Archive for March, 2021

The Apostle Paul’s Law v. Grace Dichotomy

by Michael Flournoy, Fred W. Anson, and Pam Hanvey
If you’re a Latter-day Saint who has talked theology with Evangelicals, chances are you’ve walked away exasperated more than once. I’m willing to wager you’ve thought, “How can these people misrepresent my church so much? Do they understand my beliefs at all?” Perhaps, you think the most blatant example is when Evangelicals show scriptures that say the Law doesn’t save and then give that smug “gotcha” look. The problem should be obvious, but it isn’t.

You don’t follow the Law of Moses, you believe in the restored gospel. And you’ve said it enough times that Evangelicals should get it by now, right? But we all get stuck in battle debate mode and just have to win, don’t we? So it’s easy to keep pushing an argument in vain.  We all know how it goes, don’t we? 

As a result, we are going to express what Evangelicals have been trying to say all along, but typically don’t know how to because they aren’t bi-lingual and speak both Mormonese and Christianese as your intrepid reporters here do.  

First, both sides agree that Mormonism is a restoration. Yes, you heard that right, it is a restoration. However, Evangelicals see it as a restoration of the Old Testament Law of Moses, not New Testament Christianity. That is, to put it into Mormonese: It’s a restoration of the Lesser Law not the Higher Law as Mormonism claims. (Evangelicals, see BYU Professor Larry E. Dahl’s article, “The Higher Law”, Ensign, February 1991 for a good primer on the difference between the two from the Mormon perspective.) 

Study this out in your mind and see if it is right: When Paul wrote his letters he made a distinction between grace and Law. Since Mormonism claims to be a restoration of New Testament Christianity, not Old Testament Judaism, it stands to reason that it should fit soundly into one of Paul’s categories, right?  So let’s dig in and see why the above thesis is true. 

Similarities with the Law
How dare Evangelicals equate the LDS gospel with the Law of Moses, right? After all, Latter-day Saints don’t sacrifice animals, nor do they consider circumcision an essential covenant or ordinance of the gospel. Plus, the Word of Wisdom doesn’t require abstinence from consuming pork, shellfish, or other non-kosher food, does it?

So, why do Evangelicals equate the LDS gospel with the Law of Moses? Evangelicals are not merely looking at outward practices, but rather, they are going deeper; looking at the principal(s) behind the practices. Very early on in the Old Testament, this principle is established in the Law of Moses.  

I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God.
(Deuteronomy 11:27-28, KJV) 

The principle of blessings for obedience is also included in LDS scripture.  

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
(D&C 130:20-21) 

Comparing the two, the Law of Moses (Old Covenant) clearly delineates laws/commandments to be obeyed in specific situations by a specific group of people (Israelites); obedience or disobedience resulted in temporal blessings or curses for the nation of Israel. 

In Galatians 3:24, Paul explains that the Law of Moses, “was given to be a tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith”. Obedience to the Law has never been the means by which men enter into eternal life. Eternal Life has always been a blessing given by grace through faith.

In contrast, D&C 130 only presents a principle of blessings for obedience (no curses for disobedience). It then takes the principle of blessings for obedience and doubles down on it;  making obedience to laws a requirement for all of God’s blessings – up to and including Eternal Life.2 This leaves no room for eternal life to be granted by grace through faith (see definition below). As a result, many of the practices found in the Law of Moses continue to exist in Mormonism. 

After all, you still covenant to sacrifice all that the Lord blesses you with, don’t you? Doesn’t the LDS Church require a mandatory tithe – even though the tithe was a covenant-keeping ordinance of the lesser Law? Don’t you consider baptism an essential covenant akin to circumcision? And aren’t coffee, tea, and alcohol essentially non-kosher foods that cause one to break covenant if one consumes them? 

Further, don’t both the lesser Law and higher Laws require making and keeping covenants with God in a temple? Weren’t the unworthy Gentiles forbidden from even entering the temple foyer, let alone the washing and anointing area? Ditto for Jews who didn’t keep their covenants? Weren’t women forbidden from holding the Priesthood? Ditto for male children below a certain age?  Wasn’t there a special class of men who could hold the Priesthood out of all the men on earth? Weren’t there classes or castes of priests within the Priesthood rather than a single Royal Priesthood? 

And, aren’t both systems so overwhelmingly arduous, demanding, and ultimately impossible that they drive us to ultimate failure, condemn us and point us to our ever-present, all-surpassing need for a savior. In short, the Law and the LDS gospel serve to bring us to a knowledge of sin. Thus, both systems condemn us just as Paul said so well in his epistles: 

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become ||guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
(Romans 3:19-20, KJV) 

We know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted
(1 Timothy 1.8-11, KJV)

As one of our authors (writing under the pen name “Marie Johnson”) said well: 

The Old Covenant sacerdotal system, which came 430 years after God made his promises to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3) was never designed to give eternal life. Its purpose was to act as a tutor and a disciplinarian; teaching people about the depths of their sinfulness. As their custodian, it watched over them and kept them in check until the fullness of time came and they could be justified by faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:19-24). Just as the promise was not the reality, the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant were only a foreshadow of the good things that were coming in Christ. (Hebrew 10:1-2)

Inaugurated with the shed blood of animals, the Mosaic covenant had a very distinct beginning. When Moses took the blood of calves and goats and sprinkled the book of the covenant and all the people, the Israelites were bound to abide by the Law of Moses (Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:19). They were required to continually perform sacrifices for the temporary covering of sins (Hebrews 10:11). If they intentionally defied the Mosaic Law, they would be cut off from Israel; that is, put to death (Numbers 15:30, Hebrews 10:28). No Hebrew was exempt from this obligation to the Law until, “the fullness of the time was come, [when] God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5,KJV)
(Pam Hanvey (writing as “Marie Johnson”), “The Bible v. The Book of Mormon Gospel”, Beggar’s Bread website, April 17, 2016) 

The Jews under the Old Covenant had to make a sin sacrifice once a year because they kept sinning. The LDS sacrament is essentially the same thing. It is a repeated ordinance that renews the covenant. The New Covenant, as Paul emphasizes again, again, and again in his epistles, does not need to be renewed at all. In this, Paul merely affirms and validates what Christ, Himself said on the cross, “It is finished” (see John 19:30).

So to review:

      • Both systems have tithing. 
      • Both systems honor the Sabbath. 
      • Both systems uphold the ten commandments.
      • Both systems require making and keeping covenants. 
      • Both systems overwhelm us and condemn us. 
      • And both systems point us our need for a Savior.

Dissimilarities with Grace
The other problem is how dissimilar Mormonism is with grace as the Bible defines it. For example, Mormonism commits a classic “Fallacy by Definition” error by reframing the primary definition of grace as, “the help or strength given through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ” (see “Grace” official LDS Church website

However, the words for grace in the Bible (“charis” in New Testament Greek and “chen” in the Old Testament) are generally defined as first and foremost, “the free and unmerited favour of God” (see “Divine grace” Wikipedia website). That is the definition of the word that not only the Christian world uses, but the world in general does. For example, consider this definition from Dictionary.com) which is about as generic a dictionary as they come: “favor or goodwill; a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior”.1

Can you see what just happened there, my Latter-day Saint friend? By simply defining the word correctly and giving it its true meaning, suddenly the atonement has shifted away from what I must do to gain God’s favor through law-keeping to simply receiving the favor that God has so freely already given me through faith and trust in the atonement of Christ. Suddenly, as two of the authors of this article explained in a previous article, we move from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross of Golgotha: 

Though the difference between Gethsemane and Golgotha might appear to be a trivial technicality, it underscores the vast differences between orthodox Biblical Christianity and Mormonism. By situating it at Golgotha, mainstream Christianity locates the atonement in the sacrifice of Christ; by situating it in Gethsemane, Mormons locate the atonement in the obedience of the believer.

It’s the difference between grace and works. On the one hand, there is the truly finished work that the believer looks to in faith; and on the other, there is the completed demonstration that the believer aspires to recreate (albeit metaphorically). In the latter, Christ might show the way, but he stops short of becoming the way, thus the believer is thrust back on his own efforts to secure the goal. As Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker noted, Mormonism is more about attainment than atonement, (Adam Gopnik, “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its Meanings”; The New Yorker, August 13, 2012). But such a focus denies the Christ-centered redemption narrative that’s at the very core of the gospel message and so rightly cherished by Christians the world over.
(Fred W. Anson & Michael Flournoy, “Behold the Man Upon the Cross”, Beggar’s Bread website, September 30, 2018

And this is a shift that’s reiterated again, again, and again in the Bible: 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV) 

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
(Galatians 2:21, KJV)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
(Galatians 5:4, KJV) 

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
(Romans 11:5-6, KJV) 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:17, KJV) 

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
(Romans 6:14, KJV) 

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
(Galatians 3:18, KJV)

In the aforementioned article, Pam Hanvey summed things up nicely when she said, 

Because Jesus redeemed those under the law, the Old Covenant became obsolete when the New Covenant was ratified in his blood. (Hebrews 8:13, 10:9-10). Jesus addressed this in the parable of the wineskins. New wine can’t be poured into old wineskins: The old skins will burst and both will be ruined. (Matthew 9:14-17). The two covenants can’t be mixed. [Yet] In spite of Paul and Jesus’ teaching, the Book of Mormon asserts that people who were under Old Covenant law could freely partake of the New Covenant and claim remission of sins through Jesus’ atonement…

Splattered throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon, this concocted gospel attempts to mix the Old and New Covenants, only to rip apart the fabric of the Old Covenant and trample underfoot the New Covenant.
(op cit, Hanvey) 

This is the focus of the entire book of Galatians, which may best be summarized by this passage: 

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified…

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
(Galatians 2:16,21, KJV) 

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes further to press home the fact that those trying to justify themselves by law-keeping are actually putting themselves under a curse: 

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
(Galatians 3:10-12, KJV) 

He even goes so far as to say that law-keeping is a yoke of bondage, rather than freedom, 

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
(Galatians 5:1 KJV) 

So my dear Latter-day Saint friend, if you feel like that pressures and demands of the conflated, mish-mash, of the false Mormon Gospel of intermingled Old Testament Law and New Covenant grace that your church teaches is enslaving and crushing you, Paul would simply say to you, “You’re right, it is!”  

And then I would imagine that he would simply look you in the eye, and ask this paraphrased version of his infamous Galatians 3:1 question,  

“O foolish Mormon, who hath bewitched you?”

NOTES
1 This isn’t to say that the LDS Church’s definition isn’t included in or a subset of the biblical definition grace, it is. However, it’s a secondary effect or by-product of “the free and unmerited favour of God”, nothing more. This is as Louis Berkhof explains so well in his Systematic Theology: 

The word “grace” is not always used in the same sense in Scripture, but has a variety of meanings. In the Old Testament we have the word chen (adj. chanun), from the root chanan. The noun may denote gracefulness or beauty, Prov. 22:11; 31:30, but most generally means favour or good-will. The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of finding favour in the eyes of God or of man. The favour so found carries with it the bestowal of favours or blessings. This means that grace is not an abstract quality, but is an active, working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts, Gen. 6:8; 19:19; 33:15; Ex. 33:12; 34:9; I Sam 1:18; 27:5; Esth. 2:7. The fundamental idea is, that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit. The New Testament word charis, from chairein, “to rejoice,” denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, “loveliness,” “agreeableness,” “acceptableness,” and has some such meaning in Luke 4:22; Col. 4:6. A more prominent meaning of the word, however, is favour or good-will, Luke 1:30; 2:40, 52; Acts 2:47; 7:46; 24:27; 25:9.
(Louis Berkhof, “Systematic Theology” (Grand Rapids, 1949), pp. 426-427)

So the problem isn’t so much that the LDS Church’s definition of grace is wrong as much as it’s both “cart before the horse” and incomplete. 

2 For our non-Mormon readers, Even though there are six (6) types of salvation in LDS soteriology, Mormons will still use the generic term “salvation” without specifying which of the six they’re referring to. Here is the list followed by the full explanation from an official, correlated LDS Church source. 

1) Salvation from Physical Death.
2) Salvation from Sin.
3) Being Born Again.
4) Salvation from Ignorance.
5) Salvation from the Second Death.
6) Eternal Life, or Exaltation.

And here, in its entirety is that source: 

Salvation
In the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the terms “saved” and “salvation” have various meanings. As used in Romans 10:9-10, the words “saved” and “salvation” signify a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this covenant relationship, followers of Christ are assured salvation from the eternal consequences of sin if they are obedient. “Salvation” and “saved” are also used in the scriptures in other contexts with several different meanings.

Additional Information
If someone were to ask if another person had been saved, the answer would depend on the sense in which the word is used. The answer might be “Yes” or perhaps it might be “Yes, but with conditions.” The following explanations outline six different meanings of the word salvation.

Salvation from Physical Death. All people eventually die. But through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected—saved from physical death. Paul testified, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In this sense, everyone is saved, regardless of choices made during this life. This is a free gift from the Savior to all human beings.

Salvation from Sin. To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, an individual must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37-38). Those who have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority have been conditionally saved from sin. In this sense, salvation is conditional, depending on an individual’s continuing in faithfulness, or enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God (see 2 Peter 2:20-22).

Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives (see Alma 11:36-37). However, through the grace of God, all can be saved from their sins (see 2 Nephi 25:23; Helaman 5:10-11) as they repent and follow Jesus Christ.

Being Born Again. The principle of spiritual rebirth appears frequently in the scriptures. The New Testament contains Jesus’s teaching that everyone must be “born again” and that those who are not “born of water and of the Spirit … cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). This teaching is affirmed in the Book of Mormon: “All mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).

This rebirth occurs as individuals are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It comes as a result of a willingness “to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5). Through this process, their “hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [they] are born of him” (Mosiah 5:7). All who have truly repented, been baptized, have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have made the covenant to take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, and have felt His influence in their lives, can say that they have been born again. That rebirth can be renewed each Sabbath when they partake of the sacrament.

Salvation from Ignorance. Many people live in a state of darkness, not knowing the light of the restored gospel. They are “only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). Those who have a knowledge of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the purpose of life, the plan of salvation, and their eternal potential are saved from this condition. They follow the Savior, who declared, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Salvation from the Second Death. The scriptures sometimes speak of salvation from the second death. The second death is the final spiritual death—being cut off from righteousness and denied a place in any kingdom of glory (see Alma 12:32; D&C 88:24). This second death will not come until the Final Judgment, and it will come to only a few (see D&C 76:31-37). Almost every person who has ever lived on the earth is assured salvation from the second death (see D&C 76:40-45).

Eternal Life, or Exaltation. In the scriptures, the words saved and salvation often refer to eternal life, or exaltation (see Abraham 2:11). Eternal life is to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and dwell with Them forever—to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom (see John 17:3; D&C 131:1-4; 132:21-24). This exaltation requires that men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that all Church members make and keep sacred covenants in the temple, including the covenant of eternal marriage. If the word salvation is used in this sense, no one is saved in mortality. That glorious gift comes only after the Final Judgment.

See also Atonement of Jesus Christ; Baptism; Eternal Life; Grace; Kingdoms of Glory; Plan of Salvation
(“True to the Faith” (2004), LDS Church manual, pp. 150-53; retrieved 4/26/2017)

ALSO RECOMMENDED
“Plan of Salvation Overview”,  LDS Church Book of Mormon Teacher Resource Manual, (2004), pp. 7–10;

More Notes and Thoughts on The Book of Mormon’s Parable of the Olive Tree

An ancient olive grove in Israel. Some of the trees in this grove are over 1,000-years old.

compiled by Susan Grape, Fred W. Anson, and “Team TOYBOM”
For those unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon, the Parable of the Olive Tree is an extended allegory recounted in Chapter 5 of the Book of Jacob, the third book of the Book of Mormon. Jacob states the allegory was one of the teachings of the alleged extra-Biblical, Old Testament era prophet, Zenos found in the brass plates, a lost record. The Brass Plates were a set of plates retrieved by Nephi at the direction of his father, Lehi. They contained Jewish records similar to the Old Testament, up to the time of Jeremiah. Latter Day Saints suggest that it is possible that Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (see chapter 11) is referencing a similar parable. (see Wikipedia, “Parable of the Olive Tree”; also see “List of Plates (Latter Day Saints)”, and “Zenos”). Click here to read the parable in its entirety.

An official, correlated Church manual explains the symbolism of the parable as follows:
Vineyard = The world;
Master of the vineyard = Jesus Christ;
Tame olive tree = The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people;
Wild olive tree = Gentiles (people not born into the house of Israel);
Branches = Groups of people;
Servants = Prophets and others called to serve;
Fruit = Lives or works of people;
(“Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees”, Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (1999), p. 56)

So that’s the backstory. Unfortunately, the parable has a number of issues and problems which we will discuss here in a running commentary type fashion for your consideration.

Other Thoughts and Notes:
An Olive Tree allegory would have had no direct significance to people living in the Americas in 541-421BC and approximately 60-years after the Book of Mormon people left the Middle East.
This is because olive trees aren’t native to the Americas and didn’t exist on the American continent until the 16th Century. From Wikipedia:

“Olives are not native to the Americas. Spanish colonists brought the olive to the New World, where its cultivation prospered in present-day Peru, Chile and Argentina. The first seedlings from Spain were planted in Lima by Antonio de Rivera in 1560. Olive tree cultivation quickly spread along the valleys of South America’s dry Pacific coast where the climate was similar to the Mediterranean. Spanish missionaries established the tree in the 18th century in California. It was first cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769 or later around 1795. Orchards were started at other missions, but in 1838, an inspection found only two olive orchards in California. Cultivation for oil gradually became a highly successful commercial venture from the 1860s onward.“
(Wikipedia, “Olive”)

An ancient Olive Grove in Israel. This grove is estimated to be about 2,000-years old.

Further, 19th Century Americans not living on the North American Southwest Coast – such as the Book of Mormon’s original, target audience – would be unable to see the flaws in the Parable of the Olive Tree since they can only be grown “landscaped in” (as is the case in Jacob 5) in Mediterranean climates.
From a botanical website on olive tree cultivation and olive oil production:

“Olive trees need a subtropical climate and do best with mild winters and long, warm, and dry summers. They are sensitive to hard freezing environments. They will grow in climate zones 10 and 11 (see map below). Some varieties are hardy enough for zone 9 or even 8. Temperatures below 22ºF (-5ºC) will kill small wood and branches. Freezing conditions lasting days or a hard freeze, below 15ºF (-10ºC), will kill or severely damage an olive tree. It is best to avoid planting olive trees in situations where there is a high risk of frost during bloom (late April to mid-May) or where freezing conditions are likely before harvest. Summer rainfall can cause fungal and bacterial infestations.”
(“Site Selection”, The Olive Oil Source website)

From Wikipedia:

“An estimated 865 million olive trees are in the world today (as of 2005), and the vast majority of these are found in Mediterranean countries, with traditionally marginal areas accounting for no more than 25% of olive-planted area and 10% of oil production.”
(Wikipedia, “Olive”)

Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that someone who was born and raised in the North American Northwest (which generally has a Humid Continental Climate) wouldn’t have a good working knowledge of landscaped olive trees or groves since olive tree cultivation is only possible in pots in that climate zone:

“Olive trees thrive in the northeast where they can live outside in containers from spring through early fall, but then they must be moved inside. In winter, they cannot survive outside because of low temperatures in the northeast that range from 10 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 25 F. The northeastern region is in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 though 7; olive trees grow outdoors in climate zones 10 and 11. If you prefer, you can keep the trees indoors year-round. According to a New York Times gardening column, olive trees do well in big pots, so you’re in luck if you have the indoor space.”
(Nellene Teubner Plouffe, “Olive Trees in the Northeast”)

Unlike the other plant and tree parables in the Bible, the botany in Jacob is flawed, inaccurate, and error-filled.
For example, consider Christ’s allegory of the vine and Vinedresser in John 15. As one of this article’s compilers, Fred W. Anson, explained in his October 2019 Faith After Mormon Conference lecture, “From Human Doing to Human Being: Abiding In Jesus After Mormonism” this allegory is so botanically and scientifically correct and precise that a vineyarder could follow it’s instructions and get exactly what the passage claims and promises: Improved grapevine health and fruit production. Here’s what the passage says:

John 15 (KJV)
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

By comparison, if an Olive Tree Arborist followed the instructions given in Jacob 5, it would kill the olive tree – it reeks of ignorance on the very subject that it’s using as an allegory. This fact raises the question of whether this passage in the Book of Mormon is inspired by God at all. After all, surely the Author and Creator of the universe would know how to care for the very olive trees that He designed and created, right?

An ancient olive tree in Spain that is about 2,000 years old.

There is no evidence that the Old Testament Prophet Zenos, who was being quoted from Laban’s Brass Plates as the source for this parable, ever existed.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains:

“Zenos is one of four Israelite prophets of Old Testament times cited in the Book of Mormon whose writings appeared on the plates of brass but who are not mentioned in the Old Testament (see also Zenock; Neum; and Ezias). Zenos is quoted or mentioned by Nephi 1 (1 Ne. 19:10-17), Jacob (Jacob 5:1-77;6:1), Alma 2 (Alma 33:3-11, 13, 15), Amulek (Alma 34:7), Nephi 2 (Hel. 8:19-20), and Mormon (3 Ne. 10:14-17).

Although specific dates and details of Zenos’ life and ministry are not known, the Book of Mormon provides considerable information about him from his teachings and related facts. Evidently he lived sometime between 1600 and 600 B.C. because he was apparently a descendant of Joseph of Egypt and his writings were on the plates of brass taken from Jerusalem to the Americas by Nephi 1 about 600 B.C. He may also have been a progenitor of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi (cf. 3 Ne. 10:16). Zenos spent time “in the wilderness” (Alma 33:4), but also preached “in the midst” of the “congregations” of God (Alma 33:9). Some of his enemies became reconciled to him through the power of God, but others were visited “with speedy destruction” (Alma 33:4, 10). Finally, he was slain because of his bold testimony of the coming of the “Son of God” (Hel. 8:13-19).”
(Daniel H. Ludlow, “Zenos”, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, p. 1623)

The first problem here is that Zenos isn’t a Jewish name – it’s a Greek name that means, “gift of Zeus” (see Wikipedia, “Zeno (name)”; also see The Bump website, “Zeno – Baby Name”). In fact, the closest historical match for “Zenos” is Zeno of Elea who was referred to by Plato and Aristotle in their work. (see Wikipedia, “Zeno of Elea”)

The second problem is the magnitude, weight, and significance that Mormon leaders and the LdS Church have placed on the work of Zenos during the Old Testament period. Consider the words of influential Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie:

“I do not think I overstate the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself-who is the prototype, pattern, and model for all the prophets-there was not a greater prophet in all Israel than Zenos.”
(Bruce R. McConkie,”The Doctrinal Restoration”, in “The Joseph Smith Translation, The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things”, ed My. Nyman and R. Millet. Provo, Utah, 1985, p.17)

So logically, if the prophet Zenos was as the Book of Mormon and the LdS Church claims, then it seems incredulous that there would be no record of him in the Bible, let alone that his body of work won’t have been recorded and as diligently preserved in the biblical canon as the other Old Testament prophets. The same is true of extra-biblical sources, such as well-known Jewish Historian, Josephus or the literature of the cultures and civilizations that surrounded Old Testament Israel.

Given all these problems and logical incongruities, as well as the fact that the Parable of the Olive Tree doesn’t seem to be the work of anyone actually familiar or acquainted with olive tree germination and care, it might be easy to conclude that Zenos is simply a fictional character that the 19th Century author of the Book of Mormon contrived and produced from his imagination and tried to pass off as legitimate using a classic historical revisionism tactic.

Finally, in Jacob 4:1, the alleged author of the book states that he cannot write much because of the difficulty of engraving on the plates.
Yet he writes this allegory that contains over 600 repetitive words (yes, we counted them), consisting of “Behold/beheld/looked/beholdest”, “It came to pass”, “the Lord of the vineyard, said to the servant of the vineyard,” and over a 1,000 if you add the last part of many verses that repeat the first part of the verse.

In the end, there are significant problems and concerns about the Parable of the Olive Tree in the Book of Mormon that simply can’t be ignored by the reader. Jacob chapter 5 creates far more problems than it solves. In fact, because the Zenos character in the Book of Mormon both here and elsewhere acts and speaks more like a 19th Century American Protestant than an ancient Old Testament Prophet. Therefore, it’s very reasonable to conclude that he was simply invented to give voice to Joseph Smith so he could push the Book of Mormon as his prophetic credential – as we know from the historical record that he did.

In other words, we are of the opinion that the Parable of the Olive, like the rest of the Book of Mormon, was written by Joseph Smith, to coin a phrase, for fame and prophet. And though we have come to different conclusions (he faith-promoting, we skeptical), this assertion is fully aligned with the body of historical evidence that Mormon Apologist, Daniel C. Peterson summarized so well regarding the role of the Book of Mormon in early Mormon culture when he said:

“Studies of Latter-day Saint sermons and curriculum from the earliest period of church history well into the 20th century demonstrate surprisingly little use of the Book of Mormon to establish doctrines or as a text from which to preach. Many Saints were converted by reading it, but, thereafter, they tended to overlook its specific content. Early members, mostly converts, knew the Bible well and used it extensively in their teaching and missionary efforts, but the Book of Mormon served mainly as a kind of talisman, its sheer existence pointing to Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. Even Joseph Smith used the Bible far more than he used the Book of Mormon in his sermons.”
(Daniel C. Peterson, “Embracing the power of the Book of Mormon”, The Deseret News, published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 5:00 a.m. MST)

The infamous Berkeley Olive Grove 1913 in Berkeley, California. By Olive Grove standards, this is a young grove that’s only a little over a hundred years old.

About the Compilation Team
Susan Grape grew up in a non-church going family. When she became engaged, her fiancé (now husband) and she joined a Christian church. As she was learning about the Bible and Jesus, several friends, and relatives who were either Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christian Scientist shared their beliefs with her and challenged her to the point that she knew that their doctrine was different enough to question that someone (perhaps herself) had to be wrong. When Mormon missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses came to her home, it forced her to study the scriptures to see what the Bible actually taught. That very intense time of studying gave her the evidence for what Biblical truth is. It sparked the desire to reach out to these groups with the Biblical gospel and the Biblical Christ.

Mrs. Grape served as a board member for ten years with Berean Christian Ministries and she currently is in her eleventh year of serving on the board of Christian Research & Counsel. Her husband Brad also is on the board. The Grape’s adult children are professing Christians, and their grandchildren are also being raised in the faith.

Fred W. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum).

“Team TOYBOM”
In late 2019 a new group was created on Facebook with the express purpose of encouraging Non-Mormons to read through the Book of Mormon cover-to-cover. It’s called “The One Year BOM: Non-Mormons Reading Through the Book of Mormon in a Year (aka ‘TOYBOM’)” and its mission and goal was to get Non-Mormons reading the Book of Mormon in a year as a group so they could openly and honestly discuss and deconstruct it without any Mormon interference, umbrage, or offense.

Thus no Mormons (members of any Latter Day Saint denomination or splinter group) were allowed in the group so that the group could speak freely and deconstruct the Book the Mormon honestly and openly without having to deal with the typical Latter Day Saint agendas, dogmas, thin-skinned offense, spin-doctoring, and confirmation bias driven apologetics that typically swirl around the Book of Mormon in public whenever Latter Day Saints are present. The goal was to quietly, objectively, civilly and dispassionately consider the Book of Mormon devoid of any of such partisan Latter Day Saint encumbrances.

An ancient Greek Olive Tree that’s at least 2,000 years old, possibly as old as 3,000 years.

Link to Part One