Our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives

Female Priesthood holders join hands in corporate public prayer at a Women of Faith Conference.

by Benjamin R. Reed and Fred W. Anson
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
“Biblical Christians have no priesthood.”

One doesn’t have to go any further than the very first investigator lesson in the official LdS Church manual “Preach My Gospel” (which contains both the official training curriculum for all LdS Missionaries and the correlated lessons that they are supposed to teach those who are investigating the LdS Church). In the very first Investigator Lesson starting in the third section, entitled “Heavenly Father Reveals His Gospel in Every Dispensation” the Missionary and the Investigator are informed that:

“When widespread apostasy occurs, God withdraws His priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel…

After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the doctrine of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrine was corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. Important parts of the doctrine of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches…

Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they did not have the fulness of truth or the priesthood authority to baptize and perform other saving ordinances.”
(LdS Church website, “Preach My Gospel”, “Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ”; ellipses added for the sake of brevity, retrieved 2022-11-02)

Again, and to reiterate, this is the very first lesson that those investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are given. To say that the issue of Priesthood and its accompanying Priesthood Authority is a key distinctive of Latter-day Saint Theology is understating things greatly. Stated plainly it is the key distinctive of modern Mormon Theology – at the very core of their current “Restoration” dogma. If there is any lingering doubt on this point, the same source makes sure that this point is not missed:

“After the appearance of the Father and the Son, other heavenly messengers, or angels, were sent to Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery. John the Baptist appeared and conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, which includes the authority to perform the ordinance of baptism. Peter, James, and John (three of Christ’s original Apostles) appeared and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, restoring the same authority given to Christ’s Apostles anciently. With this priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Through him, Jesus Christ called twelve Apostles.

The time in which we live is referred to by Bible prophets as the last days, the latter days, or the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the period of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the final dispensation. This is why the Church is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
(ibid)

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, there’s a problem: It’s not true. It’s a myth.

A diverse group of male Priesthood holders gather together to worship God and hear God’s word at a 1997 Promise Keepers event.

Why It’s a Myth
Let’s back up and start at the very beginning, shall we? First, what exactly is meant by the biblical word, “priesthood?” Bible commentator, Wayne Jackson explains:

“A priest, in effect, is a mediator who stands between God and man. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of man and administers other worship obligations that people feel unworthy to offer personally. The nearest thing to a definition found in the Scriptures is probably Hebrews 5:1.

“For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.”’
(Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”)

And 19th Century Christian Scholar William Smith explained how and why a priesthood is required:

“The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law. The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in “things pertaining unto God.” He may become also (though this does not always follow) the representative of God to man.
(William Smith, “Smith’s Bible Bible Dictionary”, “Priest”)

In a sense, after the fall, without a priest to mediate between God and man and offer sacrifices there was no forgiveness of sins and thus no reconciliation with God. Thus immediately after the fall of man we see mankind in general offering sacrifices to God (see Genesis 4:2-6) and assuming a priestly role. Another 19th Century Scholar, Matthew George Easton, offers this quick summation and overview of the priesthood in his own well-known Bible dictionary:

“At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah (Gen. 8:20), Abraham (12:7; 13:4), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (31:54), and Job (Job 1:5).

The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18). Under the Levitical arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting the qualifications of priests are given in Lev. 21:16-23. There are ordinances also regarding the priests’ dress (Ex. 28:40-43) and the manner of their consecration to the office (29:1-37).

Their duties were manifold (Ex. 27:20, 21; 29:38-44; Lev. 6:12; 10:11; 24:8; Num. 10:1-10; Deut. 17:8-13; 33:10; Mal. 2:7). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law…

The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered “one sacrifice for sins” “once for all” (Heb. 10:10, 12). There is now no human priesthood. (See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.)”
(Matthew Easton, “Easton’s Bible Bible Dictionary”, “Priest”)

On that last point, Mr. Easton was most likely overreacting to Catholic priesthood dogma, which allows for both a common and ministerial priesthood1 – a distinction that was frequently polemicized in the 19th century by Protestants as much or more as it was dogmatized by Roman Catholics.

His point is biblically correct but also biblically incomplete: The Bible is clear that there is a New Testament priesthood, however, it’s neither the Melchizedek nor the Aaronic priesthood. After all, the Levitical system of sacerdotalism2 that formed the basis for the Aaronic priesthood was fulfilled by Christ’s atonement, and then the Melchizedek priesthood, which again, only contains one member, Jesus Christ.3 Nevertheless, there are priests in what the Apostle Peter refers to as the “Royal Priesthood” in 1 Peter 2:9 (NKJV bolding added for emphasis):

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

And it is this priesthood of kings that the Apostle John refers to in Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:10 (NKJV bolding added for emphasis):

“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

You [the Lamb of God] were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”

It is also important to look at Christ as the ultimate high priest in providing a final propitiatory sacrifice that only He, being God incarnate, could provide. When the veil was rent into two from the top to bottom, oblations (burnt offerings) and other types of human intervention were simply a moot point – it was literally torn asunder:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”
(Matthew 27:50-51 NIV)

Thus, with the veil now torn, all true believers in Christ and His atoning work could have direct access to divine guidance and holy communion with the Triune God. The Holy of Holies and the Mercy Seat of God Almighty was open to all true believers without restriction through the blood of Christ and their calling was sealed by being baptized into the Royal Priesthood. Christ himself referenced his culminating divine act of love in John 19:30 when in shedding that blood He exclaimed, “It is finished!”

 65,000 Priesthood-holding youth people fulfill their priestly calling by offering up the sacrifice of praise to God at a 2020 Passion event at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA

That’s why, just three years after posting his bombastic 95 Theses, at the Diet of Worms in 1520 reformer Martin Luther alluded to this very fact in a tirade against the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse of sacerdotalism by exacting money from its members via the Papal dogma of Indulgences.4 In his trademark, direct, in-your-face style, Martin Luther very correctly asserted that our calling as royal priests is divine and not a matter of human ordination:

‘As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, clothes differing from those of laymen–all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian, or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: “Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); and in the book of Revelation: “and hast made us unto our God, kings and priests.” (Rev. 5:10)’
(Martin Luther, “The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Respecting the Reformation of the Christian Estate” (Kindle Locations 108-112), bolding added for emphasis)

And then again, and elsewhere Luther concluded:

“How if they were compelled to admit that we all, so many as have been baptized, are equally priests? We are so in fact, and it is only a ministry which has been entrusted to them, and that with our consent. They would then know that they have no right to exercise command over us, except so far as we voluntarily allow of it. Thus it is said: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” (1 Pet. 2:9Thus all we who are Christians are priests.”
(Martin Luther, “On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (Kindle Locations 1458-1461) Kindle Edition, bolding added for emphasis)

Martin Luther soundly affirmed via scripture that all believers were now priests who could go directly to the Lord for forgiveness and serve Him! So is there a priesthood today? The biblical answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” However, it is significantly different than that of the Old Testament. It now consists of offering the sacrifice of praise and offering of thanksgiving (see Hebrews 13:15) that we bring daily to our God. As British Pastor David H.J. Gay notes well:

“It is in the new covenant that God through Christ has formed his people into a priesthood for the very purpose of satisfying his demand and desire for true spiritual worship from true spiritual worshippers (John 4: 23-24). In Christ, he has established a body of priests who truly worship him in spirit, and offer true spiritual sacrifices… It is we – believers under the new covenant – it is we who are the true people of God, the true Israel, who truly and spiritually worship God! In short, the newest believer approaches God with greater glory than Aaron himself ever did.”
(David H.J.Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?” (Kindle Locations 2024-2032) Kindle Edition)

One might also ask, so what happens with ecclesiastical offices?  Reformed theologian Tim Bertolet explains that they in no way nullify the concept of the priesthood of all believers and in fact are quite complementary:

‘In church history, the priesthood of believers became an important point for Martin Luther in his theology. Often today, one of the common critiques of the priesthood of believers is that makes the Christian individualistic. Writing in his, The Theology of Martin LutherPaul Althaus argues that for Luther the ‘priesthood of all believers’ emphasizes the congregational life. “The universal priesthood expresses not religious individualism but its exact opposite, the reality of the congregation as a community” (314). Just as Peter says, Christians are being built together as a spiritual house. Believers minister to one another. Althaus says ‘We stand before God, pray for others, intercede with and sacrifice ourselves to God and proclaim the word to one another” (314). Christians are being built together as a spiritual house. Believers minister to one another. Althaus says ‘We stand before God, pray for others, intercede with and sacrifice ourselves to God and proclaim the word to one another” (314).

Another misunderstanding of the priesthood of all believers is that the church should not have ordained offices such as elders and deacons. First, Scripture clearly identifies that the church should have such offices. The priesthood of believers never means that there are not men of God appointed to authoritatively proclaim the Word. Proper understanding of the priesthood of believers does not deny the diversity of spiritual gifts God gives to the body. However, the church as a whole has the right and authority to preach and proclaim God’s Word. Just as Israel as a kingdom of priest was to stand and minister to the nations, so the church proclaims the Word and is to spread the Word (see also Althaus, 315). “Luther recognizes no community which is not a preaching community and no community in which all have not been called to be witnesses. Each one is to care for his brother with the consolation of the word which he needs in trouble” (Althaus, 315-6).’
(Tim Berolet, “Luther’s Theology: The Priesthood of Believers“, “Place for Truth” website retrieved 2022-11-05)

But in the end, probably no one summed up the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, better, succinctly, and beautifully than John Newton in his well-known hymn:

“Blest inhabitants of Zion,
Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,
Makes them kings and priests to God.
’Tis his love his people raises,
Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, his solemn praises
Each for a thank-offering brings.”
— John Newton,
“Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken”

All things said and done, it is the fulfilled divine work of Jesus in his tri-fold office as Prophet, Priest, and King of the New Covenant to make salvific works effectual. It is Jesus who is the center of such a Holy Priesthood – the High Priest of the Royal Priesthood of all true believers in Christ.

A diverse group of East Indian Priesthood holders lift up the classic hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” like spiritual incense ascending to heaven in 2019 at the 200-year-old St Andrew’s Church (The Kirk) in Chennai, India. (click the above image to listen)

How It’s a Myth
At the core of the myth of Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma is the assertion that it is primarily an issue of authority – and that it is an authority that male Mormon priesthood holders alone have to boot. The archived official LDS Church website “Mormon.org” (which was designed for outsiders and investigators) explicitly states:

“The priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name. The same priesthood authority that existed in the original Church established by Jesus Christ exists in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. The Church is directed and led through this authority.

All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood in order to help lead the Church and serve Heavenly Father’s children. A man with the priesthood might serve in some of the following ways:

    • Leading congregations of the Church
    • Performing the ordinances of the Church, such as baptism
    • Blessing those who are sick

God expects those who hold this sacred priesthood authority to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve with love, gentleness, and kindness.”
(“What is the priesthood?” Mormon.org website archived copy, bolding added for emphasis)

But such an assertion is only true if that authority in reality truly comes directly from God himself. On this matter, the words of the previously cited Wayne Jackson come right to the point:

“The Mormon priesthood dogma has no authority higher than that of Joseph Smith, Jr., who claims to have “restored” the ancient order of priests on May 15, 1829. The error in this is all too obvious to anyone with a more-than-minimum acquaintance with the New Testament.

First of all, the Melchizedek priesthood was to belong to Christ, and to none other, until the end of time. The writer of Hebrews says concerning Jesus that: “. . . he, because he abides forever, has his priesthood unchangable” (7:24). The key word is “unchangable” (aparabatos), which suggests that the Lord’s priesthood is imperishable. Some suggest that the meaning of the Greek term is simply “permanent, unchangable” (F.W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Chicago: University of Chicago, 2000, p. 97), which, of itself, would eliminate the Mormon idea. But even more to the point is the proposed meaning “non-transferable” (C. Spiqu, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994, 1.143-44). That would specifically deny that it could pass to other persons.

Second, the Aaronic priesthood cannot be operative today because it was an integral part of the law of Moses, which law was abolished by Christ (Eph. 2:15), being, in a manner of speaking, nailed to his cross (Col. 2:14). Moreover, the verb rendered “hath taken away” in this latter passage is a perfect tense form, which argues for the permanent abolition of that law. There is no biblical indication that the law was to be, or ever will be, restored. Too, one could not restore the Aaronic priesthood without “of necessity” resurrecting the entire Mosaic Law (Heb. 7:12).”
(ibid, Wayne Jackson, “Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”, bolding added for emphasis)  

In other words, there is no legitimate support for LdS Church Priesthood claims – biblically, they’re empty. Therefore, the entire system rests on Joseph Smith’s say-so that he received a divine mandate that somehow overrode biblical authority when he and Oliver Cowdery received first the Aaronic Priesthood from John the Baptist, and then the Melchizedek Priesthood from Peter, James, and John. And as both honest Latter-day Saint scholars and critics have pointed out over the years, Smith’s claims in this regard are problematic to the extreme.5

Priesthood holders wave Taiwanese flags and another blows a shofar during a gathering in Jerusalem. Thousands of evangelical Christians from more than 80 countries descended upon Jerusalem to profess their love for the Jewish state and its people at this event on Sept. 29, 2015.

Despite the historical support for the church’s narrative regarding authority, many of Mormonism’s magisterial leaders have often lashed out at Christian churches for the exercise of Holy Ordinances and Sacraments:

“Presumptuous and blasphemous are they who purport to baptize, bless, marry, or perform other sacraments in the name of the Lord while in fact lacking his specific authorization. And no one can ob­tain God’s authority from reading the Bible or from just a desire to serve the Lord, no matter how pure his motives.”
(Spencer W. Kimball (author), Edward L. Kimball (compiler and editor)) “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball”, p. 494)

We would heartily dispute Mr. Kimball’s poor understanding of the Holy Sacraments and their authority, relating to the concept of “priesthood.” Understood rightly, it is God himself who is the “doer of the verbs.” As Martin Luther contends, they are incumbent on God and not man.

“For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God’s own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do?

Therefore I exhort again that these two, the water and the Word, by no means be separated from one another and parted. For if the Word is separated from it, the water is the same as that with which the servant cooks, and may indeed be called a bath-keeper’s baptism. But when it is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament, and is called Christ-baptism. Let this be the first part, regarding the essence and dignity of the holy Sacrament.”
(Martin Luther, ”Holy Baptism” in Large Catechism)

Why It Matters
As we saw in the opening of this article, the claim that a legitimate Christian Priesthood and its subsequent authority don’t exist outside of Mormonism is the myth that the LdS Church deceives both investigators and its own Missionaries with. And it works, because the theology of most modern Christians is either incomplete or is lacking when it comes to biblical Priesthood of the Believer theology. So if this article has seemed like a theology lesson to you so far, you would be right – our goal is to fix both. And as soon as one’s theology gets fixed this myth is easily exposed, it’s not only not hard to see, it’s glaringly wrong.

Simply put, our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives as the chosen elect of God. Therefore, the so-called “priesthood authority” that He gives came upon us when each and every one of us placed our trust in Christ and received His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace. We are the royal and legitimate priests of God through Christ, His atoning work, His call on our lives, and nothing else.6

On this point, Mormon Researcher, Hal Hougey very correctly points us to how true biblical restoration and Priesthood works, observing:

“In 2 Kings 22 we find Israel in apostasy. One day an apostate priest found the Law of the Lord where it had been lost and forgotten in the temple. It was read to the people and obeyed. Thus, a restoration was brought about. It did not require a visitation by angels to restore authority.

A restoration can be brought about today in the same way by reading and obeying the teachings of Christ and his apostles as taught in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God; when it teaches something we have authority from God to obey it without having to receive authority from angels or men. If you learn you should be honest, do you have to go to some church official for the authority to be honest? Certainly not. Likewise, when the Lord in His word teaches us to be baptized and to baptize others, we have the authority to do so, from the word itself.”
(Hal Hougey, “Latter-day Saint: Where do you get your authority?”)

 Summary and Conclusion
The folks at the Got Questions? website countered this Mormon Myth nicely in summarizing our priesthood as Christians:

“In summary, believers are called “kings and priests” and a “royal priesthood” as a reflection of their privileged status as heirs to the kingdom of the Almighty God and of the Lamb. Because of this privileged closeness with God, no other earthly mediator is necessary. Second, believers are called priests because salvation is not merely “fire insurance,” escape from hell. Rather, believers are called by God to serve Him by offering up spiritual sacrifices, i.e., being a people zealous for good works. As priests of the living God, we are all to give praise to the One who has given us the great gift of His Son’s sacrifice on our behalf, and in response, to share this wonderful grace with others.”
(Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”)

So the next time a Mormon asks you where you get your authority, you can simply say to them, “Through my calling into the Royal Priesthood through the atonement of Jesus Christ by faith through grace alone and nothing more – the Bible tells me so!”

Each and every person who places their trust in Christ is a Priest. If and when this child accepts God’s gift of eternal life, forgiveness, and the persevering grace that will sustain her through Christ’s atonement – even if it is at this very young age – then she too is as much a member of the Royal Priesthood of All Believers as Martin Luther (represented by the statues that she’s admiring in this photograph taken in 2017) is.

NOTES
1 A Roman Catholic quiz app for Catechism Five explains the distinction between the two in this simple and succinct manner:

“Q: What is the difference between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood?

A: The difference between common priesthood and ministerial priesthood is that common priesthood is the vocation all of God’s disciples are called to (following in Jesus’s footsteps) and ministerial priesthood is when someone has received ordination and can administer the sacraments.”
(“Religion Ch 5”, Quizlet website)

Those desiring a more in-depth, comprehensive, and/or official Roman Catholic Church explanation can refer to the following post-Vatican II clarification, which, among other things, agrees with this article’s assertions regarding “common priesthood” as an expression of the Royal Priesthood as it is taught and affirmed in the New Testament:

“Christ the Lord, the High Priest of the new and everlasting covenant, wished to associate with His perfect priesthood and to form in its likeness the people He had bought with His own blood (cf. Heb. 7:20-22, 26-28; 10:14, 21). He therefore granted His Church a share in His priesthood, which consists of the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood. These differ from each other not only in degree but also in essence; yet they are mutually complementary within the communion of the Church.

The common priesthood of the laity, which is also rightly called a royal priesthood (cf. 1 Pt. 2:9; Rev. 1:6; 5:9ff.) since through it the faithful are united as members of the messianic people with their heavenly King, is conferred by the sacrament of Baptism. By this sacrament “the faithful are incorporated into the Church and are empowered to take part in the worship of the Christian religion” in virtue of a permanent sign known as a character; “reborn as children of God they are obliged to profess before men the faith which they have received from God through the Church.” Thus those who are reborn in Baptism “join in the offering of the Eucharist by virtue of their royal priesthood. They likewise exercise that priesthood by receiving the sacraments, by prayer and thanksgiving, by the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity…

Priests, acting in the person of Christ the Head, offer this Sacrifice in the Holy Spirit to God the Father in the name of Christ and in the name of the members of His Mystical Body. This sacrifice is completed in the holy supper by which the faithful, partaking of the one body of Christ, are all made into one body (cf. 1 Cor. 10:16ff.).”
(Roman Catholic Church, see Section 6, “The Church Associated with the Priesthood of Christ” of “SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH DECLARATION IN DEFENSE OF THE CATHOLIC DOCTRINE ON THE CHURCH AGAINST CERTAIN ERRORS OF THE PRESENT DAY”, June 5, 1973)

These Roman Catholic doctrinal distinctions weren’t as clear in the 19th Century as they are today (thanks largely to Vatican II) and hence were frequently misunderstood by Protestants, like Matthew George Easton, and turned into an Anti-Catholic polemic – as seen in the citation that the authors used from his well-known 1893 Bible Dictionary.

2 From the neutral source, Wikipedia:

Sacerdotalism (from Latin sacerdos, priest, literally one who presents sacred offerings, sacer, sacred, and dare, to give) is the belief in some Christian churches that priests are meant to be mediators between God and humankind. The understanding of this mediation has undergone development over time and especially with the advent of modern historical and biblical studies.”
(Wikipedia, “Sacerdotalism”)

3 This statement follows the teaching of John Calvin and others that the Melchizedek figure in Genesis 14:18-20 is a Christophany (an Old Testament physical manifestation of Christ). This follows logically when the text is interpreted in light of Hebrews 7:1-3 (NKJV) which says:

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.”

Thus since only one human meets (or has ever met) that criteria it’s fair to conclude that the Genesis 14 Melchizedek is in fact, Jesus Christ. This is just one of several valid interpretations. However, it’s clear that at the very least Melchizedek is at least minimally, a type of Christ.  As the GotQuestions.org website summarizes well:

“Are Melchizedek and Jesus the same person? A case can be made either way. At the very least, Melchizedek is a type of Christ, prefiguring the Lord’s ministry. But it is also possible that Abraham, after his weary battle, met and gave honor to the Lord Jesus Himself.
(“Who was Melchizedek?” GotQuestions.org website)

4 In short, and for those who are unfamiliar with Roman Catholic Doctrine, The Doctrine of Indulgence is a dogma that asserts that a Roman Catholic Church Authority (such as the Pope or another Church-ordained Church Leader) can reduce the amount of punishment that one has to undergo for sins in penance. From Wikipedia:

“In the teaching of the Catholic Church, an indulgence (Latin: indulgentia, from indulgeo, ‘permit’) is “a way to reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes an indulgence as “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and all of the saints”.”
(see “Indulgence”, Wikipedia website)

5 According to the canonized history of Mormonism Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829 and the Melchizedek Priesthood shortly thereafter on some unknown date:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood, with its authority to baptize, on 15 May 1829. The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored next, bringing to earth all the power and authority necessary to organize and direct the Church of Jesus Christ and to perform additional saving priesthood ordinances. While the Prophet and his associate, Oliver, did not record the date that they received the Melchizedek Priesthood, historical records and the testimony of witnesses indicate that it occurred between the day after the Aaronic Priesthood restoration and 28 May 1829. Both the scriptures and the testimony of contemporaries attest that the brethren on whom the Lord had bestowed the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood—the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—acted in the authority of those keys as they organized the Church on 6 April 1830.
(
Larry C. Porter, “The Restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods” official LdS Church website)

However, the historical record discredits these claims as this Mormon Think summary explains:

“Researchers who have closely examined the D&C and primary source accounts found that the official narrative of priesthood restoration contains numerous gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions. Scholars also raise important questions that expose potential weaknesses in Smith and Cowdery’s story of their miraculous ordinations. For example, if Joseph and Oliver had experienced events as remarkable and life-altering as divine visitations by John the Baptist and three of Christ’s apostles, why would they not tell others? These miraculous ordinations were not publicly revealed or documented until five years after they supposedly occurred. Moreover, if the restoration of the priesthood is a fundamental tenet of the LDS Church, why was this revelation excluded from the Book of Commandments when it was originally published in 1833, only revealed in the revised and re-named Doctrine and Covenants in 1835?”
(
“Priesthood Restoration” MormonThink.com website)

The specific problems in the story of the Restoration of the Priesthood:

“Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery failed to testify to the members nor record anything about the appearances of “John the Baptist” and “Peter, James, and John” in any publications prior to 1834 (five years after the events purportedly took place)—nor did they teach that men ordained to offices in the church were receiving “priesthood authority”.

Nobody in or out of the church knows the exact date of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Oliver Cowdery was inconsistent in describing which heavenly being(s) had come to confer that authority.

Joseph Smith and other early members stated that the first conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood happened in June 1831 in Ohio at a conference of Elders, and that Joseph himself was ordained to the high priesthood by church elder Lyman Wight at that time.

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery changed the wording of earlier revelations when they compiled the 1835 D&C [Doctrine & Covenants], adding verses about the appearances of John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John AS IF those appearances were mentioned in the earlier revelations, which they weren’t. The Book of Commandments, which later became the D&C says nothing about these appearances.”
(“Priesthood Restoration, Problem Summary” MormonThink.com website)

Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of Joseph Smith, contradicts the official accounts from Mormonism, regarding the “authority to baptize.” Mrs. Smith seems to think it came from the “Urim and Thumim”:

“They immediately went down to the Susquehana River and obeyed the mandate given them through the Urim and Thummim[. A]s they were on the return to the house…..They had now received authority to baptize…and they [then]….went straightway to the water…..”
(Palmer, Grant, 2002, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.” Kindle edition, location 4761)

Early defender of Mormonism David Whitmer also proclaimed:

“I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as state and believed by some. I regard that as an error, misconception.”
(Palmer, Grant, 2002, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.” Kindle edition, location 4761)

Simply put, if Joseph Smith’s Priesthood Restoration didn’t occur as he claimed, then the Mormon Priesthood is a hollow shell of nothing – it’s an empty claim with no substance to it.

6 Step back to the start of this article and reread the priesthood definitions. In the Bible, the Priesthood is an office, a function, and a duty. And any authority that came with the office was limited strictly to performing those very specific functions and duties. Throughout the biblical narrative “the authority to act in God’s name” came directly from God and His call on your life irrespective of your office, status, or position in life. Anyone who was called was authorized – it was just that simple.

Consider, for example, the man Jesus Christ. It was impossible for Him to have “Priesthood Authority” because he wasn’t a priest.  Christ was from the tribe of Judah, not Levi, and was, therefore, immediately disqualified from the Aaronic priesthood.  Furthermore, the book of Hebrews is clear that the resurrected Christ became our High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek through His atonement:

“Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.

For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies:

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
— Hebrew 7:11-179:11-15 (NKJV)

So according to Latter-day Saint priesthood doctrine, Jesus Christ was acting without authority during His ministry and incarnation since He wasn’t a legitimate priesthood holder.

Further, we could also talk about Paul who was from the tribe of Benjamin (Acts 13:21, Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5), and the 12 disciples (with the possible exception of Matthew who may have been a Levite) and their lack of priesthood authority. Suffice it to say, according to Latter-day Saint priesthood dogma, none of them had the authority to act in God’s name, lead congregations, perform ordinances such as baptism, bless those who are sick, etc., etc., etc.  Yet in stark contrast to that dogma, the Bible is filled from cover to cover with men and women who had the required authority to act in God’s name simply by virtue of the fact that God had called them. For example consider the prophet Isaiah who, like Christ, was also from the tribe of Judah.

“I [Isaiah] heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
And He said, “Go, and tell this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

“Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed.”
— Isaiah 6:8-10 (NKJV)

Simply put, our authority to act in God’s name comes from His call on our lives as the chosen elect of God. Therefore, the so-called “priesthood authority” that He gives came upon us when each and every one of us placed our trust in Christ and received His free gift of eternal life by faith through grace. We are the royal and legitimate priests of God through Christ, His atoning work, His call on our lives, and nothing else.

‘But you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past, you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.’ (1 Peter 2:8b-10 J.B. Phillips)

SUGGESTED RESOURCES:
The authors were surprised at the dearth of resources regarding the biblical doctrine of the Priesthood of All Believers when we started to research this article. It’s clearly a subject that the modern Christian Church is neglecting. So to save the reader some time and effort, and to preserve the good resources that we found, we offer this bibliography.

Suggested resources on the Priesthood of All Believers:
David H.J. Gay, “The Priesthood of All Believers: Slogan or Substance?”
This is the most exhaustive treatise on the subject that I found. The author is as ponderous and verbose as a 19th Century preacher but leaves no doubt that his arguments are substantive and fully grounded in scripture.
[click here for the Kindle Edition] [click here for the FREE audio Edition]

Wikipedia, “Universal Priesthood”
This is the one you’ll want if you want the short, cryptic treatment of the subject. An excellent historical overview but that’s about all.

Wayne Jackson“Exploring the Concept of Priesthood”
This is the best short summary of the subject that I’ve found. It’s also useful in that it addresses the issue of how Catholics and Latter-day Saints have corrupted the biblical priesthood system.

Got Questions? website, “Is the priesthood of all believers biblical?”
Another good, short primer that limits itself to biblical text. If you’re looking for the short, concise biblical case for the Priesthood of all believers this is the article you’re looking for. 

August Van Ryn“Every Believer a Priest”
A longer primer on the subject from the biblical text. 

Art Lindsley, Ph.D., “The Priesthood of All Believers”
So you’re OK with the concept of priesthood, but are unclear about the practical application of the concept? This is the article for you.

Suggested resources on the LdS Priesthood:
While there’s a dearth of good resources on Priesthood on the Christian side, there’s a glut on the Mormon side. Here are some of the better resources among many that I found in preparing this article that didn’t make it into the main article:

John Farkas, “Fabricating The Mormon Priesthood: By God Or By Man?”
A detailed deconstruction of Joseph Smith’s priesthood claims relative to the historical record and Mormon scripture.

Lane Thuet“Priesthood Restored or Retrofit?”
An excellent lecture on the issues and problems surrounding Mormon Priesthood claims.

L. W. Spitz, “The Universal Priesthood of Believers,”
A Biblical understanding of the Christian doctrine regarding this principle. A nice summary is found here.

Rob Bowman“Mormon Priesthood Offices and the Bible”
A point-by-point comparison of the Latter-day Saint Priesthood system versus the biblical system. 

Rob Bowman“Mormon Priesthood: Do Mormons Alone Have the Power?”
An in depth analysis of Latter-day Saint Priesthood authority claims. 

Grant Palmer“An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”Priesthood Restoration – Chapter 7
Chapter Seven of Mr. Palmer’s classic book gives us a objective “deep dive” into what the historical record tells us about Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery’s claims regarding a restored priesthood.

About Benjamin R. Reed Mr. Reed is a former Mormon. He is currently Spanish Language Brand Manager at Lee Family Broadcasting in Twin Falls, Idaho. Mr. Reed served an LDS mission to Argentina and later spent 5 years in Mexico where he left Mormonism for Biblical Christianity. While in Mexico, he received a B.A. in Systematic Theology from the multi-denominational Universidad Global de Teología, completing a 200-page treatise on Mormonism vs. Christianity. Mr. Reed briefly studied missiology at MBTS in Kansas City, Missouri before becoming a Lutheran “Evangelical Catholic.” Since 2015, he has been a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Parish in Jerome, Idaho where he serves as an elder.

About Fred W. Anson Mr. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including four Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum, Mormons in Transition, and From Mormonism to Christianity). Raised in the Nazarene Church, Fred later became an Atheist but then returned to the Christian faith during the Jesus Movement in 1976. He is currently a member of Saddleback Covenant Church, a non-denominational church, in Mission Viejo, California.

(Portions of this article were taken from Fred W. Anson’s, March 7, 2015, Beggar’s Bread article, ‘Weak Arguments #12: “There is no priesthood anymore.”’)

If using symbols and scripture is worshiping them
then Mormonism has a beam-in-eye problem

“The Crucifixion”, by Harry Anderson. This is one of two paintings that Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland referred to in his Fall 2022 General Conference address that, “…serve as backdrops for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their sacred weekly temple meetings each Thursday in Salt Lake City,” (see Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lifted Up upon the Cross”). So if symbolic reminders of Christ’s sacrifice like this aren’t a problem when Latter-day Saint leaders use them, then why is it a problem when others do too? (credit: LDS Church Media Library)

by Paul Nurnberg
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

Sixth LDS Church president Joseph F. Smith speaking at the pulpit of a funeral service in the Brigham City Tabernacle surrounded by cross symbols in the architecture and floral arrangement. Please note the highlighted floral cross that’s at the center of the proceedings. (credit: Utah State Historical Society Classified Photo Collection)

The Myth
“Biblical Christians worship the cross . . .”

In the mid-twentieth century, LDS leaders began suggesting that Biblical Christians worship the cross.1 Prior to that many Latter-day Saints embraced the cross as a symbol of their religion, similar to Protestants and Catholics. In 1957, LDS Prophet and Church President, David O. McKay, responded to a question about a Salt Lake City jewelry store advertising cross necklaces for girls, (see “Mormons and the Cross” by Michael De Groote). Following McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

This custom of adoring the cross seems to have grown out of the purported vision given to Constantine when it is stated that he saw a cross in the heavens and was told that by it he was to conquer. From that time the use of the cross as an object of reverence grew and, when the rebellion against the Catholic Church commenced, the adoration of the cross continued more or less among the Protestant churches.

To many, like the writer, such a custom is repugnant and contrary to the true worship of our Redeemer. Why should we bow down before a cross or use it as a symbol? Because our Savior died on the cross, the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste and inconsistent to our worship. [ . . . ] We may be definitely sure that if our Lord had been killed with a dagger or with a sword, it would have been very strange indeed if religious people of this day would have graced such a weapon by wearing it and adoring it because it was by such a means that our Lord was put to death.
(Joseph Fielding Smith, “Your Question: The Wearing of the Cross, Answered by Joseph Fielding Smith of the Council of the Twelve,” The Improvement Era, Volume 64, 1961 March (No. 3), bolding added for emphasis)

Latter-day Saints often paraphrase Smith’s statement as a question, “If a member of your family was shot with a gun would you wear it around your neck to remember them?” In 1975, Gordon B. Hinckley stated:

I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley”, “Chapter 8 We Look to Christ”)

Very recently, Jeffrey R. Holland attempted to explain why Latter-day Saints do not use the cross as a symbol of their faith:

As I attempt to explain why we generally do not use the iconography of the cross, I wish to make abundantly clear our deep respect and profound admiration for the faith-filled motives and devoted lives of those who do.

One reason we do not emphasize the cross as a symbol stems from our biblical roots. Because crucifixion was one of the Roman Empire’s most agonizing forms of execution, many early followers of Jesus chose not to highlight that brutal instrument of suffering. The meaning of Christ’s death was certainly central to their faith, but for some 300 years they typically sought to convey their gospel identity through other means.2

By the fourth and fifth centuries, a cross was being introduced as a symbol of generalized Christianity, but ours is not a “generalized Christianity.” Being neither Catholic nor Protestant, we are, rather, a restored church, the restored New Testament Church. Thus, our origins and our authority go back before the time of councils, creeds, and iconography.
(Jeffrey R Holland, “Lifted Up upon the Cross” October 2022 General Conference, bolding added for emphasis)

First, in his General Conference address, Elder Holland says, “…the absence of a symbol that was late coming into common use is yet another evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of true Christian beginnings.” Then, he immediately appeals to the cross in the left panel as a symbol of the price that Christ paid for us as evidence of the superiority of his “restored” church stating, “These portrayals serve as constant reminders to us of the price that was paid and the victory that was won by Him whose servants we are,” (see Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lifted Up upon the Cross”, click on the above image to view this portion of his address in context)

“Biblical Christians worship the Bible . . .”
The Book of Mormon accuses those who reject it of having a closed-minded devotion to the Bible alone: “And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (see 2 Nephi 29:3).

The argument by Latter-day Saints that Biblical Christians engage in bibliolatry is often tied to three positions:

    1. Biblical authority
    2. Biblical inerrancy
    3. Biblical sufficiency3

Jeffrey R. Holland laid out the full argument that the bibliolatry charge sets up. Namely, that the Bible is insufficient to answer all of life’s questions. Enter stage left: LDS Scripture.4

The Bible is the word of God. It is always identified first in our canon, our “standard works.” Indeed, it was a divinely ordained encounter with the fifth verse of the first chapter of the book of James that led Joseph Smith to his vision of the Father and the Son, which gave birth to the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our time. But even then, Joseph knew the Bible alone could not be the answer to all the religious questions he and others like him had. As he said in his own words, the ministers of his community were contending—sometimes angrily—over their doctrines. “Priest [was] contending against priest, and convert [was contending] against convert … in a strife of words and a contest about opinions,” he said. About the only thing these contending religions had in common was, ironically, a belief in the Bible, but, as Joseph wrote, “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question [regarding which church was true] by an appeal to the Bible.” Clearly the Bible, so frequently described at that time as “common ground,” was nothing of the kind—unfortunately it was a battleground.
(Jeffrey R Holland, “My Words . . . Never Cease” April 2008 General Conference, bolding added for emphasis)

Photography of Amelia White Young, Brigham Young’s 51st wife, wearing a cross in 1895. (credit: Utah State Historical Society Classified Photo Collection)

Does the Use of Symbols Necessarily = Idolatry?
The main thrust of this LDS polemic is that use of the cross as a Christian symbol is too late to have been part of original Christianity, and is therefore a sign of apostasy. LDS leaders tie its use to the influence of the fourth-century Roman Emperor, Constantine, whom Latter-day Saints believe introduced pagan influences to the Church.

But is the use of the cross as a symbol by Christians in fact late? Much of the argument that the cross as iconography is late is based on archaeological data that shows that the earliest artistic depictions of the crucifixion itself were not made until around 400 years after Christ’s death. But literary data shows that prior to Constantine and the Council of Nicaea, Christians were already using the cross, among others things, as a symbol of their faith. Christian historian and theologian Everett Fergusson notes, “Writings from the early church show how central the cross was to Christian preaching and confession.”5

In his letters, the apostle Paul—the earliest New Testament author—referred eleven times to the cross of Christ as symbolic of the Christian faith. Why does Paul tie persecution of Jesus’ followers to the cross (see Galatians 5:11, 6:12 & 14)—or mention enemies of the cross—if association with the cross of Christ was not an early symbol of the Christian faith?6

Latter-day Saints use various symbols to represent aspects of their belief and practice: the beehive, CTR rings, sunstones, and moonstones—statues of Moroni adorn LDS temples. Are Latter-day Saints worshipping these symbols by their use? Clearly, no. So the claim that Biblical Christians worship the cross is a myth.

Does Having a Defined Canon of Scripture = Bibliolatry?
The charge of bibliolatry, or the worship of the Bible, is an attack against those who hold to biblical authority, inerrancy, and supremacy. Those Christians who hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura will hear this charge from Latter-day Saints. As believers in revealed religion, Latter-day Saints and Biblical Christians should share some common ground with regard to the authority of Scripture.

The authority and inerrancy of Scripture derive from its divine Author. R. C. Sproul summed it up nicely:

The authority of the Bible is based on its being the written Word of God, and because the Bible is the Word of God and the God of the Bible is truth and speaks truthfully, authority is linked to inerrancy. If the Bible is the Word of God, and if God is a God of truth, then the Bible must be inerrant [ . . . ].
(R.C. Sproul, “Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine” (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2005), p.121)

Why then do Latter-day Saints attack the authority and inerrancy of the Bible? It is odd!7 By doing so, they cut off the very argument for revealed religion that they adopt when arguing for the authority of Joseph Smith from the Book of Mormon by the oft-repeated axiom “If the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s church.8

Does using a text as the basis for authority amount to worshiping that text?
Clearly not, lest the Latter-day Saints be guilty of the very charge they levy against Biblical Christians. This is another myth!

Maybe it is the fact that Biblical Christians affirm the inerrancy of the Bible that rightly brings the charge of bibliolatry. Latter-day Saints believe that an ancient prophet named Moroni wrote the title page of the Book of Mormon, and included this warning, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.” (see Title Page to The Book of Mormon). The author attributes any faults in the Book of Mormon to the mistakes of men and also implies perfection in the things of God.

Christians who hold to the inerrancy of the Bible—the divine nature of Scripture—do so on the basis of God’s absolute perfection and ability to convey His Word perfectly. They do not deny the human nature of Scripture. Sproul stated the position well:

The process of inspiration did not make the biblical writers automatons, for their books reveal differences of vocabulary, style, and other matters of variation between one human author and another. But inspiration did overcome any tendency they may have had to error, with the result that the words they wrote were precisely what God, the divine Author, intended us to have.
(Ibid. R.C. Sproul, 135)

Is it idolatrous to trust wholeheartedly in the reliability of God’s Word?
Isn’t that the equivalent of saying that leaning on God’s own trustworthiness is wrong? Surely not! Yet, another myth.

But what about the supremacy of the Bible? Are Biblical Christians engaging in idolatry when they claim that the Bible is the sole source of God’s Word? Many texts claim to be revelations from God. The Quran of Islam and the Zend-Avesta of Zoroastrianism are two ancient examples. Indeed, the LDS Church is beset by many would-be successors to Joseph Smith’s role as producer of hidden, ancient, scriptural writings.

The Book of Mormon indicates that the plates from which Joseph Smith translated had a sealed portion, and looks forward to a time when that sealed portion would be translated (see 2 Nephi 27). Individuals have stepped forward making conflicting claims to having translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon or other additional records.9

The LDS Church has not added the Quran or the Zend-Avesta to its canon. Nor does it accept the writings of other “latter-day translators.” In fact, it has from its very beginning exercised discrimination relative to the authority claims of others claiming revelations within the broader Latter-day Saint Restoration Movement (see for example the incident of Hiram Page’s seer stone recounted in Doctrine and Covenants 28).

By rejecting other would-be additions to the LDS canon of Scripture, and holding that the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are the only modern Scriptural sources of official LDS doctrine, are Latter-day Saints worshiping their canon? No. Clearly, the claim that Biblical Christians are idolaters for exercising discernment is a myth.

‘Why then do Latter-day Saints attack the authority and inerrancy of the Bible? It is odd! By doing so, they cut off the very argument for revealed religion that they adopt when arguing for the authority of Joseph Smith from the Book of Mormon by the oft-repeated axiom “If the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s church.’ (Paul Nurnberg)

How It’s a Myth
Christians wear the cross as a symbol of their faith in their Lord, Jesus Christ, who hung and died upon it—suffering death for their sins. We worship “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Revelation 5:11-14). The authority that Biblical Christians ascribe to the Bible is based on the nature and perfection of God. It is not illegitimate to appeal to God’s nature as a presupposition of the reliability of His Word. Having established that, let’s look at some of the Biblical data that supports the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of God’s Word.

When the chief priests and elders confronted Jesus for teaching in the temple and challenged his authority, Jesus told the parables of the two sons and the tenants. When his accusers rightly perceived the action the master of the vineyard would take towards the wicked tenants, Jesus appealed to the authority of the Word of God (see Matthew 21:42).

In John 10, Jesus declared the unity of himself with his Father, claiming that he will give eternal life to his sheep and that no mere human can pluck them out of his hand. He makes his identification with Deity explicit when he states that his Father gave his sheep to him, and his Father is greater than all, and no mere human is able to pluck them out of the Father’s hand. The implication of these claims of Jesus was not lost on those who heard him. When he stated, “I and my Father are one,” they picked up stones to kill him. Their reasoning is conveyed clearly by Matthew, “For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself, God.”

Jesus then cited Psalm 82 as justification for identifying himself with God, and asked his accusers: “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (see John 10:23-39).

If Scripture is necessarily errant in places because God used human authors to produce it, then we could say that Scripture could be set aside or nullified. But here the Lord Jesus declared that Scripture cannot be set aside or nullified. Jesus reminded those prepared to stone him what Scripture said and reminded them that it cannot be a mistake. As Sproul noted in the above quote, the authority of Scripture is tied to its inerrancy.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul wrote to his ministry partner that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” By use of the Greek word theopneustos (lit. “breathed out by God”), Paul highlights the divine nature of Scripture. Paul provided Timothy with the implications of that important fact. Scripture is profitable for doctrine or teaching, for reproof (the Greek word used here implies that by which disputes may be resolved), correction (restoration to an upright state or improvement of life or character), and for instruction in righteousness.

When Biblical Christians affirm the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), they highlight God’s intended role for Scripture in the life and faith of the Church as the sole God-breathed source for doctrine, teaching, correction, and instruction. They affirm the authority of Scripture because its divine Author is perfect and speaks truthfully.

Why It Matters
Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “[ . . . ] the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley”, “Chapter 8 We Look to Christ”.

Latter-day Saints are presented with a never-ending spiral staircase of attempts at obedience, sin, and repentance—followed by more attempts at full obedience. Rinse and Repeat. CTR rings remind them that their church teaches obedience as the means of salvation and exaltation. The hope is that they will eventually reach the top of the staircase and achieve exaltation (see Come Follow Me Insights – Staircase).

Don’t misunderstand what I wrote above. Obedience and sanctification are important to Biblical Christians. But obedience isn’t the means by which we are justified before God (see Romans 4:1-5) Those who believe in Him who justifies the ungodly are saved from the effects of sin and are justified by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. As Paul the Apostle wrote “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (see 1 Cor. 1:18). Paul wrote that letter and sent it to the church at Corinth well before Constantine was born. Revering the cross as the symbol of what Christ accomplished on behalf of believers is not idolatry!

The key takeaway I want my LDS readers to think about is this: In accusing Biblical Christians of idolatry for using the cross as a symbol of our faith and bibliolatry for accepting the Bible as the sole source of God’s revealed Word, the aim of LDS leaders is not to engender trust in their people in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross or trust in God’s Word in the Bible. Rather, it is a polemical device aimed at making space for LDS teaching. And LDS teaching about the cross and about the nature of Scripture is unbiblical. It leads people to place their trust in their own efforts to be obedient as the means by which they will be exalted. It leads people to question the reliability of God’s promise of salvation to those who believe on his Son (see John 6:28-29).

Summary and Conclusion
The polemic aim of these charges is to try to demonstrate that the LDS Church has a better claim to undefiled worship (no pagan influence) and a better (more complete) canon of Scriptures. These charges are myths that cut both ways. They are misrepresentations of the positions of Biblical Christians. Latter-day Saints should not perpetuate these myths if they wish others to treat their own positions with charity (see Matthew 7:12).

“An inconvenient truth is still truth” (Paul Nurnberg)

NOTES
1 The rejection of the cross by LDS leaders and the argument that its use is representative of apostasy followed a period of doctrinal development in which several influential LDS leaders, B.H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, and Joseph Fielding Smith, developed a distinctly LDS narrative of a “Great Apostasy” from the Christian faith, necessitating restoration. (see Eric R. Dursteler “Historical Periodization in the LDS Great Apostasy Narrative” in “Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy”). It is interesting to note that this period of narrative building came directly after the LDS cessation of polygamy and during the period when the LDS leaders were working to build a new identity after ceasing what had been Mormonism’s most distinctive doctrine and practice from the 1840’s through the early 1900’s. LDS leaders needed to affirm how they stood apart from broader Christianity without polygamy. During the early decades of the twentieth century, the challenge posed to the authority of LDS Church leadership by an emerging LDS Fundamentalist movement over the cessation of the practice of polygamy necessitated a narrative of apostasy and restoration that was more heavily focused on priesthood authority. That development continues to influence LDS narrative and practice today.

2 This is assumed but not supported by Holland. In his General Conference address, Lifted Up upon the Cross”, Holland recounted an anecdote in which a graduate school student asked him why Latter-day Saints do not adopt the cross as a symbol of their faith. In responding to the young person’s question, Holland recounts that he read to him passages from the Book of Mormon that touch on the cross. In his spoken remarks, Holland elicited laughter from the crowd in the Conference Center when he said, “I was about to quote the Apostle Paul when I noticed that my friend’s eyes were starting to glaze over.” That is the last time in his spoken address that Holland mentions the apostle Paul. Why? Holland goes on to argue that Latter-day Saints don’t use the cross as a symbol because it represents an admixture of pagan religion into pure Christianity, and argues:

“Being neither Catholic nor Protestant, we are, rather, a restored church, the restored New Testament Church. Thus, our origins and our authority go back before the time of councils, creeds, and iconography. In this sense, the absence of a symbol that was late coming into common use is yet another evidence that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of true Christian beginnings.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lifted Up upon the Cross”, Fall General Conference of the LDS Church) 

This argument is ludicrous for several reasons. First, Holland quoted the Book of Mormon to the graduate student and even stated his own belief that Nephi wrote about the cross 600 years before Jesus Christ lived. If the Book of Mormon really were an ancient record that would imply that there is pre-Christian literary evidence of the cross as symbolic of salvation. Citing the Book of Mormon as Holland did undercuts his own argument.

Second, in his spoken remarks, Holland ignores (except for his joke) the literary evidence provided by the letters of the apostle Paul that the cross was understood by the earliest Christian writer as symbolic of their faith in the work of Christ on the cross. Instead, Holland relegates that evidence to a footnote in the transcript of his talk. Why? Again, it doesn’t fit his agenda.

Finally, Holland is just wrong about the use of the cross as a symbol of Christian faith coming only after the time of “councils, creeds, and iconography.” But these facts don’t fit the polemic of painting the LDS Church as restored and pure Christianity and all other Christian sects and denominations as “apostate”. Inconvenient truth is still truth!

3 Although “bibliolatry” is not a term used by LDS leaders, it is one used often by online LDS apologists. The below quote from a Facebook discussion group is representative of Latter-day Saints who accuse Biblical Christians of bibliolatry:

“[Evangelicals] exalt the Bible to the level of bibliolatry: They derive their purported authority from it, they claim it is inerrant and complete, they claim it is the sole source of God’s word (Sola Scriptura). None of these claims is true.”
(Anonymized LDS Facebook user in the LDS and Biblical Christians Facebook group, link to source withheld to maintain anonymity of the commenter) 

4 In the quote cited, Holland argues that theological disagreements among Christians of Joseph Smith’s day are evidence of the need for a restoration and for new Scripture. Since Joseph Smith kicked it off, there have been at over 500 branches or denominations of the Latter Day Saint Restoration Movement (see Steven L. Shields, “Divergent Paths of the Restoration: An Encyclopedia of the Smith–Rigdon Movement” for an encyclopedic roster and descriptions of these groups) all of which disagree on key aspects of theology, such as the nature of God, locus of priesthood authority, line of succession, the scope, and authority of the Latter Day canon, and even on the nature of the restoration itself.

If one considers Holland’s argument for a brief moment, one realizes that the sword begins turning in on Holland himself. Is another restoration needed? There are some in the Latter Day Saint Restoration Movement who are calling for or claiming to lead just that, hence the constant, non-stop splintering and schisming that has led to over 500 new Latter-Day Saint denominations in just the first 192 years of the movement.

5 Everett Ferguson, “When did the cross supplant the ichthus (fish) as a symbol of the Christian faith?”, Christianity Today magazine, February 2009.

6 In addition to the apostolic era represented by Paul’s letters, other early Christian writings show widespread use of the cross as a Christian symbol. Ignatius (c. 50 AD to c. 98 – 140 AD) wrote in his Epistle to the Ephesians “Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal.” (Philip Schaff, ed. “The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection,” London, England: Catholic Way Publishing. 2014. Kindle Edition.).

In the already cited article, Everett Fergusson notes:

Justin Martyr, a Christian apologist writing in the 150s–160s, argued that God had providentially put the shape of the cross in everyday objects, such as the masts of ships, tools like the plough and the axe, and the standards of Roman legions. Christians would often pray standing up with their arms stretched out in the form of a cross. As early as the 200s, Christians were making the sign of the cross with their hands. The cross was so important that pagans charged Christians with worshipping the cross.
( Ibid, Ferguson, “When did the cross supplant the ichthus (fish) as a symbol of the Christian faith?”

Justin also saw the shape of the cross built into human anatomy formed by the forehead and the nose and related this to Lamentations 4:20 “The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed, was captured in their pits, of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow, we shall live among the nations.’”

The Epistle of Barnabas dated from internal evidence (16.3-4) after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 but before the Bar Kokhba revolt in AD 132 argues that baptism and the cross were prefigured in Psalm 1. Of the Psalmist, Barnabas states:

“Mark how He has described at once both the water and the cross. For these words imply, Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water; for, says He, they shall receive their reward in due time: then He declares, I will recompense them.”
(Ibid, Schaff, ed. “The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection,”, bolding added for emphasis) 

Tertullian, writing To the Nations (Ad Nationes) in approximately AD 197 juxtaposes the symbols of Roman religion with the wearing of simple unadorned cross necklaces:

“Your victories you celebrate with religious ceremony as deities; and they are the more august in proportion to the joy they bring you. The frames on which you hang up your trophies must be crosses: these are, as it were, the very core of your pageants. Thus, in your victories, the religion of your camp makes even crosses objects of worship; your standards it adores, your standards are the sanction of its oaths; your standards it prefers before Jupiter himself. But all that parade of images, and that display of pure gold, are (as so many) necklaces of the crosses. In like manner also, in the banners and ensigns, which your soldiers guard with no less sacred care, you have the streamers (and) vestments of your crosses. You are ashamed, I suppose, to worship unadorned and simple crosses.”
(Ibid, Schaff, ed. “The Church Fathers. The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection”, bolding added for emphasis)

7 Both of the myths covered in this article are perpetuated by Latter-day Saints not because the positions of Biblical Christians are wrong or fallacious. Rather, the arguments are made to make room for LDS positions. The argument against inerrancy is not made because the argument from God’s nature as a speaker only of truth breaks down. Instead, Latter-day Saints argue against inerrancy because the teaching of the Book of Mormon about the Bible does not allow them to adopt the position. If a Latter-day Saint were to affirm the position of inerrancy, they would be contradicting what the Title Page of the Book of Mormon says about the nature of Scripture and inspiration.

8 See, for example, Thomas S. Monson, “You Can Know It Is True,”

9 Just to name a few: Christopher Nemelka has published The Sealed Portion – The Final Testament of Jesus Christ, and claims to have received the Urim and Thummim by which he translated the sealed plates; Mauricio Berger claims that on April 6, 2007, the angel Raphael led him to the summit of a hill and led him to pray, upon doing which, he was visited by the Angel Moroni who gave him the plates, the interpreters, and the sword of Laban—his published The Sealed Book of Mormon claims to be a translation from the Plates of Mormon; Matthew Gill claims that at the age of twelve, he was visited by the angel Moroni and told that he would one day complete a mission like that of Joseph Smith—many years later he claims that the angel Raphael delivered to him many revelations as well as The Chronicles of the Children of Araneck: A Further Testimony of Jesus Christ & A Record of the Early Inhabitants of the British Isles.

About the Author
Paul Nurnberg was born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. He served a two-year proselytizing mission for the LDS Church in Hungary. After converting to Biblical Christianity, he studied at Cincinnati Christian University. He holds a M.Div. in Biblical Studies and a BBA from Thomas More University where he graduated summa cum laude. He is a member of Lakeside Christian Church in Kentucky, which belongs to the Independent Christian Churches / Churches of Christ, which has roots in the American Restoration Movement. He has enjoyed a long career in the health insurance industry, and since 2019 has produced the podcast, Outer Brightness: From Mormon to Jesus. He has been happily married to his best friend, Angela, for 22 years. They have five children and three dogs.

The Chosen Season 3 Official Trailer. The scene in question starts @1:29.

Concerns About “The Chosen: Season 3 Official Trailer”

by Fred W. Anson
Introduction
A week ago The Chosen broadcast series posted its official Season 3 trailer. At the one minute, twenty-nine second mark a scene starts in which the actor playing Jesus Christ says, “I am the Law of Moses”. And with those words the Internet, erupted in a hail of words with one side denouncing all or part of The Chosen and its creator/producer/showrunner Dallas Jenkins and the one side defending both. 

I find myself in the middle because let’s face it, none of us (including me) have seen the final version of the scene yet and we don’t, therefore, know the full and complete context for this line. Who knows, given the context of the full scene perhaps this line is perfectly fine. However, that said, just taken at face value, it is extremely problematic. This article explains why. 

That said, I must add, that fanning the fire has been The Chosen team’s weak canned response to inquiries from myself and others regarding the question which thus far has been as follows: 

“Jesus does not say he’s the law of Moses in the Book of Mormon (which Dallas hasn’t read), nor does he use those exact words in Scripture (like most things he says in the show). But either way, Dallas wrote the line for two reasons: one, he thought it was really cool and the kind of thing Jesus could say in response; and two, it’s theologically plausible. He’s the Word, he’s the Creator, he’s the Law.”
(see screenshots included elsewhere in this article) 

This article is, in fact, an expanded (though more tightly edited and polished) version of my own reply to this less-than-satisfactory explanation. I hope that it helps brings clarity to this situation, as well as an impetus to The Chosen team to rectify this problem before this particular episode airs. 

Why This is a Problem
Some have suggested that Jesus saying “I am the Law of Moses” isn’t much of a problem at all – a molehill, not a mountain. Here’s why it is, in fact, the latter:

1) It’s not only unbiblical, it’s utterly unbiblical – foreign in word and concept.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus say this and neither do the Apostles, the Old Testament Prophets nor the Patriarchs – up to and including Moses Himself in the Torah. This is true both explicitly AND implicitly. It can be found nowhere in the Bible in either word or in concept, it is a teaching that is totally and completely foreign to the Bible.

So why then is Mr. Jenkins putting words in the mouth of The Chosen’s Christ when there is no biblical support or justification for it? It raises some real issues about Dallas Jenkins’ commitment to biblical fidelity, doesn’t it? Does this mean that we can expect to see more “missteps” like this going forward? That is more speculative theology that has utterly no basis in biblical reality?

Time will only tell.

2) Taken to its logical conclusion it teaches another gospel and another Jesus.
The Chosen team’s explanation for the line in their canned response to inquiries on it is as follows,

“Dallas wrote the line for two reasons: one, he thought it was really cool and the kind of thing Jesus could say in response; and two, it’s theologically plausible. He’s the Word, he’s the Creator, he’s the Law.”

This flippant, dismissive (one might even say adolescent) justification is fraught with big theological problems. Yes, we readily acknowledge and accept the fact that the Bible does say that Christ is the Word (Greek: “logos” meaning “word,” “reason,” or “plan” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica), and He is the Creator just as John 1 so clearly states:

John 1 KJV
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

However, again, nowhere does the Bible state that Jesus Christ is the Law of Moses, because, plainly stated, biblically speaking He’s not, never was, and never will be. Rather, both the words of the Bible and Christ Himself are quite clear that He was both under the Mosiac Law and fulfilled the Law of Moses so that He might redeem those who were likewise born under it by living a sinless life and atoning for our sin by redeeming us with through His sacrificial death. This isn’t just some guy on the Internet’s opinion it is precisely and explicitly what the Bible says:

Galatians 4:4-5 KJV
“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

Luke 24:44 KJV
‘And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.’

Furthermore, theologically, to say that Jesus is the Law of Moses doesn’t just run counter to that, it means that disobeying the Law of Moses in whole or in part is a form of rejecting Christ Himself in part or in whole as well. This is fraught with theological problems and the potential for heresy – such as the intermingling of Mosaic Law and the gospel that Paul so boldly and directly denounced as heresy in the book of Galatians (as well as Romans, Ephesians, and other New Testament books) and that the other Apostles echoed Paul in doing so in their own New Testament books. Or, as Bryan Catherman on the “Salty Believer” website said so well: 

‘Now, the Bible does say Jesus is the Word, the revelation of the living God to his creation (John 1:1), but that is by no means the same as suggesting Jesus is the Law. Jesus is not the Law. There is a clear contrast between the Old and the New Covenants. There is a compelling difference between the Law that “came along to multiply the trespass” and the grace reigning “through righteousness, resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).’
(Bryan Catherman, “Jesus Is the Law of Moses? Did The Chosen Get This Right?”

And Lutheran Theologian Steven Paulson, referring to neither The Chosen nor the Book of Mormon, was even more expansive when he said:

“Luther in his …Galatians Commentary …directly asserts, ‘Christ is not the Law…Christ is not my work.’ Much earlier in this sermon from 1 Timothy, he makes the same assertion, but he also adds in case we are in need of clarification, “The Holy Spirit is not the Law nor vice versa.” God is not the Law nor vice versa.

Therefore, the proper use of the Law consists of not introducing it where it does not belong. To understand this use rightly, you must divide man into two parts and make a sharp distinction between both, namely, the old and the new, as Paul divided them [e.g., Eph. 4:22-24]. Leave the new man completely unentangled by laws; urge the old man ceaselessly with laws and give him no rest from them. Then you have used the Law properly and well. The new man cannot at all be helped by works; he must have something higher, namely, Christ, who is not a law or a work but a gift and present, nothing but grace and mercy of God…”
(Steve D. Paulson, “LW 56, 105, 106-107 Sermons III 1 Timothy 1:8-11”)

And, ironically, this “blurring of the lines” that these authors are warning us about is the very false gospel that the Book of Mormon teaches, as Pam Hanvey summarized so nicely in her classic article on the topic:

‘The Book of Mormon claims to be, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” but when it is put to the test, the gospel it embodies is nothing more than a man made concoction of of law mixed with grace; a tainted gospel that is condemned by the Apostle Paul.

In Galatians 5:4 (AKJV) Paul writes, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.” He reiterates his point in Romans 4:13-14 (KJV), “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.”’
(Pam Hanvey (writing as “Marie Johnson”), “The Bible v. The Book of Mormon Gospel”)

So the fact that Dallas Jenkins and his staff could or would call this statement from The Chosen’s Jesus “theologically plausible” and “really cool and the kind of thing Jesus could say” is extremely troubling, to say the least. 

3) While it’s never taught in the Bible, it is taught in the Book of Mormon
The biggest question for many folks, especially those with concerns about Dallas Jenkin’s affiliation with Mormons and the LdS Church, is this: Why is The Chosen’s Christ teaching something that is in The Book of Mormon but not the Bible? Does this subtle shift represent the long-feared syncretism of Biblical Christianity with Mormonism that some of The Chosen’s more brazen critics have been warning would eventually manifest on the screen given Mr. Jenkins’ oft-questioned alliance with Mormons and their church? 

Even more concerning is that when I and others have contacted The Chosen team on their Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/InsideTheChosen) this is the canned, boilerplate response that we received on this point:

“Jesus does not say he’s the law of Moses in the Book of Mormon (which Dallas hasn’t read)”.

Respectfully, friends, this is the kind of manipulative deflection and obfuscation that preys on the presumed ignorance of the other party that those of us in Mormon Studies see pretty much non-stop from rank-and-file Mormon Apologists. Stated plainly, given the Book of Mormon source (3 Nephi 15:9) in its full and complete context this statement is simply not true. That is “I am the Law of Moses” is indeed exactly what the Book of Mormon Jesus is saying when he says the shortened version “I am the law” in the Book of Mormon. If you doubt me, here is that passage for your consideration: 

3 Nephi 15
2 And it came to pass that when Jesus had said these words he perceived that there were some among them who marveled, and wondered what he would concerning the law of Moses; for they understood not the saying that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.

3 And he said unto them: Marvel not that I said unto you that old things had passed away, and that all things had become new.

4 Behold, I say unto you that the law is fulfilled that was given unto Moses.

5 Behold, I am he that gave the law, and I am he who covenanted with my people Israel; therefore, the law in me is fulfilled, for I have come to fulfil the law; therefore it hath an end.

6 Behold, I do not destroy the prophets, for as many as have not been fulfilled in me, verily I say unto you, shall all be fulfilled.

7 And because I said unto you that old things have passed away, I do not destroy that which hath been spoken concerning things which are to come.

8 For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses hath an end in me.

9 Behold, I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live; for unto him that endureth to the end will I give eternal life.

10 Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me.

What’s more, the declaration that Dallas Jenkins hasn’t read the Book of Mormon is relevant how exactly? The fact of the matter is that he is citing from the Book of Mormon – be it intentionally or accidentally.  Christians in Mormon Studies who know the Book of Mormon saw the connection immediately and it gave us all pause – a big, long, stunned pause as in, “Did he really, really, really just say that?” And, yes, he did! 

So if Dallas Jenkins really, really, really wanted to hand those in Mormon Studies (and this author, for the record, has not been one of them, I have been a public supporter since Season 1) who have been concerned about his cozy relationship with the LdS Church and its members, bullets to snipe at The Chosen with, then it’s Mission Accomplished! Well done, Mr. Jenkins, well done indeed, your most vocal critics are locked, loaded, and ready to go – and they’ll be yelling, “Thanks for the free ammo, bro!” when they go full “Bonnie and Clyde” on y’all. 

But let’s back up and get “real” here, are they seriously telling us that the Mormons on The Chosen team, didn’t point all this out to him? Really? Seriously? Please paint me skeptical. Those of us who know and understand how Mormon Culture works, know better and we know that “small” details like quotes from the Book of Mormon in popular media are almost never missed by Latter-day Saints – heck they’ll even eisegete them into things if they need to! This is especially incredulous when you consider the fact that the official 2020 LdS Church Home Ministry manual “Come Follow Me” has a lesson entitled, “September 21–27. 3 Nephi 12–16: “I Am the Law, and the Light” in it which references the 3 Nephi 15:9 passage directly: 

“Like the law of Moses, this law points us to Christ—the only One who can save and perfect us. “Behold,” He said, “I am the law, and the light. Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live” (3 Nephi 15:9).”
(LdS Church, “September 21–27. 3 Nephi 12–16: “I Am the Law, and the Light”, in the “Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Book of Mormon 2020″ manual) 

So, I call either baloney – or at least, “major fail” – on Mr. Jenkins’ Mormon friends and colleagues. You all win the tallest Dundie in the box, for the biggest fumble of Season 3 so far.  So if y’all are wondering who provided that hell storm of live rounds that you’re now seeing coming from the Biblical Christian side of the divide came from, you keep just go look in a mirror and you’ll find the culprit. Self-inflicted wounds are the worst, aren’t they Team Chosen?   

4) Regardless of whether or not The Book of Mormon was the source for this line or not, this raises serious questions about the soundness of Dallas Jenkins’ theology in general.
Dallas Jenkins claims that his scripts are vetted by a panel of Christians from various traditions and denominations prior to being shot. If that’s true then how in the world did they not catch a rather blatant misstep into an area of theological speculation that is as unbiblical and fraught with problems as this one?

Now if The Chosen Jesus had said to the Pharisee in the scene, “I am here to fulfill the Law of Moses” (or something like that) we wouldn’t be having this conversation because that’s biblical. But he didn’t, he is teaching a false gospel from The Book of Mormon instead, isn’t he? Mr. Jenkins and team, how could you all not see that would be a major problem? Why didn’t you woodcraft this line so that it was biblical rather than a squirming can of worms? 

And trust me, I know them well, the Biblical Christians are going to be howling about this if the rest of the scene in the final cut that actually airs, doesn’t remediate this major misstep somehow. It ain’t gonna get better, Team Chosen, it’s gonna get worse! In fact, even I may be withdrawing my long-held support of The Chosen and joining your critics in denouncing it as, minimally, theologically compromised, and, maximally, tainted with Mormon heresies. Team Chosen, I am not going to sit idly by while Dallas Jenkins allows Mormon dogma slowly begin to infect and degrade what to this point has been, at least in my opinion, a biblically sound television series. 

So, I highly recommend and would politely and respectfully (but pointedly) suggest that you all fix this before this episode of Season 3 drops. And, no, that doesn’t mean yet another long-winded rambling post-show “rap” from Dallas explaining why “it’s all OK after it, kids!” airs that we all now just roll our eyes at (that tactic has “played”, Mr. Jenkins, please stop – more walk less talk, please!).

That means that it needs to be fixed in post-production before it goes “gold”, like that. No, it’s cheap; no, it’s not easy; but, yes, it’s the right thing to do. And if you do, I can assure you that I will continue to support, and even defend, The Chosen TV series despite the misgivings about Mr. Jenkins’ theology and judgment that I have had for some time despite my great love for the screen product that he has given us. 

Again, and to sum it all up, if it’s true that Dallas Jenkins hasn’t read The Book of Mormon then putting these words into the mouth of Jesus raises some real issues about just how theologically sound Dallas Jenkins is and just how much discernment this showrunner who claims to hold to biblical orthodoxy actually possesses. If so, does this “ball drop” mean that we can expect to see more facepalm moments like this going forward? More really, really, really bad theology that has no biblical basis or justification at all, is that what we should expect from The Chosen? 

Time will only tell.

Friends, this is a problem. A big problem. And, with all due respect, Mr. Jenkins you need to fix it.

Now. 

Screenshot of the trailer at the exact time when the actor playing Christ says, “I am The Law of Moses” (@1:42).

 

APPENDIX 1: My Direct Message Session With The Chosen Staff on Their Facebook Page
Here are the screenshots of my direct message conversation with The Chosen staff on 2022-10-22 for the record – typos and all. Click on the images to zoom them if you are still having trouble reading them. If you’re on a small-screen mobile device (like a phone or tablet) turn it sideways into “landscape” mode as well. 

This was The Chosen team’s final response to all my concerns and my reasons for them.

APPENDIX 2: Why the Term “Canned Response” Isn’t Hyperbole
For those who may be of the opinion that my use of the term “canned response” was hyperbolic, here’s another example of it from another person on Facebook (name redacted upon request) who received the exact same response from The Chosen team that I did. We are two such examples of this, but others have confirmed that they too received exactly the same response as well. 

Another example of The Chosen’s canned DM response whenever queried about this issue via Facebook Messenger.

APPENDIX 3: The Exact Time in the Trailer Where It’s Said
At the end of the article is a screenshot of the Season 3 Trailer at the exact timestamp @1:42 where The Chosen Christ says, “I am the Law of Moses”. The quoted text has been added to this screen capture by this author because the YouTube closed caption and subtitling systems weren’t working for this video when it was screen captured on 2002-10-23 at approximately 2:15PM US Pacific time. You can click on the image or the link on the timestamp in the image caption to validate all this.

 
 
 
We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse”

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”
(Romans 1:20 NKJV)

by Matthew D. Eklund
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
“The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.”

Why It’s a Myth
Few topics ignite people’s imagination, fear, or indignation as the historic Christian understanding of hell. It has been understood as a place of torment for sinners without mercy or reprieve which endures for all time and eternity. The view of hell from the perspective of the teachings of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (hereafter LDS) differs significantly from that of the historic Christian understanding of hell; they have a temporary hell which is called “Spirit Prison” for those who died over the age of accountability (8 years old) and had not yet accepted the LDS “restored gospel.”  and a permanent hell for those who rejected the Plan of Salvation in the pre-mortal council in heaven or for those who commit the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost.1

There are two presumptions involved with this myth that must be addressed:

  1. People, even those who have not heard the gospel, are (or may be) good.
  2. It would be unjust for God to send people to hell who have not heard the gospel.

A logical syllogism2 can be made for these presumptions:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the law, they are not held responsible for breaking that law.
Premise 2: If someone is not held responsible for breaking that law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the law, they should not be punished for breaking that law.

A second related one can be made:

Premise 1: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are innocent of breaking any laws.
Premise 2: If someone is innocent of breaking any laws, they are good.
Conclusion: If someone is ignorant of the entirety of the law, they are good.

Before introducing the Christian understanding of hell, these presumptions should be addressed on a logical and experiential basis. As for the first syllogism, is the first premise true, i.e., if someone is ignorant of the law, are they not to be held responsible for breaking that law? This would mean that an act is only immoral if it is committed with the full knowledge and recognition that it is immoral.

Let’s step back and use the analogy of man-made laws as they relate to God’s law since sin is essentially the breaking of God’s law, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4, NKJV). If someone were ignorant of either the law or the means to escape the punishment for their crimes against the law, does that automatically make someone innocent when they are found breaking the law? For example, if someone didn’t see a speed limit sign on a stretch of road and significantly exceeded the speed limit, does their oversight render them innocent of breaking the traffic code? No; their ignorance does not make them innocent. A crime is a crime whether one knows what they are doing is a crime or not. Perhaps law enforcement would choose to show mercy and abstain from issuing a ticket or arresting such a person for breaking the law based on those circumstances, but they have every right to enforce the law by punishing the perpetrator accordingly. It would hardly make the law enforcement officer a “monster” for giving a person the ticket.

Let’s examine the second syllogism. It seems reasonable that if one were ignorant of all of the laws that are in force, not just a few of them, such a person would be innocent. Imagine a traveler to a secluded island that had been completely cut off from any outside contact. He is completely unaware of any of the laws that have been enforced on that island. Perhaps the inhabitants of the island would also show mercy to the man if he were to break their laws. But, as with the previous example of someone who broke the speed limit, if the inhabitants of the island chose to enforce their laws, as sovereigns of that island, they would be fully in their rights to enforce those laws if they chose to do so. Even if that were not the case and it would be immoral for them to enforce their laws on a traveler who is ignorant of their culture, expectations, laws, and social norms. So, is that the case for mankind and God’s laws as well? That is what will now be addressed.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.”
(Psalm 19, NKJV)

How It’s a Myth
Romans is a beautiful and masterful work crafted by the apostle Paul. He starts by explaining that even those who do not believe in God know that there is a God because “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:19-20, NKJV). What is made known to all men? According to Paul here, all men know of God’s “eternal power” and “Godhead” (sometimes translated as “divine nature” as in the English Standard Version or New American Standard Bible). Now that we know what is revealed to men, how is it revealed to them? Paul says God has revealed these attributes to man: “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19, NKJV) and this has been done “since the creation of the world…by the things that are made.”  Through creation itself, God reveals his eternal power and divinity.  And how does this knowledge affect mankind? We are, as Paul declares, “without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV).

We don’t have a reason to claim we didn’t know at least the existence of God, even if we don’t know much about him. Sure, there are many who claim they either know or strongly believe there is a lack of evidence for such a being, but Scripture witnesses that such people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, NKJV). This could be knowingly or unknowingly; when men refuse to acknowledge the existence of God who has made himself known to them in creation, they are rejecting that truth that has been given to all people everywhere. This agrees with the Psalmist who declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1, NKJV) Heaven is the canvas of God’s masterful art, and in every sunset, every constellation, every strand of DNA, we see the paint strokes from the master Artist.

As if this weren’t enough, Paul continues this topic in chapter 2 of Romans to show that man is not only without excuse as to knowing there is a God, but we are also without excuse to knowing at least some of God’s laws.3 Here, he is criticizing Israelites who boast of having been given God’s laws through Moses and the other prophets in the Torah (law) of the Old Testament. Paul extols the unbelieving nations, the Gentiles, who seek to follow at least some of God’s laws (whether protecting life, respecting ownership of property, or whatever law that may be).

Paul says that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2:14-15, NKJV).

Even Gentiles who had never heard of Moses, the Torah, the creation narrative in Genesis, the Messiah, or anything related to the laws given to Israel, do what is right by the dictates of their consciences. Paul says they do this because men show evidence of “the work of the law written in their hearts.” This is the conscience God gave to man in the beginning, and though it is imperfect due to the fall, a portion of that law written on our ancestors’ hearts still exists in the soul of man everywhere (what Latter-day Saints would call the “light of Christ”). One need only consider the universality of The Golden Rule (“…you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” Leviticus 19:18, NKJV) across cultures to see this:4

Ancient Egypt: “Now this is the command: Do to the doer to make him do.”
(The Eloquent Peasant” c. 2040–1650 BCE)

Ancient India: “Do not do to others what you know has hurt yourself.”
(Kural 316 from “Book of Virtue of the Tirukkuṛa”, c. 1st century BCE to 5th century CE)

Ancient Greece: “Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.”
(Thales, c. 624–c. 546 BCE)

Thus, no man anywhere is completely ignorant of all of God’s laws; our consciences prick us at one point or another when we do not do that which is lawful according to the dictates of God’s moral law. The second syllogism then falls apart in premise 1. Thus, Paul can say in chapter 3 of Romans, “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, NKVJ) and “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).

“Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.”
(Deuteronomy 10:4, NKJV)

Why It Matters
Having established that none can claim ignorance of the existence of God and of God’s laws, does this not destroy the first premises of both of the syllogisms I presented above? There is no one who is truly and completely innocent of the knowledge of God and his laws, and so to use this as evidence that God is “a monster who sends good people to hell” is incorrect since it has been sufficiently shown that none are good nor are they ignorant or innocent. That is, how can God be a “monster” for exercising justice against anyone when that person is guilty of breaking the very law that He has woven into His creation?

But why does this matter? This shows us that we are sinful creatures. We cannot hope to stand innocent before God based on our works. We cannot be righteous by what we do in terms of trying to keep God’s law by our own gumption and best efforts. And shaking our fists at God for executing justice against those who deserve punishment won’t fix the problem, either. God is fully just and right to punish those who break his law as he sees fit, and he has declared that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23, NKJV).

However, there is a “but” that follows this statement from Paul. The sentence reads, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NKJV) Thankfully, God has revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and passed down to us through the Christian faith and the Holy Scriptures the ‘good news of the gospel. God has not left all of mankind in this condemned state. He extends his arms open to anyone who will simply turn away from their sins and trust in Christ to rescue them from their sinful state. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) This is the only way to escape eternal death and punishment for our sins against God.

And I pray each one who reads this article will do so, trusting in nothing they can do or offer to God, but that they simply do as Abraham did: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3, NKJV). He was justified (declared innocent and righteous) because the righteousness of Christ was credited to him “apart from works” (Romans 4:6, NKJV). And this is the only way we can become completely and wholly righteous before God, standing before him at the judgment in the stainless, seamless, glorious righteousness of Jesus given to us.

But this, of course, always leads to the nagging question, “That’s good news for those who have heard of the glorious news of this gift of God and have received eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, but what about those who haven’t?” Well, first, looking at Christian Church history, this burning question above all else, has driven Christian Missionaries since the ascension of Christ in glory. As Paul says so well elsewhere in Romans:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”’ (Romans 10:14-15, NKJV)

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him,”
(Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV)

Second, as Theologian, R.C. Sproul points out:

“The New Testament makes it clear that people will be judged according to the light that they have. All the elements of the Old Testament Law are not known by people living in remote parts of the world. But we read that they do have a law “written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15). They are judged by the law they do not know and are found wanting. No one keeps the ethic he has even if he invents it himself….

Thus if a person in a remote area has never heard of Christ, he will not be punished for that. What he will be punished for is the rejection of the Father of whom he has heard and for the disobedience to the law that is written on his heart. Again, we must remember that people are not rejected for what they haven’t heard but for what they have heard.”
(R.C. Sproul, “Objections answered”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus, God will be both just and equitable in His final judgment, we have His word on it. The Bible says that it is both, “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NKJV) and, “(… the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves, their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:15-16, NKJV) and the Bible is also clear that on their own all men will fail at this.

So, now let’s compare what the witness from God as we have seen directly from the pages of the Bible with what Joseph Smith had to say about hell. He says of those deserving of everlasting condemnation, the ‘sons of perdition,’ the following:

“All sins shall be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy… You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance: they make open war like the Devil, and awful is the consequence.”
(Joseph Smith Jr. (Joseph Fielding Smith, compiler), “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Thus we see that Joseph Smith asserted that the only ones destined for “hell” are those who had a nearly perfect knowledge of not simply the existence of God, but also a nearly perfect knowledge of Christ and his work and of the truthfulness of the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This places those who consider Joseph Smith a true prophet in a dilemma: do they believe the Bible, or do they believe Joseph Smith? Do they choose God’s truth, or do we choose something that sounds more comforting but, in reality, isn’t biblical? If you find yourself in this dilemma I urge you to be reconciled to what the Word of God has to say on the topic and reject the erroneous teachings of Joseph Smith.

Summary and Conclusion
The argument that “God is a monster who sends good people to hell” is typically based on faulty argumentation. It assumes that people are good, innocent, and/or should not be held accountable for breaking God’s laws. Scripture states that, due to the fall of mankind, we are not by nature good, innocent, or guiltless before God if left to ourselves. Neither can we become good by our works according to God’s law because we cannot obey it perfectly. It is only by trusting in God in Jesus Christ, turning away from our sins, and not resting on our own good works to make us righteous before God that we may be declared justified (innocent or righteous) before him.

“God has so clearly, clearly manifested Himself ever since the creation of the world, through everything that is made, that you can never use ignorance as an excuse before God.”
(R.C. Sproul, “All Are Without Excuse”)

NOTES
1 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Hell,” Guide to the Scriptures.

2 A “syllogism” can be defined as “a process of logic in which two general statements lead to a more particular statement” (see Cambridge Dictionary, see “syllogism”). That definition may not really be that helpful, so I’ll try to offer a simpler one. With a syllogism, two premises are presented which lead to a conclusion. The conclusion is only true if both premises are also true; if one or both premises are not true or are not logically sound, then the conclusion need not necessarily follow. One form of syllogism, the hypothetical syllogism, says that if “A” is true, then “B.” If “B” is true, then “C.” The conclusion is, then, that if “A” is true, then “C” is true. This is the type of syllogism used in this article.

3 Throughout Romans 2 and elsewhere, Paul refers to “law.” It is common in my experience for LDS to point to Paul’s references of “law” as referring only to the law given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (and usually they further limit this to the ceremonial laws, animal sacrifices, other temple sacrifices and ritual cleanliness, etc.).

Thus, in so limiting Paul’s use of “law” to an outdated law, it is understood that God condemns seeking righteousness by laws that are no longer in force while allowing for seeking righteousness by the laws of God employed in the “new and everlasting covenant.” This ultimately results in rejection of justification by grace alone through faith alone as has been taught throughout church history and most clearly made known since the Protestant Reformation.

If their explanation were the case, then they may have a good reason to question why all people everywhere are judged guilty by a law that is no longer in force. Certainly, parts of the law given to Israel no longer apply.

But much does still apply, namely, the moral laws taught in the 10 Commandments. This is evident when Paul, returning to Romans 2, asks those who claim to rest in the law and their law keeping as their righteousness before God, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:21-23, NKJV). Paul here refers explicitly to the eighth commandment against stealing, the seventh commandment against adultery, and the second commandment against idols. He seems to be indicating these are moral principles that are still in force for Israelites today.

Not only that, this is the same law by which Gentiles “who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law” (Romans 2:14, NKJV) when they are following the dictates of their consciences. There is no evidence to suggest that these Gentiles were spontaneously choosing to circumcise their infant boys, offer animal sacrifices according to Torah law, or any other ceremonial component of the law of Moses. But if that is what Paul meant by “law” throughout Romans, then that is what Paul would be speaking of here. However, the more consistent explanation is that Paul was not using the word “law” to strictly speak of the ceremonial law of Moses; the Gentiles were obeying their consciences in regard to the moral law of God, the law by which all men everywhere will be judged.

For a scholarly treatise on the moral, ceremonial, and civil/judicial distinctions in the law of Moses as understood in the Reformed tradition and earlier, I recommend reading, “From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law” by Philip S. Ross.

4 These examples are from Wikipedia, “Golden Rule”. The “Got Questions” website also cites these examples from the Orient that are just as enlightening:

Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you”
(Analects 15:23)

Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you”
(Mahabharata 5:1517)

Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful”
(Udanavarga 5:18)

About the Author
Matthew D. Eklund was born and grew up in northern Utah. He has one sister, one half-brother, and 11 step-siblings. He served as a full-time LDS missionary to France and Belgium as a French-speaking missionary. He returned home and earned several degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Nuclear Engineering at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah, and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. During his doctoral studies in New York, he resigned from the LDS faith in 2017. He started attending a Reformed Baptist church outside of Albany, New York which holds to the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. There in 2019, he was baptized as an Evangelical Protestant Christian and became a member of that congregation of believers. At that church, he met his future wife, Rebekah. They now live in Idaho Falls, Idaho where Matthew is a researcher at Idaho National Laboratory.

Biblical Christians fully acknowledge the one-ness and  the three-ness of God

A detail from Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, “Battesimo di Cristo (The Baptism of Christ)”, c.1475. Please note how this allegedly “apostate” artist has clearly depicted the three persons of the Trinity as distinct.

by Paul Nurnberg
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

This meme illustrates how this myth is typically used in popular culture by Mormons.

The Myth
To illustrate how this myth is typically used by Latter-day Saints, I have included a well-known Mormon meme that pops up on Social Media from time to time. It shows how Latter-day Saints will often use critiques they believe to be silver bullets that debunk the doctrine of the Trinity when, in fact, they are nothing more than contrived strawman arguments. The myth being addressed here isn’t the only one of these, but it’s probably the most common.

So, where do Latter-day Saints get the incorrect idea that Biblical Christians who affirm the doctrine of the Trinity believe that Jesus was praying to himself when he lifted his voice in prayer to the Father?

Gordon B. Hinckley said the following:

“I am aware that Jesus said that they who had seen Him had seen the Father. Could not the same be said by many a son who resembles his parent?

When Jesus prayed to the Father, certainly He was not praying to Himself!

They are distinct beings, but they are one in purpose and effort. They are united as one in bringing to pass the grand, divine plan for the salvation and exaltation of the children of God.”
— Gordon B. Hinckley
(“The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” October 1986 General Conference, bolding added for emphasis)

LDS leaders often appeal to Joseph Smith’s First Vision as the reason they teach that the Father and the Son are distinct beings (see, for example, N. Eldon Tanner’s “The Contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith”).

Some LDS leaders, Smith included, seek to make the case on biblical grounds:

“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. If this is in accordance with the New Testament, lo and behold! we have three Gods anyhow, and they are plural; and who can contradict it?”
— Joseph Smith, Jr.
(quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” Section VI, 370, bolding added for emphasis)

More recently, Jeffrey R. Holland attempted to make the case that the Latter-day Saints hold to a more biblical view of the Godhead than Biblical Christians do:

“Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”

So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post–New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself…

To whom was Jesus pleading so fervently all those years, including in such anguished cries as “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”? To acknowledge the scriptural evidence that otherwise perfectly united members of the Godhead are nevertheless separate and distinct beings is not to be guilty of polytheism; it is, rather, part of the great revelation Jesus came to deliver concerning the nature of divine beings.”
— Jeffrey R. Holland
(“The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent” in October 2007 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bolding added for emphasis, ellipses added for the sake of brevity)

Why It’s a Myth
Biblical Christians agree with Latter-day Saints that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons. On biblical grounds, we disagree that this means they are three Gods. The three-in-one nature of God means that when the incarnate Son prayed to the Father, he was praying to a distinct person. Latter-day Saints fail to acknowledge that the three-ness of God in the doctrine of the Trinity is a true distinction of persons.

Holland wants to give the impression that the LDS view of a Godhead is the doctrine of God taught by Jesus and his apostles. In his attempt, he abused his source, making it look like it concedes more than it does.1 Biblical Christians affirm the doctrine of the Trinity primarily on the basis of the biblical data; not solely because of the creeds of Nicaea and Constantinople. It is precisely this point that Harper’s Bible Dictionary makes. Directly following the lone sentence Holland quoted from the concluding paragraph of the Trinity entry, one finds the following qualification:

“Nevertheless, the discussion above and especially the presence of trinitarian formulas in 2 Cor. 13:14 (which is strikingly early) and Matt. 28:19 indicate that the origin of this mode of thought may be found very early in Christian history.”
— Thomas R. W. Longstaff, Ph.D.
(“The Trinity” in “Harper’s Bible Dictionary”, Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. Harper & Row. San Francisco, 1985, pp. 1098-1099)

Joseph Smith’s “Sermon in the Grove” that I quoted above was delivered in Nauvoo, Illinois on June 16, 1844, just eleven days before he was killed. Later in the same sermon, he quoted from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17, specifically vv. 9 and 11b. Then, after polemically mutilating the doctrine of the Trinity, Smith told his audience that he wanted to read them the text of John 17 for himself. He paraphrased verse 21, claiming that the Greek should be translated “agree” instead of “one.”

The Greek word translated “one” in this verse is from the root heis; the Greek word for the cardinal numeral “one.” In the 345 times that it is used in the Greek New Testament, it never means “agree” as Smith claimed (see Bill Mounce’s Biblical Greek Concordance and Dictionary). Of the seven times the English word “agree” is found in the KJV, it is most often translated from the Greek verb symphōneō (“agree”). Further, Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible does not change heis to “agree” at John 17:21, as Smith attempted to do in his sermon (see John 17:21 in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible)

Smith was not only wrong about the meaning of the Greek in John 17, but also wrong about the implication of that chapter for the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t take seriously the myriad biblical passages that declare that God is one.

Pietro Perugino, “The Baptism of Christ”, c.1482. Again, please note how this allegedly “apostate” artist has clearly depicted the three persons of the Trinity as distinct.

Hinckley gave a nod to a biblical passage that should give any Latter-day Saint pause (John 14:9), but he dismissed it too easily, given the ubiquity of New Testament passages declaring that the Father and the Son are one. Benjamin B. Warfield noted the following about the authors of the New Testament:

“[W]e cannot help perceiving with great clearness in the New Testament abundant evidence that its writers felt no incongruity whatever between their doctrine of the Trinity and the Old Testament conception of God. The New Testament writers certainly were not conscious of being “setters forth of strange gods.” To their own apprehension they worshipped and proclaimed just the God of Israel; and they laid no less stress than the Old Testament itself upon His unity (Jn 17:3; 1 Cor 8:4; 1 Tim 2:5). They do not, then, place two new gods by the side of Yahweh, as alike with Him to be served and worshipped; they conceive Yahweh as Himself at once Father, Son and Spirit. In presenting this one Yahweh as Father, Son and Spirit, they do not even betray any lurking feeling that they are making innovations.
[ . . . ]
It is not in a text here and there that the New Testament bears its testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity. The whole book is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy and confident. It is with a view to the cursoriness of the allusions to it in the New Testament that it has been remarked that “the doctrine of the Trinity is not so much heard as overheard in the statements of Scripture.” It would be more exact to say that it is not so much inculcated as presupposed. The doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the New Testament in the making, but as already made.”
— B.B. Warfield
(“Trinity” in “The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia”, edited by James Orr, 5:3,012–22. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915)

Biblical Christians agree with Warfield that the doctrine of the Trinity is incipient in the Old Testament revelation, that it is clarified in the New Testament revelation, and that in “point of fact, the doctrine of the Trinity is purely a revealed doctrine” (Benjamin B. Warfield “Trinity”, ibid).

How It’s a Myth
The doctrine of the Trinity declares the clear biblical data that can be summarized in four statements:

  1. There is only one God.
  2. The Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is God.
  3. Jesus Christ, the Son, is God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God.

Latter-day Saints who charge that Biblical Christians think Jesus prayed to himself fail to take into account the whole counsel of God (for an accessible overview see “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity” by Robert Bowman, Jr.). The doctrine of the Trinity maintains both the one-ness and the three-ness of God, as revealed in the biblical record.

The criticism levied by Holland is that the doctrine postdates the New Testament. Specifically, Latter-day Saints argue that the doctrine amounts to the philosophies of men mingled with Scripture. Biblical Christians acknowledge that there are ways of explicating the doctrine of the Trinity that use nonbiblical words, but that the doctrine itself is thoroughly biblical. Warfield states the matter clearly:

“The term “Trinity” is not a Biblical term, and we are not using Biblical language when we define what is expressed by it as the doctrine that there is one only and true God, but in the unity of the Godhead there are three coeternal and coequal Persons, the same in substance but distinct in subsistence. A doctrine so defined can be spoken of as a Biblical doctrine only on the principle that the sense of Scripture is Scripture. And the definition of a Biblical doctrine in such un-Biblical language can be justified only on the principle that it is better to preserve the truth of Scripture than the words of Scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity lies in Scripture in solution; when it is crystallized from its solvent it does not cease to be Scriptural, but only comes into clearer view. Or, to speak without figure, the doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in formulated definition, but in fragmentary allusions; when we assemble the disjecta membra into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture. We may state the doctrine in technical terms, supplied by philosophical reflection; but the doctrine stated is a genuinely Scriptural doctrine.”
— B.B. Warfield
(“Trinity”, Op Cit, bolding added for emphasis)

Biblical Christians fully acknowledge the one-ness and the three-ness of God as described in revelation.

The Doctrine of the Trinity and Mormon Godhead doctrine illustrated graphically.

Why It Matters
From my perspective as a former Latter-day Saint, the impulse on the part of Mormons to critique the Trinity is primarily the result of Smith’s innovative teachings – an anti-Trinity, if you will – of his most distinctive doctrines:

  1. God the Father has a body of flesh and bones (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)
  2. Man was also, in the beginning, with God, and in essence “was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).
  3. That humans must learn how to be gods [themselves], and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before [them] [ . . . ] (Joseph Smith, Jr. “King Follett Sermon”)

Smith himself argued the difficulty that his teachings posed when run up against the doctrine of the Trinity:

“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a strange God anyhow–three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. “Father, I pray not for the world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.” “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.” All are to be crammed into one God, according to sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God–he would be a giant or a monster.
— Joseph Smith, Jr.
(quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, ed. “Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith” Section VI, 372, bolding added for emphasis)

In this sermon, Smith argued essentially as Holland did. Namely, that Latter-day Saints affirm the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance [ . . . ]” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent”). The key question here is this: Are the Father, Son, and Spirit unified in any way that is different than how believers are unified? Smith and his successors argue that the unity of both the Godhead and of humanity with the Godhead is solely that of will and purpose — not of substance. Biblical Christians answer in the affirmative that there is a difference between the unity of substance shared by the Godhead, and the unity of will and purpose that Jesus prayed his followers would have — with the Godhead and with each other.

In his great High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3 KJV). Ambrose of Milan, one of the greatest theologians of the fourth century compared our unity with the Godhead’s unity:

“No separation, then, is to be made of the Word from God the Father, no separation in power, no separation in wisdom, by reason of the Unity of the Divine Substance. Again, God the Father is in the Son, as we ofttimes find it written, yet [He dwells in the Son] not as sanctifying one who lacks sanctification, nor as filling a void, for the power of God knows no void. Nor, again, is the power of the one increased by the power of the other, for there are not two powers, but one Power; nor does Godhead entertain Godhead, for there are not two Godheads, but one Godhead. We, contrariwise, shall be One in Christ through Power received [from another] and dwelling in us.

The letter [of the unity] is common, but the Substance of God and the substance of man are different. We shall be, the Father and the Son [already] are, one; we shall be one by grace, the Son is so by substance. Again, unity by conjunction is one thing, unity by nature another. Finally, observe what it is that Scripture hath already recorded: “That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee.”

Mark now that He said not “Thou in us, and we in Thee,” but “Thou in Me, and I in Thee,” to place Himself apart from His creatures. Further He added: “that they also may be in Us,” in order to separate here His dignity and His Father’s from us, that our union in the Father and the Son may appear the issue, not of nature, but of grace, whilst with regard to the unity of the Father and the Son it may be believed that the Son has not received this by grace, but possesses by natural right of His Sonship.”
— Ambrose of Milan
(“On the Christian Faith” cited in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament” IVb John 11-21, Thomas C. Oden, ed. InterVarsity Press, Dowers Grove, IL 2007, pp. 256-57, bolding added for emphasis)

The Book of Mormon states that “God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people” (Mosiah 15:1). Biblical Christians can affirm this without qualification. The nature of the Son as fully God is critical to the efficacy of his sacrifice, as is the reverence for and the submission of his human nature to His Father, which he demonstrated in his prayers.

Summary and Conclusion
The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet, there are not three Gods, but one true God. The Son did not pray to himself, but to His Father.

The Trinity Triangle: “We believe in the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God, three Persons” This window uses the Latin Pater, Filius, and Spiritus Sanctus to name the persons in the Trinity. One God and Three Persons is a great mystery of the Church. The window explains that the Persons are not each other, but each is God (Deus).

NOTES
1 Here is what that entry in the 1985 Harper’s Bible Dictionary actually says in its full and complete context:

“Trinity, the, a term denoting the specifically Christian doctrine that God is a unity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The word itself does not occur in the Bible. It is generally acknowledged that the church father Tertullian (ca. a.d. 145-220) either coined the term or was the first to use it with reference to God. The explicit doctrine was thus formulated in the postbiblical period, although the early stages of its development can be seen in the NT . Attempts to trace the origins still earlier (to the ot literature) cannot be supported by historical-critical scholarship, and these attempts must be understood as retrospective interpretations of this earlier corpus of Scripture in the light of later theological developments.

For the purpose of analysis, three relevant categories of NT texts may be distinguished (although such sharp lines of demarcation should not be attributed to first-century Christianity): first are references to the incarnation, describing a particularly close relationship between Jesus and God. Although a number of passages make clear distinctions between God and Christ and therefore suggest the subordination of the Son to the Father (e.g., Rom. 8:31-34; 1 Cor. 11:3; 15:20-28; 2 Cor. 4:4-6), there are other texts in which the unity of the Father and the Son is stressed (e.g., Matt. 11:27; John 10:30; 14:9-11; 20:28; Col. 2:9; 1 John 5:20). This emphasis on the unity of the Father and the Son may be understood as a first step in the development of trinitarian thought.

Second are passages in which a similarly close relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit is depicted. In the ot, the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Spirit of God) is understood to be the agency of God’s power and presence with individuals and communities. In the NT , Jesus is understood to be the recipient of this Spirit in a unique manner (see esp. Luke 3:22, where the Holy Spirit descends in bodily form upon Jesus after his baptism), to be a mediator of the activity of the Spirit (Acts 2:33 and elsewhere), and even to be identified with the Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27, 34; John 14; cf. expressions such as ‘the Spirit of Christ,’ ‘the Spirit of the Lord,’ ‘the Spirit of Jesus,’ and Gal. 4:6, where God sends ‘the Spirit of his Son’). While one cannot use the creedal formulation that the Holy Spirit ‘proceeds from the Father and the Son’ in its later dogmatic sense, in the NT the Holy Spirit comes to represent both the presence and activity of God and the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the church.

Finally there are passages in which all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in the same context. The most important of these are the ‘Apostolic Benediction’ of 2 Cor. 13:14 (the earliest trinitarian formula known) and the baptismal formula of Matt. 28:19 (perhaps a development from the simpler formula reflected in Acts 2:38; 8:16; and elsewhere; see also 1 Cor. 12:4-6; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; Jude 20-21).

The formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the NT . Nevertheless, the discussion above and especially the presence of trinitarian formulas in 2 Cor. 13:14 (which is strikingly early) and Matt. 28:19 indicate that the origin of this mode of thought may be found very early in Christian history.”
(Thomas R. W. Longstaff, Ph.D., “The Trinity” in “Harper’s Bible Dictionary”, Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. Harper & Row. San Francisco, 1985, pp. 1098-1099)

About the Author
Paul Nurnberg was born and raised in the Salt Lake Valley in Utah. He served a two-year proselytizing mission for the LDS Church in Hungary. After converting to Biblical Christianity, he studied at Cincinnati Christian University. He holds an M.Div. in Biblical Studies and a BBA from Thomas More University where he graduated summa cum laude. He is a member of Lakeside Christian Church in Kentucky, which belongs to the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, which has roots in the American Restoration Movement. He has enjoyed a long career in the health insurance industry, and since 2019 has produced the podcast, “Outer Brightness: From Mormon to Jesus.” He has been happily married to his best friend, Angela, for 22 years. They have five children and three dogs.

Justice Isn’t a Myth. But Neither is Grace and Mercy

by Michael Flournoy
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
“Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.”

Justice Isn’t a Myth…
I’ve been in countless conversations with Latter-day Saints where I’ve stated my position on the gift of grace, and they’ve accused me of believing that grace is a license to sin. It bothered me that Mormons viewed grace with such little regard when it was so precious to me. Then I thought more about it and realized that logically, their argument held up.

Objectively, the Evangelical position seems preposterous. How can we claim that God is holy, but teach that He forgives sin without requiring anything in return? And what leads us to believe that sinners would turn from their wicked ways without fear of punishment as a motivation?

Imagine that a hardened criminal was taken to court. All the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty, but the judge decided to forgive him. Not only that, but the courts would turn a blind eye to any evil he did in the future. The judge’s pronouncement of innocence would be legal fiction. It’s unlikely that the man would change his ways just because he was forgiven. If anything, he would become more brazen in his crimes since there would be no fear of consequences. So wouldn’t a sinner behave the same way if God forgave his trespasses, past, and future, just like that? If we are honest, the only answer that makes sense is yes!

However, this really only tells part of the story. Yes, we are forgiven and justified freely by God through no effort on our own, even in the midst of sin and while fully deserving of condemnation.

But there’s so much more. Not only are we forgiven and given a clean slate, but we are also accredited with the actual righteousness of Christ! In other words, God sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness and nothing more. Therefore we are deemed worthy, not on our merit, but because of our faith in Christ. This immediately makes us worthy of any reward Jesus earned through His merits. Latter-day Saints often mock the idea of imputed righteousness, saying it makes God a liar because He is proclaiming someone righteous who really isn’t. This changes my earlier analogy from a criminal who is given a clean slate, to that same criminal being given the key to the city.

Doesn’t this idea render God unjust and His disciples hypocrites? The short answer is no.

…But Neither is Grace and Mercy
Please allow me to posit that forensic righteousness is taught in scripture, lest my Mormon readers are given an out to say it’s a nice concept that isn’t true.

Let’s start in Romans 4. In this chapter, Paul asks a significant question: when was Abraham justified, before or after he was circumcised? He answers that he was justified before circumcision. Circumcision itself is not the emphasis of this chapter, but rather an example Paul uses to convey a wider question. Does obedience justify us before a holy God? The answer is no. Abraham was justified before he did anything to obey God. In verse 5 (ESV) Paul drills in this point:

“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
(Romans 4:5 ESV)

Mormons believe that faith is essentially an action verb that includes works, but Paul makes three points in this verse that refute that notion. First, he deconstructs faith down to its basic elements. Belief and an absence of work are described as the genetic makeup of faith. Second, faith is described as being the catalyst for one to become righteous. And third, he makes the shocking statement that God justifies the ungodly.

Paul doesn’t only equate an absence of works to faith, he also attributes it to grace.  Later in Romans, he states:

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.”
(Romans 11:6 ESV)

Just as oxygen loses its integrity and becomes something else with the addition of hydrogen, when works are added to faith and grace they too become something different.

Latter-day Saints are quick to argue from James 2 that people are justified by their works. But consider this, if people were justified for doing noble things, would they still be wicked? Certainly not! Such a position does nothing but cast suspicion on Paul, who says that God saves the ungodly.

If we make the necessary assumption that Paul and James agree on the gospel, we must conclude that the people James references did good deeds because they were already righteous. Take this passage in James for example:

And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.
(James 2:23 ESV)

This scripture again points to belief as the catalyst for making someone righteous. In fact, the passage referenced here is Genesis 15:6, which occurred several years before the sacrifice of Isaac. This confirms that Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac to gain favor with God, but because he was already righteous. This righteousness acts like insurance, protecting us when we sin and still keeps us in God’s favor despite our shortcomings and failures. To illustrate this point, Paul quotes King David:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
(Romans 4:7-8 ESV).

David is perhaps the greatest evidence of God’s mercy having nothing to do with our performance. Not only did he commit adultery, but he put the woman’s husband on the front lines of the battle to die. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, David confessed his sin and Nathan replied:

“The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
(2 Samuel 12:13 ESV)

I’ve had Latter-day Saints argue that Nathan was merely pardoning David from physical death. This flies in the face of the statement that God put away his sin. If God excused physical punishment but kept David’s sin in his back pocket for Judgment Day, that isn’t really putting the sin away, is it? Likewise, David would be misguided for praising God for forgiving lawless deeds, covering sin, and for not counting his sins against him.

Mormons would protest this line of thinking. After all, isn’t it more reasonable that a just God always metes out righteous judgment? How can He forgive heinous sins like David’s without some kind of recompense?

This was the same assumption the Prodigal Son had in Luke 15 when he returned to his father asking to be hired on as a servant. He believed that because he sinned against his father, he was no longer worthy to be called his son. However, the father puts his ring and his robes on the Prodigal and announces a feast in honor of his return. He is brought back into the family without having to pay back a single coin of his father’s inheritance.

But despite this extreme show of mercy, there is an element of truth in the Prodigal Son’s assumption. For justice to be satisfied, someone has to pay. If God merely looked the other way, He would not be good. This is where Jesus comes in as Paul explains:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
(Romans 3:23-26 ESV)

 There is a lot to unpack in this passage, but basically, the full wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He willingly took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to. This does two things. First, it makes God just because He punishes every sin. And second, it allows us to be justified freely.

But what does it mean to be justified freely? Simply put, it means we don’t have to do anything to escape God’s wrath, because there is no more wrath. His righteous anger for our sins has already been depleted on Christ. This is why Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus. The above passage in Romans 3 spells out clearly what enables us to benefit from the atonement. Verse 25 says this propitiation is received by faith. There is no mention of commandments or temple ordinances being required for salvation.

Through faith alone, we become the beneficiaries of God’s favor at Christ’s expense. And what a heavy cost it was. He was whipped, tortured, mocked, and killed. That doesn’t even account for taking our sins. There is nothing remotely cheap about this. In fact, I would argue that what cheapens the atonement is saying our actions make it function. If this is true then Jesus isn’t enough.

Why It Matters
Jesus paid a heavy price for salvation, but what’s to keep us from wasting that gift and living unrepentant lives, especially if we’re as ungodly as Paul says? Here’s the game-changer. When we come to saving faith, we are filled with the Holy Ghost. This initiates rebirth into a new life where we are convicted of sin and given righteous desires. The groundwork for this rebirth is laid out by another Apostle, John:

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
(John 1:11-13 ESV)

 Spiritual rebirth and adoption into the family of God occur simultaneously when we receive Jesus, thus the gift of the Holy Ghost is received by “[belief] in his name.”

Paul goes into specifics on when this spiritual rebirth takes effect:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
(Romans 8:14-17 ESV) 

Paul indicates that we become sons of God when we are led by the Spirit. This presents a dilemma for Latter-day Saints because even they must admit that the Spirit leads people prior to them entering the baptismal font. If we become children of God and joint-heirs with Christ before baptism, then there are no eternal rewards to be gained through priesthood ordinances. In fact, there is no exclusive benefit to being LDS at all.

Some Mormons will say that temple ordinances are for our sanctification and not associated with salvation. While this doesn’t seem to be the orthodox LDS position, it’s worth noting that even this statement is demonstrably false. Consider, again, the words of Paul:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
(Romans 8:26-30 ESV)

Nowhere in this passage do we see ordinances helping us in our weakness, interceding between us and God, conforming us to the image of the Son, justifying, or glorifying us. However, the Spirit is associated with these things. Romans 8:10 (ESV) tells us, “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

It is certain that a hardened sinner would naturally want to continue sinning if offered unconditional forgiveness. However, the Spirit works supernaturally in the hearts of saved sinners to conform them to the image of Christ. Because of this, Christians are spiritually reborn to desire the things of God, and thus justice is both satisfied and fulfilled in the best way possible: A corrupt criminal’s heart of stone becomes a fresh and renewed heart of flesh.

Summary and Conclusion
God’s word cannot be dismissed, so we can decisively come to two conclusions. First, the claim that Christians believe in cheap grace is a myth. And second, the LDS gospel of obedience to covenants in order to become joint heirs with Christ is equally fallacious.

If you are a Latter-day Saint reading this, you are without excuse. The Biblical gospel has been laid out, and if you reject it you also deny Christ. I implore you to repent of the pride that entices you to establish your own righteousness and surrender yourself to His.

You can accept Jesus at this very moment by trusting fully in Him and putting aside your attempts at worthiness. He will love and accept you as you are, warts and all.

So given all that, let’s return to the analogy that I started with: Again imagine that a hardened criminal is taken to court. All the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he was guilty and the legally mandated penalty is the death sentence – justice must be served. But before he can be led to death row, the guilty party breaks down sobbing, “I did it all and deserve nothing but death and damnation! I am indeed guilty as sin!”

The judge asks the sobbing man, “If someone were to take your place and take your punishment would that change your wicked heart and evil thoughts? Will you turn from your old ways and truly live rightly?”

“Yes! And I would be eternally grateful to the end of my days, your honor! But who would have such love? It’s impossible, not to mention ridiculous!”

“Is it?” the judge responds “What if I did? I only ask two things: 1) Let this love control you for the rest of your life through that gratitude 1, and; 2) Remember the slavery that your past sin has led you to – you’ll be free to live again, but you mustn’t return to it or you will be enslaved by it just as you were before2 This is my gift to you, will you believe and receive my unmerited favor and mercy?”3

“Yes! Yes! Absolutely, yes!” exclaims the man.

“Then so be it.” And with that, the judge takes off his robe and puts it on the man. “You are pardoned and are free to go, and as long as you are clothed in me, this pardon stands and you have the power to resist your old life. Bailiff, please remove his handcuffs, put them on me, and lead me to the electric chair. I will see that justice is served. Friend, go and sin no more.”4

And just like Barabbas of old, the pardoned scapegoat goes free while the Lamb of God marches to His death. That, my friends, is the love of God toward us. He has already stood in your place for punishment and completed all of the necessary work vicariously on your behalf. The only question is this:  Will you accept God’s free gift or not?

And if you do, why on earth would you want to continue in sin? Why would any truly saved person do that? Lord, knows that we don’t, so why, my Mormon friends do you accuse us of being what we aren’t?

“And with that, the judge takes off his robe and puts it on the man. ‘You are pardoned and are free to go, and as long as you are clothed in me, this pardon stands and you have the power to resist your old life.'”

END NOTES
1 2 Corinthians 5:13-14a (KJV) ” For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us”

2 Romans 6:1-3 (KJV) “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

3 Romans 6:23 (KJV) “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

4 If you are objecting to this analogy and saying, “Obviously no human judge would be holy enough to behave this way! This is ridiculous, it makes no sense!” you’re absolutely right. But that’s what’s so amazing about God. He is that holy, that merciful, and that praiseworthy. It is what Paul referred to as “the foolishness of God” that He would love us this much – it just makes no sense! But the fact of the matter is this: He does.

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(1 Corinthians 1:17-25 KJV)

“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.”
(1 Corinthians 2:13-15 KJV)

About Michael “The Ex-Mormon Apologist” Flournoy
The Ex-Mormon Apologist was a Born Into The Covenant Mormon. His Mormon heritage dates back to a family member, Jones Flournoy, who sold Joseph Smith land for the Temple Lot temple. He faithfully served a mission in Anaheim, CA. When he returned from his mission he became a published Mormon Apologist. He served several callings faithfully and successfully in his 30+ years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He still has Mormon friends and family members to this day. And he is still in Mormon Studies despite leaving the LdS Church.

We have a Biblical text that is faithful to the original

A scroll from The Dead Sea Scrolls archives. Scholarly consensus dates the scrolls from the last three centuries BC and the first century AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls are astonishingly similar to the standard Masoretic Hebrew texts 1,000 years later, proving that Jewish scribes were accurate in preserving and transmitting the text of the Old Testament.

by Tom Hobson
Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
One need go no further than the Book of Mormon to find the myth that the Bible has been corrupted:

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.”
(1 Nephi:28-29) 

So, given that, how do we know that our copies of the Bible are reliable?  How do we know that no plain or precious parts have been taken out of the copies that we have, or changed irretrievably?  What about Bart Ehrman’s claim that there are 400,000 variations in the Biblical text?  Doesn’t that leave us hopelessly confused as to what God actually said?

Why It’s a Myth
The claim that the Bible has been “corrupted” is a lie if it claims that so much has been altered, added, or removed that it is no longer reliable as the authoritative source of God’s word to us.  The hard evidence shows, however, that God has given us a wealth of manuscript evidence for the reliability of today’s text of God’s word.  The vast majority of supposed corruptions are actually variations of spelling and word order that do not affect the meaning of passages.  A large portion of the others are harmless additions of words or entire sentences from elsewhere within the Bible itself.  But God has given us so much evidence for the Biblical text that wherever such variations happen, we can easily trace the original, and nowhere is what we need to know from God’s word jeopardized.

A portion of the Great Isaiah Scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is the oldest complete copy of the Book of Isaiah. It is also notable in being the only scroll from the Qumran Caves to be preserved almost in its entirety. The variants between this scroll and the Masoretic text that followed about a millennia later were minor with most due to scribal error.

How It’s a Myth
Let’s start with the Hebrew Bible.  Our oldest complete copies of the Hebrew text date to around 900-1000 AD.  I call these the “Temple-quality” texts.  They were preserved for us by scribes known as the Masoretes.  They are the ones who invented vowel markers for the Hebrew text (which was originally written without vowels).  These scribes counted every letter of the text to make sure it was accurate.  They preserved the best quality copies that were handed down to them from the time God’s word was stored in the Jerusalem temple.  That’s the standard Hebrew text we have.

God has also given us the Dead Sea Scrolls to prove how accurate our standard Hebrew text was.  The Dead Sea Scrolls date from about 150 BC to 100 AD.  There are around 230 pieces from every Old Testament book except Esther, including 104 pieces of the Pentateuch, and one very good copy of Isaiah.  How well did our scribes do in over 1000 years of copying?  Take a look at Isaiah 53.  Compare the Dead Sea Scroll version with our standard text.  Other than differences in spelling, there is only 1 word in question (out of 166 words) in over 1000 years of recopying (verse 11 says either “he shall see” or “he shall see light”).  The rest of the Dead Sea Scroll material backs up the amazing accuracy of our standard Hebrew Bibles from 1000 years later.

God has also given us the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint.  Scholars in Egypt started by translating the Law of Moses about 280 BC and then did the prophets and other books over the next 150 years or so.  The Greek Old Testament gives us a snapshot of what the Hebrew text they had looked like at the time.  Sometimes the Greek version gives us a different reading that agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls; when the Greek version and the Dead Sea Scrolls agree, they may have preserved a better reading than the standard Hebrew text.

For the Law of Moses, God has also given us the Samaritan Pentateuch, which also dates from more than a century before Christ. We also have the Latin version, the Vulgate, which dates from 400 AD and gives us a snapshot of what the Hebrew text looked like in Jerome’s day.  Finally, we have loose translations of the Old Testament into Aramaic, which are called targumīm; again, they date to around the time of Christ.  God has given us a lot of textual evidence to work with for the Hebrew Bible!

For the New Testament, we start with pieces of the Greek text (we call them the papyri).  The very oldest is about 2 verses of John that date to 125 AD, barely 30 years after John was written.  The rest of our papyri date to 200-300 AD, including almost complete copies of the Gospels and the letters of Paul.  Parts of almost every book in the New Testament can be found at this time.

Next, God has given us complete copies of the entire New Testament on sheepskin starting in 300 AD.  We have almost 300 New Testaments or portions thereof from over the next 5 centuries.  After this, there are hundreds of mass-produced copies in Greek from 800-1500 AD, on which our KJV is based.  We also not only have the Latin Vulgate (400 AD), but several Latin translations that are earlier than the Vulgate.  We also have early translations into Syriac and Coptic.  Finally, the vast majority of the New Testament can be reconstructed just from quotes from early church writers.

God has given us so much evidence for the original text of the Bible, that very few words are left in question.  The chances of us changing the original text in any given place without being found out are so great, that it would be like dumping a pillow full of feathers out the window of a speeding car, and then trying to get every feather back.

When variations take place in the text of the Bible, they normally leave behind evidence, and the burden of proof lies on those who would claim that such changes happened without leaving a trace.  Nobody was ever in a position of being able to change all of the copies of a Biblical passage, without the original reading being preserved somewhere.

A good example of how tracing the original reading works where there are variations in a Biblical text can be found in Deuteronomy 9:24.  In the earliest complete copies of our standard Hebrew text, we read that Moses says to the Israelites, “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.”  But both the Greek translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch (both of which are very early) read, “from the day that he knew you” (meaning God).  (Fragments of Deuteronomy in the Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain this verse.)

Which reading is more likely to have been changed to which?  “From the day I knew you,” or “from the day he knew you?”  It’s about a 50/50 tossup, both in terms of logic and of evidence from the copies we have.  The case for both readings is strong.  Whether it is God or Moses who has always known Israel to be rebellious does not make much difference to our faith (probably both are true).  But notice how such an early change was caught and preserved in the manuscript evidence we have.  Such changes do not go undetected.

The heretic Marcion (150 AD) is proof that no one could have pulled off a major chop-job revision of the Bible, without being detected.  Marcion believed that there were two gods: the evil creator god of the Hebrew Bible, and the sweetness-and-light God of Jesus Christ.  So Marcion throws away the entire Old Testament, and accepts only a mutilated Gospel of Luke and seven mutilated letters of Paul, with everything Jewish removed.  His attempt to remove these plain and precious teachings, however, was a colossal failure.  There were too many unaltered copies floating around to correct his version.

The Codex Sinaiticus or “Sinai Bible”, is one of the four great uncial codices, ancient, handwritten copies of a Christian Bible in Greek. It is the oldest complete copy of the New Testament dating to the 4th Century AD.

So the chance that huge changes were made in the Bible undetected without leaving behind telltale evidence, is virtually zero.  If someone claims there was originally a prediction of a famous prophet in Genesis 50 that is no longer in our Bibles, we can ask: why is there no evidence for it in our oldest complete Hebrew scrolls, nor in the Greek translation, nor in the Dead Sea Scrolls, nor in the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Vulgate?  If such a prophecy had been “plain and precious,” the evidence that it was ever part of the original text is non-existent.

God has sometimes given us evidence in the text of the Bible that makes us wonder.  The Greek version of Jeremiah is 16% shorter than our Hebrew version, and the chapters about foreign nations from the end of the book have been moved to the middle.  At some points, some of the fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls back up the short version.  My theory is that Jeremiah wrote both a standard version and a “director’s cut,” and God made sure that neither one of those versions got lost. (There is nothing new in the long version, just repetition.)

In Genesis 4, the words that Cain says to his brother Abel, “Let us go to the field,” are missing from some of our earliest Hebrew manuscripts, but they are found in the Greek version, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Vulgate, and the other Hebrew copies we have.  So one of the questions we always have to ask is: Which is more likely?  Which version best explains how the other one came about?  One general rule is that words are far more likely to be added to the holy text than taken out.  When Paul says in Galatians 6, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus,” that easily grew from “Jesus” to become “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes words do drop out.  But the shorter reading is usually the best.  So in famous cases such as the ending of Mark, or the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8, both of which are missing from the earliest and best copies of Mark and John, we have to ask: Is it more likely that somebody took out a whole section that was originally there, or is it more likely that somebody added that section?

The last 12 verses of Mark are missing from our 2 earliest Greek manuscripts, and from our earliest Syriac and Latin manuscripts.  They have some details that don’t seem to fit with the rest of what we know from the Gospels.  They say that Jesus appeared to 2 men on the road (which sounds like the Emmaus Road), but when the men report back, it says the rest “did not believe.”  They also tell us that Jesus appears to the apostles and chews them out for their lack of faith, which doesn’t sound like any scene we know from the Gospels.  So was this section edited out of our earliest manuscripts?  Or was it added because, otherwise, if Mark ends at verse 8, it sounds like Mark leaves us hanging there?  Either way, God gave us both versions, to make sure we have enough information for what we need to believe and do.

The same is true of the passage where Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery.  The evidence indicates that this passage was not an original part of the Gospel of John.  It is missing from our two oldest texts of John (200 AD).  It is missing from Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and at least 8 other major Greek manuscripts. These verses are missing from four Old Latin manuscripts, as well as from the early Syriac version and half of our Coptic manuscripts. No Greek commentary on John mentions the passage until 1100 AD, and even copies that contain this passage mark it off to show doubt that it belongs in the original text.  The earliest Greek text where we find this story is from 400 AD, along with four other major Greek manuscripts, the rest of our Latin manuscripts (including the Vulgate), half of our Coptic manuscripts, and the large number of Greek texts on which the KJV is based.

While the copies we have seem to show that the account of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery was not part of John’s original, what we read here fits all of the historical criteria of authenticity except for multiple independent witnesses. So this appears to be a genuine incident from the life of Jesus that almost fell through the cracks.  It was too good to lose.  Think how much less we would know about Jesus if we had lost it!  God made sure it found its way into God’s word.  If we had found it on papyrus scraps in some Egyptian garbage dump, we would have added it to our Bibles.

Jesus’ words as he is being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” are only found in Luke 23:34, and even there, they are missing from a large portion of the earliest manuscripts. They are missing from our oldest manuscript of Luke, from 200 AD. They are missing from Codex Vaticanus (300’s AD), and from the original text of manuscript D (they are added into the margin by a later scribe). They are also missing from two of the oldest Latin manuscripts, from the earliest Syriac version, and from most Coptic manuscripts. However, they can be found in the earliest text of Codex Sinaiticus (300’s AD), in the vast majority of Latin manuscripts, in manuscript 33 (a late copy of a very early Greek manuscript), and in the majority of Greek copies mass-produced after the fourth century AD, plus they are quoted by Hippolytus, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus in the second century AD, which is evidence that early writers knew this passage.

In cases like this, we must weigh the evidence rather than count the manuscripts. The fact that these words of Jesus were included in the Majority Text on which the KJV is based proves nothing; 100 copies can be based on a late and unreliable original. We must also ask why copyists might have added or tried to remove these words. It is probable that some in the early church rejected this saying due to their own animosity toward Jesus’ killers.  It is rare for words in an early Bible manuscript to be deleted by a copyist; usually, the tendency is to add words. But in this case, we can see why strong conviction could have led some copyists to leave this saying out as they recopied this text.  But God made sure that this all-important sound bite did not get lost from God’s word, and God preserved the evidence that someone tried to remove it.

What about books the Bible quotes that we no longer have, such as the Book of the Wars of the Lord, or the book of Jasher, or the many sources quoted in Kings and Chronicles?  Are we missing out on some lost volumes of inspired Scripture?  I would say, God has already given us the gold nuggets we needed from those books.  If we needed more, God would have given us more.  The Bible gives us quotes from Enoch and Epimenides (the guy who said “Cretans are always liars”).  We have those books.  See for yourself: they are not inspired.

The same is true for so-called lost words of Jesus (floating sayings outside the canonical Bible).1 None of these left-out sayings gives us anything we really needed to know about Jesus that we don’t already have in the canonical Gospels.

The Bodmer Papyri contains segments from the Old and New Testaments, early Christian literature, Homer, and Menander. The oldest, P66 dates to c. 200 AD.

Why It Matters
If the Bible is really God’s word, then why did God allow so many variations to happen?  If God’s word is without error, how can we explain this?  Why didn’t God keep the text perfect?  The short answer is that God didn’t need a perfect text.  God gave us a text that was accurate enough to do the job it was intended to do.  Besides, if every copy read exactly the same, we’d smell a rat – we’d wonder whether somebody had monkeyed with the text, and then cleaned up the scene of the crime and got rid of all copies that didn’t read exactly the same.  The rough edges we find in the copies of God’s word that God has given us are proof that they were copied independently.

How reliable are the copies we have of God’s word?  Based on the Bibles we use in our everyday reading, minor problems in the text are far less than one per page, and most of them are easy to tell what the correct reading is.  Major issues in the text amount to only a few dozen for the entire Bible, and we have examined here many of the most famous ones.  Wherever we find a variation, God gives us enough evidence to catch the change and to figure out what the original reading is.  And nowhere are any of our essential beliefs or moral teachings jeopardized by the accuracy of the Biblical text that God has given us.  No challenge to Biblical teaching, from the Deity of Christ to sexuality, hangs on a textual variation where the Bible’s teaching is not made abundantly clear elsewhere.

Summary and Conclusion
There is zero evidence that any plain or precious parts have been taken out of God’s word.  God has given us too much evidence that backs up the text we have, for us to fear that the Bible God has given us has been altered, added to, or subtracted from.2  We have a Biblical text that is faithful to the original, a Bible we can rely on for teaching, correction, reproof, and training in righteousness.

The Codex Vaticanus is one of the oldest copies of the Bible, one of the four great uncial codices. The Codex is named after its place of conservation in the Vatican Library, where it has been kept since at least the 15th century. It is written on 759 leaves of vellum in uncial letters and has been dated paleographically to the 4th century.

ENDNOTES

1 For a discussion of these, see Tom Hobson, The Historical Jesus and the Historical Joseph Smith, pages 17-19.

2 Bart Ehrman himself solidly backs up this conclusion:

“Essential Christian beliefs are not affected by any textual variants in the manuscript tradition of the New Testament.”
(Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, “Misquoting Jesus”, Appendix to first paperback, second edition)

For the full and complete historical and textual context surrounding this quote, see Frank Turek, “Is the New Testament Reliable? Even Bart Ehrman Says Yes” on the crosstalk.org website.

About the Author
Tom Hobson is a retired Presbyterian pastor and host of the radio program “Biblical Words and World” on radio station KUTR in Salt Lake.  He is currently the Moderator of ECO’s Presbytery of Mid America.*  He holds degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and Concordia Seminary St Louis (Ph.D.).  He attends local ECO and Methodist congregations, plus he preaches monthly at a UCC church.  He also served 4 years as Professor and Chair of Biblical Languages and Literature at non-denominational Morthland College.  He is the author of “What’s on God’s Sin List for Today?” and “The Historical Jesus and the Historical Joseph Smith”, plus numerous other articles and blog posts packaged together on his website www.biblicalethic.org.

*for those unfamiliar with “ECO”, its official name is ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.  It is a conservative Christian denomination that has split off from the mainline PCUSA church, like the EPC and the PCA. You can read more about ECO by clicking here.

Neither the Bible nor Christian Church History support Restorationist Great Apostasy claims

The interior of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church, in Palayur, India. This East Indian church building has serviced Christian worshipers continuously since, it is claimed, it was established in 52AD by Christ’s Apostle Thomas.

by Fred W. Anson

Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
No one said it better than Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith:

“Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”
— Joseph Smith, Jr.
(quoted in B.H. Roberts, “History of the Church” 1:XL)

And modern Latter-day Saint scholars have echoed Joseph Smith’s words nearly word-for-word:

“It is the apostasy of early Christianity which creates the very need for the [Mormon] faith. If there had not been an apostasy, there would have been no need for a restoration.”
— Kent P. Jackson, Mormon Scholar and BYU Professor
(“‘Watch and Remember’: The New Testament and the Great Apostasy,” in “By Study and Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday”, ed. J. M. Lundquist and S. D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1990), p.81)  

The interior of St. Thomas Kottakavu Church in Kochi, India. This is another East Indian church that was founded by the Apostle Thomas and has been in continuous use since.

Why It’s a Myth
I actually agree with misters Smith and Jackson, they are 100% correct on every point here. The problem is that when Restorationist Great Apostasy claims1 are scrutinized against objective Christian Church history no complete apostasy ever took place. As the Early Church Father Irenaeus explained in 180 AD:

“It is possible, then, for everyone to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors [down] to our own times; men who neither taught anything like these heretics rave about.”
(Against Heresies Book III, ch.3, p.1)

As one Roman Catholic2 author writes,

“The Mormon Church simply has no convincing answer to the ocean of the biblical and historical evidence of which this is just a drop. All of it contradicts the complete apostasy theory. Yet there’s another problem with the theory: the problem of silence. There’s no evidence of any outcry from the first or second-century “Mormons” denouncing the introduction of “Catholic heresies.”

Mormons might respond that, since Catholics gained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the true Church, they simply expunged any trace of the Mormons—a comforting but inviable argument. We have records of many controversies that raged in the early days of the Church (we know in great detail what turmoil the early Church passed through as it fought off various threats to its existence), and there just is no evidence—none at all—that Mormonism existed prior to the 1830s.

It’s unreasonable to assume the Catholic Church would allow the survival of copious records chronicling the history, teachings, and proponents of dozens of other heresies, but would entirely destroy only the records of early Mormonism.

If Mormons want their claim of a complete apostasy as to be taken seriously, they must evince biblical and historical evidence supporting it. So far they’ve come up empty-handed. Honest investigators will see the unavoidable truth: The Mormon “great apostasy” doctrine is a myth. There never has been—nor will there ever be—a complete apostasy. Jesus Christ promised that his Church, established on the solid rock of Peter, will remain forever. We have his Word on it.”
(Patrick Madrid, “In Search of ‘The Great Apostasy’”, EWTN website)

Both Roman Catholics and Protestants affirm that the Christian Church has always, regardless of which side of the Reformation one is on, that true Christianity has always been beholden to the Bible and the teachings of the Apostles as their plumb line and standard for life and faith. From Jesus Christ until today this has been the case. And we haven’t even brought in the Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodox, and other non-Western Christian traditions that are in complete agreement with us despite being untouched by either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism.

In short, while Christian Church shows Christianity has gone, and will no doubt, continue to go through cycles of error and even corruption, reform has always followed in its wake. However, there has never, I repeat never, been a period of time in which “the common salvation… the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (see Jude 1:3 KJV) was ever missing from the planet or that a complete apostasy from the original Apostolic Christian faith established by Christ Himself existed as Mormonism claims. As our Roman Catholic source said so well, “The Mormon ‘great apostasy’ doctrine is a myth.”

How It’s a Myth
A further problem is that the proof texts used by the LdS Church to support Great Apostasy claims fall short of a complete, universal, apostasy themselves. I am specifically referring to passages like these:3

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
— 1 Timothy 4:1-3 KJV

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
— 2 Timothy 3:1-7 KJV

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 KJV

But as Latter-day Scholar and BYU Professor, Charles Harell has noted well:

“On careful examination, none of the New Testament passages referring to heresies within the church or persecution from without seems to predict a wholesale departure from the faith; all seem to assume that there would be faithful saints who remain on the earth until Christ comes”
(Charles R. Harrell, “This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology,” p. 34)

 To validate, Professor Harrell’s point, consider how in each of these passages it’s not just assumed but explicitly states that apostasy would only touch some members of the Christian faith not all (“some shall depart from the faith”; “this sort are they”; “Let no man deceive you by any means”). Furthermore, consider the biblical passages that Restorationists conveniently ignore when they are cherry-picking the bible to support their Great Apostasy case:4

“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
— Matthew 16:18b KJV

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:28-29 KJV

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have  commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
—  Matthew 28:18-20 KJV

Could Christ have been any clearer: The Church that He was establishing could not be shaken nor would the gates of hell prevail against it. Why? Answer: Because He would be with us always to the end of the age. Therefore, to suggest that there was a complete, universal apostasy as Mormon leaders have in light of the words of Jesus is to suggest that He was lying in the above passages, isn’t it?

Coptic Christians worship at The Monastery of Saint Simon (also known as the Cave Church) located in the Mokattam Mountain in southeastern Cairo, Egypt. The Coptic Egyptian Church is traditionally believed to be founded by St Mark around AD 42.

 Why It Matters
In reality, the only way that Mormon Great Apostasy dogma works is if one first makes modern Mormonism the standard for what constitutes, “True Christianity” and then compares everything else against it. And guess what, using that confirmation bias driven, “come to the conclusion first and then bend the facts to fit it” methodology everything really is apostate, it would be amazing if it weren’t so blatantly fallacious, wouldn’t it? And in fact, this isn’t the way that all Restorationist churches claim that all other churches but theirs are apostate?

However, when one uses both the Bible and Christian Church History as the objective standard then this methodology fails because Mormonism (past or present) simply can’t be found anywhere in the body of historical evidence that we have for the primitive Christian church. This is just as I noted in another article:

“The hard fact of the matter is this: No trace of the unique distinctives that Mormonism declares as “restored” can be found in Church History prior to the advent of Joseph Smith. Further, those distinctives contradict what we find in recorded Early Church History up to and including the Didache.”
(Fred W. Anson, “The Didache v. Mormonism”, Beggar’s Bread website, July 5, 2020)

Thus ironically, the very type of apostasy that Latter-day Saints accuse others of is exactly what they have fallen into, just as some of their favorite proof-texts for their claimed Great Apostasy state:

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
— Acts 20:29-30 KJV

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 KJV

Summary and Conclusion
Simply stated Christian Church History doesn’t support Restorationist Great Apostasy claims. Plainly stated, the LdS Church doesn’t just lie about its own history, it lies about the history of other churches as well. There never was the type of complete, universal apostasy of the Christian Church that Restorationism teaches, and if the words of Christ are true, there never will be.5

“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:18b KJV) [photo: A National Geographic photo of the Darvaza “Gates of Hell” gas crater]

ENDNOTES
1 I’m using the term “Restorationist” rather than Latter-day Saint throughout this article because this Great Apostasy dogma didn’t originate with Joseph Smith, it was already in place thanks to the Stone-Campbell restorationist movement which congealed during the Cane Ridge Revival in 1801 at Cane Ridge Kentucky. Joseph simply “borrowed” a doctrine that had already been in place before he was even born on December 23, 1805, as the neutral source, Wikipedia, explains:

“The ideal of restoring a “primitive” form of Christianity grew in popularity in the US after the American Revolution. This desire to restore a purer form of Christianity played a role in the development of many groups during this period, known as the Second Great Awakening. These included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Baptists and Shakers.

The Restoration Movement began during, and was greatly influenced by, this second Awakening. While the Campbells resisted what they saw as the spiritual manipulation of the camp meetings, the Southern phase of the Awakening “was an important matrix of Barton Stone’s reform movement” and shaped the evangelistic techniques used by both Stone and the Campbells.

James O’Kelly was an early advocate of seeking unity through a return to New Testament Christianity.  In 1792, dissatisfied with the role of bishops in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he separated from that body. O’Kelly’s movement, centering in Virginia and North Carolina, was originally called Republican Methodists. In 1794 they adopted the name Christian Church.

During the same period, Elias Smith of Vermont and Abner Jones of New Hampshire led a movement espousing views similar to those of O’Kelly. They believed that members could, by looking to scripture alone, simply be Christians without being bound to human traditions and the denominations brought by immigrants from Europe.”
(“Restoration Movement”, Wikipedia)

And for those of you unfamiliar with the Cane Ridge Revival, here’s a primer  from Wikipedia:

“The Cane Ridge Revival was a large camp meeting that was held in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, from August 6 to August 12 or 13, 1801. It has been described as the “[l]argest and most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening.” This camp meeting was arguably the pioneering event in the history of frontier camp meetings in America.”
(“Cane Ridge Revival”, Wikipedia)

Finally, for those who would like to do a deep dive into the American Restorationist Movement that was already in place prior to the advent of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, I would recommend Church History magazine, Issue 106, “The Stone-Campbell Movement”. The reader can read this issue online and/or download an Adobe Acrobat edition of this issue by clicking here.

Meanwhile in the Membership Class of another non-LDS Restorationist group down the street from the Mormon Chapel…

2 Yes, you read that right, to drive my point home I, a Protestant, and a Reformed Protestant at that, am citing from the very folks that Latter-day Saint love to hate the most, that great “Church of the Devil” (at least according to Mormon, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, that is): The Roman Catholic Church. Here are Mr. Madrid’s Roman Catholic credentials:

“Patrick Madrid has been a Catholic apologist since 1987. He hosts The Patrick Madrid Show on Relevant Radio weekdays 9-noon ET, discussing current events, modern culture, apologetics, and a variety of “God topics.” Madrid does not have guests or conduct interviews on his show, but instead, engages listeners with personal commentary and interacts extensively with callers. He has conducted thousands of apologetics seminars in English and Spanish at parishes, conferences, and universities across the United States, as well as throughout Europe, Canada, in Latin America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. Since 1990, he has been a regular presenter at the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s “Defending the Faith” summer apologetics conferences[4] and has been a guest lecturer in theology at Christendom College in their “Major Speakers” program. Madrid has engaged in at least a dozen formal public debates with Protestant, Mormon, and other non-Catholic spokesmen.”
(“Patrick Madrid”, Wikipedia) 

3 For the sake of brevity, these Latter-day Saint Great Apostasy proof texts are just a sampling. For a comprehensive roster of proof texts, I would refer the reader to Mormon Research Ministry’s excellent online compilation here: https://www.mrm.org/great-apostasy

4 Again, for the sake of brevity, these proof texts refuting Great Apostasy teachings are just a sample. For a comprehensive roster of yet more refuting proof texts along with some superb analysis of both the LdS proof texts and the texts that refute them, I would refer the reader to Mormon Research Ministry’s excellent online compilation here: https://www.mrm.org/great-apostasy

5 One need go no further than how LdS Church leaders lie about what happened at the first Council of Nicea in 325AD to see this:

“The collision between the speculative world of Greek philosophy and the simple, literal faith and practice of the earliest Christians produced sharp contentions that threatened to widen political divisions in the fragmenting Roman empire. This led Emperor Constantine to convene the first churchwide council in a.d. 325. The action of this council of Nicaea remains the most important single event after the death of the Apostles in formulating the modern Christian concept of deity. The Nicene Creed erased the idea of the separate being of Father and Son by defining God the Son as being of “one substance with the Father.”

Other councils followed, and from their decisions and the writings of churchmen and philosophers there came a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine in which the orthodox Christians of that day lost the fulness of truth about the nature of God and the Godhead. The consequences persist in the various creeds of Christianity, which declare a Godhead of only one being and which describe that single being or God as “incomprehensible” and “without body, parts, or passions.” One of the distinguishing features of the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its rejection of all of these postbiblical creeds (see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols., New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992, s.v. “Apostasy,” “doctrine,” “God the Father,” and “Godhead”).

In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principles of Greek philosophy. The received language of the Bible remained, but the so-called “hidden meanings” of scriptural words were now explained in the vocabulary of a philosophy alien to their origins. In the language of that philosophy, God the Father ceased to be a Father in any but an allegorical sense. He ceased to exist as a comprehensible and compassionate being. And the separate identity of his Only Begotten Son was swallowed up in a philosophical abstraction that attempted to define a common substance and an incomprehensible relationship.”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration”)

Now, since, the LdS Church has repeatedly and consistently taught that Apostasy came out of the 325AD Council of Nicea via the corrupting influence of the Doctrine of the Trinity, then consider this:

In addition, if Christ’s Church turned away from what the LdS Church teaches about God at Nicaea, then why there was no denunciation or defense of the following Mormon doctrines at the Council of Nicaea:

  • God was once a man.
  • God is now an exalted, deified man.
  • Jesus Christ is the spiritual son of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and all other human beings are the spiritual children of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • The Godhead consists of three gods – in other words, “God” is Tri-Theistic, not Monotheistic.
  • Heavenly Father had intercourse with Mary in order to produce the incarnated Jesus.

These issues were simply never discussed at all. The one and one theological issue, according to the author, John Anthony McGuckin, in his article: “The Road to Nicaea” (see Church History magazine, Issue 85, “Council of Nicaea: Debating Jesus’ Divinity”) was how Jesus Christ could be both divine and human. That was it. Period.

Even the agnostic, skeptic Bart Ehrman validates all this in his writing:

“Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, and one of the issues involved Jesus’ divinity. But this was not a council that met to decide whether or not Jesus was divine…. Quite the contrary: everyone at the Council—in fact, just about every Christian everywhere—already agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. The question being debated was how to understand Jesus’ divinity in light of the circumstance that he was also human. Moreover, how could both Jesus and God be God if there is only one God? Those were the issues that were addressed at Nicea, not whether or not Jesus was divine. And there certainly was no vote to determine Jesus’ divinity: this was already a matter of common knowledge among Christians, and had been from the early years of the religion.”
(Bart Ehrman, “Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine”, 14-15)

So as you can the LdS Church doesn’t just lie about its own history, it lies about the history of other churches as well. If you doubt me just read up on what really happened at the First Council of Nicea to see this.

An icon of the Bishops of the First Council of Nicaea with Constantine (in the crown).

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
The following resources are recommended for exposing the Restorationist Great Apostasy myth. Yes, Christian Church History is messy, there is just no question about that. However, no, there never has been – and if the Bible is true, will be – the type of complete, universal apostasy that Mormon leaders claim justified the advent of Mormon Restorationism. Furthermore, these resources will show that mainstream Christianity, unlike Mormonism, doesn’t lie about its own history – warts and all, it’s all there to be seen, read, and openly discussed.

Church History Magazine
Subscriptions to the Christian History Institute’s quarterly journal “Church History” are done on a donation basis. For every issue, they do a deep dive into a chosen issue. I read every single issue cover-to-cover, and I suspect that you will too. Christian Church History is just fascinating stuff. Click here to subscribe.

For those who would like a deep dive into the deep dive not only do they give additional resources to consider in every issue, but you can also download Adobe Acrobat editions of all their back issues going all the way back to their very first issue by clicking here.

Church History in Plain Language, Fifth Edition Kindle Edition
by Bruce L. Shelley
Shelley’s book has been the textbook of choice for Christian Colleges for General Christian History Survey courses across denominations and traditions for decades. There’s a reason for that, it’s fair, it’s objective, and it’s a good read, Shelley is just a great writer.

The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation
The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Kindle Edition
by Justo L. González
While Bruce L. Shelley’s book gives a quick, short overview of Christian History, Justo L. González’s two-volume set represents a deeper dive into the particulars. It is the logical next step after the shorter and more succinct Shelley book.

Church History Boot Camp
Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley
For those who prefer a real-time lecture format, this Credo House course is an overview of Church history in four parts. This course gives people a much-needed introduction to the entire history of the Christian church, looking at the major events and turning points that have brought us to where we are today.

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation
Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D. Professor, Emory University
In this Great Courses course, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University follows the dramatic trajectory of Christianity from its beginnings as a “cult of Jesus” to its rise as a fervent religious movement; from its emergence as an unstoppable force within the Roman Empire to its critical role as an imperial religion; from its remarkable growth, amid divisive disputes and rivalries, to the ultimate schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism; and from its spread throughout the Western world to its flowering as a culture that shaped Europe for 800 years.

The History of Christianity II: From the Reformation to the Modern Megachurch
Molly Worthen, Ph.D. Professor, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
This Great Courses course features Professor Molly Worthen who is a marvelous storyteller that brings individuals to life as she shares broader points in the story. For example, in a lecture on the Cold War, she considers how Pope John Paul II’s moral courage helped bring about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In another lecture, she shares the story of Rebecca, an American slave whose story offers a representative glimpse of religion among people whose stories have largely gone untold.

Whether it’s Mormons in the American West, Catholics in Latin America, or a Nigerian megachurch, this course examines the actors and ideas that have made Christianity a global religion—and offers a clearer perspective on our own time and place. Professor Worthen introduces you to scientists and theologians, revolutionaries and social justice crusaders, intellectuals, and ordinary people living out the great drama of Christian history. From Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to Latin American liberation theology, The History of Christianity II is a magisterial course, and a great resource for students of history and religion, as well as philosophy, literature, culture, and life.

About the Author
Fred W. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum). Raised in the Nazarene Church, Fred later became an Atheist but then returned to the Christian faith during the Jesus Movement in 1976. He is currently a member of Saddleback Covenant Church, a non-denominational church, in Mission Viejo, California.

by Michael Flournoy
Latter-day Saints often complain that Evangelicals misrepresent their beliefs, and they aren’t wrong. Mormon doctrine is flexible and nuanced, and it consists of moving parts that shift over time.

What keeps Christians from fully grasping Mormonism, is it exists in a different paradigm than what we’re used to. The problem is exacerbated by the tendency of Mormons to use words associated with our paradigm to describe their beliefs. However, it should come as no surprise that this rampant misunderstanding is a double-edged sword that plagues both our communities. When Mormons try to disprove Christian ideals, they come across like archers intoxicated with wine, missing their marks by a long shot.

This can leave Christians flabbergasted, wondering if Mormons even know what they’re aiming at. My diagnosis is that Mormons don’t understand Christian doctrine, and it’s more problematic for them than misunderstanding Mormonism is for us. Why? Because their whole belief system hinges on us being wrong.

Mormonism boasts that it is a restoration of true Christianity. It teaches that the church Jesus established fell into apostasy after the apostles died because there was no more priesthood or revelation. Allegedly, when Christ appeared to Joseph Smith he told him not to join any of the Christian sects because they were all wrong, their creeds were an abomination, and their professors were corrupt. He went on to say, “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith-History 1:19)

Such an occurrence depicts Christians the world over as lost in a doctrinal maze of misunderstanding and lacking any semblance of faith. One must ask: if Mormons are so eager to hedge their bets on a restoration, why haven’t they researched Christianity to see if it’s truly as corrupt as they’re told? This behavior is akin to betting your life savings on a racehorse without seeing its stats. Only this carries more risk because Mormons are gambling away their souls.

I spent ten years as a Mormon apologist, and six years after that debating Mormons after I converted to Christianity. In that time I have identified 10 pervasive myths that Latter-day Saints believe about Christianity. They are as follows:

    1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
    2. The Bible has been corrupted.
    3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
    4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
    5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
    6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
    7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
    8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
    9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
    10. Biblical Christianity is divided into over 10,000 sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

These myths are so vital to Mormonism, that disproving even a few of them would be detrimental to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

If Biblical Christianity didn’t apostatize, then there was no need for a restoration. Joseph’s prophetic mission becomes suspect and his First Vision account loses credibility. Every unique LDS doctrine collapses.

The overarching point of these myths is to prove that Christianity fell away. But by addressing these points, we can prove that the gates of hell did not prevail against Christ’s church, and therefore Mormonism is false.

In this series, Christians from a diversity of denominations and theological camps will join together for the purpose of refuting these myths, one article at a time. If you’re a Latter-day Saint, I encourage you to read them with an open mind. Ask yourself this question: “If I’ve misunderstood these ten points, how would that affect my faith?” Here is my response, in the form of a series of propositions, to that question as a former Latter-day Saint:

  • If the Bible has been preserved and is sufficient, it does not need other scripture or living prophets to interpret, remediate, or expound upon it.
  • If Christians are saved by grace and changed by grace, it takes away whatever moral high ground Mormons think they have. At best, it leaves them equal with other Christians, at worst, Mormons are found lacking in their understanding of grace. And if Mormons miss the mark on grace, then they don’t understand the gospel.
  • If the Christian understanding of the Trinity is true, it disproves many LDS concepts: namely, that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate Gods, and that the Father and the Son possess bodies of flesh and bone identical to those of human beings. One God who has always been the sole God of the universe also hurts their concept of eternal marriage, divine lineage, and the ability to become gods.
  • If God is justified in condemning sinners, whether they have heard the gospel or not, and despite them being good by human standards, it disproves the three degrees of glory. It means God did not have to set up missionary work in the afterlife to make things fair. And it leaves any Mormons insisting that they “could never worship a God like that” without any excuse besides hating God.
  • If our work was done vicariously on the cross, and Christ’s righteousness is accredited to our accounts, it means there is nothing we must do but accept it. The LDS ordinances are rendered worthless. Even the idea of exaltation fails because there is no righteousness we can obtain that exceeds Christ’s.
  • If Biblical Christians have the priesthood, they have the right to preach the gospel and administer its ordinances, rendering the LDS church, and its prophets and apostles with their priesthood keys unnecessary.
  • If pastors aren’t in it for the money, but because the Spirit calls them into ministry, it hurts the LDS narrative that only their leaders are inspired by God.
  • If Christians they deem as “anti-Mormon” are actually reaching out in love, it leaves Latter-day Saints without excuses to ignore their preaching.
  • Finally, if the Protestant sects are unified in their primary doctrines, it dismantles the view that the church fell away because of conflicting ideas, that every sect interprets the Bible differently, and that their disunity is proof of apostasy.

Of course, any Mormon examining this list will think there is no valid Christian defense. They will, no doubt be thinking things like,

    • How could there be no apostasy when the Bible explicitly prophecies it?
    • How could the Bible be preserved when there are so many variations and missing books?
    • How can Christians believe grace is given regardless of obedience and not abuse it?
    • What could possess a loving God to throw His own children into a lake of fire and brimstone?
    • How can Protestants even claim priesthood when they broke away from a church they admit is apostate?
    • How can Christians claim to love Mormons when they’re so rude to them?
    • If Christianity is unified, then why are there so many denominations?

If you’re a Latter-day Saint, all I ask is that you give us a chance to defend our position. No pressure, but it’s really a matter of agency isn’t it? You can choose to read these articles or not. However, if you choose not to, you cannot truly choose between your religion and ours because knowledge is the lifeblood of agency, isn’t it?

It also falls in line with the Golden Rule. If we said your beliefs were an abomination, wouldn’t you want the chance to defend them? And wouldn’t you want us to approach your arguments with an open mind, with the humility to lay down our pride and admit we could be wrong?

Truth is always worth the risk. If Protestants really are apostates, we won’t be able to defend our beliefs logically or satisfactorily. Therefore, you have nothing to fear if you are right. The only reason not to read is for fear of being wrong. If there is hesitancy, there is the question I must ask you: If Mormonism were false, would you want to know about it? Will you step out of your comfort zone and seek knowledge, regardless of the outcome? Do you accept this challenge?

The articles that follow this brief introduction will give you ample opportunity to do exactly that. And on that note I will simply leave you with the well-known words of the late, great Latter-day Saint First President (in the David O. McKay administration), J. Reuben Clark to ponderize on…

“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
(J. Reuben Clark, “The Church Years”, p 24. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, edited by D. Michael Quinn)

How Does Joseph Smith Fare Against the Biblical Tests for a False Prophet?

MissJo, “Joseph Smith Rendered in the Style of a Medieval Religious Icon”

by Fred W. Anson
The Bible has four (4) tests for determining if a claimed prophet really is one or not. They are as follows:

Deu 13:1-11
Seducing God’s people into following a god other than the one that they’ve known:

Deu 18:18-22
Giving predictions of the future in order to deceive God’s people into following another god that fail to come to pass:

Mat 7:15-20
Living a life that doesn’t produce good fruit:

1 John 4:1-3
Denying that God eternal was incarnated as Jesus Christ:

Let’s see how Joseph Smith fares against these biblical criteria, shall we?

TEST 1: Seducing God’s people into following a God other than the one that they’ve known

Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (KJV)
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,

And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;

Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.

EVIDENCE AGAINST JOSEPH SMITH
Smith explicitly taught another God in the King Follett Discourse – he even bragged about doing so.

“I will prove that the world is wrong, by showing what God is. I am going to inquire after God; for I want you all to know Him, and to be familiar with Him; and if I am bringing you to a knowledge of Him, all persecutions against me ought to cease. You will then know that I am His servant; for I speak as one having authority.

I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of a being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man.

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by His power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with Him, as one man talks and communes with another.”
(“The King Follett Sermon”, Ensign, April 1971)

TEST 2: Giving predictions of the future that fail to come to pass

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 (KJV)
I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.

And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

EVIDENCE AGAINST JOSEPH SMITH
Joseph Smith made several failed predictions for the future, but probably the most damning of Smith’s failed prophecies is the prophecy that the Centerpoint temple would be built in Missouri within Smith’s Generation:

“Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.

Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house . . .

Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed,”
(Doctrines and Covenants 84:2-5, 31)

As Theologian and Christian Apologist, Matt Slick observes:

The Mormons were driven out of Jackson County in 1833. They were not gathered there in accordance with this prophecy dealing with building the temple.

The prophecy clearly states that the generation present when the prophecy was given would not pass away until the temple was built at the western boundaries of the state of Missouri which is in Independence.

This clearly failed.”
(Matt Slick, “Joseph Smith’s False Prophecies, CARM website)

An aerial photograph of the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri where Joseph Smith and the Saints failed to build a temple in the generation of 1832.

TEST 3: Living a life that doesn’t produce good fruit

Matthew 7:15-20 (KJV)
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

EVIDENCE AGAINST JOSEPH SMITH
So many to pick from here but I think that this one, from an official LdS Church source, shall suffice:

“Careful estimates put the number between 30 and 40 [polygamous wives of Joseph Smith]. See Hales, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, 2:272–73.”

“Joseph Smith was sealed to a number of women who were already married.”
(LdS Church, “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo”; official church website, retrieved 2016-01-02)

And let’s be clear, he married them and he had sex with them:

Sexuality in Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages
Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma, allegedly told the wife of Apostle George A. Smith, Lucy, that Joseph Smith’s plural wives were “celestial” only, that he had no earthly marital relations with them. “They were only sealed for eternity they were not to live with him and have children.” Lucy later wrote that when she told this to her husband:

He related to me the circumstance of his calling on Joseph late one evening and he was just taking a wash and Joseph told him that one of his wives had just been confined and Emma was the Midwife and he had been assisting her. He [George A. Smith] told me [Lucy Smith] this to prove to me that the women were married for time [as well as for eternity], as Emma had told me that Joseph never taught any such thing.

Because Reorganized Latter Day Saints claimed that Joseph Smith was not really married polygamously in the full (i.e., sexual) sense of the term, Utah Mormons (including Smith’s wives) affirmed repeatedly that he had physical sexual relations with them—despite the Victorian conventions in nineteenth-century American culture which ordinarily would have prevented any mention of sexuality.

For instance, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner stated that she knew of children born to Smith’s plural wives: “I know he had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up. I know he had three children. They told me. I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names.” Melissa Lott Willes testified that she had been Smith’s wife “in very deed.” Emily Partridge Young said she “roomed” with Joseph the night following her marriage to him, and said that she had “carnal intercourse” with him.

Other early witnesses also affirmed this. Benjamin Johnson wrote “On the 15th of May … the Prophet again Came and at my hosue [house] ocupied the Same Room & Bed with my Sister that the month previous he had ocupied with the Daughter of the Later Bishop Partridge as his wife.” According to Joseph Bates Noble, Smith told him he had spent a night with Louisa Beaman.

When Angus Cannon, a Salt Lake City stake president, visited Joseph Smith III in 1905, the RLDS president asked rhetorically if these women were his father’s wives, then “how was it that there was no issue from them.” Cannon replied:

All I knew was that which Lucy Walker herself contends. They were so nervous and lived in such constant fear that they could not conceive. He made light of my reply. He said, “I am informed that Eliza Snow was a virgin at the time of her death.” I in turn said, “Brother Heber C. Kimball, I am informed, asked her the question if she was not a virgin although married to Joseph Smith and afterwards to Brigham Young, when she replied in a private gathering, ‘I thought you knew Joseph Smith better than that.’”

Cannon then mentioned that Sylvia Sessions Lyon, a plural wife of Smith, had had a child by him, Josephine Lyon Fisher. Josephine left an affidavit stating that her mother, Sylvia, when on her deathbed, told her that she (Josephine) was the daughter of Joseph Smith. In addition, posterity (i.e., sexuality) was an important theological element in Smith’s Abrahamic-promise justification for polygamy.”
(Todd Compton, “In Sacred Loneliness”)

The Wives of Joseph Smith (click to view full image)

Test 4: Denying that God eternal was incarnated as Jesus Christ