developed a view that Oberman has termed “Tradition 3,” in which the “Magisterium of the moment” is understood to be the one true source of revelation, but that issue is beyond the scope of this brief essay).

At the same time the magisterial reformers were advocating a return to Tradition 1 (sola Scriptura), several radical reformers were calling for the rejection of both Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 and the adoption of a completely new understanding of Scripture and tradition. They argued that Scripture was not merely the only infallible authority but that it was the only authority altogether. The true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei were rejected altogether. According to this view (Tradition 0), there is no real sense in which tradition has any authority. Instead, the individual believer requires nothing more than the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

In America during the eighteenth century, this individualistic view of the radical Reformation was combined with the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the populism of the new democracy to create a radical version of Tradition 0 that has all but supplanted the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Tradition 1). This new doctrine, which may be termed “solo” Scriptura instead of sola Scriptura, attacks the rightful subordinate authority of the church and of the ecumenical creeds of the church. Unfortunately, many of its adherents mistakenly believe and teach others that it is the doctrine of Luther and Calvin.

"The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so." (Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, p.15)

“The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”
(Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, p.15)

The Reformation Doctrine of Sola Scriptura
To summarize the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, or the Reformation doctrine of the relation between Scripture and tradition, we may say that Scripture is to be understood as the sole source of divine revelation; it is the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative norm of faith and practice. It is to be interpreted in and by the church; and it is to be interpreted within the hermeneutical context of the rule of faith. As Richard Muller observes, the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura did not ever mean, “all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.” That this is the Reformation doctrine of Scripture, tradition, and authority may be demonstrated by an examination of the reformers’ writings, only a sampling of which may be mentioned here.

Martin Luther is well known for his declaration at the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Many point to this statement as evidence that Luther rejected Tradition 1, the teaching of the early church, but other factors must be considered before coming to such a conclusion, namely, the historical context of this statement and the fact that Luther said and wrote much more on the subject. As simply one example, in a 1532 letter to Duke Albert of Prussia about the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, Luther wrote the following:

This article moreover, has been clearly believed and held from the beginning of the Christian Church to this hour – a testimony of the entire holy Christian Church, which, if we had nothing besides, should be sufficient for us. For it is dangerous and terrible to hear or believe anything against the united testimony, faith and doctrine, of the entire holy Christian Church, as this hath been held now 1,500 years, from the beginning, unanimously in all the world. Whoso now doubted thereon, it is even the same as though he believed in no Christian Church, and he condemneth thus not only the entire holy Christian Church as a damnable heresy, but also Christ himself and all the apostles and prophets.

The second-generation Lutheran scholar Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), writes along similar lines in his Examination of the Council of Trent:

This is also certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages…. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.

Another of the magisterial reformers who addressed this issue was John Calvin. In the 1559 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, for example, he writes:

In this way, we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors-in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture, which the holy fathers applied with spiritual prudence to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen.

And further:

We indeed willingly concede, if any discussion arises over doctrine, that the best and surest remedy is for a synod of true bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined.

To sum up the traditional Protestant view, the words of the nineteenth-century Reformed theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878) are appropriate:

Again, Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium to the close of the Apocalypse, so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian.

hipster

“The reformers’ appeal to ‘Scripture alone,’… was never intended to mean ‘me alone.'”
— Keith A. Mathison

The Revisionist Doctrine of “solo” Scriptura
In contrast with the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is marked by radical individualism and a rejection of the authority of the church and the ecumenical creeds. If we compare the statements made by advocates of “solo” Scriptura with the statements of Reformational Christians above, the difference is immediately evident. It is also important to observe the source of this doctrine in early America. As Nathan O. Hatch notes, the first Americans to push the right of private judgment over against the church and the creeds were unorthodox ministers.

The liberal minister Simeon Howard (1733-1804), for example, advised pastors to “lay aside all attachment to human systems, all partiality to names, councils and churches, and honestly inquire, ‘what saith the Scriptures?'” In his own effort to overturn orthodox Christianity, Charles Beecher (1815-1900) denounced “creed power” and argued for “the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.” The universalist minister A. B. Grosh (d. 1884) declared in a similar way, “In religious faith we have but one Father and one Master, and the Bible, the Bible, is our only acknowledged creed book.”

The radical American version of “solo” Scriptura reached its fullest expression in the writings of the Restorationists as they applied the principles of Democratic populism to Enlightenment Christianity. In 1809, the Restorationist Elias Smith (1769-1846) proclaimed, “Venture to be as independent in things of religion, as those which respect the government in which you live.” Barton Stone (1772-1844) declared that the past should be “consigned to the rubbish heap upon which Christ was crucified.” Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) made his individualistic view of Scripture very clear, declaring, “I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them to-day, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.” As the Reformed Princeton theologian Samuel Miller (1769-1850) rightly observed, “the most zealous opposers [of creeds] have generally been latitudinarians and heretics.”

Why “Solo” Scriptura Must Be Rejected
The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has become so entrenched in the modern church that many Protestant Christians today will sympathize more with the sentiments of the liberal and sectarian clergymen quoted above than they will with the teaching of the reformers. The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, however, is as problematic and dangerous today as it was in previous centuries. It remains unbiblical, illogical, and unworkable. Here I will address some of the more obvious problems.

The fundamental problem with “solo” Scriptura is that it results in autonomy. It results in final authority being placed somewhere other than the Word of God. It shares this problem with the Roman Catholic doctrine. The only difference is that the Roman Catholic doctrine places final authority in the church while “solo” Scriptura places final authority in each individual believer. Every doctrine and practice is measured against a final standard, and that final standard is the individual’s personal judgment of what is and is not biblical. The result is subjectivism and relativism. The reformers’ appeal to “Scripture alone,” however, was never intended to mean “me alone.”

The Bible itself simply does not teach “solo” Scriptura Christ established his church with a structure of authority and gives to his church those who are specially appointed to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). When disputes arose, the apostles did not instruct each individual believer to go home and decide by himself and for himself who was right. They met in a council (Acts 15:6-29). Even the well-known example of the Bereans does not support “solo” Scriptura (cf. Acts 17:10-11; cf. vv. 1-9). Paul did not instruct each individual Berean to go home and decide by himself and for himself whether what he was teaching was true. Instead, the Bereans read and studied the Scriptures of the Old Testament day by day with Paul present in order to see whether his teaching about the Messiah was true.

In terms of hermeneutics, the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is hopeless. With “solo” Scriptura, the interpretation of Scripture becomes subjective and relative, and there is no possibility for the resolution of differences. It is a matter of fact that there are numerous different interpretations of various parts of Scripture. Adherents of “solo” Scriptura are told that these different interpretations can be resolved simply by an appeal to Scripture. But how is the problem of differing interpretations to be resolved by an appeal to another interpretation? All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone. According to “solo” Scriptura, that someone is each individual, so ultimately, there are as many final authorities as there are human interpreters. This is subjectivism and relativism run amuck. The proponents of “solo” Scriptura rightly condemn the hermeneutical tyranny of Rome, but the solution to hermeneutical tyranny is not hermeneutical anarchy.

The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura also faces historical problems due to the fact that it cannot be reconciled with the reality that existed in the first decades and centuries of the church. If “solo” Scriptura were true, much of the church had no standard of truth for many years. In the first century, one could not walk down to his local Christian bookstore and buy a copy of the Bible. Manuscripts had to be hand-copied and were not found in every believer’s home. The first books of the New Testament did not even begin to be written until at least ten years after the death of Christ, and some were not written until several decades after Christ. Gradually some churches obtained copies of some books, while other churches had copies of others. It took many years before the New Testament as we know it was gathered and available as a whole. Even then, it too was hand-copied, so it was not available in the home of every individual Christian. If the lone individual is to judge and evaluate everything by himself and for himself by measuring it against Scripture, as proponents of “solo” Scriptura would have it, how would this have possibly worked in the first decades of the church before the New Testament was completed?

"Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed." Charles Hodge

“Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed.”
— Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

One of the most self-evident problems related to the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is the question of the canon. If one is going to claim that Scripture is the only authority whatsoever, it is legitimate to ask how we then define what is and is not “Scripture.” Proponents of“solo” Scriptura claim that Scripture is authoritative but cannot say with any authority what Scripture is. The table of contents in the front of the Bible is not itself an inspired text written by a prophet or an apostle. It is, in a very real sense, a creed of the church declaring what the church believes to be the content of Scripture. One way to illustrate the problem “solo” Scriptura faces in connection with the canon is simply to ask the following: How would “solo” Scriptura deal with a modern day Marcion? How, for example, would a proponent of “solo” Scriptura argue with a person who claimed that the real New Testament includes only the books of Luke, Acts, Romans, and Revelation? He can’t appeal to the church, to history, or to tradition. A self-consistent adherent of “solo Scriptura” would have no way to respond to such a view because, as one such consistent adherent informed me in personal correspondence, it is the right and duty of each individual Christian to determine the canonicity of each biblical book by and for himself. This is the only consistent position for a proponent of “solo” Scriptura to take, but it is self-defeating because it destroys any objective notion of Scripture. One cannot appeal to the biblical authority of Romans, for example, if each believer determines for himself whether Romans is in fact to be considered a canonical and authoritative biblical book.

The question of the canon is not the only theological problem caused by “solo” Scriptura. Another serious problem is the fact that the adoption of “solo” Scriptura destroys the possibility of having any objective definition of what Christianity is and is not. “solo” Scriptura destroys the very concepts of orthodoxy and heresy. If the authority of the ecumenical creeds is rejected, and if each individual believer is to determine all questions of doctrine by and for himself, then the definitions of orthodoxy and heresy are completely relative and subjective. One man judges the doctrine of the Trinity to be biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. One judges open theism biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. The same is true with respect to every other doctrine. Each man defines Christianity as it seems right in his own eyes.

Finally, it must be realized that “solo” Scriptura ignores reality. The Bible simply did not drop out of the sky into our laps. We would not even be able to read a Bible for ourselves were it not for the labors of many others including archaeologists, linguists, scribes, textual critics, historians, translators, and more. If “solo” Scriptura were true, it should be possible to give untranslated ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of biblical, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal texts to some isolated tribe member somewhere on earth, and with no one’s assistance, that individual should be able to learn the Hebrew and Greek languages, read the various manuscripts, determine which of them are canonical, and then come to an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. The reason this is not possible, however, is because “solo” Scriptura is not true. It is an unbiblical distortion of the truth.

The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has been a source of great damage to the cause of Christ. The magisterial reformers were right to reject the early versions of it that appeared in the teaching of some radicals. Contemporary heirs of the reformers must follow the magisterial reformers here. The fight must be fought on two fronts. We are not only to reject the Roman Catholic doctrine (whether the two-source doctrine of Tradition 2 or the sola ecclesia doctrine of Tradition 3), which places final autonomous authority in the church. We must also reject the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, which places final autonomous authority in the hands of each and every individual.

“Communion of Saints” by Elise Ritter (October 2010)

“Communion of Saints” by Elise Ritter (October 2010)


1 For more information on Heiko Oberman’s concept of Tradition 1, see his work The Dawn of the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), p. 280. For background information on Tradition 0, see Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 144. For other background information on “solo” Scriptura see Nathan O. Hatch, “Sola Scriptura and Novus Ordo Seclorum,” in The Bible in America, ed. N. Hatch and M. Noll, pp. 59-78. The quotation from Richard Muller is taken from his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p. 51. Luther’s letter to Duke Albert of Prussia is cited in Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964 [1845]), pp. 116-117, note). Chemnitz’s quote can be found in Examination of the Council of Trent, tr. Fred Kramer, Vol. 1, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971), pp. 208-209. The quotations from Calvin are taken from his Institutes, 4.9.8 and 4.9.13. Mr. Mathison has taken his quotation of Charles Hodge from Hodge’s Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 113-114. Comments from Nathan Hatch on the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura are taken from “Sola Scriptura and Novus Ordo Seclorum,” in The Bible in America, ed. N. Hatch and M. Noll, p. 62. The quotation from Samuel Miller is found in The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions (Greenville, SC: A Press, 1991 [1839]), p. 15. For a fuller discussion on this topic, Mr. Mathison refers readers to his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001).

Keith Mathison

Keith Mathison

About the Author
Keith Mathison is associate editor of Tabletalk and author of The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001).

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2007 edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit www.modernreformation.org or call (800) 890-7556 FREE. All rights reserved.

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A caution to Ex-Mormon Christians.
19th Century Restorationist Revival Meeting

19th Century Restorationist Revival Meeting

by Fred W. Anson
Most Mormons are surprised to find out that the Restoration that they think is unique to their church isn’t unique at all. In actual fact, as he had a tendency to do, Joseph Smith plagiarized “The Restoration” from contemporary sources. In this case his major source was a 19th Century Restorationist movement that began in 1801 in Cane Ridge, Kentucky.

That movement (now known as the “Stone-Campbell Movement”) was already an established subset of the Second Great Awakening and was going great guns long before Joseph Smith was even born in 1805. Further, even that American 19th Century restorationist movement had ideological and theological roots going back hundreds of years and crossing continents, cultures, and countries:

Christian primitivism, also described as restorationism, is the belief that Christianity should be restored along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church, which restorationists see as the search for a more pure and more ancient form of the religion. Fundamentally, this vision seeks to correct faults or deficiencies [in the church] by appealing to the primitive church as a normative model.1

Essentially any group that claims that they have restored something that was lost from primitive Christianity is restorationist. That can range from the addition of a particular rite or belief to the rejection of a particular practice or doctrine. In other words, anything that “restores” the church via addition or subtraction to it’s primitive, apostolic state is restorationist. Does this sound familiar? Can anyone think of any church that believes or does this? Well, I could fill an entire article with just a list of the name of such groups since they’re as common as crickets and more are forming all the time. As the Wikipedia article on Christian Restorationism explains:

The term “restorationism” is sometimes used more specifically as a synonym for the [19th Cenutry] American Restoration Movement. The term is also used by more recent groups, describing their goal to re-establish Christianity in its original form, such as some [20th Century] anti-denominational Charismatic Restorationists, which arose in the 1970s in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In comparable terms, earlier primitivist movements, including the [15th Century] Hussites, [16th Century] Anabaptists, [19th Century] Landmarkists, [16-17th Century] Puritans, and the [12th Century] Waldensians have been described as examples of restorationism, as have many Seventh-day Sabbatarians.2

And just as most believing, practicing Mormons are oblivious to the reality that Latter Day Saint restorationism is just one of many various and sundry flavors of Christian primitivism, so are most Ex-Mormons. So it’s only natural that Ex-Mormons are going to feel some draw toward Restorationism since it’s what Mormons (particularly Born Into the Covenant Mormons) know best. Restorationist is how they’re been conditioned to think and feel about the Christian Church in general – it’s their comfort zone. There’s really no surprise here is there?

However, I would ask our Ex-Mormon friends to consider fully the dangers of continuing to uncritically think like a restorationist. Please consider this:

At least two disastrous consequences can be expected to result from a zealous embrace of restorationist philosophy. First, it easily leads to a spirit of exclusivism and arrogance, not to mention error. The natural outcome of believing one’s own group has the corner on the truth is the despising of all others who claim the name of Christ, seeing them as apostates, or worse, tools of the devil. No spirit of Christian unity can survive such a mindset. One has only to look at the diverse beliefs that exist among the restorationists themselves, and the resulting animosity that accompanies them, to see the inevitable result of adopting such a belief system. Exclusivism leads to pride, a sin especially abhorred by God (Proverbs 16:5; James 4:6). In addition, exclusivism can provoke delusions of grandeur in its leaders, making possible all manner of erroneous interpretations, not to mention rewriting, of Scripture designed to fit it to the paradigm of the group, without regard for clear and concise biblical scholarship and exegesis.

The second, and far more destructive, result of restorationist philosophy is that it denies God’s ability, or willingness, to preserve the faith “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), rejects His sovereignty over His people, and disavows His plan to bring to pass His will without fail, despite attempts by Satan and his minions to derail it. God did not send His Son to die on the cross for the sins of His people only to allow those same people to lapse into apostasy and languish there for 1800 years. Such a notion is not only absurd, but it defines God as a ruthless and capricious entity, not the loving and merciful Father God we know Him to be. Those who believe God abandoned mankind for centuries because of their unbelief and sin need only to read Romans 3, which makes it clear that even though men are unfaithful, this does not nullify God’s faithfulness. The Holy Spirit is, and always has been, active in the world “convict[ing] the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment” (John 16:8), drawing God’s people from every race, tribe, nation and language to the Savior. In every era, the redeemed of God have responded to His Spirit because that is God’s plan, and it will continue unabated to the day of Christ’s return. Until then, we have the assurance of Jesus Himself that He will be with us “always, even until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).3

An Anti-Christmas Restorationist makes her feelings known.

An Anti-Christmas Restorationist makes her feelings known.

A Practical Example
Another dangerous by-product of Restorationist philosophy can be taking extreme or dogmatic positions on non-essentials of the Christian Faith. To point to just one of many such examples, some Restorationist groups (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, some Church of Christ groups, etc.) take extreme positions on celebrating some or all holidays – “extreme” as in that they not only don’t recognize or celebrate them, they condemn those who do.

Now let’s be clear: No one denies that the Roman Catholic Church syncretized pagan holidays in creating Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. However, does this really mean that Christians and Churches that observe these holidays are in error or apostate? Thinking critically, couldn’t a counter argument be made that the priests actually took righteous domination over these pagan holidays and redeemed them by “Christianizing” them? As the pastor of a traditional, liturgical Lutheran church noted well in this regard:

Of the major Christian Holy Days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the high points in the Historic Church Year. On these Holy Days we celebrate God the Father’s gift of His only-begotten Son in the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate God the Son’s gift of His life, sufferings, death and resurrection at Passover/Easter, and we celebrate God the Holy Spirit’s gift of calling us to faith and dwelling in us through Word and Sacrament.

These Holy Days are also one of the main fronts in the battle against Christianity by people who wish to undermine Christianity. Part of undermining Christianity means undermining all the claims of Christianity about what the Bible teaches. The historical liturgical practice of the church has been the focal point of the application of Biblical doctrine to the faith and lives of the saints. By discrediting the liturgical practice of the Church the enemies of Christianity try to distract from biblical teaching for that day and discredit that teaching.

This is not to say that these liturgical practices or holiday traditions should be required in any legalistic way. This is to point out that the efforts of those who try to discredit the authenticity of Christian Holy days and seek to scandalize the traditions associated with those days do so to undermine the biblical doctrine the Church teaches through the observance of these Holy Days.

And so any Christian holy day that could be claimed is claimed by the anti-Christian groups. We have seen this with Halloween [which has supplanted Reformation Day on October 31] and we will see it with many other lesser Historic Christian celebrations.4

This isn’t to say that this Lutheran Pastor is entirely right, Restorationist groups completely wrong, or vice versa. As stated previously, choosing to observe or not observe all or a particular holiday is a matter of conscience and personal conviction that has nothing to do with our salvation. This is just as Paul said Colossians 2:16 (NKJV) when he said, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”

In the end each of us is left to come their own conclusion and life decision on this matter as the “Got Questions” article on this subject states well:

The Bible nowhere instructs Christians to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentines Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. This leads some to refrain from observing these celebratory days, even those that are considered Christian holidays. However, at the same time, the Bible does not speak against celebrating holidays.5

We would also remind everyone that since this is a non-essential of the Christian faith, that liberty and charity should prevail toward those who take a position on this subject that differs from our own.

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

Conclusion
Please don’t think that this article means that Ex-Mormons should never consider or join a restorationist church after leaving Mormonism. I would be a hypocrite were I to say that since I’m a Charismatic Christian – that is, someone whose theology includes a belief that God has supernaturally restored the gifts of the Spirit to the church through various revivals throughout Christian Church history. Further, since the congregation I’m a member of is Charismatic, I am in fact in a restorationist church myself. However, that said, there’s a lot of Charismatic Christianity that I refuse to have anything to do so because it fails to pass biblical scrutiny. Rethink restorationism? Oh trust me, I did, I have, and I still do!6

I’m also speaking from hard experience. My lack of discernment and inability to question Christian restorationism landed me in a Restorationist Mind Control Cult back in the day – and my inability to rethink restorationism kept me there for thirteen years.7 So I’m issuing a hard won caution here: If you’re an Ex-Mormon you need to proceed with caution because many restorationist groups are imbalanced, in error, or heretical. Some are even cults that are very similar to the one that you’ve just left – McCraneyism immediately springs to mind here. So be careful out there – think, think, and then rethink!

Finally, I would suggest that biggest error of Restorationism is the presumption that the original Apostolic Church was pristine, pure, perfect, and problem free. Yet all you have to do is read the New Testament to see that this simply wasn’t the case. So when people say they want to restore the New Testament Church, the logical question is, “Which one?” Corinth? Why would you want to restore that dysfunctional mess? Or maybe Galatia where a false gospel was being taught? What about the Seven Churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation – five of which Christ Himself rebukes? Even the original church of Jerusalem (see Acts 2) was slow to fulfill the Great Commission until God stirred up persecution and goaded them into doing so (see Acts 8).

Can you see how presuming that there has ever been an ideal or perfect Church on earth leads to the false conclusion that there can be a perfect church in our day? After all, if Christ’s Apostles couldn’t do it what makes you think that we can? Wasn’t Paul clear in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that the perfect and complete won’t come until the return of Christ? Wasn’t he clear in Ephesians 5:25-27 that Christ is both preserving and preparing His future bride of Revelation 21:2 (notice, present and future tense not past) to be holy, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish? Perhaps, this rethinker of Restorationism said it best with this challenge:

We should stop idolizing a church era, and start worshiping her Creator. We should stop idolizing the past, and look forward to our future with Jesus. We should recognize that we are on a journey, and our ultimate goal is not to reach the “golden age of the church” but it is to earnestly strive to be like our humble Savior in whatever time, season, or place God has appointed us to be.8

Amen Brother Recovered Restorationist, amen!

1829 Methodist Revival Camp Meeting

1829 Methodist Revival Camp Meeting

NOTES
1 Wikipedia, “Restorationism”
2 Ibid
3 “What is Restorationism?”, GotQuestions.org website
4 “Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas”
5 “Should a Christian celebrate holidays?”, GotQuestions.org website. And I would encourage the reader to consider this article in it’s entirety in answering this question for them self.
6 How else does one end up both Reformed and non-cessationist like I am – much to the dismay of both my friends in both camps who just can’t figure that one out. To explain my stance a bit, I could only nod in complete agreement with fellow Charismatic Reformed Christian R.T. Kendall when he wrote:

My position is clear. I describe myself as a Reformed theologian—not only in belief but also in practice. I have to say that for some reason I have often felt last in line as far as signs and wonders are concerned. While others have been slain in the Spirit all around me, my body has remained resolutely upright—like the Statue of Liberty. While members of my family have seen physical healing personally, I have not. It is true that I have spoken in tongues, but you would not find an occasion of that in public. In short: if I am charismatic, I am the least of the brethren.
(R.T. Kendall, “Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives”, Kindle Location 409)

7 See Fred W. Anson, “My Life as a Mind Control Cultist (Part 1)”
8 Yuriy Stasyuk, “12 Reasons Why The Early Church Isn’t the Ideal Church”

Click to read this article - highly recommended for recovering Restorationists!

Click to read this article – highly recommended for recovering Restorationists.

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A Response to Richard Mouw

BCT-Angel-Moroni5

by Robert M. Bowman Jr.
The May 2016 issue of the Christian periodical First Things (appearing online in April) includes an article Richard Mouw, President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary, entitled “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.” As I will document here, the Institute for Religious Research figures largely in Mouw’s article even though he never mentions IRR (or me) by name. As the spokesman for IRR in past efforts by our organization to dialogue with and respond to Professor Mouw, I have a special interest in Mouw’s article and a direct responsibility to offer this response.

The focus of Mouw’s article is on the question of whether Mormonism is still committed to the view of God represented by Lorenzo Snow’s couplet, “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be.” Mouw’s main claim is that the LDS Church is quietly moving away from the notion that God was a mortal man who became exalted to Godhood in a process open to us as well. Mouw recognizes that this doctrine is incompatible with Christianity but insists that Mormons are doing what they can to retire this false doctrine.

If only it were so.

In this article I will be critically reviewing Mouw’s article, correcting the historical record, explaining the issues, summarizing the evidence as it pertains to those issues, and responding to Mouw’s arguments.

MouwInterview

Richard J. Mouw

Richard Mouw: Dialogue with Mormons but Not with Their Evangelical Critics
Mouw begins by giving a brief recitation of the history of the Snow couplet. Joseph Smith’s father had told Snow that he would become “as great as God,” an idea that Snow felt he came to grasp four years later, leading to his formulation of the couplet. He reports that Parley Pratt “not long after that” affirmed that “God, angels and men are all of one species” and that Joseph Smith taught that “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man.” (The order here is a little misleading: Snow composed his couplet in 1840, Joseph Smith delivered the sermon quoted in 1844, and Pratt published his book making the quoted statement in 1855.) Mouw admits that this view “denies an essential Jewish and Christian teaching,” namely that God is ontologically unique, a fundamentally different kind of being than humans, and that we will never become the same kind of being as God.

Yet Mouw argues that this doctrine, which he admits was taught by Joseph Smith as well as by Snow and Pratt, need not divide evangelicals and Mormons, because Mormons are at least in the process of abandoning it. As I shall explain, Mouw’s argument blithely ignores facts that have been presented to him and that flatly disprove his claim.

Mouw recounts the history of this controversy as follows:

I’ve been involved for a long time in an Evangelical-Mormon dialogue. When that dialogue began fifteen years ago, we were told by the Mormon participants that the Lorenzo Snow couplet has no canonical status in Mormon theology. I reported that assessment in print, arguing that the apparent denial of any ontological difference between God and man in the Snow couplet need not prevent Evangelical-Mormon dialogue.

Right away, Evangelical “countercult” groups responded in a sharply critical way. One issued a “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” stating that “the evidence is voluminous that the LDS Church has been continuously teaching the doctrine of eternal progression, as it is commonly known, represented by the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet from 1844 right up to the present.” An extensive critique appeared in an essay by Ronald V. Huggins, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw.”

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle

Richard J. Mouw Apologizing in the MormonTabernacle (2004)

This account is rather misleading. Mouw’s original statement denying that the Snow couplet had no canonical status in LDS theology was made in an email in late 2004, following his controversial remarks at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on November 14, 2004. On that occasion, Mouw accused his evangelical brethren of “bearing false witness” against Mormons in the way they characterized Mormon doctrine. In a subsequent email responding to challenges to his criticism, Mouw asserted that evangelicals in countercult ministry had misrepresented Mormonism as teaching “that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God is now.” Mouw claimed that this idea had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” Huggins responded in the article Mouw mentions, which appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.1 That periodical, of course, is not published by a “countercult” group, but by the premier academic society of evangelical scholars. Huggins himself was at the time a professor at Salt Lake Theological Seminary and had published two articles on the Book of Mormon in the academic periodicalDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.2 Referring to Huggins in the context of a general swipe at evangelical “countercult” groups comes across as an attempt to broad-brush all evangelical criticism of Mouw as unscholarly. It also ignores the fact that many evangelicals engaged in so-called countercult work care about scholarship and that many evangelical scholars are supportive of countercult ministry. For example, Huggins himself has been a member of the board of our organization, the Institute for Religious Research, since before Mouw’s appearance at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

In an attempt to frame the controversy as one stoked by “countercult” groups, Mouw claims that after his publicly asserting that the idea of man becoming gods just like God is now is not a part of present-day LDS doctrine, “Right away, Evangelical ‘countercult’ groups responded in a sharply critical way.” He then cites the “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries.” However, that Statement was issued in April 2013, more than eight years after Mouw’s comment about Mormon doctrine (and more than six years after Huggins’s article). That is hardly “right away.”

Perhaps this is a good place to point out that Mouw made his critical remarks about the evangelical countercult movement without having engaged anyone in that movement in the kind of friendly dialogue he has pursued with Mormon scholars. He made no effort to explain to the evangelicals he criticized what he thought they were doing wrong. Between 2004 and the present he has not pursued such dialogue and has not welcomed overtures from those evangelicals who have expressed a desire to have such dialogue with him.

Talking With The Mormons Front Cover

“Talking with Mormons” by Richard J. Mouw (2012)

The Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries3 was prompted not by Mouw’s email in 2004 but by his very public campaign in 2012 and early 2013 to promote the notion that Mormonism was moving away from the doctrine of God and man as the same species. In 2012 Mouw published a book entitled Talking with Mormons that criticized the way most evangelicals have viewed Mormonism. That same year and in early 2013 he made some public appearances with LDS scholar Robert Millet in which the two of them discussed some of the subjects addressed in Mouw’s book. In effect, the book and appearances were a public relations campaign to argue that evangelicals should view Mormonism in a more positive way religiously and theologically. In both the book and his public appearances, Mouw expanded on his claim that evangelical “countercult” organizations were misrepresenting Mormon doctrine, especially with regard to the issue of the nature of God.

In early 2013, the Institute for Religious Research reached out to Mouw and attempted to pursue dialogue with him about his critical stance toward countercult ministry. On February 14 of that year I sent to Mouw on behalf of IRR a three-page letter along with a 36-page documentation packet that had been specially prepared to address the comments he had made regarding the LDS doctrine of God and man. Perhaps I might mention that I am a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary (1981), where Mouw later served as president, and I had met with Mouw in his office at Fuller and discussed Mormonism with him in about 2001. After receiving no response to my letter, I sent Mouw a follow-up letter on March 14, which was answered by an email to me from Mouw on April 9. Mouw declined our invitation to dialogue, complaining about a number of things he thought we had said about him. After I responded with an email explaining that we had made none of the statements to which he took offense, Mouw wrote back and admitted that he had indeed confused us with someone else. However, he still chose not to engage us in dialogue or even to respond to the documentation we had provided him.

In the wake of Mouw’s unwillingness to participate in dialogue with evangelicals on the subject of Mormonism whose views he had been criticizing for years, we had a lengthy discussion on the matter at the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions conference in April 2013. EMNR is a consortium of evangelical organizations and researchers who are committed to supporting Christians in mission to people in a variety of new religious movements, including Mormonism. On April 12, 2013, EMNR issued a statement (which I drafted) responding to Mouw. After explaining briefly why we disagreed with Mouw’s comments about Mormonism, the statement concluded as follows:

"Talking Mormon Doctrine" edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (circa 2015)

“Talking Mormon Doctrine” edited by Richard J. Mouw and Robert L. Millet (2015)

Evangelical Ministries to New Religions applauds Dr. Mouw for his salutary call for Christian civility and his thoughtful engagement in dialogue with Mormon scholars and leaders. At the same time, EMNR respectfully yet strongly disagrees with Dr. Mouw’s generalizations about evangelicals misrepresenting Mormon beliefs and practices, and specifically with his own misrepresentation of the standard LDS doctrine of eternal progression as “folk Mormonism” having no official or functioning place in Mormon belief today. We invite Dr. Mouw to engage evangelical ministries to Mormons in general, and those of us who are part of EMNR in particular, in the same kind of civil dialogue he has rightly championed between evangelicals and Mormons. Furthermore, we encourage Latter-day Saints to engage a wider circle of evangelicals in open and candid dialogue.

Mouw has never taken us up on this invitation.

Ironically, Mouw continues to claim, as he did in his 2012 book, that unnamed evangelical critics of Mormonism disagree with him because they are closed in principle to engaging Mormons in respectful dialogue. Here is how he put it in his book:

Again, there are many evangelicals who are convinced that those of us on the evangelical side who are involved in these dialogues have been duped by the Mormons. Worse than that, they’re convinced that by engaging in friendly—and hopeful—dialogue with representatives of Mormonism, we’re hurting the cause of the gospel…. Promoting the idea of friendly dialogue with Mormons isn’t a popular thing to do.4

In his recent article in First Things, Mouw again criticizes unnamed evangelicals who think dialogue with Mormons is impossible:

At stake in this dispute is a choice between two approaches to Mormon teachings and practice. One is skeptical and presumes that Mormonism is a ­deeply heretical form of Christianity, so much so that dialogue is impossible. The other is more trusting and is willing to entertain the possibility that Mormonism has the resources for theological self-criticism and self-correction, and that dialogue might help in this process.

I do not know of a single evangelical in “countercult” ministry who thinks that dialogue with Mormons is a bad idea, let alone that it is impossible. Indeed, every such evangelical I know seeks opportunities to engage Mormons in dialogue. It seems here that Mouw is using the term “dialogue” as code for something else. Note that Mouw’s comment implies that he disagrees about Mormonism being “deeply heretical.” This implication is confirmed by the title of his article, “Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy.”

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during his visit to Salt Lake City. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

President George W. Bush (right) meets with the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during a visit to Salt Lake City in 2008. Seated clockwise are: the late Gordon B. Hinckley, President; Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor (obscured); James E. Faust, Second Counselor (obscured), and F. Michael Watson, Executive Secretary.

The Real Issue: What Do Mormons Actually Teach?
Here’s what is really “at stake in this dispute.” It is a choice between accepting what official LDS Church publications and its leading theologians actually teach their members or accepting what Richard Mouw says he thinks is happening based on his conversations with his “Mormon friends” despite the public record of LDS Church teaching.5 Mouw gives lip service to the importance of considering what the LDS Church teaches its own members when he writes, “The test for me is not what Mormons say to me, but what they say to each other.”6 However, he doesn’t actually show that this is the basis on which he has formed his theological judgments about Mormonism. Instead, he repeatedly appeals to the assurances of his Mormon friends, as in the following telling comment:

Mormonism is often portrayed as a self-deification program—and not without some legitimacy, given the popularity of the Lorenzo Snow couplet: “What Man now is, God once was; what God now is, Man may become.” My Mormon friends are quick to point out, however, that this couplet has no official canonical status—indeed, Gordon Hinckley famously told Time magazine that he had no idea what it means to say “As God is, man may become.”7

With all due respect, what Mouw’s Mormon friends told him carries no authority as far as defining what has official or canonical status in Mormonism. Gordon Hinckley’s statement to Time magazine also does not pass what Mouw himself says is the test, which is what Mormons say to each other—not what they say to the secular media.

Yet there is more to the story with regard to Hinckley’s supposed denial of the doctrine. As we explain in a separate article,8 Hinckley did not disavow any understanding of the Snow couplet. We will summarize the issue briefly here. In Hinckley’s 1997 interview, he was asked, “Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?” Here is what he said:

I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.9

In saying that he didn’t “know a lot about it,” Hinckley was admitting implicitly that he did know something about it, while at the same time saying that Mormonism doesn’t provide much in the way of details about God the Father’s life before he became a God. Thus, Hinckley was not suggesting that the doctrine expressed in the Snow couplet was not part of Mormon doctrine. It may not be something the LDS Church emphasized, but it is still part of their belief system.

In his recent First Things article, Mouw interprets Hinckley’s remarks as “signaling a decision on the part of the Mormon leadership to downplay the Snow couplet within the corpus of Mormon teachings about the deity,” suggesting that they are “interested in joining the broad Jewish and Christian consensus that God is ontologically different from man—or at least that Mormons today don’t want to directly contradict that consensus.” Since Hinckley’s comment to Time was made in 1997, we have had nearly twenty years to see if the LDS Church actually has pivoted away from its earlier doctrine. The record of the past twenty years demonstrably contradicts Mouw’s interpretation. Some of the evidence comes from sources surprisingly close to Mouw himself.

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet

Robert Millet: God Was Once a Mortal Being
If Gordon Hinckley was signaling in 1997 that the LDS Church was moving away from the doctrine that God was once a man as taught by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow, Mouw’s LDS friend Robert Millet did not get the message. The very next year Millet and Noel Reynolds, another BYU scholar, published a short book addressing “10 basic issues” including number 6, “What do Latter-day Saints mean when they say that God was once a man?” After quoting approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet, Millet and Reynolds wrote:

That God was once a mortal being is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he now has all power and all knowledge and possesses every virtue, grace, and godly attribute. He acquired perfection through long periods of growth, development, and progression, “by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation,” as Joseph Smith explained…. Not much has been revealed about this concept beyond the fact that God was once a man and that over a long period of time he gained the knowledge, power, and divine attributes necessary to know all things and have all power…. These doctrines are not clearly stated in the Bible. Mormons believe, however, that this knowledge was once had among the ancients and that it has been restored through modern prophets.10

This is not the only place where Millet has affirmed the doctrine of the King Follett Discourse and the Snow couplet. In his 2005 book A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Millet offered the following comments for the benefit primarily of evangelical readers:

The tougher issue for many Christians to deal with is the accompanying doctrine set forth in the King Follett Sermon and the Lorenzo Snow coupletnamely, that God was once a man. Latter-day scriptures state unequivocally that God is a man, a Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) who possesses a body of flesh and bones (D&C 130:22). These concepts are clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration. We teach that man is not of a lower order or different species than God. This, of course, makes many of our Christian friends extremely nervous (if not angry), for it appears to them that we are lowering God in the scheme of things and thus attempting to bridge the Creator/creature chasm.11

Mouw definitely knew about this statement from Millet, because Mouw wrote a foreword and afterword to the book! Moreover, in his afterword Mouw acknowledged that Mormonism teaches that we human beings are of the same species as God:

At the heart of our continuing disagreements, I am convinced, are very basic worldview issues. Judaism and Christianity have been united in their insistence that the Creator and the creation—including God’s human creatures—are divided by an unbridgeable “being” gap. God is the “Wholly Other”—eternal and self-sufficient—who is in a realm of existence that is radically distinct from the creation that was brought into being out of nothing by God’s sovereign decree. On this view of things, to confuse the Creator’s being with anything in his creation is to commit the sin of idolatry. Mormons, on the other hand, talk about God and humans as belonging to the same “species.” Inevitably, then, the differences are described, not in terms of an unbridgeable gap of being, but in the language of “more” and “less.”12

Mouw and Millet were obviously working on this book in 2004 (if not before) in order for it to be published in 2005. This means that at the time Mouw spoke at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in November 2004 and shortly thereafter sent out an email claiming that the doctrine epitomized in Snow’s couplet had “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine,” Mouw knew that in fact that doctrine was “clearly a part of the doctrinal restoration,” as Millet put it in his book. Less than a year after Mouw had denied that the doctrine had any functioning place in current Mormon doctrine, a book appeared clearly affirming that very doctrine as part of the Mormon doctrinal restoration, with a foreword and afterword by Mouw himself. Mouw’s own statement that in Mormon belief God and humans are members of the same species clearly presupposes the doctrine that God was once a mortal man like us who then became a God and that we as his children can do the same.

"Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow" official LDS Church manual (circa 2012)

“Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow” official LDS Church manual (2012)

God Was Once a Man: It’s Still Being Taught
The doctrine of eternal progression—that God the Father was once a mortal man, that he became a God, and that we can become Gods like him—has continued to be taught by Mormons right up to the present. In his May 2016 article in First Things, Mouw devotes several paragraphs to explaining why the inclusion of the Snow couplet in the 2012 curriculum manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, part of a series of manuals on the past presidents of the LDS Church, was not necessarily endorsing the first half of the couplet. According to Mouw, the discussion of the couplet in the manual focuses entirely on the second half, neither affirming nor denying the first half. Mouw’s analysis of this particular manual’s treatment of the Snow couplet has some weaknesses, but the bigger point to be made is that this is only one of many publications of the past twelve years in which the LDS Church has reaffirmed the validity of the Snow couplet, the King Follett Discourse, and the traditional LDS doctrine of eternal progression. As I pointed out to Mouw in my first letter to him in 2012:

The 2004 manual Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 stated that “there are approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” that “also are true and should be used along with the scripturesthemselves,” among the five most important of which it says are “the ‘King Follett Sermon’ and the ‘Sermon in the Grove.’” At least eight teaching manuals currently available on LDS.org teach the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, or (in most cases) both, including six manuals published since 2003.13

For example, the LDS curriculum manual Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), which is still on the official LDS website, states:

What we know about God is limited to what he has chosen to tell us through his prophets. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–20) and the famous King Follett discourse given shortly before Joseph’s martyrdom in 1844 (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 343–62) are significant doctrinal teachings on the nature of God. From the beginning of his ministry until its end, the Prophet shared his increasing understanding of his Heavenly Father…. In the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith declared that the first principle of the gospel consists of knowing the character of God. Joseph taught that God “was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself” (Teachings, p. 346…).14

In 2014, the LDS Church posted a “Gospel Topics” article on its website with the title “Becoming Like God.” Here is some of what that article stated:

What kind of a being is God?” he asked. Human beings needed to know, he argued, because “if men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” In that phrase, the Prophet collapsed the gulf that centuries of confusion had created between God and humanity. Human nature was at its core divine. God “was once as one of us” and “all the spirits that God ever sent into the world” were likewise “susceptible of enlargement.” Joseph Smith preached that long before the world was formed, God found “himself in the midst” of these beings and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” and be “exalted” with Him…. Since that sermon, known as the King Follett discourse, the doctrine that humans can progress to exaltation and godliness has been taught within the Church. Lorenzo Snow, the Church’s fifth President, coined a well-known couplet: “As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be.” Little has been revealed about the first half of this couplet, and consequently little is taught. When asked about this topic, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley told a reporter in 1997, “That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don’t know very much about.” When asked about the belief in humans’ divine potential, President Hinckley responded, “Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly.15

The above statement provides a convenient basis for a review of the main points that have been made here:

  • The LDS Church continues to cite approvingly both the King Follett Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet. Mouw’s claim that the Snow couplet or the idea it expresses has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine” is still false.
  • Joseph Smith is credited with having “collapsed the gulf…between God and humanity” found in traditional (orthodox) Christian theology. The statement here, in attributing that “gulf” to “centuries of confusion,” obviously is approving of and affirming Joseph’s teaching that collapsed that gulf.
  • The LDS Church affirms here that human nature is divine; this is another way of saying that God and humans are the same kind or species of being, albeit at very different stages of development.
  • Hinckley’s point that not much is known about God’s life before becoming God is affirmed. To say that little has been revealed or is taught about this doctrine is not to deny that the doctrine exists. The LDS Church is still committed to teaching that God was once a man like us and became exalted to Godhood, even though it has little more to say about the matter than that.
  • The LDS Church also affirms strongly the doctrine of eternal progression, which includes the idea that human beings can become like God in his essential attributes. God is an exalted man, and we who are mortals can likewise become exalted like him. This doctrine clearly goes outside the boundaries of orthodox theology, according to which redeemed human beings will become like God morally (perfect in love, holiness, etc.) and become immortal but will not become ontologically the same kind of being as God.

Toward the end of his First Things article, Mouw writes:

My own sense is that many in the LDS community, including several of its leaders, recognize that the first half of the Snow couplet, the statement about God having been like man, is incompatible with what they genuinely want to sing about: spiritual reliance on the all-sufficient Savior. They also see that it works against the spiritual outlook they want to nurture in new generations of Mormons. Evangelicals may wish for an explicit denial by the LDS leadership of the first half of the couplet. But it is important to recognize that another option—to be sure, a less stabilizing one theologically—is simply to ignore that first half and focus on the second and potentially more orthodox half in what is affirmed and taught in Mormonism.

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.

Up to now, what Mouw says is his “sense” conflicts with the direct statements made by the LDS Church’s leaders, curriculum manuals, and official website statements. The LDS Church continues to affirm the validity and truth of the first half of the Snow couplet even while acknowledging that it does not have anything to offer in the way of elaboration or details as to what God the Father’s life was like or what he did prior to attaining Godhood. The problem here is not merely that the LDS Church has yet to repudiate or explicitly deny the first half of the couplet. The problem is that it continues to affirm its validity, as well as the validity of Joseph Smith’s teaching along the same lines in the King Follett Discourse.

Thus, there is simply no basis for thinking that Mormonism is “approaching orthodoxy.” There has been no significant theological change on the controversial issue at hand. At the very time that Richard Mouw began asserting (in 2004) that the idea of God as a former mortal man had no functioning place in contemporary Mormon doctrine, he was working with Mormon theologian Robert Millet getting his book published by a Christian publisher (Eerdmans), and even writing a foreword and afterword to it, that flatly contradicted Mouw’s claim.

Mouw’s claim about the Snow couplet and eternal progression was refuted by Ronald Huggins in his excellent 2006 article. In the ten years that have passed since that time, Mouw has not rebutted Huggins or offered anything along the lines of a scholarly treatment of the subject. Meanwhile, throughout those ten years the LDS Church has repeatedly reaffirmed their belief in the theology set forth in the King Follett Discourse and epitomized in Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. Except for the 2012 manual on Lorenzo Snow, Mouw has yet to comment on any of the documentary evidence that contradicts his claim.

Forced to choose between accepting Mouw’s assurance that the sense he gets from his Mormon friends is that they would like to abandon the doctrine that God was once a man like us or accepting what the LDS Church’s leaders and theologians (including some of Mouw’s friends!) say is their position on the subject, the only reasonable course is to accept what the Mormons themselves say. Mouw may have his reasons for taking the position he does, and he may sincerely think he is doing the right thing. Regardless, the truth is that Mormon doctrine still stands opposed to the orthodox Christian belief that God is ontologically unique and radically different from his creation. Genuine dialogue between evangelicals and Mormons must begin by coming to terms with what each other actually believes.

Richard J. Mouw

Richard J. Mouw

NOTES
1. Ronald V. Huggins, “Lorenzo Snow’s Couplet: ‘As Man Now Is, God Once Was; As God Now Is, Man May Be’; ‘No Functioning Place in Present-Day Mormon Doctrine?’ A Response to Richard Mouw,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49/3 (Sept. 2006): 549-68.
2. Ronald V. Huggins, “Did the Author of 3 Nephi Know the Gospel of Matthew?” Dialogue 30 (1997): 137-48; “‘Without a Cause’ and ‘Ships of Tarshish’: A Possible Contemporary Source for Two Unexplained Readings from Joseph Smith.” Dialogue 36 (2003): 157-79.
3. The statement is available on IRR’s website: see “Statement on Richard Mouw and Evangelical Countercult Ministries,” Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 13 April 2013.
4. Richard J. Mouw, Talking with Mormons: An Invitation to Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 41.
5. Mouw’s book Talking with Mormons makes references to his Mormon “friends” over twenty times. By contrast, he cites Joseph Smith only twice and has only one or two other references to authoritative LDS sources.
6. Mouw, Talking with Mormons, 41.
7. Ibid., 55.
8. Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Gordon Hinckley, Richard Mouw, and Eternal Progression” (IRR, 2016).
9. This is the full answer in the unedited transcript provided to IRR by the interviewer for Time, Richard N. Ostling, and quoted in Luke P. Wilson and Joel B. Groat, “Dodging and Dissembling Prophet?” (IRR, 1997). See David Van Biema, “Kingdom Come: Salt Lake City was just for starters,” Time, 4 Aug. 1997.10. Robert L. Millet and Noel B. Reynolds, Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University—FARMS, 1998), chapter 6, emphasis added.
11. Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 144, emphasis added.
12. Richard J. Mouw, “Afterword,” in ibid., 182, emphasis added.
13. Letter from Robert M. Bowman Jr. to Richard J. Mouw, 14 Feb. 2013.
14.Chapter 3: God the Eternal Father,” in Doctrines of the Gospel Teacher Manual (2011), 7–8.
15.Becoming Like God” (LDS.org, 2014).

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

The Los Angeles, California LDS Church Temple at Sunset

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He has been with IRR since 2008 and is IRR’s Executive Director. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman, Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research

Rob Bowman earned the M.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, did doctoral studies in Christian Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, and earned his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies at South African Theological Seminary. He is the author of roughly 60 articles (e.g., in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Review of Biblical Literature, Christian Research Journal, Moody Monthly, Pastoral Renewal, Mission Frontiers, and Journal of Evangelism and Missions) and 13 books pertaining to apologetics, religion, and biblical theology, including two winners of the Gold Medallion Award, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World (1997) and Faith Has Its Reasons (2001; 2d ed., 2006). His most recent books are Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ(co-authored with Ed Komoszewski, 2007), which received numerous endorsements from such scholars as Ravi Zacharias and Richard Bauckham, and What Mormons Believe (2012).

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.
(source: “Who We Are: The People of IRR and What We Are All About”

This article was originally published on the Institute for Religious Research (IRR) website. It is republished here with the kind permission of the author.