Archive for the ‘The 10 Myths Mormons Believe About Christianity’ Category

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

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

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

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

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

The Myth
“Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a Biblical text that is faithful to the original

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

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

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDNOTES

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

2 Bart Ehrman himself solidly backs up this conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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