Archive for November, 2014

BoM-299
An ongoing series of articles on some common and recurring weak arguments that Christians make against Mormonism.

by Fred W. Anson
The Argument:
“The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.”

Why It’s Weak:
As previous articles in this series have pointed out, this argument is weak because it’s untrue.[1]

1) The Book of Mormon is largely orthodox
To segue off of the the last article in this series, from a theological perspective, the biggest problem with the Book of Mormon isn’t the content as much as the origin story and how it’s used by Mormonism – that is, as Joseph Smith’s prophetic credential. If you strip away the baggage of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon origin story you’re left with a piece of Christian literature that’s more akin to “Pilgrim’s Progress” or “The Screwtape Letters” than “Dianetics”. In fact, the following mainstream protestant doctrine can be found in the Book of Mormon:[2]

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

2) The Golden Bible’s “Campbellism Improved”
So, ironically, the Book of Mormon, if properly understood and applied, can actually be of great benefit in arguing against the truth claims, doctrine, and theology of modern Mormonism. That’s because it contains so much 19th Century American Protestantism – “Campbellism” for example.

Campbellism refers to the form of Christian Primitivism developed and taught by Alexander Campbell during the 19th Century Second Great Awakening in America. Essentially the movement claimed that the Christian Church after the death of the Apostles fell into apostasy and needed to be restored to it’s pure, New Testament roots. According to the “Faith Defenders” website other key other Campbellite doctrines include:[3]

Alexander Campbell  (circa 1855)

Alexander Campbell
(circa 1855)

  1. The Christian Church disappeared in the first century. The “true” Gospel was lost at that time.
  2. The Roman Catholic Church and all Protestant Churches are apostate organizations, and are not to be viewed as “Christian” churches.
  3. All the historic creeds and confessions are worthless and should be ignored.
  4. God raised up Alexander Campbell to “restore” the “true” Gospel and to re-establish the Christian Church. He restored the pure “Apostolic” Church.
  5. The Millennium was going to be ushered in during their lifetime by the “Restoration” Movement.
  6. The “true” Gospel teaches that “baptism unto remission of sins” is essential for salvation. The “Restorers” spoke of this as “baptismal regeneration.”
  7. The “baptism” given by all other churches is not saving. You have to be re-baptized in accordance with the Campbellite doctrine of baptism to be saved.
  8. Only Bible names should be used in the name of a church. It is wrong to use such names as Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, etc. Even though they first called themselves “Reformed Baptists,” they later took up such names as “Disciples of Christ,” “the Churches of Christ” and “The Christian Church.”

By the way, on that last one, the original name of the Mormon Church was “The Church of Christ”. And isn’t it interesting that the current name still adheres to this Campellite doctrine as well? Further, did you notice what happens with number four if you substitute “Joseph Smith” for “Alexander Campbell” in it? What are you left with? Answer: Mormonism.

This is nothing new, the fact that Campellism can be found throughout the Book of Mormon is a well established fact. My article “Campbellite Doctrine in The Book of Mormon” briefly discusses where many of the above doctrines can be found in the Book of Mormon. On the other extreme, Mormon Anthropologist Daymon Smith has written an entire series of books on the subject. The more interesting question is how did so many of Alexander Campbell’s teachings get in there to begin with? Some, particularly proponents of the Spaulding-Rigdon Theory, argue that Campbellite doctrine entered the Book of Mormon through Early Mormon leader and high ranking Campbellite minister, Sidney Rigdon. As Mormon scholar Scott G. Kenney notes:

Both [both Mormons and Rigdon’s Campbellite Church] were restorationist and taught the formula of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. Faith was considered to be an intellectual exercise. Both called on believers to come forward and have their sins immediately washed away. The similarities were so striking that one newspaper article carried the headline, “The Golden Bible, or, Campbellism Improved.”

There were differences, to be sure, but they tended to occur at points where Mormons agreed with the Rigdonite critique of Campbellitism. Both Rigdon and Smith believed in a literal and far-ranging restoration that would include prophecy, priesthood authority, and gifts of the Spirit. Smith too believed that the ancient patriarchs and prophets were Christians who were called to prepare the way for Jesus, that the current age was a short preparatory period to prepare for Christ’s millennial reign.[4]

Speculation aside, exactly how the “Golden Bible” (aka The Book of Mormon) became to be equated with “Campbellism” (let alone, the “improved” version) isn’t as important as the fact that it did. And while a lot of Christians don’t think much of Campbellism even to this day, the fact remains that Book of Mormon and Early Mormon teachings were more aligned with the established Christian orthodoxy of Joseph Smith’s day than unaligned.[5]

3) As well as a 19th Century Kitchen Sink
The Book of Mormon also contains parts and pieces of other 19th Century Protestant sources. As Mormon Historian, Grant Palmer notes, “Seventy-five percent of the content of the book [the Book of Mormon] is accounted for by Joseph Smith’s use of six, nineteenth-century sources of which he was very familiar. Twenty-five percent came from the Bible and another twenty-five percent came from the Methodist religion. The remaining twenty-five percent came from three other sources.”[6] For example, let’s consider Mr. Palmer’s analysis of how King Benjamin’s farewell speech parallels one by period Methodist leader Bishop William McKendree.

Methodist camp meeting (1819 engraving) Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766-1840)

Methodist camp meeting (1819 engraving) Jacques Gérard Milbert (1766-1840)

We have not taken Joseph Smith seriously enough when he stated that he had an “intimate acquaintance” with evangelical religion and that he was “ somewhat partial” to the Methodists. Protestant concepts appear to abound in his [Joseph Smith’s] discourses and experiences. For example, a Methodist camp meeting was held one mile from Palmyra, New York, on 7 June 1826 – a pivotal time in Joseph’s life. Preparations for a camp meeting included leasing and consecrating the ground. Thus the “ground within the circle of the tents is considered sacred to the worship of God, and is our chapel.” The Methodists referred to these “consecrated grounds” as their “House of God” or temple. The Palmyra camp meeting reportedly attracted over 10,000 people. Families came from all parts of the 100-mile conference district and pitched their tents facing the raised “stand” where the preachers were seated, including one named Benjamin G. Paddock. This large crowd heard the “valedictory” or farewell speech of their beloved “Bishop M’Kendree [who] made his appearance among us for the last time.” He was the Methodist leader who “had presided” over the area for many years. The people had such reverence for this “sainted” man “that all were melted, and … awed in his presence.” In his emaciated and “feeble” condition, he spoke of his love for the people and then delivered a powerful message that covered “the whole process of personal salvation.” Tremendous unity prevailed among the crowd, and “nearly every unconverted person on the ground” committed oneself to Christ. At the close of the meeting, the blessings and newly appointed “Stations of the Preachers” were made for the Ontario district.

This is reminiscent of King Benjamin’s speech to the Zarahemlans in the Book of Mormon, whose chronicler describes the setting:

The people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the [last] words which [their beloved] king Benjamin should speak unto them … [T]hey pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family … every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple … the multitude being so great that king Benjamin … caused a tower to be erected … [And he said from the platform,] I am about to go down to my grave … I can no longer be your teacher … For even at this time my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you. (Mosiah 2: 1, 5-7, 28-30).[7]

So given The Book of Mormon’s pedigree of cobbled together and plagiarized 19th Century Protestant sources, it’s only natural that it would be filled with at least some orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity isn’t it? In actual fact, it’s filled with a lot. Therefore, to say that it’s devoid of any, as the weak argument presented here does, is simply wrong.

The Stronger Arguments:
All of the stronger arguments are basically a variation on just one: “So the Book of Mormon’s got Protestant doctrine in it, so what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.” Let’s consider the following case study to see how this works tactically:

1) Dr. Ridenhour is right . . . 
Dr. Lynn Ridenhour is a former Liberty University professor and an ordained Southern Baptist Minister who, despite the fact he has never been baptized into any Latter Day Saint church, has a Mormon-style testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. He has been warmly embraced by both Brighamite (that is members of the LdS Church) and Josephite (that is members of the RLDS/Community of Christ church and it’s splinter groups) Mormons as, “a witness of the Restoration”. Consider this excerpt from a BYU article on Dr. Ridenhour:

Shortly thereafter, his new neighbor handed him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Lynn [Ridenhour] retorted, “Sir, that’s a Book of Mormon—I thought this was a Christian community.” Undeterred, the neighbor left the book, and Lynn decided to read it as a courtesy and with the intent of lifting his neighbor out of darkness. Lynn described what happened next: “I opened that precious book of the stick of Joseph, and I did not get out of the first page. When I read, ‘I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,’ I knew! From then on, I knew I was reading the divine word of God, I really did. That was in May of 1985, and I haven’t stopped. I tell my Baptist friends I have been born again—again!”[8]

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour in a BYU TV interview (click to view video)

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour bears testimony in a BYU TV interview
(click to view video)

Every so often Dr. Ridenhour gets rediscovered by Latter-day Saints. They get excited and start touting him as living proof of the veracity of Mormonism as well as the epitome of what a truly honest, spirit-led, and enlightened Protestant/Evangelical Christian looks like.[9] Recently, this was the case when some Mormons rediscovered Dr. Ridenhour’s (circa 2001) article, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon” in which he outlines the following Baptist doctrines found in the Book of Mormon: Born Again Experience, Plan of Salvation, Plan of Redemption, Salvation, The Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Faith, and Grace. Suddenly social media was flooded with posts from Mormons about this exciting new and enlightened Baptist minister who “gets it, really gets it!” And, indeed, the Book of Mormon proof texts that Dr. Ridenhour cites in support of his thesis, if taken strictly at face value, do indeed reflect modern mainstream Protestant doctrine. So Dr. Ridenhour is largely correct when he concludes:

The two go hand in hand, really–Protestant doctrine and the Book of Mormon. They’re not at odds. The Book of Mormon is filled with Protestant cardinal doctrines, believe it or not. In fact, I discovered, the Book of Mormon is more “Baptist” than the Baptist hymnal in places. I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s so. I read the Book from cover to cover and found as a Baptist minister, there is absolutely nothing in it that contradicts the Bible.

For example, the book uplifts the blood of Christ (Mosiah 1:118), declares that salvation is only by God’s grace (2 Nephi 7:42), defends the grand theme of salvation (Mosiah 1:108), and proclaims that salvation comes only through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (Mosiah 3:8,9). Other themes such as repentance, atonement by Christ’s blood, redemption, and forgiveness run like a scarlet thread through the book as well (Alma 3:86, Helaman 2:71, Alma 13:13, Mosiah 2:3,4). Thus, our “tongue ‘n’ cheek” title, The Baptist Version of the Book of Mormon. I’m telling you, the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through. From cover to cover.[10]

But does he really “get it” folks? Answer: No.

… but so what?
Dr. Ridenhour’s evidence is sound, however, his “leap of faith” conclusion that the book was divinely inspired and testifies of Joseph Smith’s legitimacy as a true prophet of God isn’t. After all isn’t this abundance of 19th Century Protestantism exactly what we would expect to find in the Book of Mormon given the sources that Joseph Smith synthesized, compiled, and plagiarized it from? Why is any of this astounding, surprising, or deserving of over-the-top hyperbolic gushing like . . .

What a book!

Perhaps the late [Mormon educator and writer] John Henry Evans (1872-1947) said it best when he penned an overview of the Prophet’s life with typical nineteenth century eloquence:

“…Here is a man,” says Evan, “who was born in the stark hills of Vermont; who was reared in the backwoods of New York; who never looked inside a college or high school; who lived in six States, no one of which would own him during his lifetime; who spent months in the vile prisons of the period; who, even when he has his freedom, was hounded like a fugitive; who was covered once with a coat of tar and feathers, and left for dead; who, with his following, was driven by irate neighbors from New York to Ohio, from Ohio to Missouri, and from Missouri to Illinois; and who, at the unripe age of thirty-eight, was shot to death by a mob with painted faces.

Yet this man became mayor of the biggest town in Illinois and the state’s most prominent citizen, the commander of the largest body of trained soldiers in the nation outside the Federal army, the founder of cities and of a university, and aspired to become President of the United States.

He wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics for a hundred years and which is today more widely read than any other volume save the Bible…”
Joseph Smith, An American Prophet,
1933 preface

Joseph Smith “…wrote a book which has baffled the literary critics…” So true.[11]

Literary Critic, Harold Bloom

Literary Critic, Harold Bloom

Really? Well, I don’t know of any scholars who are “baffled” by the Book of Mormon. I have no idea where John Henry Evans and Lynn Ridenhour are getting this from. For example, literary critic Harold Bloom (who devoted an entire chapter to Smith entitled, “The Religion-Making Imagination of Joseph Smith” in his book, “The American Religion”) certainly wasn’t baffled when he stated plainly:

With the Book of Mormon, we arrive at the center of Joseph Smith’s prophetic mission, but hardly at any center of Mormonism, because of Smith’s extraordinary capacity for speculative development in the fourteen years that remained to him after its publication. The Book of Mormon was not only his first work; it is the portrait of a self-educated, powerful mind at the untried age of twenty-four. It has bravura, but beyond question it is wholly tendentious and frequently tedious. If one compares it closely to Smith’s imaginings in the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine and Covenants, it seems the work of some other writer, and I don’t mean Mormon or Moroni[12]

So how and why would one conclude that because Joseph Smith was able to put together a 19th Century work of fiction (and one that’s merely a reflection of the Christianity of his time) that he was a prophet of God? Should we declare John Bunyan a prophet for writing “Pilgrim’s Progress”, or C.S. Lewis for writing “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “The Screwtape Letters”, or “The Space Trilogy”? After all, many moderns sense the same spark of the divine in those books that Mormons do in the Book of Mormon. So if the Book of Mormon is a legitimate prophetic credential for Joseph Smith why aren’t these works for these authors? With all due respect to Dr. Ridenhour, this is beyond an irrational leap of faith – it’s patently absurd!

Using Dr. Ridenhour's criteria for Joseph Smith isn't C.S. Lewis a prophet too?

Using Dr. Ridenhour’s criteria for Joseph Smith isn’t C.S. Lewis a prophet too?

This is especially true when one considers what Smith followed the Book of Mormon with. The Book of Moses, The Book of Commandments, Doctrine & Covenants, The Book of Abraham are filled with heresy of the type that any qualified ordained Southern Baptist minister would and could never endorse – let alone bear witness to someone who as a true prophet of God! Oh, and by the way, the Book of Mormon does indeed contradict the Bible repeatedly – on that point Dr. Ridenhour is simply wrong.[13] OK, but that said, even if I’m generous and go along with his premise that, “the grand themes of Protestantism are found recorded through and through from cover to cover” in the Book of Mormon . . .

So what? Modern Mormonism still can’t be found in it.

Second Suggested Strong Argument: There has to be a Morning After
As noted previously, the other works that Joseph Smith produced both during after the Book of Mormon’s “translation”[14] and publication process were full of heresy. Therefore, after you’re done saying, “So what?” to the Protestantism in the Book of Mormon you can simply focus on the heresies of those later works instead. We’re talking about things like:[15]

  • God the Father was once a man, on another world (Kolob), and progressed to godhood by following perfectly the commands and precepts of his Father God.
  • God the Father is a person with a body of flesh and bones.
  • The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate gods, “one in purpose” only but not one in being.
  • There are a plurality of gods but we only worship the God of this world, God the Father (aka “Heavenly Father”)
  • God the Father, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and other sons of the Father did not create the universe and earth out of nothing, but “organized” them from eternally existing matter that pre-existed God the Father.
  • The Most faithful and worthy Mormons can progress to godhood in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom, where they can obtain their own world and with their wife (or wives) procreate spirit children for eternity.
  • The “new and everlasting covenant” of polygamy is necessary for exaltation to godhood.
  • Mormons who are unmarried in this life and do not marry in the next life, cannot be exalted, but will become servant ministering angels to exalted Mormons in the next life.
  • Every human being will find a place in one of the three degrees of glory (or “heaven” in plain English).
  • Temples and temple ordinances pertaining to endowments are necessary in order to pass through the veil and enter the presence of God the Father, and consist of temple marriage, new names, secret key words and handshakes that will be used as an identification of the person in the next life.
  • Baptisms for the dead must be performed by proxy in this life for those who did not accept the gospel in this life, so that their sins can be forgiven and they can enter the Celestial Kingdom after they accept the Mormon gospel message in the next life.
  • Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother procreated the spirits of every human being that has lived, is now living or will ever live on this earth.
  • The spirits procreated by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother lived with their father on his world as angels in the “pre-existence” before being sent to earth to inhabit human bodies.
  • Jesus Christ is the brother of Lucifer (Satan), every human being past and present, and the angels.
  • Jesus Christ made atonement for sins in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This list was compiled from the article entitled “Mormon Doctrine Not Found in the Book of Mormon”. You will find full documentation for each and all of these non-Book of Mormon heresies there.

Third Suggested Strong Argument: That was Then This is Now
Finally, since the 19th Century Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon discredits much modern 21st Century Mormon Doctrine you can make the Book of Mormon your biggest ally. I won’t go into further detail on this here since the prior article in this series contains several tactics and tips on how to do this in the “Stronger Arguments” section. Finally, specific passages from the Book of Mormon that can be used in support of this effort can be found in the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”.

Summary and Conclusion:
This argument is weak because it simply isn’t true: The Book of Mormon contains a lot of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christian doctrine. However, it’s still irrelevant: You still can’t find modern 21st Century Mormonism in the Book of Mormon – in fact the Book of Mormon discredits the Mormonism of today. Once this is realized, the Book of Mormon can actually become your most potent weapon against the heresies of the modern LdS Church. So don’t despise the Book of Mormon, use it!

book_of_mormon-1280x960_edited

This can be your most potent weapon against the heresies of the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!

NOTES
[1] See the following:
Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”
Fred W. Anson, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctrine”

[2] This list of orthodox Protestant doctrine in the Book of Mormon was originally extrapolated from the article, “The Book of Mormon v. Mormon Doctine”. A fuller explanation of each of these points – including scripture references – can be found there or by using the embedded links I’ve included in the list on key points in the list.

[3] Uncredited, “Faith Defenders” website

[4] Scott G. Kenney, “Sidney Rigdon Mormonism’s Co-founder”

[5] Please see my previous article, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”, for a fuller exposition on this.

[6] Grant Palmer, “Six Sources Joseph Smith May Have Used In Composing The Book of Mormon”, MormonThink website.

[7] Grant Palmer, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins” (Kindle Locations 2123-2138). Signature Books. Kindle Edition.

[8] Keith J. Wilson, “A Witness of the Restoration”, BYU Religious Education website.

[9] Here are some things for Mormons to consider in regard to Mr. Ridenhour:

1) Lynn Ridenhour practices Pentecostal-style tongues speaking and thinks that all Mormons should too. Which is why he considers himself more RLDS/CoC than LdS. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/me_in_restoration/CharismaticRLDS.htm )

2) Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into ANY Mormon church – be the LdS Church, the RLDS/CoC, or any other Mormon denomination. He has a small following with the RLDS/CoC folks but that’s about it. He is neither RLDS or LdS, he’s cobbled together his own form of Mormonism – much of which I suspect you would disagree with strongly. (see http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/Bio/baptized.htm )

3) One reason why Mr. Ridenhour has never been baptized into any Mormon group is because he (like us) has real concerns, issues, and differences with some of the things that Joseph Smith taught after the Book ok Mormon. To my knowledge Mr. Ridenhour has never published anything in this regard but he has told several people (in one-on-one settings, never in a group) this verbally.

Therefore, Mr. Ridenhour is more aligned with the RLDS/CoC stance that at some point Joseph Smith became a fallen prophet rather than the LdS stance that Smith was faithful and true to the end.

I’ve found that most Brighamite Mormons who spend some “quality time” time on Mr. Ridenhour’s websites find their enthusiasm for this “witness of the restoration” waning since he’s not really as aligned with the LdS Church as they had originally thought. Here are the links to those websites:

Lynn Ridenhour (new website) http://www.lynnsbridgebuilding.com/
Lynn Ridenhour’s Winepress Ministries (old website) http://www.greaterthings.com/Ridenhour/

And for future reference here’s a link to the start of the Lynn Ridenhour section of this article:
http://wp.me/p25Eco-1jG/#LynnRidenhour
(Tip: You might want to keep this link handy for the next time Dr. Ridenhour gets rediscovered by Mormons.)

[10] Lynn Ridenhour, “The Baptist Version of The Book of Mormon: Protestant Doctrines within the Book of Mormon”, CenterPlace.org website. Bolding and italics are in the original article. The links to online 1908 RLDS edition of The Book of Mormon have been added for this article.

[11] Ibid, Ridenhour.

[12] Harold Bloom, “The American Religion” (Kindle Locations 1184-1189). Chu Hartley Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[13] See Sandra Tanner, “Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions”,
and Luke P. Wilson, “Contradictions Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible”

[14] “Translation” in quotes because a book produced using a seer stone in a hat with source documents nowhere in sight (a folk magic process called “scrying”) can hardly be called “translating” can it? See the LdS Church’s “Book of Mormon Translation” Gospel Topics essay for the faithful perspective and MormonThink.com’s “Translation of the Book of Mormon” essay for a more neutral perspective on this.

[15] Fred W. Anson, “Weak Arguments #6: ‘Mormon doctrine was heretical from the very beginning.'”

BACK TO TOP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… and how he closes it:

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

As Thomas G. Alexander summarizes Campbell’s critique:

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

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

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

“Mormonism Unvailed” by E.D. Howe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nauvoo Expositor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(click to zoom)

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

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

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

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

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

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

KeithWalkerQuote_Edited

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

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

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

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

[5] Op cit, Thomas G. Alexander, p.18

[6] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.8

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

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

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

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

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

[12] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.5

[13] Op cit, Alexander Campbell, p.15

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

[15] Op cit, Timothy L. Smith, p.10

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

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

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

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

Mormon Reformation Day 2011 95 LDS Theses

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

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

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

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

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

[22] Ibid, p.112

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

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

by Cory Anderson
A Pastor’s Appeal to Shawn McCraney

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

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

BACK TO TOP

The 1611 Translators Preface to the KJV Bible.

The first page of the eleven page Translators Preface to the 1611 KJV Bible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The title page of a 1611 KJV Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: British Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, this is really how many Mormons see us!

Yes, this is really how most Mormons see us!

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

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

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

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

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

This is further explained in a 1987 Ensign magazine article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Timothy in a Greek Interlinear.

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

Scripture 4 All Bible Interlinear
Hebrew Interlinear Bible
Greek Interlinear Bible

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

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

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

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

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[15] Ibid, Ensign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this Ehrman debate versus James White:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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