Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mormonism Misusing Scripture 2: The Case of the Absent Atonement

I wonder would you do something for me? Read through the following brief account of a little adventure I had recently and then answer the two questions at the end. Its a true story, I know because I made it up myself:

I recently bought a car because I planned to go on a road trip with a friend and my old jalopy simply wasn’t up to it. It surprised me that, within my budget, I was offered a great little model, much better than my old banger and with an interior so comfortable it was like driving a limo.

When I arrived at my friends’ house he took one look and said, “Nice wheels.”

“You like my motor?” I replied.

“Its a nice Auto,” he said, “and it looks like that model is going to take us places.”

With that we got in the vehicle and drove off on our adventure.

Q1. How many times does the word “car” appear in this narrative?

Q2. How many times is a car mentioned in this narrative?

We’ll get back to this shortly.

It still amazes me how Mormon thinking makes Mormon leaders so clumsy, so blindly incapable in their handling of the word of God. I recently blogged about Mormonism Misusing Scripture using the example of Spencer W Kimball in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. It is an illustration that seems familiar enough to make us say, “they’re at it again,”  yet still surprising enough to make us marvel at such ineptitude. Sometimes, however, they just go too far and something here is more than clumsy and inept, its downright dishonest!Russell_M._Nelson

I refer to an article in the latest, July 2014, Ensign magazine. It is written by Russell M Nelson, a Mormon apostle, an “authority,” and addresses the issue of the gathering of Israel and the second coming. The theme is a subject for another time but I want to pick up on one almighty untruth right there towards the end of the piece.

Claiming that the Book of Mormon is “the instrument to bring about the gathering,” and that it clarifies the connection of the Mormon Church with the biblical house of Israel, Nelson goes on to assert:

“The Book of Mormon contains the fulness (sic) of the gospel. Without the Book of Mormon, we would know little about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

A footnote to this astonishing claim states:

KJV-King-James-Version-Bible-first-edition-title-page-1611.xcf“The word atonement in any of its forms appears in only one verse of the King James Version of the New Testament (see Romans 5:11). It appears in 24 verses of the Book of Mormon.”

You know, I just read that again as I typed it and realise it says, “In any of its forms.”  Its worse than I thought.

Of course, as a Christian, I instinctively react to this claim with disbelief. This can’t be true. Surely the atonement is found throughout the Bible, prophesied in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New Testament. Yet here is a claim that even the language of the atonement is practically absent from our precious Bibles.

Did you answer my questions:

How many times does the word “car” appear in my story? (1)

How many times is a car mentioned in the story?(9)

You can see where this is going already, I am sure, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But lets go through this and see how mendacious this claim actually is, how far this “authority” is prepared to go with his fraudulent claims.

The word Atonement is a Bible word, describing a central Bible teaching. Indeed, it might be said that the theme of the whole Bible is the Atonement and its effect on all those who believe. So, is it true that, “The word atonement in any of its forms appears in only one verse of the King James Version of the New Testament (see Romans 5:11)”?

No! Absolutely not! The problem for Nelson is that phrase, “in any of its forms.” If he hadn’t included that then he would have been (technically) correct but, as usual with Mormon leaders, actually deceptive.

“Atonement” is an Anglo-Saxon word. It means ‘a making of one’ - “at-one-ment,” the bringing together of estranged parties, making them one again. The Greek is katallagē and the better translation is “reconciliation.” In the New Testament it denotes the work of Christ in dealing with the problem of sin and reconciling fallen man with God.

The word atonement appears once in the KJV New Testament, but remember we are looking for that word “in any of its forms.” The better word is reconciliation, another form of the word atonement. In the KJV the word reconciliation, or some form of it, appears four times:

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation

                                                                                                                                                                              (2 Corinthians 5:18)

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Corinthians 5:19)

Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

Add to this the example of the word atonement in Romans 5:11 and you have FIVE instances when, “The word atonement in any of its forms appears” in the KJV New Testament. It gets interesting when you start looking at modern translations.Crucifixion Gustave_DorĂ©-Le_Calvaire

In the New International Version Heb.2:17 uses the word atonement but Ro.5:11 uses reconciliation while Ro.3:25 uses atonement where in the same verse the King James Version uses propitiation. The English Standard Version also uses propitiation here but in Ro.5:11, where the King James Version uses atonement, the English Standard Version uses reconciliation. In fact, the English Standard Version doesn’t use atonement, not even once.

Clearly, just as in my car example, it isn’t as simple as counting instances when a word appears. Anyone with a thesaurus, even a dull, disinterested Mormon apostle, can find synonyms for atonement. Anyone with a good reference Bible, even a lazy, agenda-driven Mormon apostle, can find out what I have – if there is a will.

The Book of Mormon not only doesn’t contain “the fulness of the everlasting gospel,” it doesn’t contain the gospel. It merely contains a word for the gospel. The Bible contains the gospel and several different words, phrases, images, similes, parables that all tell the full and unadulterated story of the gospel.

To give the impression that the Bible is so deficient in telling the story of Christ’s Atonement, act of Reconciliation, Propitiation for sin, is to lie plain and simple. If anyone knows this old fox personally and wishes to pass this on I would welcome the opportunity to teach him how to use and understand the Bible. Apostle? Apostate more likely. Shame on you Nelson, shame on you.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Mormonism Misusing Scripture

Miracle of ForgivenessI want to show you, from chapter 9 in Spencer W Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness, how Mormonism misuses the Bible, misapplies its texts, and rips them from their natural context.

I have noted down and counted the relative Mormon and biblical texts in this chapter and discovered that a total of 29 Mormon sources are quoted compared with a total of 13 Bible texts . That is more than twice as many Mormon texts as Bible texts.

(notably, one Bible text is taken from the Joseph Smith ‘Inspired Version’ of the Bible, making that, in some people’s thinking, one less Bible text and another Mormon text)

Mormon Old Testament New Testament
Alma 34:35 Genesis 9:16 1 John 5:16-17
Heleman 13:38 Exodus 21:12 Hebrews 6:4-6
Mormon 2:13 Leviticus 24:7 Mat. 12:31-32 JST*
Ether 15:19   2 Peter 2:20-22
3 Nephi 27:17   John 6:70
Alma 39:6   John 17:12
Mormon 10:5   Acts 1:20
Heleman 14:18   Acts 2:29-34
Heleman 4:24-25   John 20:29
John 12:6
D&C 84:41    
D&C 43:33    
D&C 132:27    
D&C 22:2    
D&C 84:33-41    
D&C 88:24    
D&C 76:31-38    
D&C 76:44-46    
D&C 42:18,19    
D&C 42:79    
     
Teaching of PJS    
Teachings of PJS    
Teachings of PJS    
Improvement Era    
Improvement Era    
Gospel Doctrine    
Gospel Doctrine    
Gospel Doctrine    
Doc.Hist.of Church    
Ist Pres. Message 1942    

 

The argument could reasonably be made that of course Mormons quote and cite more Mormon sources; after all, they believe in them. But a careful reading, backed by good Bible knowledge, demonstrates that the argument put cannot be made from the Bible so the Mormon writer has to work from Mormon texts, using badly applied Bible texts to ‘back up’ the argument.

The Bible texts used serve only to back up a Mormon argument, often being wrought from their context to make a point they were never meant to make, supporting a point that cannot be made from the Bible itself.

The chapter concentrates on the “unforgivable sin” seeking to define it and warn against it, but that isn’t going to surprise you, is it? Mormons are frequently preoccupied with what might cause them to, “slip across the line” as Kimball puts it.

I want to look at three things: The peculiar fate of Cain, the curious judgement on King David, and the odd response of Peter to those who repented at Pentecost.

The Case of the Hirsute Murderer

There are two unforgivable sins in this chapter, actually. There is the denial of the truth once you have received it and there is the shedding of innocent blood – murder. The former appears to be difficult to define, even by modern prophets. He says of apostates who commit this sin:

We cannot definitely identify them [as unforgivable] individually since it is impossible for us to know the extent of their knowledge, the depth of their enlightenment, and the sureness of their testimonies before the fall.”

Somehow I am not reassured…

After speculating on this subject he turns to a more easily identifiable sin, that of murder;although, even here, he prevaricates between murder and manslaughter. But, turning to “the first murderer” he seems to be on more solid ground (though you might not agree).

Cain, we are told, was “thoroughly taught the gospel by his parents…” This may come as a surprise to Bible students who know well enough that this gospel of Jesus Christ was a “mystery hidden for long ages past” (Ro.16:25, c.f. 1 Cor.2:6-10)

Kimball is fascinated by this character and can’t help but retell a story he read from The Life of David W Patten, The First Apostolic Martyr, by Lycurgus A Wilson (strangely enough, I thought that title of first apostolic martyr went much further back than the early 19th. Century) Patten was an original member of the quorum of the twelve Mormon apostles.

“As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me…His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wonderer in the earth and traveled (sic) to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue of the the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight…”

Several things in this popular tale demonstrate how Mormonism takes familiar Bible stories and bends them to the purpose of validating Mormon claims.

In Genesis the punishment Cain suffered is explained no further than that he was cut off from his livelihood as a farmer/agriculturalist in that he was made a wanderer, and further cut off from God. A mark was placed on Cain to protect him from those who might kill him, the nature of which mark is unknown so we might assume it isn’t important to know. This is not enough for an early Mormon leader who must demonstrate his credentials by knowing more than the Bible.

First, Cain is still alive, though the Bible clearly indicates he should die, since the mark of Cain was to protect him from premature death. There has been a long tradition of believing Cain’s “wanderings” as unending but the Bible says nothing about that. It is a sound principle that where the Bible is silent so should we be.

Secondly, his skin was dark, a dark skin traditionally considered by Mormons to be the mark of Cain and a bar to any dark-skinned male having the priesthood until the doctrine was changed in in 1978.

Thirdly, it was the exercising of Mormon priesthood that rebuked Cain and made him depart. This is the key to understanding this story. It validates Mormon claims to authority.

Thus we see how a fiction is devised to fill tantalising gaps in our knowledge, not to educate and enlighten but to make the Mormon Church the definitive authority, the ones who know, the ones with the power to command.

The Case of the King in Purgatory

King David, we are told, “is still paying for his sin.” Does that surprise you? Do you think a man can pay for his sin?

David, you will recall, committed adultery with Bathseba, the wife of one of his most trusted military leaders, Uriah the Hittite. When she became pregnant David panicked, called Uriah home from the battlefront in the hope he would lay with his wife and think the baby his. Noble Uriah refused, saying:

“The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” (2Samuel 11:11)

Plan B: David has Uriah killed “in battle,” (2 Sam.11:14-16) and marries Bathsheba.

Here is what Joseph Smith said about David:

“A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness.  David sought repentance at the hand of God carefully with tears,  for the murder of Uriah;  but he could only get it through hell: he got a promise that his soul should not be left in hell.” (TPJS p.339)

Where does this thinking come from? Here it is in the Acts of the Apostles (but you must have a Mormon explain it because you would never…well take a look):

"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.' (Acts 2:29-35)

This is evidence, it is claimed, that David remains unforgiven. Kimball explains, “…David is still paying for his sin. He did not receive the resurrection at the time of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter declared that his body was still in the tomb.”

The text that is a clear prophecy of Christ’s resurrection becomes a prediction about David’s ultimate destiny. Mormon prophet Joseph F Smith explains:

“But even David, though guilty of adultery and murder of Uriah, obtained a promise that his soul should not be left in hell, as I understand it, that even he shall escape the second death.” (Gospel Doctrine, p.434)

But this text has nothing to do with the eternal fate of David.

David writes in Psalm 16:

“…you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

When he writes this, Peter insists, he cannot be talking about himself because,

“Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ…”

Stop for one moment. Read that last again, “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ…” Could he make any clearer what this is about? Its about the resurrection of Christ.

“…that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”

Peter goes on to use Psalm 110 to press home his point:

“For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord (God) said to my Lord (the son of David, the Messiah) Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”

The fact of David’s still being in the tomb is used by Peter to explain that the risen and exalted Christ is so much greater than David, who prophetically calls Jesus ‘my Lord.’ This text is about Christ.

Nevertheless, Joseph Smith makes it about the convoluted Mormon priesthood doctrine, insisting that, “though he was a king, David did not receive the spirit and power of Elijah and the fullness of the priesthood…” [which Smith did of course]

You see how it works? You begin with an unbiblical doctrine of priesthood, then you read the Bible looking for opportunities to insinuate that idea into the text, thus you miss the obvious in your pursuit of the ridiculous.

The Case of the Pentecost Penitents

Peter’s Pentecost sermon had a dramatic effect:

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…’”

                                                                                                                                                                                 (Acts 2:37-38)

Kimball quotes Joseph Smith saying,

Peter referred to the same subject on the day of Pentecost, but the multitude did not get the endowment that Peter had; but several days after, the people asked, “What shall we do?”

Peter says, “I would ye had done it ignorantly,” speaking of crucifying the Lord &c. He did not say to them, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins”; but he said, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19.)
This is the case with murderers. They could not be baptized for the remission of sins, for they had shed innocent blood.

I know! Isn’t that weird? Take the time to open your Bible as you look at this and read the text for yourself. He is referring to two groups of people met by Peter, one on the day of Pentecost, the other in the days following. He then makes the reply Peter gave in Acts 3:19 answer the question asked in previous days in Acts 2:37, which he had already answered in Acts 2:38.

He then misrepresents what Peter is saying. The KJV has:

“And now brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.”

Smith makes this mean, “I would ye had done it ignorantly” (see above quote) clearly saying they did it knowingly. But every translation, even Smith’s own, makes the verse say, “I know that through ignorance ye have done this thing, even also your rulers.” (That is the so-called Joseph Smith Translation: wot means know, see Strongs)

He then makes the strange assertion that the call to repent (3:19) and have their sins blotted out, with no mention of baptism means they are not to be baptised because they are murderers. But in Acts 2 he told those who crucified Jesus (murderers?) they should repent and be baptised!

So what is going on here? The clue, again, is in the word endowment, meaning the peculiar Mormon idea that you can get endowed with secret knowledge and insight in the temple. Murderers cannot receive their endowments.

As with the story of King David, Mormonism has taken a clear to understand text and insinuated into it their peculiar idea of endowments, implying they have insights other churches don’t have. When someone claims to be the sole channel of truth, through whom God speaks, they have to live up to that claim. Where “apostate” churches have no answers the prophets must have answers. This is illustrated with the Mormon doctrine of baptism for the dead.

Based on one Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 15:29, it might have seemed like a great idea back in the day to dunk a few followers in the pool and tell them their ancestors are now Mormons. But it has got completely out of hand with Mormon temples going up at a rate that Joseph Smith couldn’t have begun to imagine. And, of course, it detracts from the chapter’s true and wonderful theme, the assurance of resurrection to eternal life through faith in Christ.

In the same way, Smith has taken a clear enough passage in Acts, about repenting and being baptised in the name of the risen king, and turned it around to make it mean certain people can’t have certain blessings that are available alone through the good offices of the Mormon priesthood.

Whether we are talking about the obscure story of Cain, the eternal fate of King David, or of murderers, the point here is that Scripture is twisted for the sake of making it bow to Mormon authority and to make Mormon leaders look as if they truly are prophets.

Sadly, this too can get out of hand and, finding nothing of their teaching in the Bible, even plain verses are twisted out of shape to look like they are talking about Mormonism.

What makes me so sad is that a whole chapter, a whole book, a whole enterprise is wasted in the service of a lie that has long been forgotten to be a lie. It must be perpetuated because they think its true, even when the plain truth of the Bible says otherwise.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

This is an article I posted in 2011 on the fascinating subject of Chiasmus. It is found in the Bible and Mormons will argue that its presence in the Book of Mormon is evidence of its authenticity – read on:

Chiasmus is “a figure of speech by which the order of the words in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second” (Oxford companion to English Literature, 1985 ed.). One way of identifying a chiastic quote is to mark the repeated words or phrases with the letters ABBA. To illustrate, one of the most familiar examples of this is the phrase spoken at the foot of the Cross:

“He saved others, himself he cannot save.”

This becomes:

A. He saved

B. others,

B. himself

A. he cannot save.

There is an excellent web site dedicated to the subject, www.chiasmus.com and it’s a lot of fun as well as educational.

Since we are currently looking at the Book of Mormon and “questions of the soul” I thought I should say something about this. Thanks Staci for your timely reminder about this fascinating subject. Mormons claim that examples of chiastic writing in the Book of Mormon help authenticate the book. It is found extensively in the Bible and is also to be found in the Book of Mormon, Ipso facto, etc.

Chiasmus is a sophisticated literary device that ranges from the most simple, as illustrated above, to complex examples. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, abound with examples and it is accepted that it is typical of one form of Hebraic writing.

A good example from the Book of Mormon is found 2 Nephi 29:13

The Jews

shall have the words

of the Nephites

and the Nephites

shall have the words

of the Jews;

and the Nephites and the Jews

shall have the words

of the lost tribes of Israel;

and the lost tribes of Israel

shall have the words of the Nephites and of the Jews.

The example Mormons most like to talk about is chapter 36 of Alma, 30 verses which, verse for verse, sets out parallels, verse 1 with verse 30, verse 2 with verse 29 etc. If you read it yourself it is easy enough to identify the parallels. Does this lend weight to Mormon claims?

Falling over Chiasmus

Contrary to past Mormon claims, Chiasmus was not unknown at the time of Joseph Smith. Today Mormon scholars have recognised that this literary form was known at that time but still insist it is unlikely that Smith was aware of it

The Book of Mormon has many examples and, at first sight, this seems impressive. However, while it is common in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, as well as the Book of Mormon, it is by no means restricted to these. It is a generally used literary style found in many cultures, both in simple and complex forms and people even use it unconsciously. Take for example the famous Mormon couplet

A. As man is

B. God once was

B. As God is

A. Man may become

The person who coined this phrase didn’t think “I will put it in chiasmic form to make it memorable”. It just came out that familiar way we all recognise but don’t know the name of. One of my favourite quotes is by Thomas Fuller:

A. If an ass

B. Goes a travelling

B. He’ll not come back

A. A Horse

An example from a nursery rhyme is:

Hickory, dickory, dock

the mouse ran up the clock

The clock struck one

The Mouse ran down

Hickory, dickory, dock.

Even if Smith didn't know the word chiasm he would have had ready access to the distinctive form in his reading of the King James Bible. Indeed, if he copied his style from the Bible it would seem inevitable that his work would contain chiasmus, not just in those parts he plagiarised but even in those parts peculiar to the Book of Mormon. It is so common you practically trip over it at every turn.

Here’s another example, this time in a familiar Christian children’s song:

Whose the king of the jungle

Whose the king of the sea

Whose the king of the universe

and whose the king of me

I tell you J-E-S-U-S Yes!

He’s the king of me

He’s the king of the universe

the jungle and the sea

Chiasmus in the Doctrine and Covenants

To show this you need to realise that chiastic forms are found in the Doctrine and Covenants. It can't be explained, then, simply as an ancient literary form whose presence "proves" the Book of Mormon, and Mormon scholars readily acknowledge the accidental nature of its presence in the D&C. If Smith could draft chiastic forms in the D&C he could have done the same with the Book of Mormon – whether consciously or no. Here is an example from D&C 107:34-38

The Seventy

are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Twelve

or the travelling high council,

in the building up the and regulating all the affairs of the same

in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews;

The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews.

The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion,

form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency or to the travelling high council.

The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church,

in all to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

It is the duty of the travelling high council to call upon the Seventy,

when they need assistance, to fill the several calls for preaching and administering the gospel instead of others.

Other D&C texts include 76:28-30; 76:89-98; 109:24-28.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this a simplistic literary style. It can be very complex and involved. But don’t make the mistake, either, of thinking that its presence in a text is compelling proof of a claim. It is a style both complicated and common that the untutored can easily fall into, the educated unconsciously copy to a degree of complexity, and the trained and determined can reproduce well enough, or offer involved enough comment on to impress the unwary.

Here is one of my own humble making:

Chiasmus

is a form

not a proof.

Proof comes

In the form of

Christ.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Miracle of Forgiveness, Ch. 8: As a Man Thinketh

Miracle of Forgiveness

This post was originally a guest post in Mormonism Investigated UK, always worth a visit.

Every generation of Mormons joins a different church. For example, in the earliest, frontier days it was blood and thunder, ‘thus saith the Lord’ hellfire preaching. conquest, gods, defiance and determination, building-a-kingdom thinking prevailed. Folk crossed oceans and continents to be part of it.

The late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries saw a mad dash for respectability and acceptance as Mormon leaders looked east again, seeking investors for their rebuilding project after a regenerate and reconstructed Utah was received into the Union.

Gone were the temple oaths of vengeance against the US Government and people for the death of the prophet, gone the isolationism, in came the warm handshakes in Washington, the cordial invitations to look and see how American we really are. And what could be more American than the thrusting philosophy of self-help?

This chapter of Miracle of Forgiveness (MOF) represents a time when the Mormon Church was most influenced by the self-help philosophies prevalent in 19th/20th century America. Of the twenty three chapters in this book this is the least theological and most typical of its time.

A Brief History of Self-Help

As popularly conceived the self-help movement can be said to have begun with Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack (1736) with its mixture of seasonal information, folksy tales, practical household tips, etc. Over 100 years later the Scottish author Samuel Smiles saw the publication of his famous Self Help (1859).

in 1937 Napoleon Hill published his Think and Grow Rich, and that same year Dale Carnegie his How to Win Friends and Influence People. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking was published in 1952.

Today, the “Self-Help and Actualisation Movement” can be divided into two camps. Based on more modern publications such as Thomas Harris’ I’m OK-Your OK (1967) and M Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled (1978) there is the victim model. In this view we are products of breeding and environment and our ills are not our fault. The sooner we recognise this, stop judging each other and ourselves, dump our guilt, and move on the happier we will be.

The more traditional view, based on the earlier works of Hill, Carnegie, et.al and carried on today by people like Tony Robbins (Unlimited Power, 1987) is the empowerment model. In this view you are fully responsible for what happens to you and by changing your thinking you can change your circumstances. A famous dictum of this view is, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe he can achieve.” This is the view espoused by Kimball in his book and continues today in the late Stephen R Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, a self-help model based on Mormonism.

Mormonism, the quintessentially American religion, fully embraced this self-help philosophy. In MOF Kimball, on p.107, quotes an ‘unknown’ author on the power of man to effect the world positively through the radiation of positive thoughts. The power of Google shows the author to be William George Jordan.

Jordan was an essayist of some repute and in 1902 published a positive thinking book, The Power of Truth. So impressed was Mormon president Heber J Grant, that he purchased the copyright and plates in 1933. The familiar ‘can-do’ attitude and pop-psychology in such books typifies the Mormon attitude to life, lending itself to the peculiarly Mormon idea that men can become gods.

Both victimisation and empowerment models are anathema to the Christian because neither recognises the true fallen nature and plight of man, his accountability before a holy God, his need of a Saviour, and the promise of new hearts and minds through faith in Christ. I want to concentrate on three points that arise from this chapter.

1. Higher Beings

Kimball builds up a picture of the exacting, uncompromising judgement we will all one day face. Citing Rev. 20:12, “and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works,” He reminds us:

“Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgement, For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt.12:36-37)

He goes on to show that, where the Old Testament commands, “Do not kill,” the higher law insists, “do not be angry” (Matt.5:21-22); where the Law says, “love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy,” the higher law demands, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you…” (Matt.5:43-44); where it was once said, “Do not commit adultery,” God now insists, “Whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery in his heart…” (Matt.5:27-28)

There is nothing secret to God, he insists, and he describes how he imagines our every thought, word and deed is recorded in heaven. This is where it gets peculiarly literalistic, demonstrating the very earth-bound way he looks at things.

Describing how modern technology already has the ability “almost to annihilate man’s personal privacy,” he writes of lie detectors, wire tapping, bugs and transmitters, direction microphones (remember this is 1969) and even dream analysis  before contemplating how much more powerful would be the ability of heaven to record all we think, do, and say:

“In light of these modern marvels can anyone doubt that God hears prayers and discerns secret thought?..If human eyes and ears can so penetrate one’s personal life, what may we expect from perfected men with perfected vision?

Every day, we record voices on recording machines. Every day, pictures are taken and voices recorded and acts portrayed in live transmission over television…Surely it is not too great a stretch of the imagination in modern days to believe that our thoughts as well will be recorded by some means now know only to higher beings!”

Higher beings? Kimball’s Mormon cosmology sees God as an exalted man, and men who have died faithful to the Mormon message as “progressing” further towards this exalted state of higher being. This thought reflects the peculiarly Mormon idea that men and gods exist on a continuum from a premortal existence, through an earthly time of trial and testing, to a place of exaltation as gods. If gods are “just men made perfect” (Heb.12:22-24) then the ways and means of these gods are the ways and means of men perfected.

More troubling still is the idea drawn out from this thinking that Mormon leaders are endowed with a portion of this higher means of discernment and perception.

“A similar power of discernment and perception comes to men as they become perfect and the impediments which obstruct spiritual vision are dissolved.”

This is not prophetic ministry described here but shamanism.

God declares,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is.55:8-9)

“Higher” here does not mean progressed further, developed to a higher plain. God declares his ways are not our ways, his thoughts not our thoughts. When man’s ways are compared to God’s then it is always God’s ways that are the plumb line against which man is judged and the notion that some perfected technology/psychic ability  is responsible for keeping the records of heaven is strange indeed.

Twisted Scripture

Self-help thinking finds comfort from ancient texts of all kinds, suggesting they have tapped into some common ancient wisdom. Scripture from all over the world is pressed into service to make this point and is often badly interpreted to achieve this end. Instead of using sound principles of interpretation, the disciplines of hermeneutics and exegesis, they take the translated words at face value and fit them to their preconceived message.

Kimball uses a classic example here in quoting Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” He goes on to write, “Not only does a person become what he thinks, but often he comes to look like it.” But is this what the writer wants us to take from the text?

“Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats; For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with you.” (Prov.23:6-7, KJV)

“Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies; for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. ‘Eat ands drink,’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you. (Prov.23:6-7, NIV)

Do not eat the the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies. For he is like one who is inwardly calculating. ‘Eat and drink,’ he says to you, but his heart is not with you.” (Prov.23:6-7, ESV)

It is true that, What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean…” (Mk.7:20-23) But the proverb is not giving us a formula for helping ourselves by changing our thoughts and, as we will soon see, neither is Jesus. The message of the Proverb is that a stingy man can appear generous but we shouldn’t trust appearances, rather recognise that what appears to be generosity is calculating and we will regret our association with him (Prov.23:8)

The same trick is pulled on a quote from Jude, “…Filthy dreamers defile the flesh…” Ellipses here cover a multitude of sins. When taken in context, these five words mean something quite different:

“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 7-8, ESV)

This text is about false teachers leading people astray by relying on dreams, prophecies, subjective experiences, claiming that God leads them and has spoken to them. They defile the flesh (sexual sin, adultery, fornication, polygamy) and reject authority (the established truth of God); sound familiar?

What he, and many others, do is take the words and make them mean whatever they wish them to mean. Never mind what Jude is writing about here (Jude 3,4) here is a text that appears to be about our thought lives so that is what we will make it about.

Whatever…

The Bible has much to say about our thought lives.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians that our thoughts should be on higher things:

“Whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philip.4:8)

This will be familiar as it appears in the Mormon 13th Article of Faith. Does this affirm all that Kimball has been saying? One of the first lessons of Scripture interpretation is that we never build a doctrine on one verse. What does the Word of God have to say about our minds, our thoughts, and our words?

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set your mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Ro.8:5-8)

This seems to affirm what Kimball is claiming. To fix things, simply change your mind, your thinking, and set your mind on God. But the text tells us that the mind cannot submit to God. Why ever not? Earlier in the same letter Paul describes those who minds cannot submit to God:

“For when you were slaves to sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death…” (Ro.6:20-21)

The mind that is set on the flesh is so set because that mind is a slave to sin. It cannot set its mind on God because it belongs to another, obeys another. All the positive thinking in the world will not change this state and Scripture tells us that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…” (2 Cor.4:4) The Romans text goes on to explain:

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro.6:22-23)

How is the mind that is enslaved to sin set free and become slave to God, and what empowers it to change the focus of its gaze? Paul explains in Ephesians that until we are born again we walk in the futility of our minds, our understanding is darkened, we are ignorant and hard-hearted. It is when we have learned of Christ, put off our old selves, been renewed in the spirit of our minds, and put on our new selves, created after the likeness of God, that we walk in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph.4:17-24)

The writer to the Hebrews helps us:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant I made with their fathers…For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:

I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Heb.8:8-10)

This “new covenant” was established by Jesus (1 Cor.11:23-26) and is marked by those who come to faith in him being “born again” (John 3:3) and renewed in their hearts and minds (Eph.4:22-24). Only renewed minds can think of heavenly things. Self-help and positive thinking can achieve much I am sure but it cannot free what is enslaved by Satan, it cannot tear the gaze of the unregenerate from the flesh it craves, and it cannot effect the miracle of new birth in you, creating new hearts and minds in a new people of God, made fit for the kingdom not by our own righteousness but by the righteousness of Christ:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2:1-10)

When Jesus urges us to avoid sin, even in our thought life, when Paul urges us to set our minds on things above, it is not by our own, herculean effort that this is achieved. Rather, it is the regenerate soul, the renewed mind, enabled by the power of the Spirit, set free from sin’s iron grip, it is this mind that increasingly thinks heaven’s thoughts and seeks God’s kingdom come in this world.

He ends with a familiar quote often used by David O McKay:

Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.

If someone dead in their sins sows a thought, be it ever so positive, good and helpful, it will die on the vine because sin will wring the life from it. If someone is born again, renewed in mind, then the thoughts sown will live and thrive, not because of any inherent power, resolve, or determination in the thinker, but because that person is made new in Christ.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Mike and Lynn Wilder

mike_and_lynn_wilder_small

Our very good friend Bobby Gilpin over at Mormonism Investigated has been busy (really, when does he sleep?) arranging for the visit of Mike and Lynn Wilder, recent converts from Mormonism to the Christian Faith. It is a truly remarkable story and if you can make any of the dates and venues it will be well worth your time. Here is a  little blurb from Bobby’s website and a link for you to follow and find out more:

For 30 years, Dr. Wilder and her husband Michael were temple recommend-holding, active members of the LDS church and held numerous leadership positions. Their four children were all faithful and active in the church like their parents, with the three oldest serving missions in Russia, Denmark and Florida. In 1999 the Wilder’s moved from Indiana to Utah when Dr. Wilder was offered a prestigious position at BYU. Then in 2006, everything changed.

This June, Michael and Lynn are coming to the UK on a ministry tour. Their hope is to meet with various people and churches around the country, this is a very rare and excellent opportunity to be able to meet and learn from this couple. Its the hope of this ministry that many Christians will have a better understanding of the Mormon church and how to witness to its members as a result of attending one of our upcoming sessions. We have 4 sessions planned in different parts of the UK. These events are all free to attend but an offering will be taken to assist with the costs involved with putting them together…find out more here.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Conversation with a Mormon–Paul’s Defence of Grace

Note: Back in 2009 I wrote a short piece, more to get something off my chest than anything, and called it Conversation with a Mormon – Good Works. I recently dug it up and worked it into a different ending explaining from the apostle Paul’s perspective how we meet the charge of easy-believism and this is the result.

 

Christian: Where do you get the idea that “Christians don’t believe in works”?

Mormon: Every Evangelical I speak to tells me that they are saved by grace alone. But James 1:5 says that “faith without works is dead”.

Christian: Do you count any Evangelicals among your friends?

Mormon: Yes, I do and they all say the same thing – “grace alone, faith alone”.

Christian: These Evangelical friends, do they go to church?

Mormon: Yes, we see them setting off Sunday mornings about the same time as us.

Christian: And do they have a nice building in which to meet?

Mormon: Yes, it’s a nice building.

Christian: And they have a pastor? Is he full time? Does he get paid to preach?

Mormon: Yes, their pastor is a professional man.

Christian: And do your Evangelical friends get involved in the community?

Mormon: Yes, they seem to have open houses just like we do and they run a soup kitchen. They also have something called – “Street Pastors” I think.

Christian: How do you think the building, its upkeep, the pastor, etc. are paid for?

Mormon: I suppose they take up a collection or something.

Christian: So, these Christian friends, who don’t believe in works, attend church regularly and seem to pay for their own building, pastor and running expenses by what I suppose you would call tithes and offerings. They busy themselves with charity work, invite the neighbours in for refreshments and make every effort to tell the gospel. Quite busy then; for people who don’t believe in works?

Mormon: I hadn’t thought of it that way. But if works are required then why don’t you say as much instead of continually talking about “grace alone”?

Christian: But works are not required.

Mormon: I don’t understand. You are making no sense.

Christian: I am making perfect sense; biblical sense. But you are right in saying you don’t understand. It is because you are so full of Mormon preconceptions about my faith that you have left no room for any other understanding. My faith will never fit into the scheme of Mormonism because it looks nothing like Mormonism. No temples, no “priesthood”, except that which we share as followers of Christ, no “law of eternal progression” because all that we need to grow more Christ-like we find in Christ.

“Church” is not, for us, an institution we join to be saved but a natural congregating of all those who are in Christ to sing his praises, encourage one another and work to build his kingdom.

Mormon: So where is the motivation to do all the things you do if you are already 'saved by grace?' It sounds to me like a dangerous doctrine. If you tell a man he is saved by faith you undermine his moral senses. If he only has to trust he gets the idea he can live as he pleases and still go to heaven.

Christian: Do you believe the Bible?

Mormon: We believe the Bible, 'as far as it is translated correctly.'

Christian: We believe the Bible – period. And the Bible answers your question. Maybe if you learned to trust the Bible more you would know this for yourself. Did you know that Paul was asked the same question you just asked.

If Paul was asked the same question, accused of teaching licence to sin, what do you think he was preaching? Mormonism? Or the message I believe in? Surely if he was preaching what you preach no one would ask him that question.

Mormon: I suppose so.

Christian: Paul answered his critics in his letter to Christians in Galatia (part of modern Turkey). When his critics charged him as you charge me (Galatians 2:17) he pointed out:

We are justified in Christ Galatians 2:17

That is, our justification comes from being united with Christ. Someone who is united with Christ is a changed person. That person is living a new life in Christ and the idea of going back to the old life is inconceivable. Paul explains:

For through the law I died to the law Galatians 2:19

The penalty for sin, death, was paid by Christ at Calvary and so the law is satisfied in Christ's perfect sacrifice so that I might live for God. If I trust in him the law has no more demands on me because it has been paid in full in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ Galatians 2:20

By trusting in Christ I am counted as crucified with Christ and, through his bearing my sin on the cross, my sin is blotted out.

I no longer live (the old self has died), but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Where do we get the motivation to the good works that you admit you see your Evangelical Christian neighbours do? The drive to good works is the new life in Christ, a life that demonstrates the saved state of the person living out that life in Christ's power.

Mormon: But James definitely writes faith without works is dead

Christian: Yes, and he is right. But he is not saying we are saved by a combination of faith and works. Rather, he is saying that faith issues in works, as I have explained, and if no works follow then that faith is not a living faith. Remember that James is a church leader writing to Christians, a saved people. He is urging them to live out the new life they have in Christ. Paul writes the same thing to the church in Philippi.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes. Philip.2:12-13

Notice, he wrote work out your salvation and not work for your salvation. Note also that it is God who works in you to will and to act...

The Christian is a marvellous creature, the world has never seen the like, new, born-again, or born from above, born of the Spirit Jesus calls it in his conversation with Nicodemus Jn.3:1-9

Christians all over the world do good works but we don't “believe in” them the way Mormons do, that is we don't trust them to gain us salvation in God's kingdom. We are saved by grace through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God...Eph.2:8

As Paul explains in his Galatian letter:

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

It is, I suggest, a serious business to set aside the grace of God and trust in works of the law, of any law.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Book of Mormon Origins – If Not Angels Then Who?

Book of Mormon

This post appeared originally on Mormonism Investigated UK

Anyone who has expressed doubts regarding the story of the Book of Mormon will probably have been met with the question, "Well if Joseph didn't get it from the angel how do you explain the Book of Mormon?"

Today the Book of Mormon does seem an unusual book that appears to have sprung from nowhere. Certainly the Mormon Church likes to present it as such, insisting that it could only have the history claimed for it because there is no other credible explanation.

In my last post we looked at the Bible as a major source for the Book of Mormon. Large sections of the Bible are quoted in the Book of Mormon, including over eighteen chapters of Isaiah. Even the Apocrypha is pressed into service, providing names, concepts and story lines. Beyond the Bible there was ample material on which Joseph Smith could draw to build his stories of the Ancient Americas; but could a simple farm boy have produced such a book?

Joseph Smith - Ignorant Farm Boy?

LeGrand Richards, in his book A Marvellous Work and A Wonder, after listing “42 great truths revealed through Joseph Smith,” makes this comment:

“Joseph Smith, or any other man, could not have obtained all this information by reading the Bible or studying all the books that have ever been written. It came from God.” (p.411)

At the beginning of his book LeGrand Richards quotes Jesus' words about putting new wine into new wineskins (Mark 2:21-22) to explain why God would choose an uneducated lad - so that He could teach the lad the way He wanted, without any traditions or prejudices to get in the way. Joseph is often cast in the role of ignorant farm boy, thoroughly incapable of writing the Book of Mormon.First Vision 2

This picture of an uneducated lad is misleading. Although he had little formal schooling, he was an imaginative and bright child. His imagination led him into divination and treasure seeking in his teens. Further, Joseph Smith’s parents, far from being the poor country hicks often imagined, were downwardly mobile gentry from Vermont, who moved to Palmyra in 1817, and struggled with a mortgage, debts, and poor crops. His father worked the land in the season and, during the winter, was a school teacher, so there was education in the home.

Even so, the only way the question of an “uneducated lad” innocently seeking truth could possibly arise in the first place is if the story is plausible. But there is no evidence to show that a fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith sought God, went into a grove to pray, saw visions, or was led by an angel to the hidden repository of gold plates.

Joseph, in his later telling of the story, relates how he shared his experience with a local Methodist preacher and was treated with contempt and subjected to ‘the most bitter persecution and reviling’ by ‘the great ones of the most popular sects of the day.’  And yet no account has been found of the vision in any records of the time, or for almost twenty years after. This at a time when newspapers, fighting for circulation, reported regularly the lively tales based on folk-lore and superstition that prevailed at the time.

Fawn M. Brodie, who published a biography of Joseph Smith, No Man Knows My History, was one of the first to cast doubt upon the authenticity of the story:

“Joseph's own description of the first vision was not published until 1842, twenty-two years after the memorable event.

If something happened that spring morning in 1820, it passed totally unnoticed in Joseph's home town, and apparently did not even fix itself in the minds of members of his own family. The awesome vision he described in later years may have been the elaboration of some half-remembered dream stimulated by the early revival excitement and reinforced by the rich folklore of visions circulating in his neighborhood. Or it may have been sheer invention, created some time after 1834 when the need arose for a magnificent tradition to cancel out the stories of his fortune-telling and money-digging.”

James B. Allen, Professor Emeritus of History at Brigham Young University, admits that “none of the available contemporary writings about Joseph Smith in the 1830's, none of the publications of the Church in that decade, and no contemporary journal or correspondence yet discovered mentions the story of the first vision.” Dr. Allen goes on to state that in the 1830's, “…the general membership of the Church knew little, if anything, about it.”

This being the case, the Book of Mormon can only be the product of an older, more mature Joseph Smith, whatever its true origins. The “uneducated lad” was yet to discover his destiny at the age of fourteen and knew nothing of angels, dreams, and gold plates. Joseph Smith

Back in the Day…

In fact, many of Joseph's ideas can be traced to the people around him and the speculations of the day:

Official Mormon Church history tells us that Joseph’s father believed in dreams and visions and as early as 1811, when Joseph was only 6, contended for a return to the original church established by Jesus Christ and his apostles. His parents were both, purportedly, independent religious thinkers, his mother believing that all the Christian creeds were wrong – as did many people in that place back in the day.

In fact, in 1809, Alexander Campbell had come out against all Christian creeds and began his own sect (the Disciples of Christ), attempting to return to the early church. Also known as the Campbellites, they were prevalent along that part of the frontier and many later became Mormons because of the similarity in their beliefs.

Even the account of Joseph's so-called First Vision is remarkably similar to accounts of spectacular conversion stories published in that period. In 1816 Elias Smith, a minister, claimed to have seen "The Lamb once slain" in a vision in the woods. Joseph's local newspaper published a similar story in October 1823. Alexander Campbell himself wrote in 1824 about a revival in New York during which people had had visions, heard a voice in the woods, or seen the Saviour descending to the tops of the trees.

To people today, the idea of the Urim and Thummim stones, which enabled Joseph to translate the golden plates, is strange, but peep stones were common back in the day. In March 1826 Joseph was charged with being "a disorderly person and an impostor." He admitted in court that he used a peep stone to discover hidden treasures in the earth. He actually had several, including a dark stone he looked at in his hat, and a clear stone he held up to a candle or the sun.

Joseph's mother testified to the inventive nature of his mind:

“During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.” (Quoted in No Man Knows My History, Fawn Brodie, p.35)

The Book Of Mormon - Couldn't Have Been Written By A Man?

In view of the above it would seem that Joseph had plenty of material on which to draw for such a book. Added to which, local speculation was rife about a highly civilised race that had been wiped out in a great battle and buried in mounds locally.

A local Congregationalist minister, Ethan Smith, published a book in 1823 called View of the Hebrews; or the Ten Tribes of Israel in America. In it he argues that Native Americans are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, a view commonly held back in the day. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The Mormon Church asserts that Joseph could not have written such a complete book in the 60 days in which the translation took place. Yet those who acted as his scribes never actually saw him translate. It is known that there was a curtain between them and Joseph, and they never saw the plates as he translated.

They also testify that his translation was fluent and he never corrected. Since even the best linguists sometimes have to rephrase their translation, Joseph must have been directly inspired by God. Another possibility, of course, is that he was reading from a previously prepared manuscript, or even from memory, considering his unique ability to "tell tales" as witnessed to by his mother. And remember almost one third of the Book of Mormon is lifted from the Bible.

It is impossible to consider the origin of the Book of Mormon without considering Joseph Smith and the background against which he lived. The book can be explained by Joseph's fertile mind, mastery of language, native cunning, and responsiveness to the tittle-tattle, speculations, and opinions around him.

The Book Of Mormon - An Ancient Document?

In 1831 Alexander Campbell wrote concerning the Book of Mormon:

“This prophet Smith...wrote...in his Book of Mormon every error and almost every truth discussed in New York for the last ten years. He decides all the great controversies; -infant baptism, ordination, the trinity, regeneration, repentance, justification, the fall of man, the atonement, transubstantiation, fasting, penance, church government, religious experience, the call to the ministry, the general resurrection, eternal punishment, who may baptize, and even the question of free masonry [sic], republican government, and the rights of man” (Millennial Harbinger, Feb.1831, p.93)

Not only does Joseph Smith tackle these great nineteenth century controversies in his Book of Mormon, but uses material from publications not in existence at the time of the Nephites.

There are marked parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Joseph also appears to have drawn from popular books of his day, and even the local newspaper, to create his theological masterpiece.

Even Shakespeare is paraphrased by Lehi, the father of Nephi,  “hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs you must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveller can return (2 Nephi 1:14). Hamlet, act 3, scene 1, contain the words "from whose bourn no traveller returns..." Famously, the last word in the Book of Jacob is not "Reformed Egyptian" but French, “I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren adieu” (Jacob 7:27)

Not a Shard…

We began with the challenge to account for the Book of Mormon if the official story is questioned. The Book of Mormon is very much a product of its age and fits neatly into the background of the early 19th Century. It is not for us to prove anything, however, but for the Mormon Church to account for the origins of the Book of Mormon.

Mormons argue that they have a prophet and modern revelation, while those who cling to the wreckage of traditional and apostate Christianity have the heavens closed to us - but who has the evidence? Who can "walk Bible lands", while Mormons pay top dollar to tour guides to take them through non-existent "Book of Mormon lands", point to Inca and Maya ruins and declare "it might have been something like this"?

Who can walk in the footsteps of Abraham as he travelled from Ur to Haran and Lower Egypt and to Beersheba; or of Israel as they travelled from Egypt, across the wilderness, to the promised land; or of St Paul if they wish, to Seleucia, Lystra, Philippi, Corinth, Athens, Galatia and Rome; or follow in the steps of Jesus himself as he walked the shores of Galilee or the streets of Capernaeum and Jerusalem?

But no one can tell us where Nephi walked, where Mosiah reigned as king, where Alma, son of Alma was judge over his people and high priest over the church, where the wars recorded by Helaman took place and many Lamanites were converted; not even where Jesus walked when he supposedly "walked the Americas". Joseph Smith could lift his stories from the Bible but the archaeology has stayed stubbornly in Bible lands.

New World archaeology has not turned up a coin, not a pot, not a shard, not a brick, a name, a hill or mountain, a valley or river, not a city, town or village to support Mormon claims for the Book of Mormon. If the places and people didn't exist then the events cannot have taken place.

It is the Mormon Church that is making great claims for the Book of Mormon and if it can be shown to be false it is for the Mormon Church, and not us, to account for it.