Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament?

We have seen that here, Beyond the Zion Curtain, our first encounter with Mormonism will be The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Last time we tested the claim in the introduction to the Book of Mormon that it contains, “as does the Bible, the Fullness of the Gospel.” Today we ask if the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

testimony

“Believe in the Book of Mormon as another witness of the Son of God. This book has come forth as an added testimony to the world of the great truths concerning the Master as set forth in the Bible. The Bible is the Testament of the Old World. The Book of Mormon is the Testament of the New World, and they go hand in hand in testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ensign. June 2000, pp.18/19)

These are the words of Mormon prophet, the late Gordon B Hinckley, and neatly illustrate the Mormon use of “Testament.” But is this a correct usage and what does “Testament” mean in the context of the Judeo-Christian heritage in which the Mormon Church claims to stand?

According to Webster’s third New International Dictionary one definition of testament is, “a tangible proof or tribute: EVIDENCE, WITNESS…an expression of conviction: AFFIRMATION, CREDO…”

This is clearly the meaning in view above, but given this definition of testament can we say, as we are clearly meant to believe, that The Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, i.e. another of the same kind as the first two testaments?

We have already seen that the Book of Mormon is described as “a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.” It takes no great imagination, therefore, to make the connection thus, Old Testament, New Testament, Another Testament. Of course, this is exactly the train of thought the Mormon Church wants us to follow.

Having led us by that word “another” to think of the earlier testaments of our Christian experience, the Old and New Testaments, it seems reasonable to understand testament, not in the dictionary sense, but in the specific biblical sense.

Covenant

Vine’s Expository Dictionary gives the following simple entry under the word Testament: For TESTAMENT see COVENANT

Easton's Bible Dictionary helpfully clarifies the NT use of the word:

Testament: occurs twelve times in the New Testament (Heb. 9:15, etc.) as the rendering of the Gr. diatheke, which is twenty times rendered "covenant" in the Authorized Version, and always so in the Revised Version. The Vulgate translates incorrectly by testamentum, whence the names "Old" and "New Testament," by which we now designate the two sections into which the Bible is divided.

Nave's Topical Bible gave the following information:

TESTAMENT: A will: Heb 9:16-18

The new: Mt 26:28; Mr 14:24; Lu 22:20; 1Co 11:25

See COVENANT

Testament occurs in the following verses in the NT:

Mat 26:28; Mar 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1Cr 11:25; 2Cr 3:6; 2Cr 3:14; Heb 7:22; Heb 9:15; Heb 9:16; Heb 9:17; Heb 9:18; Heb 9:20; Rev 11:19.

Testamentum

The word testament comes from the Latin testamentum meaning covenant. The Latin Bible comprises the Vetus Testamentum and the Novum Testamentum, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

The Greek for testament is diathéké and the Greek Bible comprises the hépalaia diathéké and the hé kainé diathéké. The Latin testamentum and the Greek diathéké in the biblical context both mean covenant, as in a solemn and binding agreement between two parties.

The New Testament can, then, be called the collection of the books of the New Covenant. This is borne out in some key New Testament passages:

“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant [testament in the KJV] in my blood” (Lk. 22:20, ESV)

“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor.3:6,NIV)

And in Galatians 4, we have a clear picture of the old covenant, which is “from Mount Sinai and bears children who are slaves,” and the new covenant whose children are “children of promise.”

The Old Testament is not the Old Testimony; neither is the New Testament the New Testimony. The Old Testament is the old covenant, which is of the law and which brings slavery and the New Testament is the new covenant which is of the Spirit and brings freedom in Christ.

martureo

In each instance the Greek word used is diatheke which commentators already quoted translate covenant. Interestingly, there is an instance in Revelation where Jesus himself uses the word testimony in its true meaning (Rev.22:16). The Greek word used here is martureo which means to testify. The Old Testament, therefore, is the Old diatheke, the New Testament the New diatheke. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand is no diatheke but a martureo, and cannot, then be “another Testament”; but a diatheke of what?

It is clear that the addition of “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” to the title of the Book of Mormon is designed to help people associate the Book of Mormon with the Bible, i.e. the Old Testament, the New Testament, Another Testament. It is clear from the introduction to the Book of Mormon that this other testament is meant to be viewed as “a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.” Yet, the Mormon word testament means testimony while the biblical word testament means covenant.

Given that we now have in The Book of Mormon Another Testament of Jesus Christ, it seems appropriate to ask what the nature of this other covenant is. This is an essential question because the message of the Novum Testamentum is that, through Christ, believers enter into a new covenant relationship with God and anything that obscures, confuses or otherwise meddles with this clear message must surely be rejected.

The Book of Mormon is not etymologically  “another covenant” but neither is it “another testimony” because it denies the very nature, the grace-centred, faith-based nature of God’s new covenant with his people. What might be called the Mormon covenant, with its temples, preoccupation with the dead and works-based message, is not another of the same kind but quite different from the new covenant entered by grace through the blood of Christ (Eph.2:1-4) Therefore, both etymologically and practically, the Book of Mormon is not “Another Testament” but "”another gospel” (Gal.1:6-9)

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