“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void.” (Genesis 1:1-2 KJV)

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee.
Trust ye in the Lord for ever:
for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength:
(Isa 26:3-4 KJV)

by Paul Nurnberg
The Great Prologue
A pastor friend of mine has a favorite axiom that he coined: “Truth is discovered, not downloaded.” By this, he means something akin to what American novelist and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner meant when he said, “All theology is biography.” In another clip, Buechner spoke of the sense we have:

That life is a plot, yes, the sense you have sometimes that life is trying to take you someplace, it’s not just — it is random events — I mean, who knows why things happen the way they happen? And you could say it’s just a sort of a farce, a black comedy, that all, that everything ends in death and dissolution. But once in a while, the sense that it was not entirely by accident that you found yourself wandering into a church at Madison Avenue and 74th Street where there was a man named Butrick who brought tears to your eyes and changed your life. You know that somehow or other something is at work in the world to take you someplace or show you some thing… Just a sense of a plot, of a shape to life.
(Frederick Buechner, “Life as a plot”, transcribed from YouTube video, Published Nov 26, 2012) 

There are several stanzas from William Kistler’s poem America February that move me deeply. It is a poem about visiting his father’s grave in middle age. Kistler writes of World War I:

Thousands are plunging through the open
door of death in fear and shock,
their souls and furthest memory lost
to the life of their bodies and falling
back across time suddenly and without harmony
as automatic weapons fire World War One lead
at uncontrollable rates. Picasso, Cocteau,
Satie and Massine are creating the forms
for the movement of the new century
in the towers and walking typewriters
of the jazz, cubist, dance-ballet, Parade.

They are gone now, the framers of the pure line
and the moving geometry of the twentieth century.

He is gone too. And though they spoke for him
in a way he did not understand and though
he lived in a commerce they could not accept
they were of the same urban, individual,
democratic freedom. Grain to our grain, but
darker more determined in their discovering
of the hidden shapes of the spirit . . . [4]

Kistler draws starkly contrasting images here; bodies — round and fully shaped — falling, cut down, while every numinous part of them, their souls and memories, are lost. They are also captive to the life of their bodies, though “they” would, perhaps, do differently? They die and fall back across time without harmony — that singing harmony of which Buechner spoke — the sense that “life is trying to take you someplace.” And of course, by “life” is meant “God.” What a place for those young men to be taken! It’s no wonder that WWI made unbelievers of so many.

“and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2 KJV)

Kistler juxtaposes that imagery with the “pure line” sought by the Cubists. With their themes of mechanization and modern life, the Cubists nevertheless are “darker more determined in their discovering of the hidden shapes of the spirit.” It is that line and that word that I used — numinous — that now gives shape to my conception of God. It’s not lost on me that a word that conveys non-materiality gives shape to my faith. That’s the beauty. The mystery.

When I was younger, my Evangelical uncle sent our family a wall hanging. It contained a print of a painting of Jesus, after the resurrection, revealing himself to Mary Magdalene, and the text of the Great Prologue from the first chapter of John’s gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 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.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:1-14 ESV)

And the Word was God. [ . . . ] And the Word became flesh. If I were to speak hyperbolically, I might say, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again [ . . . ].”[5] The wall hanging was placed in our home where I saw it often. I read those lines over and over. I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore. I’d been raised on the God of Joseph Smith’s First Vision [the canonized 1838 version], which aligns well with Smith’s later teachings of an embodied God.[6] I’d imbibed at my mother’s knee the arc of the LDS Plan of Salvation that makes gods in embryo of humanity — an eternal progression from intelligences to spirit children to mortals, and finally after much obedience to gods and goddesses. This same arc it has been said was passed through by the Son of God, and the Father himself. I believed it because Lorenzo Snow’s couplet told me so. On this view, God is embodied, material, tangible — and became such as part of the necessary eternal progression to exaltation.

On John’s view, the Word was already God before the Incarnation. I wondered at such a claim. It didn’t fit the path laid before me by LDS scripture and doctrine. Later, when I was graduating high school and LDS Seminary, my stake president gave to each graduate a hardcover gift copy of The Lectures on Faith with our names gold-embossed on the front cover. As I read the teachings there about God, I became even more flummoxed in my mental efforts to reconcile John 1:1 with D&C 130:22. Lecture Fifth: The Godhead contains statements clearly demarcating a difference between the Father and the Son — The Father being “a personage of spirit, glory, and power” and the Son being “a personage of tabernacle.”[7]

The confusion was especially acute because the Publisher’s Preface in my edition says that the Lectures “consist of seven theological and doctrinal treatises prepared chiefly by the Prophet Joseph Smith (with perhaps some assistance from other brethren)…”[8] I didn’t yet know that The Lectures had once been the “doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants, or that the extent of Smith’s direct influence on their content has been contested. I recognize in the Lectures now, as I do in the Book of Mormon, the Campbellite doctrine of Sidney Rigdon, an individual, with his theological training, more likely to have written the type of structured theological treatises found in the Lectures, than the unlearned farm boy who we are told could hardly compose a letter. But all of that encapsulates a decade and more of study and wrestling through my theology. Still, the Christology of the Lectures aligns better with traditional Trinitarian doctrine than with later LDS doctrine on the nature of God and man. It makes more sense of John 1:1-14.


“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3 KJV)

God is Love
During late spring and summer of 1998, I was a Mormon missionary laboring in the southern part of Budapest, on the Pest side of the Danube River. I had been on a mission for over a year and had anxiety about not being a fruitful missionary. Success was measured in obedience and baptisms. The obedience part, I was certain, I had locked down, mostly. We worked hard and followed mission rules, but baptisms hadn’t come. I was doing my part! Why wasn’t God leading us to humble people who would join the LDS Church? In my prayers, I bargained with God. I set unrealistic and arbitrary goals for the number of baptisms I wanted to realize before the two years were up. I wanted converts, but not for their sake. I felt the pressure of not wanting to return to Utah without having baptized many members. That would be a failure. I didn’t want to disappoint my family or the good people in my congregation back home. Mostly, I didn’t want to dissatisfy God. When I didn’t see results from my work, I looked for reasons. If a contact ceased meeting with us, I wondered if it was because I’d hit the snooze button once before I got up and showered. I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I was sure God did as well.

My companion and I had a standing Monday night appointment with the Mission Leader in the small branch in which we served. I was a senior companion for the first time, so it fell to me to prepare a message to share with this couple. On one Monday I was preparing my message on the bus ride out to their house. I had a red pocket-sized New Testament — the kind printed for members of the military. I thumbed through the topical guide looking for passages about God’s love — I needed that message — and hit on 1 John 4:7-12. As I read through the passage, I was struck by the grammar: “God is love.” My LDS mind spun trying to understand the implications of that. It didn’t say, God has love, God loves, or God is loving. It said, “God is love.”

Partway through the trip, we had to transfer to another bus. This couple lived several kilometers to the south, and well outside the city. As we sat waiting at a bus stop, I watched people pass by on bicycles or in Trabants, and let my mind roll over that statement. How can a God who exercises judgment and wrath be love itself? The passage worked on my heart. It was a key to something I couldn’t yet grasp. My view of God at that time, though I presumed to serve Him, was not a pretty picture. I was terrified of God. Not because I had a healthy view of God’s holiness. Rather, I viewed God as eager to punish, and I worried that I fell far short of the demands my religion taught me he levied.

When I was a kid, my mom showed my siblings and me a science project with a bowl of water, black pepper, and Ivory soap. We had to check the results, so we replicated the experiment far more times than our family’s pepper and soap budget — and our mom’s patience — could bear. We would shake the pepper into the bowl until the surface of the water was covered with a black film. Then we would place a corner of the bar of soap into the water and watch as it repelled the pepper towards the side of the bowl. The way this passage of Scripture worked on me was like that — pushing aside black shadows that held my mind and heart bound to a false view of God.

As I shared 1 John 4:7-12 with that couple that night, one verse, in particular, stuck in my mind. “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” My Mormon upbringing had placed a heavy emphasis on another Johannine passage: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), and it is true that love of God and of Jesus leads to obedience, but the way that this was taught then in Mormon life and culture gave the impression that obedience proved our love to God.

That night south of Budapest, as the sun set, my mind was racing. We sat in their small kitchen, having eaten an amazing meal of pot roast and potatoes. Synapses and connections were firing in my mind that were radically shifting my conception of God. The translation in my Hungarian Bible was more direct than the KJV (“Herein is love, not that we loved God . . .”). The Hungarian reads something more like, “Love is not in the fact that we love God, but rather . . .” I spoke rapid Hungarian, trying to convey to my audience the new understanding I was seeing in this passage. The man and his wife could tell that I was animated, and listened patiently, but something was getting lost in translation. After several minutes of me trying to explain how this passage was moving me, the man said, “Well, I’ve never seen it that way, but it is interesting.” Then he keyed in on the first sentence of verse 12 and asked how that could be the case given Joseph Smith . . .

“And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” (Genesis 1:4-5 KJV)

A Moral Pain and Loss
Recently, I sat speaking with a pastor who has served me as a mentor and friend. We were discussing a major upheaval that has flipped my life upside down and inside out. It is the result of moral evil; the kind that made me crave cold justice and sent my religious mind careening jarringly against the barriers of mercy. It represents pain and loss so severe that I have been left completely adrift and in free fall — in that darkest of silences within the hiddenness of God where theology rings hollow, but light, glorious light, is not overcome. Since the last time I had spoken with my friend, I’d been to an apologetics conference in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Frank Turek had been one of the speakers. I confessed to my friend over coffee and eggs that I had watched many videos on YouTube of Dr. Turek speaking at similar conferences, and had judged him to be arrogant and unfeeling, but that I recognized that my impression was likely colored by the click-bait style tags appended to the videos (e.g. “Frank Turek Destroys Atheist!”).

My friend listened as I recounted how I was pleased to find my impression to be misguided. Dr. Turek had told a story about a man and his sons who had questioned him at a conference in Michigan the year before. The tenderness with which Dr. Turek spoke of this man and his sons, and the backstory for their wrestling the angel showed me that he understands those who have deep and painful and legitimate reasons to ask, “If God, why evil?” In our breakfast conversation, my friend and I spoke of the Gordian Knot of determinism — either theological or material — and the implications for who is culpable for moral evil (such things to discuss over breakfast!). My friend alluded to the story I’d told him and then said something that I’ve been rolling over in my mind in myriad ways since. He said, “I don’t let God off the hook.”

Batter My Heart
A favorite band of mine, Jars of Clay, recognize that we are all culpable for evil. The lyrics to their song Oh My God nail every one of us to the cross. All are placed on equal footing in that song with regards to causing injustices — and needing relief from them. After making that point by reference to different groups of people representative of all of humanity, Dan Haseltine sings: “saviors always say” — noting that even Jesus himself cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At 4:18, the song moves into the climax, which I find to be among the most convicting and powerful in music. Haseltine sings of the recognition that he is among the fallen while the other members of the band lift their voices in mournful, soulful praise-singing from the depths of broken, wounded, guilty souls.

Sometimes I cannot forgive
These days mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be
Maybe I could get some sleep

While I lay, I dream we’re better
Scales were gone and faces lighter
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other

Sometimes I can close my eyes
And all the fear that keeps me silent
Falls below my heavy breathing
What makes me so badly bent?

We all have a chance to murder
We all feel the need through wonder
We still want to be reminded
That the pain is worth the plunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip
I wonder what to make of Heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give up

Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat them
All the wounds that money causes
All the comforts of cathedrals

All the cries of thirsty children
This is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers
This is our greatest offense.[9]

The questions. O, my God! The questions. I don’t have simple answers. In the face of both natural evil and moral evil, I have desired not answers, but presence. That is the beauty and the mystery of the Incarnation. Buechner said in one clip, “I used to think, as a minister, you know, you’re supposed to know the answers. That you go to somebody who’s going through a terrible time and you tell them something that’s going to make them feel better or give them something to hold onto. I’ve decided since that’s the least of what you do. You go and simply are with them.” The mystery of the Incarnation. God with us! The very concept of mystery in relation to the nature of God was neutered in the LDS teachings I received as a child and young man. I find in the Trinity and the Incarnation a beautiful mystery — the way in which God did not let even Himself off the hook. In Holy Sonnet 14, John Donne pleads, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God.” I’ve come to see the longing inherent in that line to be the key.

I love God, because he first loved me.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 KJV)

[4] Kistler, William, “America February,” America February (Tulsa: Council Oak Books, 1991), 25.

[5] Joseph Smith — History 1:12a-c.

[6] See Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.

[7] “Lecture Fifth: The Godhead,” Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985), 59. Available online here: http://lecturesonfaith.com/.

[8] Ibid. v.;

[9] Songwriters: Charlie Lowell / Dan Haseltine / Matt Odmark / Stephen Daniel Mason; Oh My God lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
— A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy

“. . . there began to come moments when I could feel moving into my mind, like a physical presence, the conviction that all was quite absurd. It made no sense at all that anything should exist. Something like nausea, but deeper and frightening, would grow in my stomach and chest but also at the core of my spirit, progressing like vertigo until in desperation I must jump up or talk suddenly of trivial things to break the spell and regain balance. And since that time I am always aware that that feeling, that extreme awareness of the better claim of nothingness, lies just beyond the barriers of my busy mind and will intrude when I let it.”
–Eugene England, “Enduring” in Dialogues with Myself

by Paul Nurnberg
In my last post, I invited readers to continue with me “the tragic quest” and promised in this post to tackle a simple subject: God. That was, of course, tongue in cheek. For if God were simple, then we could not describe the quest to know Him as tragic, which is Eugene England’s terminology that I have adopted. He defined what he meant by tragedy:

. . . it would seem that the central issue in tragedy is justice, specifically ultimate justice; the extreme anguish which tragedy confronts and forces us to confront derives, not from mere pain and loss, but pain and loss that touches our deepest concerns, those about the nature of the universe itself. And those concerns are by definition religious.1

A Natural Pain and Loss
On September 11, 2003, my wife Angela packed a lunch for us and surprised me at work with a positive pregnancy test she had taken that morning. It was wonderful news, especially considering the horrific events that had taken place on that date two years earlier. We were very excited to be adding to our young family, which already included two daughters and a son. I had just returned to my schooling carrying a full-time course load and working toward a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.

Twelve weeks into that pregnancy, on a Sunday night in October, Angela noticed signs that something might be wrong with the pregnancy. She asked me to give her a priesthood blessing. As an LDS husband, it was excruciating to see the fear in her eyes and the look of deep pain and loss already stealing across her face. I laid my hands on her head and blessed her. I wanted to tell her everything would be fine  —  the baby would be fine  —  but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I sensed that this was out of my control.

The next morning, we went to the OB/GYN for an ultrasound. After waiting for what seemed forever in muted hope that all was right, an Ultrasound Tech led us to a treatment room and silently performed the imaging procedure. She said the doctor would need to speak with us.

Angela immediately sensed what the doctor would tell us. She began crying uncontrollably. I gave what comfort I could, but I was numb. The ultrasound tech returned and took us to the doctor’s office. While waiting there for several minutes, I looked at his diplomas hanging on the wall — evidence of his expertise and training in these matters. He came in and explained that miscarriages are just statistical anomalies that unfortunately happen in a percentage of pregnancies. He explained that based on the ultrasound measurements the baby had only progressed to about six weeks and that they had been unable to detect a heartbeat. I remember feeling at once comforted by his explanation and horrified by it. “These things just happen sometimes.”

Over the next several months, I did my best to be there for Angela in her grief. We talked a lot, most times late into the night after I got home from long days of work followed by night school. I listened as she shared her grief and growth through that process. I ate my own feelings of sadness and loss, trying to put on a strong face for her. My father has struggled throughout his life with bipolar disorder and bouts of deep depression, so I knew intellectually that shoving my feelings down inside wasn’t healthy, but I had responsibilities to provide by working hard and continuing my studies. I couldn’t allow emotions to shut me down.

“So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.” (Job 2:7 KJV)

I turned to writing, a favorite outlet. I wrote a piece of short fiction that I called “God Lets the Wheat Grow Up with the Tares.” The protagonist and narrator is a Mormon pre-teen girl whose father abandoned the family when she was young and who now lives with her mother, older brother, and grandfather. At age 11 — not 8 — she finally forgives her father and allows her brother to baptize her “in the clean waters of the baptismal font in the new church building.” Her grandpa is a Jack-Mormon farmer who regrets selling a large portion of his land to developers and who harbors a hatred of God stemming from the death of his wife. Near the end of the story, he takes his granddaughter, on the evening after her baptism, to swim in the irrigation ditch. He asks her about her baptism, and in that muddy water, he performs his own bittersweet re-creation of the ordinance that he was barred from performing earlier that day.

The story contains an episode in which the grandpa rails against God. His daughter, Lucy, suggests that it was the Utah sun that got to her mother trying to present a “nicer” image of death for her own daughter. The grandfather explodes:

“It wasn’t the damned sun that got to her!” Grandpa said. “God took her from me, Lucy. Don’t fill your child’s head with things that just ain’t right. You and me both know that God don’t like me a bit. He did, he wouldn’t of brought those damned city folk out here to this part of the valley. I built me up a good farm here. But I was too proud, I suppose. Thought I did it all by myself, and I did! It was my arms that worked, my legs that walked, my muscles that pushed and toiled to bring that crop to harvest every year.”

“Dad!” Mom protested.

“What?” Grandpa asked. “‘He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.’ Well, he ain’t never made it to fall on my crop long enough to make it plentiful no matter how just I tried to be. I had to dig them irrigation troughs in my fields. It was my arms that hung weary after weeks of digging. Hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep at night. And even then there were some years that there wasn’t enough snow in the mountains to make irrigating any good. But I built it up. This farm — I built it with my two hands.”

His anger continues to flow despite his daughter’s tears until Lucy, exhausted and troubled by his outburst, begs him to stop:

Mom was sobbing when he finished. “Please, Dad, don’t . . .”

“Don’t what?” he asked. “Tell the child like it is? Your mother didn’t deserve the cancer God gave her, Lucy. But he gave it to her anyway. He burned her for my sake, to get back at me. Well, he won’t break me, Lucy. He won’t!”
(Paul Nurnberg, “God Lets the Wheat Grow Up with the Tares”, unpublished fiction)

A Clearing of the Mind
I was deeply involved during this time in a private discussion group made up of Mormons and former Mormons. The group consisted of a Mormon philosopher and future Mormon Transhumanist Association founder, a Mormon Canadian public servant, an ex-Mormon atheist politico, an ex-Mormon evangelical Christian, a Mormon Wiccan, a couple young return Mormon missionaries with young families [raises hand], a Mormon Buddhist, a female Mormon who knew the founder of FAIR just as that organization was getting off the ground and who deeply studied Kabballah, and a serving Mormon bishop. Views were varied and conversations were always challenging. We had all moved from discussing Mormonism on the boards at BeliefNet to a private forum developed by one of the group’s members. In early 2004, we decided to gather in Salt Lake City for an in-person meetup. I was just kicking off my career and working my way through school so I couldn’t afford the plane ticket, but this kind group of people acted together to cover my costs.

During the gathering, it was proposed that we allow two members of the group to undergo a Clearness Committee, a process used by Quakers to help a person gain clarity around a decision. Angela had been pleading with me to not just listen to her grief but to share mine with her, and I was stubbornly turning inward. I knew it would be healthy, healing, and ultimately strengthening to our relationship to open up to her, but I harbored a lot of fear because the anger I had toward God was severe, and I didn’t want to affect her faith. She was a convert to Mormonism, and I felt a heavy burden not to damage her faith.

“And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.” (Job 2:12 KJV)

I completed a write up describing the problem, and at the meetup, I underwent a Clearness Committee. It was an intense experience. Although the members of the group were sensitive and careful in their questions and I already knew of their kindness and desire to be of help, their probing and my responses laid bare just how much I was struggling with questions of justice in the face of natural evil and how opposed I was to the idea of a sovereign God.2 What follows are some of their questions and my responses. They were recorded verbatim and I share them to give readers a sense of my mindset at the time. After a question asking me to identify what God felt like to me at the time — I indicated that God was like a Mormon bishop in my mind — the following questions were posed to me:

Q: What would you tell him [a church leader] about your baby?
I would tell him that for me, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what it means to have lost my baby: what it means in a religious sense. I feel like I’ve missed out on something infinitely precious. I feel like the relationship I might have had has been stolen from me  —  well, not necessarily stolen, but not available to me now. It hurts not to be able to have that relationship come to fruition.

Q: How would he [a church leader] react?
I think he would probably tell me that I could be with that child in the next life. But I think that would be callous; it skirts the issue of the pain I feel now. It’s only theoretical.

Q: What kind of reaction would not skirt the issue of the pain you feel now?
An answer that didn’t imply that everything is just going to be all right. An answer that addressed the pain and the sense of loss I feel. An answer that explored those things with me; one where I was able to feel that the person really cared, and realized that the pain and loss is real.

Q: You mentioned a statistical anomaly. Is that how you feel about this? Do you blame anyone or think there’s any reason for it?
No; that’s something Angela and I discussed. We don’t believe in a God who would punish us or take something as precious as having children away as a result of something we did. We decided that seeking for a reason behind this would be futile. That feels right, but at the same time, the question of “Why?” is still there. Maybe it is just part of being mortal. For some reason, our bodies biologically get sick, reject pregnancies  —  it’s just part of being alive, perhaps. But that doesn’t feel like enough. There’s still the desire, the need to seek for a reason  —  if there’s not a reason for the pain…

“The Just Upright Man is laughed to scorn.” (Job 12:4 KJV)

Q: Did God kill your child?
No; I don’t believe that. I guess that’s one of the areas where this has been especially difficult for me. I don’t believe that. The God I want to believe in doesn’t do those sorts of things. He doesn’t give us bad experiences for the sake of bad experiences  —  or even give us bad experiences at all. Bad experiences are a result of being human in the world we live in. The doctor tried to comfort us the day we found out: “It’s just a statistical anomaly.” That lines up with my view of the world: there are statistical anomalies and it depends on how we deal with them. But then I wonder, “What’s the point of believing there’s a God? If everything is just a statistical anomaly, what’s the point?” But I realize that reaction may be part of the anger stage of grief. Angela said she went through something similar.

Q: Did God have the power to make this decision?
I want to say no. But that’s more because I don’t believe he makes those sorts of decisions. Whether he had the power to, I don’t know. But I don’t’ believe he makes those sorts of decisions for our lives.

Q: Did he have the power to stop it?
Maybe. Did he have the power to stop the suffering that Christ went through in Gethsemane? Christ seemed to think so; he asked for it.

Q: Would it be all right, if God were here, to be angry, even if he was not responsible, but because he couldn’t or wouldn’t stop it?
For me, I don’t think so. If I believe that he’s not responsible, I wouldn’t feel that it would be conducive to a relationship with him, which I desire, for me to be angry with him.

Q: Does someone or something need to be responsible for you to be angry?
No, I don’t think so, but my experience is that if you’re angry, you usually direct that at someone.

Q: Do you feel helpless that you feel anger but don’t know where to send it?
Yes, in a sense. I think I recognize that in life when we’re angry, many times we direct our anger at people who don’t deserve it, people who aren’t responsible. But I feel like that’s immoral, to direct your anger at someone who doesn’t deserve it. So it would be immoral for me to direct anger towards God or anyone. Is anyone responsible for it? It’s just something that happens.

Q: Do you think you could be angry that there is no one responsible, that the universe is just that way, and still feel that life has meaning?
I think I struggle with that. If the universe is random – if it’s a “statistical anomaly” – what meaning does it have? I think I’m coming to believe more and more than the meaning it has is our relationships with others, and what we’re able to build there. But I feel angry that that can be taken from us without justification or reason.

Q: If God were here and it was acknowledged that it was just a statistical anomaly and there was nothing he could do, what would he say to you as you expressed your anger and/or grief?
I would hope he could explain to me what the implications of that are for existence. If all there is — is what we have with others, the relationships we build with others, and those can be taken from us — what point is there to being? What’s the big picture?

“Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.” (Job 3:3 KJV)

My paternal grandmother also experienced the loss of a child. Even when she was in her seventies and eighties, the pain of that loss was still with her. I remember her speaking of her still-born daughter. She never talked about her without sharing the idiomatic sentiment taken from Job 1:21, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” My grandma’s purpose in making that statement was an expression of her faith and trust in God. That despite the pain that she carried throughout her life over the loss of her only daughter, she still loved and worshipped God.

Job’s sentiment written poetically is similar:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
(Job 1:20-22 NASB)

It would be many long years following the loss of our child before I would be able to say, “Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

The Better Claim of Nothingness . . .
At the end of my last post, I shared a poem that encapsulates my journey of knowing God. Nothingness is a recurring theme in that piece. When I first read Eugene England’s essay “Enduring” years ago, I recognized a kindred spirit. One willing to acknowledge the doubt, fear, and darkness he experienced in his life.

There were moments when I was younger when doubt was nearly crippling. I remember one in particular. I was lying on my bed. It was afternoon. Probably a Sunday. Yes, very likely a Sunday. In my early teenage years, I wandered away from weekly church activity. My mom would try to get me out of bed, and I would feign sleep until she stopped nagging me and left for church. The questions I was asking myself that day made me sick to my stomach. What if there is nothing? No God? No purpose? Nothing.

Wanting and Desire
In the face of this better claim of nothingness, many succumb to it. Many who like me have left the LDS Church or other institutional religions subscribe to the tenets of atheism. As the now-famous Atheist Bus Campaign in London proclaimed, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

I’m reminded of a story a friend told me. He and his wife were preparing to leave the house for a social event and he had gone into their bedroom to put on his shoes. While there, my friend became lost in thought about God. His wife called to him several times from the front room, trying patiently to get his attention. Finally and exasperatedly she walked to the door of their bedroom and found him sitting on the foot of their bed without a single shoe on either foot. “You’re thinking about God, aren’t you?” she asked him. Jolted from his thoughts, he sheepishly told her that he was. She then asked him if he could stop that for long enough to get to the event on time.

Just get on with the business of life! Frankly, that answer does little more for me than the religious leader who I imagined would tell me in the face of our loss and pain that all would be right in the next life, but wouldn’t make the effort or take on the danger of getting into my messiness and just sit in the darkness with me. Of course, in the face of loss and suffering, we all must “get on with it” at times, else we succumb to the darkness. But looking beyond the here and now, what meaning is there to loss, to suffering, to life itself, if there is nothing, no ultimate resolution, justice, or Love?

Soothsaying? Wishful thinking? Infantile desires? These are the contrary claims. But we all feel the longing to understand, to see, to know. The question is why is this the case?

“So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…” (Job 42:12 KJV)

Eugene England, “Joseph Smith and the Tragic Quest,”Dialogues with Myself: Personal Essays on Mormon Experience (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1984), p.1 (emphasis mine)

2 See Romans 8:28

(Banner Art & Illustrations from “William Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job” with thanks to Wikipedia Commons) 

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

compiled by Fred W. Anson
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)

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.)

“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)

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

Inside the Shrine of the Book in West Jerusalem. This museum houses the famous Isaiah scroll and other Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts dating back to 150BC.

by Brian Horner
Like Christianity, Mormonism is deeply rooted in claims about allegedly true events, real people and actual places. In both cases, we have scripture allegedly revealed as the word of God. For the Christians that revelation is contained in the pages of the Bible. Mormons make similar claims regarding the Bible, on which Mormons and Christians generally agree when it comes to the historical aspect, for the most part. But Mormons add the Book of Mormon (BoM, the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) and the Pearl of Great Price (PGoP), collectively known as the “standard works” of Mormonism.

For our purpose here, we will concentrate on a comparison between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, due to the fact that both present us with historical content, that, when compared, will demonstrate the validity of my argument.

In the pages of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, there are countless specific historical claims made. Both books contain details about human civilizations and empires and the people who populated them. They also contain claims about actual locations and events such as wars and migrations. Both also recount numerous interactions between God and his people. The Bible, of course, describes those interactions primarily between God the Jewish and Christian peoples. Similarly, the Book of Mormon is composed largely of accounts of God’s interactions with the BoM’s civilizations including the Native American descendants of Jews who supposedly migrated to the Western Hemisphere shortly after the fall of Israel to Babylon in the late 6th century B.C.

The Bible uses its accounts of these historical events as examples of God’s interactions with His people. From creation and God’s interactions with Adam and Eve, through the Exodus, the Hebrews move into the Holy Land, the accounts of the rise and fall of the kings of Israel and Judah, the revelations of the prophets to guide their people, through the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, his teaching, death and resurrection and on into the church age, the Bible is all based on many actual events that happened to real people in known locations and at recognized times in the real world.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

A recent photograph of Hezekiah’s Tunnel. Which is exactly as described in the Bible: “As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?” (2 Kings 20:20 NIV)

Similarly, the Mormons proclaim that their “Book of Mormon” is also a historical record of God’s interactions with his people. It records alleged events that are portrayed as historical – that have supposedly occurred in the real world at particular locations and times, involving real people and actual events. From the alleged, “Jaredite” migration after the fall of Babylon to the Western Hemisphere, through the voyage of Lehi’s sons, the rise of the “Nephite” civilization, their various wars and struggles and on to the appearance of Jesus Christ after his resurrection and then the final war of extinction all recorded by the BoM’s “prophets”. All of this is represented as truthful accounts of real people and actual events.

In both cases, therefore, we have alleged revelations from God concerning his direction and provision for his people. But critical to the present topic, both sets of claims proffer themselves to be truthful accounts of actual people, in real places experiencing true events.

So what’s the difference?

The difference is profound. In fact the difference is rooted deep in a critical, life-and-death matter for the veracity and credibility of each religion: Since the historical claims of Christianity and Mormonism are both put forth as “the word of God”, these religions can only survive as the actual revelations from God they each claim to be if we have good reasons to think that either or each one is telling the truth. If one of these is not telling the truth, then it cannot be reasonably received as the word of God, whom the Bible repeatedly describes as the very “God of Truth”. Divorced from the truth of their historical accounts, each is merely a fable conveying generally accepted moral values, much like the literature produced by so many of the world’s religions.

City of David Digs

One of several City of David excavations taking place in Jerusalem. These excavations have yielded artifacts dating back to the time of the Canaanite habitation of this ancient city.

Now, before going on, I realize that the Bible contains lots of claims that have not been confirmed by historical facts. But there is a key, essential difference between the state of the evidence for each book. The Bible presents historical claims that date back as far as ~5,000 years or so. So while there is much in the Bible that is not supported by any relevant evidence, the fact is there is a huge volume of every possible kind of evidence (archaeological, documentary, biological, linguistic, etc.) that confirms much of the Bible. From small pottery shards to entire cities, the list of historical artifacts supporting various narratives found in the Bible is huge. Today there are literally thousands upon thousands of biblical artifacts virtually littering various libraries, universities, and museums around the world. It is estimated by some to be as high as 25,000 separate pieces of evidence – documents, architectural buildings, battle sites, weapons, tools, wells, agricultural plots, idols, coins, etc. The list goes on and on and it keeps growing year after year.

By contrast, not one New World historical claim found in the Book of Mormon has yet been positively confirmed by comparison to any kind of historical evidence. There is a total poverty of evidence of any kind supporting the many, many historical claims found in the Book of Mormon. In fact, Mormons cannot even agree on where to look for such evidence. The range of possible locations stretches across all the continents of the Western Hemisphere. From the area of modern-day New York state all the way down through North America, into Mexico, Central America and South to Peru, Mormon speculations cover the entire area. Yet still, not one single piece of evidence has been discovered.

It gets worse. There is also no linguistic evidence. Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was written in “Reformed Egyptian”, a language that has never been shown to have ever existed. The state of the evidence for the Book of Mormon, despite wide-ranging speculations by Mormon “experts”, remains utterly indistinguishable from pure fiction.

So any contrast between the evidence supporting the historical claims of the Bible and the Book of Mormon is profound. The Bible is supported by a literally immeasurable volume of every kind of relevant evidence whereas the Book of Mormon lacks any support whatsoever from historical facts related to the New World history and geography that it claims to portray.

A map from the December 1975 Ensign Magazine from the article, “Who and Where Are the Lamanites?” by Lane Johnson. Ensign magazine is an official, correlated LDS Church periodical.

How do Mormons respond when confronted with the lack of evidence supporting the mundane, historical claims of their scripture? They usually and reflexively respond with a logical trick. First, they usually ignore the challenge to present evidence in support of their own scripture and launch a fallacious counter-challenge asking the Christian to present evidence to support such Biblical accounts as Balaam’s donkey speaking, Jesus walking on water, or the Hebrew migration from Egypt to the Levant. This is a textbook-quality example of the “Red Herring” fallacy.

The careful reader will see the problem. There are actually two logical fallacies here. The first one is obvious – the aforementioned red herring fallacy. The trick here is to obscure the Mormon’s inability to answer the challenge presented to him. The second fallacy is a little more clever. The Mormon’s red herring contains a challenge to the Christian that simply doesn’t make sense to begin with. They are asking to see “evidence” left behind by the kind of things that could not possibly have left any evidence at all (such as words spoken by a donkey) or at least no evidence that could have survived after five thousand years in the desert.

This logical fallacy is known as the “category error”, or the “categorical error”. The categorical error is a semantic and/or an ontological error that attempts to compare two claims belonging to different categories as if they belonged together. In this case, one category is the kind of historical event or object that we can rightly expect to have left evidence for itself. This would include such things as cities, coins, geographical locations, documents, weapons, cisterns, tools, inscriptions even languages. In the other category are those things which we should have no reasonable expectation to have any evidence remaining.

When the Mormon avoids the challenge to present historical evidence to support the mundane, historical claims of his scripture (such as the existence of the “Nephite” civilization, or one of the Book of Mormon’s 100 cities) he or she is demonstrating that they know that they have no answer. When they try to obscure that rather concrete demonstration of their lack of a cogent answer behind a counter-challenge, they are trying to hide what they have just proven – the fact that they have no answer. Even further down this path or irrational argumentation, when they use the categorical error fallacy, they demonstrate that they do not understand the difference between the category of mundane, historical claims in their “scriptures”, pertaining to the kinds of things that do leave observable evidence behind, and the category of those supernatural interventions which, generally speaking, cannot, by their very nature have left leave any measurable evidence in their wake.

“Jesus Christ visits the Americas” by John Scott, a Latter-day Saint artist. Notice how Scott incorporated Mayan and Aztec elements into his imagining of this scene from the Book of Mormon (see 3 Nephi 11–28).

To the Mormon, everything in their “scriptures” must be accepted on blind, unquestioning “faith” – including those kinds of things which, in the Bible, provide us with a solid grounding in reality upon which to base our faith. But is the Mormon version of faith, really “faith”? No. That is a misnomer. “Faith”, in the Bible, is derived from the Hebrew and Greek words for “trust” (אֵמוּן and πίστις respectively). But if “trust” is not built upon something objectively real, it is rightly called “fideism” – “the idea faith is, in some sense, independent of, if not outright adversarial toward, reason” (Stanford Encyclopedia). Another word for such “faith” is “superstition” – an unjustified belief, usually in some kind of supernatural force.

Mormons will routinely try to obscure the fact that the object of their faith is not really God, but Joseph Smith, the one and only indisputable source from which all of the distinctive doctrines and practices of Mormonism came. The fact is that Joseph Smith produced “scriptures” which inform them about their Gods and which make unfounded claims about the objective, mundane world. When, for example, we challenge the Mormons to show us a connection between the Book of Mormon’s tales of “Nephites” building a large, anachronistically advanced civilization somewhere in the Western Hemisphere they invariably fail. They fail because there simply is no such evidence. If they respond at all, it will usually be by referring to evidence of other ancient civilizations, presenting it as evidence of Book of Mormon peoples – a trick worthy of a whole new discussion.

A LiDAR image from Tikal, the most important Maya city. Mormon Apologists are now claiming that the Mayan civilization may tightly correlate to the Book of Mormon people – a claim that’s dismissed by Meso-American Archaeologists as patently absurd.

From this failure to substantiate Mormonism’s objectively testable claims about Native American history, it remains obvious to most people that the Mormon “prophet” is simply not worthy of our trust. Since Smith’s “revelations” have failed to tell the truth about the natural world, we have no grounded reason to trust his “revelations” about the supernatural world. The distance between the observable reality of the mundane world and Joseph Smith’s “revelations from God” pertaining to that world demonstrates that Smith is simply not trustworthy.

Joseph Smith would probably have done better to have refrained from proffering alleged, “revelations from God” that included objectively testable claims about the material world, such as the mere existence of entire civilizations. Keeping one’s “revelations” entirely in the subjective domain is one of the tricks that help charlatans and con men achieve the results they are seeking. One need only consider the Scientology truth claims of L. Ron Hubbard to see how this works. Had Mr. Smith followed the same type of non-material, esoteric model, that Hubbard used for Scientology there would be no basis to compare his claimed “revelations” with observable reality and thus no way to easily discredit them.

In responding to challenges to the Book of Mormon’s supposed revelations about historical claims concerning the objectively testable world, I think that Mormons subconsciously realize that they are trying to stand their religion on something that is indistinguishable from pure fantasy. That is why, when they know that they cannot answer such reasonable questions they then try to hide their flight from them behind deflective red herrings and damaged reasoning, such as the categorical error fallacy.

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 now writing articles like this one.

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.