Archive for the ‘Authors’ Category

Robert Weingarten, “Jackson Pollock #1” (2007)

compiled by Fred W. Anson
The issue
“As an Evangelical, I’m being told that Charis is a reciprocal ‘covenant’ and also that Strong’s Greek is ‘outdated’. One of the sources that this LDS individual is using is Evangelical, Douglas Moo’s article, ‘John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,’ The other is Latter-day Saint, Stephen O. Smoot’s ‘Saved by Charis: A Review of “Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis”’ (with thanks to Cynthia Debban Petermann and Paul Nurnberg for providing this issue clarification)

Rob Bowman’s response
It’s complicated. This claim is also being made by some non-LDS scholars, although how it is understood or applied in the NT isn’t always the same.

First, I thought Douglas Moo’s article, “John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift and the New Perspective on Paul,” was excellent.1

Second, the Greek word “charis” (χάρις) does not mean “covenant.” Nor is the word necessarily associated with a covenant, though of course, the “new covenant” in Christ has grace as a key aspect. The Book of Hebrews, which uses the term “covenant” more than the rest of the NT combined (see especially chapters 7-10), tells us that Jesus is our high priest seated on the throne of God in heaven, ready and able to give us “grace” and “mercy” with sympathy for our weaknesses (Heb. 4:14-16), having died as a sacrifice for our sins in order to save those who come to him (7:26-8:6). So we can agree that the grace of God is associated with the new covenant, for which Christ is our mediator with God.

Third, describing the new covenant as “reciprocal” requires some explanation. It is reciprocal in the sense that a covenant is a relationship between two parties, in this case, God and believers (the church, if you will, considered as one party). It is therefore reciprocal in that God expects those who have entered into the covenant to remain in it in order to continue receiving the benefits of it. Remaining in the covenant entails continuing to honor the Benefactor in order to continue receiving his generous gifts. But those gifts can never be earned. There is no payment plan for reimbursing God, our Benefactor, for the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.

Fourth, the evangelical doctrines of salvation by grace alone and justification by faith alone do not mean that Christians are not expected to do good works. We are not saved by our works (Eph. 2:8-9), but because we are saved we do good works (2:10). Salvation consists not *only* in forgiveness of sins but also in regeneration (the new birth), the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit, sanctification (being set apart or consecrated to God as his holy people), and eventually glorification in which we become sinless, absolutely holy, loving, good, and righteous people. No one can be saved who wants forgiveness without the rest of the blessings of salvation. You can’t tell God, “I’ll take forgiveness but I don’t want you messing with my life.” Let me re-post some material that I have posted on FB a couple of times in the past:

What is the evangelical view of faith and works? Let’s look at some representative statements.

First, here is Luther’s comment on Galatians 5:6:

Faith must of course be sincere. It must be a faith that performs good works through love. If faith lacks love it is not true faith. Thus the Apostle bars the way of hypocrites to the kingdom of Christ on all sides.”
The Epitome of the Formula of Concord, a Lutheran confession:
“But after man has been justified by faith, then a true living faith worketh by love, Gal. 5:6, so that thus good works always follow justifying faith, and are surely found with it, if it be true and living; for it never is alone, but always has with it love and hope.
(Martin Luther’s Bible Commentary, Galatians 5)  

John Calvin, in his Antidote to the Council of Trent:

I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. (Galatians 5:6; Romans 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.

The Westminster Confession of Faith

Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness,
is the alone instrument of justification:
yet is it not alone in the person justified,
but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces,
and is no dead faith, but works by love.
(Westminster Confession of Faith 11.2)

To conclude: Evangelicalism teaches both “faith alone” (i.e., faith is the sole instrument of justification) and “faith not alone” (i.e., faith is never alone but produces love that does good works). This is not a contradiction but merely reflects the fact that the two statements use “alone” in different ways.

This is what evangelical theology teaches.

Jesus did say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15; see also 14:21). I think we need to take that seriously. I also don’t think it conflicts with salvation by grace alone. God’s grace saves us not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power of sin. Love and good works are the fruit of genuine salvation.

NOTES
1 Just a clarification: As I just mentioned, the article is actually by Douglas Moo, not John Barclay. Moo is discussing Barclay’s book and the scholarly context in which it was written.

About the author: 
Rob Bowman is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Research (IRR). He left IRR in 2019 to pursue a career in theological research, writing, and teaching. Previously he served as Manager of Apologetics & Interfaith Evangelism for the North American Mission Board (2006-2008). For ten years Rob taught graduate courses in apologetics, biblical studies, and religion at Luther Rice University (1994-99) and Biola University (2001-2005). He has also worked with other apologetics and discernment ministries, most notably the Christian Research Institute (1984-91), the Atlanta Christian Apologetics Project (1994-99), and Watchman Fellowship in Alabama (1999-2000). Rob has spoken at over a hundred churches and at some three dozen conferences and debates. He has five years of experience hosting call-in radio talk shows focusing on apologetics, including the nationally famous Bible Answer Man show.

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

Rob and his wife, Cathy, have been married since 1981 and have four children, three of them still living at home.

This compilation was derived from the following Facebook discussion threads:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1853695141544362?view=permalink&id=2072500106330530 and https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS/permalink/2249032808677258.
(note this is closed Facebook group that you must be a member of in order to view group content. Click here to apply for membership in the group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PFAAS)
It has been republished here with the kind permission of the contributors on Facebook. 

by Fred W. Anson
Patristic Studies is a specialized area of study within Religious Studies focusing on the period from the end of the Apostolic New Testament era (c. AD 100) to either AD 451 (the date of the Council of Chalcedon or to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 depending on which Church Historian you talk to.1 It’s an area of study that few Protestants are aware of or have knowledge of. As Religious Studies Scholar Chris Welborn notes:

The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches typically have held this period in higher regard than have other churches. This is not surprising, since they share many points of theology and morality from this period. These churches also claim a line of divine authority from the New Testament period through the patristic period to this day.2

So given how other churches have used Patristic Studies to establish their direct lineage from primitive Christian, it should come as no shock when Mormon Apologists do the same. As Mr. Welborn observed in an article published in 2006:

Mormons have studied patristic writers increasingly since the middle of the twentieth century so as to use them to justify their church’s claim to be the true church. In doing this, they presuppose without qualification that Mormon theology and practice are true, and that the same Mormon theology and practice that are prevalent in the present day also were normative in the New Testament period. They then examine patristic writings to find similarities and dissimilarities to their theology and practice. The similarities, they say, were a remnant of authentic New Testament belief. The dissimilarities, however, they blanketly attribute to Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy, which they suppose entered and corrupted the church after the apostles died.3

This is fully aligned with Mormon Great Apostasy dogma which Mormon Missionaries explain to investigators of the faith like this:

Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost. Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.4

It’s also explained to these investigators that due to this universal apostasy a restoration of the Christian Church back to its original pristine, primitive state is required. Citing these Patristic sources, it’s asserted, is both proof of this apostasy and validation that the LdS Church alone holds the key to this required restoration.

The full image of the Origen icon from this article’s banner art.

Enter Origen
A particular favorite of Mormon Apologists seems to be Origen of Alexandria (c.184 – 253AD). The following excerpt is from Methodist, Church Historian, Justo Gonzalez’s popular and influential book, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”. In it, the knowledgeable student of Mormonism will see hints of the Latter-day Saint doctrines of pre-existent spirits (all humans were spiritual beings in heaven prior to coming to earth and inhabiting a physical body), ex-materia creation (the cosmos was formed out of pre-existing matter, not created ex-nihilio – out of nothing), and universal salvation (aka “universalism”):

Origen feels free to rise in great speculative flights. For instance, since the tradition of the apostles and of the church gives no details as to how the world was created, Origen believes that this is a fair field of inquiry. In the first chapters of Genesis there are two stories of creation, as Jewish scholars had noted even before the time of Origen. In one of these stories, we are told that humankind was created after the image and likeness of God, and that “male and female created He them.” In the second, we are told that God made Adam first, then the animals, and then formed the woman out of Adam’s rib. In the Greek version of the first narrative, the verb describing God’s action is “to create,” whereas in the second it is “to form” or “to shape.” What is the meaning of these differences? Modern scholars would speak of the joining of separate traditions. But Origen simply declares that there are two narratives because there were in fact two creations.

According to Origen, the first creation was purely spiritual. What God first created were spirits without bodies. This is why the text says “male and female”—that is, with no sexual differences. This is also why we are told that God “created,” and not that God “formed.”

God’s purpose was that the spirits thus created would be devoted to the contemplation of the divine. But some of them strayed from that contemplation and fell. It was then that God made the second creation. This second creation is material, and it serves as a shelter or temporary home for fallen spirits. Those spirits who fell farthest have become demons, while the rest are human souls. It was for these human souls—fallen preexistent spirits—that God made the bodies we now have, which God “shaped” out of the earth, making some male and some female.

This implies that all human souls existed as pure spirits—or “intellects,” as Origen calls them—before being born into the world, and that the reason why we are here is that we have sinned in that prior, purely spiritual existence. Although Origen claims that all this is based on the Bible, it is clear that it is derived from the Platonic tradition, where similar ideas had been taught for a long time.

In the present world, the Devil and his demons have us captive, and therefore Jesus Christ has come to break the power of Satan and to show us the path we are to follow in our return to our spiritual home. Furthermore, since the Devil is no more than a spirit like ours, and since God is love, in the end even Satan will be saved, and the entire creation will return to its original state, where everything was pure spirit. However, since these spirits will still be free, there is nothing to guarantee that there will not be a new fall, a new material world, and a new history, and that the cycle of fall, restoration, and fall will not go on forever.5

But before you’re baptized into the Mormon Church…
So, given all that, are you ready to be baptized into the Mormon Church? Sounds like a convincing case that Mormonism is teaching restored Christianity, doesn’t it? Well, Mr. Gonzalez certainly doesn’t think so. He immediately continues as follows:

In evaluating all of this, one has to begin by marveling at the width of Origen’s mental scope. For this reason, he has had fervent admirers at various times throughout the history of the church. One must also remember that Origen proposes all of this, not as truths to be generally accepted, nor as something that will supersede the doctrines of the church, but as his own tentative speculations, which ought not to be compared with the authoritative teaching of the church.

However, once this has been said, it is also important to note that on many points Origen is more Platonist than Christian. Thus, for instance, Origen rejects the doctrines of Marcion and of the Gnostics, that the world is the creation of an inferior being; but then he comes to the conclusion that the existence of the physical world—as well as of history—is the result of sin. At this point there is a marked difference with Irenaeus, for whom the existence of history was part of the eternal purpose of God. And when it comes to the preexistence of souls, and to the eternal cycle of fall and restoration, there is no doubt that Origen strays from what Christianity has usually taught.6

And Mr. Welborn concurs. As he correctly points out regarding the Mormon use of Patristic sources:

In using patristic sources, Mormons have scoured unorthodox as well as orthodox Christian writings. Many of these Mormon scholars are competent in their various fields, but their constant motive to validate Mormonism often distorts the conclusions of their study of this period…

Certain conclusions of Mormon scholars concerning the patristic period are accurate and helpful. Their sectarian motive of trying to justify the belief that the Mormon Church is the true church, however, has led them to examine the field in an incomplete, patchwork manner. Further, in order to support their theology, Mormons sometimes have interpreted patristic works in ways that force meanings onto the texts that the authors never intended and distort the authors’ intended meanings. In such circumstances, these Mormons are predisposed to drawing faulty conclusions.7

origen

An icon of a young Origen of Alexandria holding a communion chalice containing Christ’s body and blood.

A Heretic By Any Other Name …
What Mormon scholars also often fail to consider is that even if their cherry-picked sources taught the same doctrine that modern Mormonism does, that doesn’t make it normative for that time or orthodox today. Unlike Mormonism, which tends to skew strongly toward Ex-Cathedra,8 Protestants are Prima Scriptura.9 Therefore, any Patristic teachings that contradict, or exceed, the words of canonized scripture are not authoritative, period. This is especially important because as Reformed Theologian, James R. White has often pointed out, Patristic writings are just like today’s Christian Bookstore where the works of heretics like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn sit next to the works of Luther, Calvin, and Spurgeon. In other words, just because it’s there, that doesn’t make it true or reflective of Biblical orthodoxy. As Justo L. Gonzalez observes:

The many converts who joined the early church came from a wide variety of backgrounds. This variety enriched the church and gave witness to the universality of its message. But it also resulted in widely differing interpretations of that message. Such different interpretations should not surprise us, for at the time Christianity was still ill-defined—to the point that it would probably be better to speak of “Christianities,” in the plural. There certainly were in it varying views and emphases, as any reader of the New Testament can still see when comparing, for instance, the Gospel of Mark with John, Romans, and Revelation. But, were all the existing views and interpretations equally valid or acceptable? Was there not the danger that, within the still undefined limits of Christianity, there would be interpretations that would threaten its integrity? The danger was increased by the syncretism of the time, which sought truth, not by adhering to a single system of doctrine, but by taking bits and pieces from various systems. The result was that, while many claimed the name of Christ, some interpreted that name in a manner that others felt obscured or even denied the very core of his message. In response to such threats, what would become known as orthodox Christianity began to define itself by reaffirming such elements of its Jewish heritage as the doctrines of creation, of the positive value of the created world, of the rule of God over all of history, of the resurrection of the body—a doctrine learned from the Pharisees—and a coming final reign of God. In order to reaffirm such doctrines, it developed a series of instruments—creeds, the canon of scripture, apostolic succession—that would set limits on orthodoxy and would long remain central themes in Christian life and teaching. Thus, even those whose views were eventually rejected by the church at large, and came to be known as heretics, left their mark on the church and the way it understood itself.10

Thus many of Origen’s views were controversial in their day – heterodox to be exact11 – and very correctly declared fully heretical later. As one commentator points out:

Some of Origen’s ideas were unorthodox and put him at odds with fellow believers. For instance, Origen believed in the pre-existence of souls and that one’s status in the present world was proportional to one’s commitment to God during this pre-existence. His negative attitude toward the material world wasn’t much different than that of the Gnostics he so strongly opposed. He also considered the Trinity a ranking, not an equality, and believed that everyone, even demons, would one day be forgiven and purified by God. These claims were key to his being declared a heretic by various councils in the centuries after his death.12

He’s sure preaching somethin’… 
Of course, Origen was able to hold to heterodoxy because the type of top-down religious hierarchy that one sees in today’s Mormon Church simply didn’t exist. The Christian Churches of Origen’s day were decentralized, local, and autonomous. There was no First Presidency, Quorum of the 12 Apostles, Quorums of the Seventy, Stakes, or Wards guarding, maintaining, and enforcing orthodoxy. That very Roman Catholic invention came much, much, much later. So Origen (and other Patristic Fathers) could hold to – and even publicly preach – unorthodox views and oddball personal opinions without much, if any consequence.

Further, weakening the Mormon Apologist’s case is the fact that the Patristic Fathers were the very Church Leaders that Mormonism condemns as those who lead the pure and pristine Christian Church into apostasy after the death of the original Apostles and the end of their apostolic period. Consider this from Mormon Apostle, James Talmage:

We affirm that with the passing of the apostolic period the Church drifted into a condition of apostasy, whereby succession in the Holy Priesthood was broken; and that the Church as an earthly organization operating under Divine direction and having authority to officiate in spiritual ordinances ceased to exist among men.13

And an official, correlated LdS Church manual agrees with him:

One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy. Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians.14

… but it sure ain’t Christianity or Mormonism!
It is both illogical and irrational to cite from the very men that according to Mormon dogma were instruments of Satan in leading Christ’s Church into apostasy as proof that your church isn’t apostate, isn’t it? After all, as the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, said so well, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Joseph Smith, Jr., as quoted in B.H. Roberts, History of the Church 1:XL)

So in the end, agenda-driven, confirmation bias fueled, Mormon Apologists can cite and argue from cherry-picked Patristic sources and writings all they like, it proves absolutely nothing. Further, since these Patristic sources didn’t preach modern Mormonism, by doing so they are actually undermining and discrediting it, aren’t they?

A modern icon of Origen of Alexandria teaching the Saints throughout the ages.

NOTES
1 Wikipedia, “Patristics”.
2 Chris Welborn, “Mormons and Patristic Study: How Mormons Use The Church Fathers to Defend Mormonism”;
3 Ibid.
4 LdS Church, “Preach My Gospel: A Guide To Missionary Service” (2003 edition), p. 35.
5 Justo L. Gonzalez, “The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation”, pp. 94-95. HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
6 Ibid.
7 Welborn, Op Cit.
8 A Latin term meaning “from the chair” and the basis of the Roman Catholic concept of Papal Infallibility, whereby the voice of the Pope seated on his Papal throne is the ultimate authority for defining orthodoxy for Christ’s Church on earth. The Wikipedia article is a good primer for those new to this concept: Wikipedia, “Papal infallibility”.
9Prima scriptura is the Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is “first” or “above all” other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts, mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.” (see “Prima Scriptura”, Wikipedia)  
10 Justo L. Gonzalez, Op Cit, pp. 69-70.
11Heterodoxy in a religious sense means ‘any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position’. Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective ‘heterodox’ could be applied to a dissident.
Heterodoxy is also an ecclesiastical term of art, defined in various ways by different religions and churches. For example, in the Apostolic Churches (the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, and the Non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Churches), heterodoxy may describe beliefs that differ from strictly orthodox views, but that fall short either of formal or of material heresy.  (see Heterodoxy”, Wikipedia)
12 GotQuestions website, “Who was Origen of Alexandria?”.
13 James Talmage, “The Vitality of Mormonism”, pp. 109-110.
14
Official LdS Church manual, “Gospel Principles” (2009 edition), p. 92.

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.

For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
For it’s only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

(words and music by Robin Mark)

Revival In Belfast

As originally performed on “Revival in Belfast”

Joakim Skovgaard (1856-1933) “Christ in the Realm of the Dead”

compiled by Fred W. Anson
INTRODUCTION
1 Peter 3:18-19 is the foundational, biblical proof text for Mormon “spirit prison” and “proxy baptism for the dead” dogma. Here is how that passage reads:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
— 1 Peter 3:18-20 (NKJV)

MORMON PERSPECTIVE
Here’s how the passage is typically interpreted and applied by Mormon Leaders:

Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).

While yet in life, Jesus prophesied that He would also preach to the dead. Peter tells us this happened in the interval between the Savior’s Crucifixion and Resurrection (see 1 Peter 3:18–19). President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) witnessed in vision that the Savior visited the spirit world and “from among the righteous [spirits], he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness. …

‘These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, [and] the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands’ (D&C 138:30, 33).

The doctrine that the living can provide baptism and other essential ordinances to the dead vicariously was revealed anew to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see D&C 124; 128; 132). He learned that the spirits awaiting resurrection are offered not only individual salvation but they can be bound in heaven as husband and wife and be sealed to their fathers and mothers of all generations past and have sealed to them their children of all generations future. The Lord instructed the Prophet that these sacred rites are appropriately performed only in a house built to His name, a temple (see D&C 124:29–36).
(D. Todd Christofferson (Mormon Apostle), “Why Do We Baptize for the Dead?”, New Era magazine, March 2009)

Again, that’s how you will see Mormons interpret and apply this passage in your discussions with them on the Internet and in person. However, and frankly, no one seems to know with absolute certainty what this passage means. While we have may all have opinions, I don’t think that many mainstream Christians would build an entire theological system on it – as the LdS Church has – or die for their interpretation of it. I know I wouldn’t.

Frankly, a tight, precise interpretation of this vague, enigmatic, and unusual passage is just not that important since no essential doctrine of the faith is impacted by it or derived from it. As the saying goes: The main things are the plain things – and this thing just ain’t plain!

That said, here is a compilation of a number of perspectives that Evangelicals may want to consider in responding to Mormons on the Internet and elsewhere when they bring up 1 Peter 3:18-20.

"The Harrowing of Hell" National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Benvenuto di Giovanni, “Harrowing of Hell” (1490) oil on canvas (National Gallery, Washington D.C.)

CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES
“I understand, then, the “proclamation” [to the spirits in prison] to be in the resurrection/ascension itself. It is precisely this which announced to the demons that their world had been ravaged and that Christ is Lord and that they are subject to Him. I think this gives due consideration to all the details of the text and allows the simplest understanding of the words. The “harrowing of hell” idea and the idea of “Christ preaching through Noah” are ideas that must be imported into this text; they do not come out of it.

One Final Contextual Note
So how does all this fit in context? Peter has been dealing with the sufferings of Christians at the hands of the world. He no doubt sees behind it all the activities of Satanic forces. But not to worry — Christ also suffered at their hands and as our example. Moreover, He has invaded their very own realm and has emerged triumphant over them. Even they are subject to Him. Peter wants to assure “you”10 that your enemy will not survive forever; he is a defeated foe.”
(Fred Zaspel, “Christ’s Message to the Spirits in Prison: An Analysis of 1 Peter 3:18-19”)

3:19 preached. Between Christ’s death and resurrection, His living spirit went to the demon spirits bound in the abyss and proclaimed that, in spite of His death, He had triumphed over them (see notes on Col. 2:14, 15). spirits in prison. This refers to fallen angels (demons), who were permanently bound because of heinous wickedness. The demons who are not so bound resist such a sentence (cf. Luke 8: 31). In the end, they will all be sent to the eternal lake of fire (Matt. 25: 41; Rev. 20: 10).”
(John MacArthur, “NKJV, The MacArthur Study Bible, eBook: Revised and Updated Edition” (Kindle Location 203794). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

3:19 Proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. Who or what were these “spirits,” and where were they “imprisoned”? There is an important connection with Peter’s words and the noncanonical book of Enoch, which elaborates on the story of Ge 6:1–4, claiming that fallen angels were imprisoned in a terrible place of darkness (1 Enoch 10:4–6; 21:10; see note on Ge 6:4). 4 It’s possible Peter had in mind nonhuman spirits or angels, much like the book of Enoch (compare 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). It is not clear, however, where the spirits were imprisoned. The author may have had in mind what we would consider “hell,” or he may have been indicating a place to await judgment, much like the book of Revelation suggests (see Rev 20:1– 2). Many of the church fathers, however, understood that Christ descended into hell, which eventually became the dominant view as stated in the Nicene Creed.
(“NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context” (Kindle Locations 107406-107416). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

Andrea Da Firenze, “Descent into Hell” (1366-67), Fresco (Cappellone degli Spagnoli, Santa Maria Novella, Florence)

3:19 he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. The three most common views on this passage are: (1) Between Jesus’ death and resurrection, he preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead (the view of many church fathers, citing 4:6). Greeks had myths about heroes such as Heracles or Orpheus descending temporarily to Hades. (2) Christ preached through Noah to people in Noah’s day (the view of many Reformers). (3) Before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels (the view of most scholars today, citing v.22) Early Christians nearly always used “spirits” for angelic or demonic spirits rather than human ones, except when explicitly stating the latter. The Spirit raised Jesus; by the Spirit (and thus, in this context, presumably after his resurrection) Jesus “made proclamation”; in v.22, his exaltation declared his triumph over fallen angels. Most ancient Jewish readers believed that Ge 6:1– 3 refers to angels who fell in Noah’s day (v. 20); after the flood, they were said to be imprisoned (so also 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6), either below the earth or in the atmosphere (cf. v.22; note on Eph 2:2). Then, according to a well-known Jewish tradition, Enoch was sent to proclaim God’s judgment to them; here Christ is the one who proclaims their demise.
(“HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible”, Hardcover, Red Letter Edition: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 282228-282241). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

3:19 The familiar Apostles’ Creed affirmation that Jesus descended into hell is based chiefly on two references from 1 Peter, one of which (3:19) is more direct than the other (4:6), supported by implications to be taken from two other New Testament verses (Ac 2:27; Ro 10:7). The term is in harmony also with the language of Paul, where he spoke of Christ’s descending “to the lower, earthly regions” (Eph 4:9), and with John’s mention of “the First and the Last,” who holds “the keys of death and Hades” (Rev 1:17–18). The lowest regions were recognized as the habitation of the disembodied spirits of the dead, but 1 Peter 4:6 may instead refer to fallen angels (cf. Jude 6).)
(Kaiser Jr., Walter C.; Garrett, Duane, “NIV, Archaeological Study Bible, eBook: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture”, (Kindle Locations 156585-156593). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

3:19–20a Three main interpretations of this passage have been suggested: (1) Some hold that in his preincarnate state Christ went and preached through Noah to the wicked generation of that time. (2) Others argue that between his death and resurrection Christ went to the prison where fallen angels are incarcerated and there preached to the angels who are said to have left their proper state and married human women during Noah’s time (cf. Ge 6:1–4; 2Pe 2:4; Jude 6). The “sons of God” in Ge 6:2,4 are said to have been angels, as they are in Job 1:6; 2:1 (see NIV text notes there). The message he preached to these evil angels was probably a declaration of victory. (3) Still others say that between death and resurrection Christ went to the place of the dead and preached to the spirits of Noah’s wicked contemporaries. What he proclaimed may have been the gospel, or it may have been a declaration of victory for Christ and doom for his hearers. The weakness of the first view is that it does not relate the event to Christ’s death and resurrection, as the context seems to do. The main problem with the second view is that it assumes sexual relations between angels and women, and such physical relations may not be possible for angels since they are spirits (see note on Ge 6:2). A major difficulty with the third view is that the term “spirits” is only used of human beings when qualifying terms are added. Otherwise the term seems restricted to supernatural beings.
Perhaps a more satisfactory view would be to translate v. 19: “And in that [resurrection] state, by means of (his) ascension [see v.22, where the same Greek verb form is used of Christ’s ascension] he made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits.” The latter phrase most likely refers to the disobedient spirits (“ angels, authorities and powers,” v.22). Thus Christ’s ascension “into heaven” (v.22) was itself a victory proclamation to them (cf. Eph 3:10 and note).
(“Zondervan. NIV Study Bible”, eBook (Kindle Location 303325-303345). Zondervan. Kindle Edition)

Fresco of Christ’s descent into hell in an Eastern Orthodox Church. (painter and location unknown)

3:19,20 There are various interpretations of the meaning of these verses, primarily because of the ambiguity of the phrase spirits in prison. The Greek term translated spirits can refer to human spirits, angels, or demons. There are three main interpretations: (1) Some interpret these verses as describing Jesus as going to the place where fallen angels are incarcerated and declaring His final victory over evil in His work on the Cross. These commentators suggest that Peter is referring to the days of Noah because these fallen angels were typified by the gross immorality of those “spirits” who married human women at that time (see Gen. 6:1– 4; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 1:6). Depending on the commentator, this proclamation is assigned to the time between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, or to a time after Christ’s ascension to heaven. (2) Others hold that spirits refers to human spirits. Thus Christ preached to human beings who had died in Noah’s day and were in the realm of the dead (hell or Hades). Although some have insisted that Christ’s preaching included an offer of salvation to these people, this is at best unlikely and at worst misleading, for Scripture never concedes a “second chance” for sinners after death. The content of Christ’s preaching was most likely a proclamation of His victory over sin. (3) Finally, another major interpretation understands this passage as describing Christ preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of his day. Since they rejected Noah’s message of salvation, they were presently in prison— that is, hell.
(Nelson, Thomas, “NKJV Study Bible, eBook: Full-Color Edition” (Kindle Locations 279460-279464). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

3:19–20 spirits in prison. The Greek term translated spirits can refer to human spirits, angels, or demons. There are three main interpretations: (1) Some interpret these verses as describing Jesus as going to the place where fallen angels are incarcerated and declaring His final victory over evil in His work on the cross; (2) others hold that spirits refers to human spirits; thus Christ preached to human beings who had died in Noah’s day and were in the realm of the dead (hell or hades); and (3) another major interpretation understands this passage as describing Christ preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of his day.
(Nelson, Thomas, “KJV, Foundation Study Bible”, eBook (p. 1338). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

sn
And preached to the spirits in prison. The meaning of this preaching and the spirits to whom he preached are much debated. It is commonly understood to be: (1) Christ’s announcement of his victory over evil to the fallen angels who await judgment for their role in leading the Noahic generation into sin; this proclamation occurred sometime between Christ’s death and ascension; or (2) Christ’s preaching of repentance through Noah to the unrighteous humans, now dead and confined in hell, who lived in the days of Noah. The latter is preferred because of the temporal indications in v. 20a and the wider argument of the book. These verses encourage Christians to stand for righteousness and try to influence their contemporaries for the gospel in spite of the suffering that may come to them. All who identify with them and their Savior will be saved from the coming judgment, just as in Noah’s day.

tn after they were disobedient long ago. This reflects a Greek participle, literally “having been disobedient formerly,” that refers to the “spirits” in v. 19. Many translations take this as adjectival describing the spirits (“ who had once been disobedient”; cf. NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, TEV), but the grammatical construction strongly favors an adverbial interpretation describing the time of the preaching, as reflected above.”
(Biblical Studies Press, “NET Bible First Edition (with notes)”, (Kindle Locations 202282-202291). Biblical Studies Press. Kindle Edition)

3:18–20 As Noah preached righteousness, suffered unjustly, and rescued those who were with him, so also does Christ. Christ descended to those in darkness and death that light might shine on them and He might deliver them from death. As Christ fearlessly faced His tormentors, death, and hell, so we through Him can confidently face mockers and tormentors— and, yes, bring His light to them.
(Nelson, Thomas, “NKJV, The Orthodox Study Bible, eBook: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World”, (Kindle Locations 103704-103707). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

Maestro dell’ Osservanza, “The Harrowing” (c. 1445) Painting (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts)

3:19 Verses 19, 20 constitute one of the most puzzling and intriguing texts in the NT. It has been made the pretext for such unbiblical doctrines as purgatory on the one hand and universal salvation on the other. However, among evangelical Christians, there are two commonly accepted interpretations.

According to the first, Christ went to Hades in spirit between His death and resurrection, and proclaimed the triumph of His mighty work on the cross. There is disagreement among proponents of this view as to whether the spirits in prison were believers, unbelievers, or both. But there is fairly general agreement that the Lord Jesus did not preach the gospel to them. That would involve the doctrine of a second chance which is nowhere taught in the Bible. Those who hold this view often link this passage with Ephesians 4:9 where the Lord is described as descending “into the lower parts of the earth.” They cite this as added proof that He went to Hades in the disembodied state and heralded His victory at Calvary. They also cite the words of the Apostles’ Creed—“ descended into hell.”

The second interpretation is that Peter is describing what happened in the days of Noah. It was the spirit of Christ who preached through Noah to the unbelieving generation before the flood. They were not disembodied spirits at that time, but living men and women who rejected the warnings of Noah and were destroyed by the flood. So now they are spirits in the prison of Hades.

This second view best fits the context and has the least difficulties connected with it. Let us examine the passage phrase by phrase.

By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison. The relative pronoun whom obviously refers back to Spirit at the end of verse 18. We understand this to mean the Holy Spirit. In 1:11 of this Letter the “Spirit of Christ,” that is, the Holy Spirit, is described as speaking through the prophets of the OT. And in Genesis 6:3, God speaks of His Spirit, that is, the Holy Spirit, as nearing the limit of endurance with the antediluvians.

He went and preached. As already mentioned, it was Christ who preached, but he preached through Noah. In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is described as a “preacher of righteousness.” It is the same root word used here of Christ’s preaching.

To the spirits now in prison. These were the people to whom Noah preached— living men and women who heard the warning of an impending flood and the promise of salvation in the ark. They rejected the message and were drowned in the deluge. They are now disembodied spirits in prison, awaiting the final judgment.

So the verse may be amplified as follows: by whom (the Holy Spirit) He (Christ) went and preached (through Noah) to the spirits now in prison (Hades).” But what right do we have to assume that the spirits in prison were the living men in Noah’s day? The answer is found in the following verse.

3:20 Here the spirits in prison are unmistakably identified. Who were they? Those who formerly were disobedient. When were they disobedient? When once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared.  What was the final outcome? Only a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. It is well to pause here and remind ourselves of the general flow of thought in this Letter which was written against a general background of persecution. The Christians to whom Peter wrote were suffering because of their life and testimony. Perhaps they wondered why, if the Christian faith was right, they should be suffering rather than reigning. If Christianity was the true faith, why were there so few Christians? To answer the first question, Peter points to the Lord Jesus. Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake, even to the extent of being put to death. But God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him in heaven (see v. 22). The pathway to glory led through the valley of suffering.

Next Peter refers to Noah. For 120 years this faithful preacher warned that God was going to destroy the world with water. His thanks was scorn and rejection. But God vindicated him by saving him and his family through the flood. Then there is the problem, “If we are right, why are there so few of us?” Peter answers: “There was a time when only eight people in the world were right and all the rest were wrong!” Characteristically in the world’s history the majority has not been right. True believers are usually a small remnant, so one’s faith should not falter because of the small number of the saved. There were only eight believers in Noah’s day; there are millions today.

At the end of verse 20, we read that a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. It is not that they were saved by water; they were saved through the water. Water was not the savior, but the judgment through which God brought them safely.

To properly understand this statement and the verse that follows, we must see the typical meaning of the ark and of the flood. The ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. The flood of water depicts the judgment of God. The ark was the only way of salvation. When the flood came, only those who were inside were saved; all those on the outside perished. So Christ is the only way of salvation; those who are in Christ are as saved as God Himself can make them. Those on the outside could not be more lost.

The water was not the means of salvation, for all who were in the water drowned. The ark was the place of refuge. The ark went through the water of judgment; it took the full brunt of the storm. Not a drop of water reached those inside the ark. So Christ bore the fury of God’s judgment against our sins. For those who are in Him there is no judgment (John 5:24). The ark had water beneath it, and water coming down on top of it, and water all around it. But it bore its believing occupants through the water to safety in a renewed creation. So those who trust the Savior are brought safely through a scene of death and desolation to resurrection ground and a new life.
(MacDonald, William. “Believer’s Bible Commentary” (p. 2258-2259). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition)

Christians are to live their lives according to the shape of Jesus’ own passion, resurrection, and ascension. It is not only that Christ’s sacrificial acts are worthy of imitation but also that these acts are atoning. “For Christ also suffered … in order to bring you to God” (3:18).

There follows a description of the passion and resurrection of Christ that has puzzled Christian commentators through the ages. The first part is clear enough. Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (3:19). The claim is not strikingly different from that in Rom. 1:3–4. Peter is not arguing that only Jesus’ spirit was made alive, but that he was made alive in the power of the Spirit.

Now comes the particularly puzzling description of what the living Jesus did after his resurrection: “he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” (v. 19). The connection of these spirits with the flood (Genesis 6–9) suggests one of two possibilities. Perhaps these spirits are those of the disobedient people who perished in the flood. Or perhaps these spirits are the offspring of the “sons of God” and mortal women described in the puzzling passage Gen. 6:1–4. William Joseph Dalton argues persuasively that this passage fits with other first-century texts that speculate on the fate of these human/divine offspring. He further suggests that when the risen Christ preaches to these spirits, they are imprisoned in a kind of holding place located between earth and the upper heaven, where God the Father dwells. Jesus preaches to the spirits as part of his ascent.

The author now uses the reference to the ark and the flood to remind the readers of their own baptism. The flood prefigures baptism, but of course only in a kind of striking reversal. Noah and his family were actually saved from water; Christians are saved through water.
(Gale A. Yee (Author), Matthew J. M. Coomber (Editor), Margaret Aymer (Editor), Jr. Page, Hugh R. (Editor), et. al, “Fortress Commentary on the Bible: Two Volume Set”, Kindle positions 56143 -56152, Fortress Press. Kindle Edition)

Jacopo Tintoretto (Robusti), “The Descent into Hell”, (1568) oil on canvas

A Caution and a Path for Transitioning Ex-Mormons

by Fred W. Anson
Best selling author John Bradshaw is fond of saying, “You are a human being, not a human doing.” For those of us coming from legalistic, high-demand religious groups where personal performance is the yardstick by which value is judged these words sound like nonsensical gibberish. I mean, all after, doesn’t “doing” mean that you have the right to “be”? And if you do more won’t you be more? Isn’t, “The one who does the most and gets the most stuff wins!” the rule of life? Jesus said, “No!”

To the ever-increasing demands of “Do!” that the world screams at us Christ quietly says, “Abide”. Further, He says, paradoxically, that the key to bearing fruit is abiding:

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
— John 15:5-8 (NKJV) 

This is something that those of us coming from high demand, performance-oriented, image-conscious religious settings tend to struggle with. The idea of simply “abiding” rather than constantly “doing” tends to be something uncomfortable – even repulsive – to us, doesn’t it? I mean, after all, didn’t Christ also say that nasty things will happen to those who don’t bear fruit? So the answer must be to go out there, find your new calling,  and get busy with it, right? I mean come on you need to be doing something to bear fruit, right? And doesn’t the more fruit you produce mean that God will love and bless you more? Isn’t that how this religion thing is supposed to work?

A: Yes, that is indeed how the religions of men work;
No, that’s not how the religion of Christ does.

Rather, Jesus calls us to know him, to abide in Him, and thereby bear good fruit through Him organically as our walk with Him unfolds under His divine tutelage. It is His work in us that slowly and naturally bears fruit like grape clusters on a vine ripening in the sun.

The Ex-Mormon Struggle
Not inconsequentially, in Mormonism, so much time is spent in constantly doing things that the member doesn’t have time to think, feel, or enjoy the kind of slow, genuine, quiet, intimate, steadfast, communion with Christ that taught in John 15. This is no accident, Mormon leaders encourage this from the pulpit, don’t they?  And constantly being crazy busy and uber-productive is a point of pride in Mormon Culture, isn’t it? As a result, downshifting from this constant swirl of activity can be challenging for many former members, can’t it?

This PowerPoint presentation, given at the Faith After Mormonism Conference on October 12, 2019, in Murray, Utah, gives the solution from both the words of Jesus in tandem with the practical, hard-won experience of Ex-Mormons who have made this, not always easy and frequently bumpy, transition, into “being not doing”.

Click the above image for the video recording of this presentation from the Faith After Mormonism Conference.

Main Presentation (with Bonus Content)
This is the main presentation that was given at the 2019 Faith After Mormonism Conference during the Saturday morning Workshop Sessions.

The Bonus Content section is a map of where the post-Mormon bear traps lie based on the hard-won, real-world experience of successfully transitioned Ex-Mormons.  It also contains a treasure trove of wisdom borne out of their (often painful) Post-Mormon life experiences. The design and intent of this section isn’t to replace the Ex-Mormon’s old Mormon To-Do List with a new Evangelical version, but to invite them to learn from those who have gone before them.  This content also demonstrates clearly how while abiding in Christ may be as natural as eating, drinking, walking and breathing, it’s not always passive.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

Supplemental Content
This is a grass-catcher collection of content that was compiled, “just in case” for the Q&A portion of the main presentation. This presentation, combined with the Main Presentation, represent a kind of mini-crash course or road map of resources and reference materials to assist in helping the Ex-Mormon successfully make a full transition into mainstream historic Christianity.

Click the above image for the PowerPoint Presentation and here for the handout. 

About the Presenter
Fred W. Anson (Lake Forest, California) 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).  

 

About the Conference
Our purpose is to provide hope and wisdom for people leaving Mormonism to explore a new faith home in historic, biblical Christianity. Through speakers, workshops, exhibitors, and individual interactions,
you will receive helpful resources and meet others on a similar journey.

 

The Presenter would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for their assistance in producing this presentation (in no particular order): Michael and Briana Flournoy; Tina Edgar; the Admins of the Ex-Mormon Christians Facebook Group (Jackie Davidson, Amy Fuller, Barb Griffin, and Michael Stevens); Charlotte Pardee and the Ex-Mormons for Jesus, Orange, California chapter; Ross Anderson for making all this possible; and as always, I thank my wonderful wife Sue, who not only keeps me honest and humble but even-keeled to boot!

But above all else: Soli Deo Gloria.
Thank you, Jesus, for saving a wretch like me from my own worst enemy – myself.

 

An early 20th Century Postcard of the Baptismal Font in the Salt Lake City Temple.

“If history has shown us one thing, it’s that today’s Mormonism is tomorrow’s dustbin fodder”

by Fred W. Anson
The Church of Jesus Christ claims, “The gospel has been known throughout eternity, and its principles have been preached among men and women from their beginnings on this earth.” (Robert L. Millet, “The Eternal Gospel”, Ensign, July 1996) and “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.” (Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and the Church”, Ensign, November 1984).

But history tells a different tale: The Mormon gospel is temporal and constantly changing. Here’s a partial list of Mormon Doctrine, scripture, and bits and various pieces that have been left on the dustbin of history. This is the fifth in this ongoing, intermittent series of articles.

21) Doctrine &Covenants 20:37’s explicit and hard requirement of repentance from sin as a prerequisite to baptism.
Mormonism claims Doctrine & Covenants (D&C) Section 20 as its great mandate from Christ as to how His restored Church was to be structured and organized. As the section header for this revelation states:

Revelation on Church organization and government, given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at or near Fayette, New York. Portions of this revelation may have been given as early as summer 1829. The complete revelation, known at the time as the Articles and Covenants, was likely recorded soon after April 6, 1830 (the day the Church was organized). The Prophet wrote, “We obtained of Him [Jesus Christ] the following, by the spirit of prophecy and revelation; which not only gave us much information, but also pointed out to us the precise day upon which, according to His will and commandment, we should proceed to organize His Church once more here upon the earth.”

Included in this revelation, in verse 37 it is stated that one must repent prior to baptism:

And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
(D&C 20:37, bolding added for emphasis) 

In Early Mormonism, it was explicitly taught that one must fully repent prior to baptism as  the Book of Mormon explicitly states:

But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
(2 Nepi 31:14, italics and bolding added for emphasis) 

Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
(Alma 7:15, italics and bolding added for emphasis) 

And the teachings of Mormon leaders tightly reflected this pattern:

If you have been righteous from your birth up, and have never committed known sins and transgressions, be baptized to fulfil all righteousness, as Jesus was. If you can say you have no sins to repent of, forsake your false theories, and love and serve God with an undivided heart
(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p.159; bolding added for emphasis)

Has water, in itself, any virtue to wash away sin? Certainly not; but the Lord says, “If the sinner will repent of his sins, and go down into the waters of baptism, and there be buried in the likeness of being put into the earth and buried, and again be delivered from the water, in the likeness of being born—if in the sincerity of his heart he will do this, his sins shall be washed away.” Will the water of itself wash them away? No; but keeping the commandments of God will cleanse away the stain of sin
(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p.159; bolding added for emphasis)

But oddly, in modern Mormonism water baptism has morphed from something that one does after one has already repented to becoming the actual act of repentance itself resulting from remorse over past sin. Just consider these quotes from modern Church Leaders and literature:

Each ordinance and requirement given to man for the purpose of bringing to pass his salvation and exaltation is a covenant. Baptism for the remission of sins is a covenant. When this ordinance was revealed in this dispensation, the Lord called it “a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.” This covenant was given in the beginning and was lost to men through apostasy, therefore, when it was revealed again, it became to man a new covenant, although it was from the beginning, and it is everlasting since its effects upon the individual endure forever. Then again, whenever there is need for repentance, baptism is the method, or law, given of the Lord by which the remission of sins shall come, and so this law is everlasting. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:152)

In addition to recognizing our sins, we must feel sincere sorrow for what we have done. We must feel that our sins are terrible. We must want to unload and abandon them. The scriptures tell us, “All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and … have truly repented of all their sins … shall be received by baptism into his church” (D&C 20:37).
(“Repentance”, “Gospel Principles (2011 edition)”, ellipses in original, bolding added for emphasis.) 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is simple. It begins with faith in Christ. We believe in Him, trust Him, and depend on Him. Such faith leads us to repent—to stop doing things that are wrong and continue doing things that are right. Our faith in Him also makes us want to show our love by keeping His commandments, including baptism.
(“Lesson 3: The Gospel of Jesus Christ,”Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2018)”)

“… Sincere repentance will lead to the waters of baptism and forgiveness; but the need for repentance will continue while life lasts. Through baptism we may obtain forgiveness for past sins but it does not guarantee against future folly. Repentance is a vital requisite to the growing life. …”
(Hugh B. Brown, “Eternal Quest”, p.102, quoted in “Chapter 14: Repentance,” Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual (2000)”, ellipses in original, bolding added for emphasis.) 

Granted, in modern Mormonism, this can all be a bit fuzzy with Mormon authors sometimes seeming to refer to the Early Mormon doctrine of repentance as a hard prerequisite for baptism and other authors seeming to refer to baptism as the evidence of the act of repentance but the fact remains that there has been a subtle, but distinct shift away from the former. What used to be hard black and white is now gray and gooey. One can’t wonder if modern Mission Baptism quotas and other such pressures to generate baptisms – which didn’t exist in the much looser Early Mormon Mission system – aren’t at least in part responsible for sweeping the clear words of D&C 20:37 and the Book of Mormon regarding repentance as a hard prerequisite for baptism into the dustbin.

22) Baptism for health.
Are you sick? Do you need to be healed? What should you do? Why go to the Temple and receive a Baptism for Health of course! Being baptized for health was started by Joseph Smith in the early 1840s and ended in 1922. Here’s an account of the practice:

“SHORTLY AFTER HER HUSBAND returned home from a British mission in 1890, thirty-six-year-old Eleanor Cannon Woodbury Jarvis entered the St. George Temple font. This mother of eight sought a miracle. She remembered: “In the spring of 1884 my health failed and I had very poor health for the next 17 or 18 years. I was very near death’s door several times, but by the power of Faith my life was spared. . . . I was taken to the Temple in a wheelchair, was carried into the Font, baptized for my health & walked out & dressed myself, the first time for six months.”’
(Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, ‘“They Shall Be Made Whole”: A History of Baptism for Health”, The Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2008, p.69)

At its popularity baptism for health was the most common and popular form of Mormon Baptism. The practice quietly ended in the early 1920’s:

“The ultimate demise of healing by immersion was a top-down phenomenon, originating among the upper echelons of Church leadership. Early Mormons lived in a dynamic period of literal restoration: new scripture, charismata, a biblical exodus, and the return of the healing pools of old. As their healing liturgy became separated from the temple, Latter-day Saints did not completely forsake the curative nature of these edifices but sought the temple as a place of spiritual, not physical, healing and renewal. Although not part of modern LDS praxis, baptism for healing is an integral feature of Mormon history and played an important role in the development of the modern Church’s rituals and conceptualizations of healing. It was born of Mormonism’s charismatic restoration, received Joseph Smith’s revelatory support, and was promoted by generations of Church leaders. Although it was ultimately eliminated from the lexicon of the faithful, it provides an illuminating window through which historians can view the health, life, and death of Mormon men and women.”
(Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright, ‘“They Shall Be Made Whole”: A History of Baptism for Health”, The Journal of Mormon History, Fall 2008, p.112)

Today this practice has simply been swept into the dustbin.

23) Church members in good standing being rebaptized for the remission of sin and/or the renewal of covenants.
This was a practice that Joseph Smith started:

In late 1839, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (by an 1838 revelation) was relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois. Many who were already baptized members of the church, were rebaptised either to show a renewal of their commitment to the movement or as part of a healing ordinance.
(“Rebaptism (Mormonism)”, Wikipedia) 

That small precedent developed into a widespread ordinance under Brigham Young:

After the death of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, in 1844, rebaptism became a more important ordinance in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), as led by Brigham Young. Young led his group to the Great Basin in what is now Utah, and most of his followers were rebaptized soon after arriving as a sign that they would rededicate their lives to Christ. During the “Mormon Reformation” of 1856–57, rebaptism became an extremely important ordinance, signifying that the church member confessed their sins and would live a life of a Latter-day Saint. Church members were rebaptized prior to new covenants and ordinances, such as ordination to a new office of the priesthood, receiving temple ordinances, getting married, or entering plural marriage.
(“Rebaptism (Mormonism)”, Wikipedia) 

Finally, the First Presidency deemed such widespread use of rebaptism improper, so in 1893 they changed it – although under extenuating circumstances it lingered on for a while before it finally tickled down and dried up. As a result, today about the only time you see a Latter-day Saint rebaptized is when somebody already known to have been previously baptized in accordance with LDS doctrine is excommunicated rejoins the church.

Other than that, Mormon rebaptism has been brushed right into the dustbin – or, if you prefer, has gone down the drain and then straight down the memory hole to never be seen again.

A contemporary photo of the Baptismal Font in the Provo City Center Temple.

by Brian Horner
Like virtually all of the 19th century, American cults of Christianity, Mormonism began as an attack on the historically orthodox, biblical faith that it claims to have “restored”. While individual Mormons and Mormon leaders hold some diverse views on this matter, the basic idea they all share is that at some time shortly after the death of the last apostle, the authority of the gospel, the church and the Word of God (the Bible) was lost due to a universal, general apostasy and corruptions introduced into the Bible. The predicate to Mormonism’s alleged, “restoration”, is what Mormons are taught to regard as the “great apostasy”. The disdain that Mormon “prophets” and other leaders held for the vast majority of Christians who populated the orthodox Body of Christ throughout the ages –actually for the roughly 95% of the history of Christianity between this “great apostasy” and the initiation of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career in 1830—is palpable and obvious in their own words.

Mormonism begins with Joseph Smith’s alleged “First Vision” – an event, which Smith described with contradictory variations. But the basic message lies in every version: Mr. Smith claimed to have received this revelation from God (or the Mormon Gods “Heavenly Father” and his son “Jesus Christ”):

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt.
(Joseph Smith – History 1:19)

Here Smith attributes an explicit condemnation of the Christian church as “corrupt” and “an abomination” to God himself (or by the Mormon Gods, including Jesus Christ).

Brigham Young, the second “prophet” of the LDS organization carried on this Mormon tradition teaching that, “The Christian world, so-called, are heathens as to their knowledge of the salvation of God” (Journal of Discourses 8:171). He continued, “With regard to true theology, a more ignorant people never lived than the present so-called Christian world.” (ibid, 8:199). According to this Mormon “prophet”, Christians are totally ignorant heathens.

Young’s successor, John Taylor, confirmed this in his preaching. “What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing; yet these very men assume the right and power to tell others what they shall and what they shall not believe in. Why, so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest fools; they know neither God nor the things of God.” (Taylor, ibid, 13:225). Taylor taught the Mormon faithful, that Christians are fools.

Similar assaults against historically orthodox, biblical Christianity continued throughout several generations of Mormon “prophets”. Their message regarding this “great apostasy” was driven to the logical and common conclusion held by Mormons today as represented by B.H. Roberts, the most highly placed, official LDS historian within the organization. He said, “Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (History of the Church, vol. 1, p.xlii).

Dug's Special Mission_EDITED

This is consistent with both the message of the Mormon “prophets”, on this matter as well as the natural, even the necessary logical extension of the original, alleged “revelation from God” experienced by Smith and his successors, ever since. If Christianity had survived and was still alive and well in any form, anywhere on earth in 1830, then it would have been impossible to “restore” it with Mormonism. It is impossible to “restore” anything, in the sense that Mormonism uses the term, which already exists. This message is nothing less than the condemnation of the entire Christian church, allegedly from God himself. It has been carried down through the history of Mormonism to the present day and it is one of the key, essential claims that Mormons use to justify the existence of their religion. If Christ had remained with and in His church as He promised and God had not condemned the Christian church, as Mormons claim, then there would be no need for the existence of the entire Mormon religion. Its existence would simply be redundant as well as contradictory to the historic orthodox faith.

So what does all of this have to do with the Mormon rhetorical tactic of deflection? It serves as a topic that provides an excellent example of the kind of argumentation I want to describe here. I have debated this particular topic (and many others) with Mormons for decades. I have found that This topic is highly useful in exposing the falsehood of Mormonism since like so many things taught and believed by Mormons. Their view on this matter cannot be reduced to a matter of “faith”. It is a purely historical topic and the truth of any such claims as this can be easily determined by simply examining the historical facts.

Keep that in mind as we proceed, using this issue as an example of this kind of problem. After all, we are simply discussing the historical assertion of what Jesus, his apostles, and their churches taught. The issue is not the truthfulness or the meaning of what they affirmed and taught; it is simply a matter of identifying the teaching itself. Did Jesus teach the distinctively Mormon doctrines and practice of not? One can agree or disagree with what these doctrines meant or how to interpret them. The issue here is this: Were they actually taught it in the first place?

When Christians question or challenge the claims of Mormonism you can count on one thing: Mormons will almost invariably try to change the subject when they perceive that they cannot answer or defend the claims of their organization. The above doctrine of this supposed, “great apostasy” is an excellent example. The dialog usually follows this basic pattern, exemplified by Mark (a Christian) and Larry (a Mormon):

Mark: So let me be sure of our claim here; Joseph Smith received revelations from God about how the whole Christian faith had been corrupted and had decayed into an abomination to God. Is that right?

Larry: Yes that’s basically it.

Mark: “And now, at this point in time, we have Mormonism, which is the restoration of what was lost in this ‘Great Apostasy’, right?”

Larry: Correct. Joseph Smith was appointed by God to bring people back to the true gospel and God used him as the prophet of the Restoration. As a result, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s one true church, which is the only church on the earth today that retains the authority of the prophets and apostles who are still the foundation of the church, according to Ephesians 2:20.

Mark: Well that is pretty difficult to believe.

Larry: Why? Don’t you think that God wants his authority and the true gospel to be represented by his church?

Mark: Yes. But, if Mormonism is the restoration of the Gospel of Christ then we should be able to see that Christ himself taught the distinctive doctrines and practices that Mormons claim to have “restored”. I mean, you guys cannot have ‘restored’ something that never existed. And if it exists today, there was no need to “restore” it. Mormonism includes a whole bunch of things, in fact even requires lots of things that neither Christ nor his 12 apostles ever taught, like polytheism, the Mormon temple rituals, God the Father is a man living in outer space, and so on. Can you show me some reasons to think that Jesus or his apostles ever taught such things? …

At this point, Larry (or any Mormon) will almost always evade that question, and then cover his retreat with any of a variety of “red herrings” – a named logical fallacy, aka “Ignoratio elenchi”. This fallacy is deployed to distract the exchange or an audience from a point or a question. If successful, the Mormon will derail the conversation away from the question that he or she knows they cannot answer without causing irreparable damage to their religion’s public image.

In this scenario, Larry might respond to Mark’s question by ignoring it and launching a counter-question such as, “Can you prove that Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount”? Or he might ask, “Can you prove that Jesus walked on water”? or “Can you show me some reasons to think that the Hebrews migrated out of Egypt?” etc.

It is important to notice that there is no answer to Mark’s question in Larry’s response. Instead, he is trying to evade the question (avoid answering it) and then misdirect the conversation off onto a different topic, usually in such a way as to illustrate that no one can “prove” anything in the Bible to be true as long as someone refuses to believe it, just as we Christians refuse to believe that Christ ever taught the distinctive Mormon doctrines that their organization supposedly “restored” such as, for example, that dogma God the Father is a man living in outer space.

But the red herring fallacy is not the only evasion they use. Frequently the Mormon will deflect a direct question by attempting to abstract the subject matter to a level where he can technically “answer” the question by answering a question about the broader context containing Mark’s question. For example, the Mormon might respond to a challenge to show that Jesus and his apostles ever taught Mormonism’s distinctive dogmas by trying to show that the Bible elsewhere mentions other “gods” and that the Jews were indeed polytheistic, thereby proving that Jesus taught polytheism – a central dogma of Mormonism that are absent from the New Testament and Christianity for it’s entire history. This effort to broaden the issue is just another trick. It’s a bit more clever since it can be shown that indeed the Bible at least mentions other ‘gods’. It also describes the Jews practicing polytheism. But this deflection falls flat on its face in light of two simple facts so easily observed in the text of the Bible.

First, this “answer” simply ignores the obvious fact so evident in the context where these gods are mentioned, that they are repeatedly identified as false gods (Ps 115 and 135 are good examples). It also ignores the many explicit declarations by God that He alone is the only God that is, was or ever will be. (There are numerous examples throughout the Bible. Isaiah 44-46 contain clear and explicit revelations on this matter). Finally, it ignores the horrific punishment that God meted out on His people for their sin of practicing and teaching polytheism. Thus, the mentions of polytheism in the Old Testament are purely descriptive and not proscriptive. God tells the truth that some of His chosen people did indeed slip into this worldview. But pointing out that they sinned is not God’s endorsement of their sin of polytheism.

Secondly, this answer does not answer the actual question that was asked, pertaining to Jesus Christ, his apostles, and their churches supposedly teaching polytheism. If Jesus understood the Old Testament to actually endorse polytheism, as Mormons infer he must have, then we rightly expect that he would have made that point. After all, the number of Gods in existence must obviously be a critically important element of ANY coherent theology and we expect Jesus to have come with the truth on this essential point. If Jesus understood that there really are MANY Gods (one of the alleged, teachings of Christ that Mormons claim to have “restored”), then surely we should see some evidence of that somewhere in his own words, the words of his apostles or even their churches. Yet, no such evidence exists. The state of the evidence argues that the Mormon claim that Jesus taught polytheism to his disciples is therefore rightly regarded as false, by virtue of the lack of any reason to think he did!

I do not want to get down in the weeds of these particular Mormon doctrines here in this post. This issue of the Mormons claiming to have “restored” the original, authentic teachings of Jesus Christ supposedly lost to the earth in the alleged, “great apostasy” is only here as an example of the point I want to make, which is an examination of the tactics used by Mormons when responding to Christian challenges to the claims of their religion.

The larger point here is to be on the lookout for the distractions, deflections, evasions, counter-challenges, etc. used by Mormons in ways that, by virtue of their highly predictable commonality, appear to have been somehow ingrained into their subconscious. If you have ever debated Mormons and have not seen this behavior, consider yourself to be extremely unique. I have debated Mormons for decades and cannot remember even a single encounter wherein my Mormon correspondent did not quickly try to change the subject when it was clear that he or she could not allow him/herself to answer me honestly.

When challenging or questioning the claims of Mormonism, you will find or have already found that the deceptive practice of deflecting questions and responding with red herrings is a real problem. My advice is twofold:

BYU Professor Robert L. Millet. Click on the above image to see a video of Mr. Millett instructing Mormon Young People on how to deflect and evade direct questions and challenges from outsiders and critics.

1. Formulate your questions and challenges carefully and thoughtfully.
Another game Mormons seem to have been trained to play is to avoid answering your questions and challenges by parsing out words and/or quibbling with the form of the question rather than its intended content. They will frequently misrepresent your question (a straw man fallacy), in an effort to answer the question you “should have asked”, to quote Robert Millett, a popular BYU professor, and Mormon Apologist, instead of the question that you actually asked. There is nothing you can do to eliminate this evasion. But you can make it hard for them to use it effectively by carefully stating a well-thought-out challenge or question.

2. Do not be distracted by the tricks.
Pay careful attention to the Mormon’s response. Listen for a direct, honest answer to your question or challenge. This does not mean siphoning the response for only the answer you want. It means accepting an honest, truthful and valid answer to the question. As long as your question/challenge strikes at the heart of the Mormon claim in question, you are unlikely to get that answer. What you are far more likely to get is a deflection of some kind – perhaps very much like the ones illustrated above. In that case, your response should be to point out that you do not see how the deflection answers the specific question that you asked. Stay focused on your question or challenge. Repeat your question until you get an answer and always insist on an actual answer.

This is where forethought about your own question is important. You do not want to have to clarify the question after the Mormon evades it, because then you run the risk of being accused of “moving the goalposts” and your Mormon friend (or opponent) is not likely to let that slip and will use it constantly as an excuse to continue avoiding your questions. Also, see if you can get your Mormon friend to back up their answer, if it ever comes, by offering some supporting evidence and valid argumentation. (You will almost never get this far). When a direct answer, backed up by evidence and/or valid reasoning does not come, be careful in how you point out that failure. Expect it and don’t let it bug you. Just point out why the answer is invalid.

Unfortunately trying to lead someone who has been deceived –in some cases for an entire lifetime—to simply be honest with you and therefore with themselves will rarely end well. We human beings have a tendency to be defensive about the things we believe. A psychological condition called, “normalcy bias” will kick in and cause people to try whatever they can to get away from the facts that prove that they have been deceived. Moreover, a confrontation with factual reality that debunks closely held beliefs will frequently induce cognitive dissonance, causing many people serious intellectual and emotional distress. So be gentle if you can. Remember that 1st Peter 3:15 calls us to be prepared to have an answer (Greek: “apologia”) for the hope that is within us, but to do so with gentleness and respect:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
— Peter 3:15 NIV

About the Author
Brian Horner graduated with a Master’s Degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. He now sails around the Caribbean serving various ministries and teaching apologetics when he’s not writing articles like this one.