(Disclaimer: Throughout this post, you will note that I keep making reference to the “Mormon Doctrine & Covenants“. The reason I make this distinction is due to something my wife mentioned: As a former member of the Community of Christ Church, once known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (RLDS), she pointed out that the version of the Doctrine and Covenants she was brought up with is very different from the Doctrine & Covenants used by the LDS Church. In fact, none of the materials I present in this post are found within any of the RLDS literature. The RLDS omission and rejection of these materials stems from their assertion that these principles are illegitimate and were incorporated by Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon, not Joseph Smith, Jr. As such, I wil need an entirely different approach when I tackle their theology. )
Every once in awhile, an educational opportunity emerges that I simply cannot pass up. While I recognize that the third part of this series has been a long time in coming, I also recognize that I sometimes need a little additional help to find inspiration. In this case, that inspiration came in the form of a Mormon opponent with whom I could engage in debate. This has in turn helped me learn far more about Mormonism, and to build up quite the argument against the teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
I came across this opponent in the comments section of a YouTube video, but things have since transitioned into a series of emails through which we have been able to debate the finer points of Christian theology vs. Mormon theology, and how they differ so completely; not the least of which was the discussion we had regarding faith-based salvation vs. works-based salvation. This post will incorporate much of what he and I have discussed, though not all of it. My intent is not to write an entire treatise, but rather an argument against their theology. My goal has never been to break them down, but to uplift them and place them on the path to a true and honest relationship with the Lord God that so many of them firmly believe they are following.
I will begin with a bit of a review. Through the first two posts on this subject, I have demonstrated that Joseph Smith, Jr fails to meet the prophetic standards set forth by God in Deuteronomy chapters 13 & 18 due to the fact that his Temple Prophecy has not come to fruition in spite of the time limit he set on it. I’ve also demonstrated that he fails the test by virtue of the plainly unbiblical teachings found in the Book of Mormon and his King Follet discourse.
Regrettably, none of this was enough to persuade my most recent opponent. However, the good that has come of it is that he has given me new arguments to pursue, and has even forced me to branch out into other Mormon publications, such as the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants, and the Book of Abraham, in order to make my case against Joseph Smith, Jr. It would seem that Mormons can be nearly as tenacious as our Jewish brethren, but in so doing, they are telling us how to avoid their trap.
To begin, the debate I have been involved in has made me very aware of the fact that the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints qualify as a blended form of Gnostic polytheism. Not only do they believe that there are many gods, but that humans can be exalted as gods through the acquisition of hidden, special knowledge that had been revealed to Joseph Smith, Jr and his inner circle through the angel Moroni. That would be where some of the Gnosticism comes into play. They also teach that the truly faithful believers will be elevated to the level of gods by the Lord God, who was once a human Himself. Add to this the fact that the prophesies found within the Mormon Doctrine and Covenants are patently unbiblical, and the Mormon ship pretty much sinks before it leaves harbor.
During the course of researching for this debate, I was made aware of a specific section in the Mormon Doctrine & Covenants (Sec. 132) that makes plural marriage permissible, and which outlines how one might become exalted as a god, among other things. As I began reading through this section, I was stunned by the number of Scriptural inaccuracies within the text. As these are presented as direct revelation from God, it boggles the mind how many mistakes were made. For it to have been actual revelation from God, there would not have been a single error in it. Sadly, this is not the case.
The first 30 or so verses are little more than the conditions of this new covenant being laid down, the rules by which it would be governed, along with mention of how one becomes exalted into godhood by keeping this covenant, etc. The first major inaccuracy to arise is found in verse 34, “God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.” (D&C 132:34, emphasis added)
The implication here is that God commanded Abraham to produce a son, and that he was to do so through Hagar. According to this verse, it was the law. Where this runs into a problem is that no such command is given. In Genesis 15, God tells Abram that he will be given a son who will bring him descendants like the stars. Later, in chapter 18, God states that this son will come from Sarai (Gen. 18:10). In other words, the promises alluded to in D&C 132:34 were not made until well after the events in question, and did not involve Hagar in any way. Granted, the Angel of the Lord made His own promises to Hagar at the well, but these promises had little to do with Abraham, and more to do with Ishmael and his descendants.
The error rolls on in verse 36, “Abraham was commanded to offer his son Isaac; nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill. Abraham, however, did not refuse, and it was accounted unto him for righteousness.” (Emphasis added)
Immediately, what springs to mind is that this was not the moment when Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. That moment occurred in Genesis 15:1-6,
“After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.
2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?
3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.
4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.
6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” (emphasis added)
How, then, could the moment on Mount Moriah be when Abram’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, if that moment had occurred well before the conception of Isaac, let alone his birth? The only two options here are 1) the person revealing these prophesies possessed incomplete and imperfect knowledge of Scripture, or 2) that God is somehow inconsistent. I don’t know about you, but I’m inclined to go with option number one. As I noted in a previous post, Joseph Smith Jr was only barely educated, which would be consistent under the circumstances.
Of course, there is more relating to verse 36. According to Genesis 22, God orders Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice in order to test his faith. Had verse 36 been written without “nevertheless, it was written: Thou shalt not kill” there might have been a little bit of Truth to it, but only a little. As it is, it again points to someone with an incomplete and imperfect understanding of Scripture.
The phrase, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13) is an iconic one. It would be very difficult to find anyone in the English speaking world who would not recognize the King James rendering of the Sixth Commandment, even if they do not know which version it comes from. Sadly, because of this particular rendering, it is also one of the most misunderstood of the Commandments. The word for “kill” used in the original Hebrew is “ratsakh“, which more appropriately can be translated as “murder” or “slay”, not kill. What is the difference? To kill means to take a life in general. When a Soldier takes an enemy’s life in battle, that is killing. While horribly tragic, and never to be celebrated, it is justified. However, when one human being kills another human being without justification, that is murder. Therein lies the distinction between killing and murder, both in English and in Hebrew.
In Hebrew, the word for “kill” is not ratsakh, but rather harag. This is important because the original Hebrew uses ratsakh, which means that the Sixth Commandment is a command against murder, rather than a command against killing. This is a bit of an oversimplification, of course. However, someone who knew the original Hebrew would know that, but someone with only the King James to work with would not. As this is supposed to have been direct revelation from God, this is entirely too much to ignore, especially when one considers that the only version of the Bible Joseph Smith, Jr used was the King James. It was the version that formed the basis for his “Inspired” version, a translation he worked on from 1830-1833.
This brings another point to mind. In verse 36, the Sixth Commandment is quoted. However, Abraham’s lifetime predates the Sixth Commandment by several centuries. How then, was it written that “Thou shalt not kill” in the days of Abraham if his bones had turned to dust long before the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai? I know this may appear to be a minor point, but it is something to be considered in light of the rest of the case.
This was one of the subjects my opponent and I really hit each other over the head with. He originally presented John 10:34 as a proof text. It reads, “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” Their assertion is that this proves that humans can be exalted as gods. Where it goes wrong for them is in the finer details. Jesus was making reference to Old Testament Scripture, namely Psalm 82.
Again, this goes back to a problem with the King James, in that a portion of the King James version of Psalm 82 is contextually incorrect. Verse 1 of Psalm 82 says, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” The Mormon interpretation of this rendering asserts that it means that there are other gods, but that the Lord God reigns supreme among them. They also say this about Exodus 20:3, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Sadly, they are very wrong in this interpretation.
Here is Psalm 82:1, presented in parallel, using the King James Version, and the Complete Jewish Bible:
(KJV) God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.
(CJB) Elohim [God] stands in the divine assembly; there with the elohim [judges], he judges
I chose the CJB rendering because it is really effective at presenting the Hebrew context of the materials found in the Bible. It often brings to the forefront subtext that is lacking in most English translations of the Bible. In this case, it highlights why the translators of the King James worded things the way they did. There is the use of Elohim and elohim, and the contextual difference. It is very possible that this contextual difference was unknown to scholars in 1610.
What this clearly shows is that the “gods” referenced in Verse 1 were in fact human judges. What makes this worse for the Mormon argument is that the entire Psalm is an open condemnation of those human judges for seeking to make themselves as gods among men. The Psalm berates and condemns these judges for being judgmental and unfair. Consider Verses 2 through 4, in the CJB:
“How long will you go on judging unfairly,
favoring the wicked? (Selah)
Give justice to the weak and fatherless!
Uphold the rights of the wretched and poor!
Rescue the destitute and needy;
deliver them from the power of the wicked!”
Of course, we know that Elohim is one of the names of God, but I’m sure most of you would be unfamiliar with the lower-cased elohim, which normally means “gods”. In this case, the meaning is found in the context of the passage. They were not being called “gods”, they were being condemned as unjust and unfair, haughty and corrupt. They were placing themselves in the position that ought to have been occupied by God, and no others. They were self-righteous. In referencing this Psalm, Jesus was taking a serious swipe at the Jews, calling them unjust in their judgement of Him, and accusing them of making themselves as gods among men. As I told my opponent, these are not the best Scriptures they could have produced as proof texts.
Sadly, he not only misunderstood me on this score, but he also decided that I had conceded his argument by stating that the verse shows more than one use for Elohim. He did not seem to grasp that I had just shown him that no part of his proof-text states that humans can be exalted into a state of godhood. In all honesty, I am more than a little mystified by his assertion, but this part of the debate reminds me of playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how well you play, your opponent is still going to knock pieces over, strut about, and poop on the board. I only had enough patience to correct him a couple of times before I finally just let the matter drop.
This brings us back to the Mormon Doctrine & Covenants, section 132. Verse 20 says, “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” The fact of the matter is that they do not have a Scriptural leg to stand on, and Joseph Smith, Jr knew this. That was why he set out to reinterpret the Bible, and why the Latter-Day Saints state in their Articles of Faith, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly;” (#8, emphasis added). The idea being, if it was not translated by the “prophet” Joseph Smith, Jr, then it is not correctly translated. In case any of you are wondering, this falls into the category of confirmation bias.
The Inspired Version of the King James
According to the LDS website, Joseph Smith, Jr made the decision to correct the errors he found in the Bible. Under “inspiration” from God, he dedicated 3 years of his life to producing a new, revised version that was supposed to be superior to the ones available in his time. There is just one problem with this situation. It is blasphemous to add to, or take away from Scripture, and his inspired version does exactly that. In fact, all of the LDS publications, including the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Mormon Doctrine & Covenants are an attempt to add to/take away from Scripture in one form or another.
In the books of Deuteronomy and Revelation, we are forbidden from adding to or taking away from Scripture. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Revelation 22:18-19 says, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
Clearly, we cannot change Scripture. We may write newer versions, update language in light of linguistic changes and new materials that surface, but what we cannot do is add something to, or detract from, the overall message. We are not permitted to change the Gospel Message, God’s Law, the works of the prophets, etc. It is simply forbidden.
Yet, as I have demonstrated, this is what Joseph Smith, Jr set out to do. He chose to remake Scripture to fit his false revelation. This is just one of the many parallels that I draw between Joseph Smith, Jr and Muhammad ibn Abdulla, the “prophet” of Islam. Both men seemed to believe that they were on a mission from God. Both men saw fit to declare Scripture to be false or mistaken, though Muhammad initially affirmed the authenticity, historicity, and perfect peservation of the Bible. Both men believed that the people following God were doing it wrong, and tried to bring others into the “right” way.
As I have pointed out in previous posts, Joseph Smith, Jr changed Scripture when he taught a false image of God, and then induced people to worship that image. That is truly blasphemous and idolatrous. His teachings are lies from the pit of hell, and this helps to prove it. To make matters worse, his Church has since fallen under some really odd spell that tells them to ignore logic and reason.
How They Respond
When faced with arguments that clearly show the lie that is the teachings of Joseph Smith, Jr they go straight into reinterpretation of the facts. Their answer to Deuteronomy 13 & 18 is to criticize the majority interpretation of the two chapters, and allege that our interpretation of those passages will also undo the prophetic works of major prophets, including Jesus Himself. It’s the equivalent of pointing a gun at us, while holding another gun to their own heads, and demanding to know why we want to shoot them.
Should that fail, they seek to undermine Scripture as the Word of God. My opponent and I went back and forth for weeks over whether or not we could ever truly be certain that Scripture says what we think it says because colloquial language exists. No matter how many times I demonstrated the absurdity of that argument, he simply could not be swayed.
His argument was that some portions of the Bible are thousands of years old, and while Hebrew has remained largely unchanged all this time, there is no way to know what colloquial Hebrew looked like all that long ago. As such, he contended, the meanings of key words and phrases might have changed in the meantime. Even when I pointed out that we have literally thousands of years worth of Christian and Jewish scholarship to fall back on, thereby effectively rendering his argument moot, he would not be dissuaded.
When faced with the Book of Abraham as further proof that Joseph Smith, Jr was a false prophet, there was more spin. My opponent went so far as to tell me that the actual text of the Egyptian Book of the Dead was immaterial, and that God had simply used the text to reveal the Book of Abraham to Joseph Smith, Jr. He seemed to make no connection between the illogical nature of his assertion, and the evidence before his eyes, including the very bad attempts Joseph Smith, Jr made at reproducing the images found in the Egyptian papyri. Joseph Smith, Jr was an unsuccessful con man, and he was posthumously proven so when Egyptologists got their hands on the papyri he claimed had contained the Book of Abraham.
When asked why Abraham, a Cushite from Southern Iraq, would write his book in Egyptian hieroglyphics, he made the claim that modern scholars had unearthed evidence that Abraham had spent his childhood in Egypt. When I went to research his claim, I could find nothing that supported it. When asked repeatedly for sources to prove his claim, the only source he could cite was the Book of Abraham itself. There were no scholarly papers, no articles, not even a single fringe group making this claim. All I could find was what I already knew. He and Sarah traveled to Egypt while in their 60’s, which does not qualify as “childhood” in spite of their longevity.
The lack of evidence to support his claim did not sway him, either. He repeatedly admonished me for relying too much on experts, for relying too much on empirical evidence, and for what he perceived was a lack of faith in God on my part. His fallback argument was that I should believe in spite of evidence to the contrary. Under the circumstances, I don’t think it unreasonable to reject the Book of Abraham as proof of the Book of Abraham’s veracity.
In all, he was unable to produce any evidence beyond a book of dubious origin, and a book that was horribly mistranslated, both of which were produced by a man who was an obvious fraud. Nor was he in any way dissuaded by these circumstances. If anything, it seemed to strengthen his resolve, which is something you must bear in mind when seeking to preach to Mormons. They use our language, but it’s the meanings they assign to certain words that are the most important here. Take, for example, the word discernment.
When all chips are down, and their arguments have been cast aside, they will always fall back on discernment. What they have been trained to tell you is that they know that Joseph Smith Jr was a prophet of God because they prayed over it, and felt a feeling. They say that they know in their heart that he was the real thing.
There are two points to be made here. First, the Bible says that the heart is not to be trusted. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Second, if your heart tells you one thing, and Scripture another, which are you to trust first? According to Scripture, not your heart, that much is certain. Yet, this is exactly the opposite of what my opponent feels, and he was surprised and alarmed at my unwillingness to simply jump onboard. In fact, he seemed more upset by my refusal to simply fall in line, than he was over any of the arguments I threw at him.
This counts as an example of their use of our language to mean something else. Throughout our discussions on polytheism and colloquialisms, for example, we went round and round over the definition of those two words. He kept making reference to the way I defined them, in spite of the fact that I was giving the definitions of these terms according to Merriam-Webster. This is a going pattern with the LDS, in that they will take a given term and place their own spin on what it means. We, as Christians, know that discernment comes through logic, reason, Scripture, and prayer.
To the Mormon, discernment is arrived at solely through a prayerful feeling ascribed to the Holy Spirit. The problem with this idea is that this feeling will oftentimes lead them to a point that runs counter to Scripture. Yet, they see nothing wrong with this idea. When faced with the fact that this makes God seem to be inconsistent, they will plainly disagree, and point to the Book of Mormon as their argument. As they regard the Book of Mormon as Scripture, being an additional testament to Jesus Christ, they will always point to it as justification. Their theological stances are consistent with the Book of Mormon, which contradicts the Bible, which they acknowledge as the Word of God, though they seem to see it as a lesser book to the Book of Mormon. This means that one must first remove the Book of Mormon from consideration when debating a Mormon.
In the next post, we shall take on the Book of Mormon itself, and see what that brings us. I had planned on making this the final post in the series, but the sheer volume of materials related to the Book of Mormon required it’s own post.