Out of curiosity, I once made a list of reasons given by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their opposition. In just a few minutes I noted over fifty points of argument that I had personally read or someone had challenged me with. Some of the reasons could have been broken down to smaller concerns or objects of resistance. However, after one has seen enough of the materials and argued points of doctrine with those who unknowingly “oppose themselves” (2 Timothy 2:25), a pattern emerges that serves to simplify the process. Anti-Mormon thought has its roots in a few overarching objections. In this chapter I will focus on the seven subjects most often advanced by anti-Mormons:
- The nature of God and the Godhead
- The completeness and infallibility of the Holy Bible
- The Great Apostasy, or falling away, from the original teachings of Christ
- Modern-day revelation–prophets and priesthood
- The Book of Mormon
- Grace vs. works
- Eternal progression
Many other criticisms have been made, of course; the list of fetishes against the church and its leaders seems unending. Anti-Mormons are masters at recycling old, tired, and previously answered concerns. They do not watch in faith–they only justify offense. The fact is that every anti-Mormon criticism I’m aware of has been decisively and adequately dealt with by knowledgeable scholars. That anti-Mormon writers largely ignore these responses is telling of their motives. I believe if these main doctrinal issues are put into perspective, answering the endless list of relatively frivolous matters is either easier or, hopefully, unnecessary.
Evangelical Christians believe in the traditional, or historically, orthodox view of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost combined in the same being. This definition had its foundation in a few carefully selected New Testament verses and its authentication in the Nicene Council, as has already been addressed.
The World Book Encyclopedia defines the Trinity as follows:
Trinity is a term used to express the belief that in the one God there are three Divine Persons–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). The idea is based on various passages in the New Testament. Belief in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit was defined by early general councils of the Christian church. The Council of Nicaea in 325 and the Council of Constantinople in 381 declared that the Son is of the same essence as the Father, and that the three Persons are one God. The East and West branches of the church later disagreed as to how the Holy Spirit proceeds from the other Divine Persons. The Eastern Church held that the Son comes from the Father, and that the Spirit comes from the Father through the Son. The Western Church held that the Spirit comes from Father and Son together. A special activity has been ascribed to each of the Persons. The Father creates, the Son became human, and the Spirit makes holy.17
Anti-Mormons argue that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a true Christian church because it does not accept the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the early religious councils and according to their own biblical interpretations. An evangelical Christian activist and critic of Mormonism makes the following statement in his brochure on the Trinity:
The doctrine of the Trinity, as taught in the Bible, is a vital tenet of the Christian faith. Christians universally agree upon the biblical substantiation of the Trinity so as to make it a testing ground for genuine fellowship. Those in the early Church who rejected the doctrine of One God in three persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) were identified as false teachers. In today’s Christianity, we need to make certain that we hold true to this biblical doctrine of God.
Outside of Christianity there are those who argue that the doctrine of the Trinity came into being through a series of church councils, beginning at the Council of Nicaea (a.d. 325). Others denounce the Trinity saying that early Christians borrowed the concept from pagan religions.18
Let me respond to the claims of these two paragraphs. The doctrine of the Trinity is only found in the Bible by interpretation–mostly by bending meanings of scriptures to fit this doctrine. The word Trinity is never mentioned in the Bible. It is not a documented ancient Christian or biblical teaching at all. Secondly, the Trinity doctrine is not universally agreed upon by Christians as a “testing ground” or as anything else. It is true that those who objected to this doctrine in the Nicene Councils were identified as false believers, but it was at best a case of the blind leading the blind. Further, there is a compelling body of research pointing to obvious importation of Greek philosophy into early Christian thought–including the importation of Trinity doctrine.
The truth is that Christian people, for the most part, do not understand the Trinity doctrine and therefore many cannot and do not believe it. Early Christian history reveals very little understanding of the nature of God or the relationship of Jesus or the Holy Ghost to God the Father. The great “Christian Fathers” of the first centuries after Christ were confused about this issue and taught and wrote conflicting ideas about the Godhead–while maintaining their testimonies of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.19
Even in ancient times the Trinitarian doctrine was an unexplainable mystery. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-86) advised early Christians,
For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only begotten Son; One Holy Ghost, the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.20
Here, Cyril is pleading with his converts not to fashion things from the scriptures that are not written in the scriptures–specifically, don’t trifle with nature and substance since we don’t know these things. Of course, most of the Nicene controversy dealt with the nature and substance of God–so whatever conclusions were drawn were the equivalent of two and two equaling five. Those who adopt the Nicene Creed do so because of the appeal of the mysterious. It seems that part of the attraction of this doctrine is that it cannot be fully understood.
James H. Smylie, in his book A Brief History of the Presbyterians, tries to help us understand the Trinity doctrine. He writes,
As the church took root in Hellenic soil, Christians further refined the mystery of the relation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in philosophical terms at the Councils of Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451). The Christian community wisely placed the Nicene Creed within the liturgy of the church, emphasizing that God’s nature and ways are mysterious, and cannot be encapsulated in a dogmatic formula. The divine-human encounter takes place with God, One in three persons, God transcendent yet with us and for us.21
What does that mean? I have no idea. I invite anyone to untangle the words of this statement and make sense of it! While I have deep respect for those of any faith and sincerely honor their beliefs, I cannot honestly accept the conclusions of a few narrow-minded theologians and their zealous followers who exclude Latter-day Saints from Christianity based on this kind of gibberish dressed up like sound doctrine! Yet that is exactly what has happened. For example, Rev. Lawrence J. Gesy stated,
There are many groups who do much good, and their large membership and stable organization have earned them a respected place in society, but although they profess belief in the Bible, their belief system–which replaces the Christian teaching about the Trinity, three Divine Persons in One God, with the concept of three gods and other concepts foreign to mainstream Christianity–nevertheless requires that we place them in the category of non-Christian.22
Read carefully the story of the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity as contained in the New Bible Dictionary:
“As already indicated, Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine. The teaching of Christ bears testimony to the true personality of each of the distinctions within the Godhead and also sheds light upon the relations existing between the three Persons. It is left to theology to formulate from this a doctrine of the Trinity. The necessity to formulate the doctrine was thrust upon the Church by forces from without, and it was, in particular, its faith in the deity of Christ, and the necessity to defend it, that first compelled the Church to face the duty of formulating a full doctrine of the Trinity for its rule of faith. Irenaeus and Origen share with Tertullian the responsibility for the formulation of the doctrine which is still, in the main, that of the Church catholic. Under the leadership of Athanasius the doctrine was proclaimed as the faith of the Church at the Council of Nicaea (a.d. 325), and at the hands of Augustine a century later it received a formulation, enshrined in the so-called Athanasian Creed, this is accepted by Trinitarian churches to this day. After it had received a further elucidation at the hands of John Calvin it passed into the body of the Reformed faith.”23
In short, the above statement says that the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be directly found in the Bible and must be formulated by “theology,” meaning Christian scholars, and that it was advanced by Athanasius at Nicaea as a way of affirming the divinity of Christ. Then the doctrine was refined by Augustine and later by John Calvin before it became a part of the reformed or Protestant churches. Quite a confusing pedigree for such foundational doctrine. It is good that we have the scriptures to refer to in such instances.
It was the Savior who said, addressing his Father (not himself), “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). It is nonsensical for anti-Mormons to conclude that faithful Latter-day Saints who believe and have faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world should be rejected from Christianity because they fail to bow to their self-devised Trinity doctrine.
The aforementioned Trinity brochure concludes with this statement:
This Bible study contains approximately 250 biblical references on the Trinity. Only space prevents the study from going deeper. A good student of the Bible will make use of a cross-reference edition of the Bible and look up additional verses to enhance this study.
Christianity rests upon the Bible as its source of doctrine. The ample amount of support contained in this tract makes the doctrine of the Trinity undeniable. Enjoy your study of God’s nature. Rejoice in Him for revealing such wonderful things in His Word.24
The Holy Bible is mute on the word Trinity, so the 250 references suggested in this tract are to biblical verses that refer to something that evangelicals refer to as the Trinity. I personally read every one of the Bible references in this brochure. None of the references teach the doctrine that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are the same essence or that they are three in one person. In fact, many of the referenced scriptures pointed to exactly the opposite of the argument! There are, indeed, a substantial number of Bible verses that make obvious reference to God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as separate and distinct personages. Those who try to authenticate the Trinity doctrine by an appeal to the Bible have reached a conclusion for which they are in futile search of evidence.25
A study of early church history finds only oblique notions of the Trinity idea. Where a comment is made concerning the oneness of God the Father and Jesus Christ, it is doubtful that such references support the current evangelical theological meaning.26 The doctrine of the Trinity, according to Protestant Bible commentator J. Dummelow, “was the result of a long process of development, which was not complete till the fifth century or even later.”27
The first article of faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states, “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.” The church takes the stance that all three members of the Godhead are viewed as God, which agrees with the definition of the Trinity. It is the combination of the three in the same person that church doctrine, on the basis of scripture and revelation, disagrees with. Bruce R. McConkie, a late apostle of the church, defined the Godhead in this manner:
Three glorified, exalted, and perfected personages comprise the Godhead or supreme presidency of the universe. …
Though each God in the Godhead is a personage, separate and distinct from each of the others, yet they are “one God,” meaning that they are united as one in the attributes of perfection. For instance, each has the fulness of truth, knowledge, charity, power, justice, judgment, mercy, and faith. Accordingly they all think, act, speak, and are alike in all things; and yet they are three separate and distinct entities. Each occupies space and is and can be in but one place at one time, but each has power and influence that is everywhere present.28
While Elder McConkie’s explanation of the Godhead is adequate for us to understand the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on this subject, the source of this definition is all-important. When Joseph Smith went into the grove near his home to pray regarding which church he should join, the divine vision he received was, as he described it, of “two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other–This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith–History 1:17). When Joseph emerged from the woods on that early spring morning in 1820, he knew more about the nature of God than any other person on the earth.
Joseph Smith’s experience was a flash of light in a dark world. The mysteries of the nature of God, argued and debated by the bishops of Constantine, were struck down in an instant! The true nature of God–our Heavenly Father and his Divine Son, Jesus Christ–was manifest to the world in glory through a prophet. This is the Lord’s way: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Moreover, what Joseph Smith learned was fully consistent with biblical teaching: “But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56). What did the elders and scribes do when they heard Stephen’s testimony? They immediately cried out loudly, stopped their ears, and stoned him.29When faced with truth from heaven, many modern-day scribes react in similar ways.
There are strong feelings among anti-Mormons about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding the church’s eighth article of faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Those who hold the Bible to be the only source of divine authority and doctrine cannot accept the Book of Mormon or any other sacred writing–for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, anti-Mormons often deceitfully describe the church’s use of the Bible in unkind and untrue ways, characterizing our study of the Bible as a mere pretense of biblical Christianity–a convenient tool to mislead others. Such statements are shamefully inaccurate. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have great respect and reverence for the Bible. It is studied in the church as the word of God and a source of truth and understanding. I love the Bible. I rejoice in its teachings and in the spirit of truth it provides. The Bible is masterful in teaching the life of Jesus Christ and is a strong testament of his role as Savior and Redeemer. But the question before us is not the power or value of the Bible but rather its completeness and infallibility.
The facts in this case are fairly evident. The Bible is not complete. It does not say it is complete (the Bible never refers to itself); in fact, it strongly suggests the existence of other sacred writings. Anti-Mormons argue that the Bible does say it is complete and that it does refer to itself. However, to them the phrase “the Word of God,” or “the Word,” refers to the Bible exclusively since it is the only scripture they will accept. When we understand that those references actually mean any word spoken by God or his prophets to the children of earth, everything changes.
A little history about the Bible may be helpful here. Many people today think of the Bible as one book, although it is in fact a collection of books, letters (epistles), and histories that have been written, rewritten, translated, and retranslated. The Bible didn’t just appear; it was assembled, disassembled, and reassembled as new ideas and new material emerged. The Muratorian Fragment of A.D. 180 did not include the books of Hebrews, James, and 1 and 2 Peter, but it did include the Apocalypse of Peter. At the same time, the Shepherd of Hermas was considered by Origen to be divinely inspired. Clement of Alexandria considered a “secret” book of Mark to be genuine. Celsus claimed that Christians altered the text of scripture and changed its character to “enable them to deny difficulties in the face of criticism.” In about A.D. 300 the church considered the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation to be spurious. However, the Epistle of Barnabas, 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Acts of Paul, and the Apocalypse of Peter were admitted to the canon of scripture but later removed.30 More than a thousand years later, Martin Luther declared the biblical books of Esther, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation, and 2 Peter, among others, unworthy to be among the “true and noblest books of the new testament.” Luther considered the book of James to be “an epistle of straw,” having “no gospel quality to it.”31 Perhaps he did not approve of these books because the teachings they contained were at odds with his personal preference for the Augustinian doctrine of grace alone as the key to salvation.
The first English language Bible was published less than 500 years ago. The popular King James Version was published in 1611, the Revised King James Version in 1885, the American Translation in 1931, the Revised Standard Version in 1947, the Good News Bible and the Jerusalem Bible in 1966, the New American Bible and the New England Bible in 1970, and the Common Bible in 1973.32 How many English translations of the Bible do we need? Clearly, for many the Bible has been and continues to be an evolving scripture.
As for the question of completeness, we might consider a few referenced biblical statements for which we have no reference. Matthew 2:23 says that Jesus “came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” Matthew is citing a text unknown to us. To which prophets does he refer? Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that Jesus will be called a Nazarene. One of the most popular of Christian scriptures is the Savior’s statement “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We find this quotation in Acts 20:35 as part of a statement from Paul to the elders at Ephesus. This statement from the Savior does not appear in any other book of the Bible. Paul may have read or heard this statement elsewhere and then quoted the Master’s divine words. It doesn’t bother me that neither Matthew’s nor Paul’s statement includes a footnote to another scripture. But those who argue for a complete canon of scripture in the Bible–nothing excluded–beg a serious question.
The Bible is scripture–it is the word of God and should be reverenced, studied, and appreciated for its immense contribution to the salvation of the children of God. However, the Bible has been used for both good and evil. Unprincipled peopled have used Bible verses as justification for all sorts of mischief. Others have been led into unproductive and even damning paths because they have failed to understand and apply wise interpretation to Bible statements. The Bible has been used as a weapon against righteousness by evil-disposed pastors, priests, and pagans alike. The Bible, as with any scripture or statement by any religious leader, must be carefully considered against what is known and understood about truth and salvation. It is important that all scripture be translated correctly.
I will yield to respected Protestant writer Lloyd Averill for the last word on this biblical inerrancy issue. He writes,
It is clear that Calvin cannot be identified with the scriptural literalism affirmed by present-day fundamentalists. Nor, indeed, can any other major figure in the history of Christian thought prior to 1800. Contrary to fundamentalist claims, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as they have formulated it is not a return to primitive Christianity or to Christian orthodoxy. Rather, it was an innovation fashioned scarcely more than a hundred years ago as a weapon to be used against the modernist movement.33
For the most part, anti-Mormons are willing to concede that at least a partial apostasy disrupted ancient Christianity. Since there are adequate references to it in the New Testament, an outright denial of an apostasy would be an extremely difficult position to maintain. As I wrote earlier, the postapostolic councils radically changed principles and practices in the church–a fact supported by recorded history and reliable apocryphal writings. An honest reading of the Bible is another, and perhaps the best, source of blatant differences between evangelical Christianity and the apostolic church. Even the Bible itself, as previously discussed, underwent substantial changes in canon. How then could the ancient church have survived when so much of its essence–including its scriptural foundation–had been lost or changed?
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the reality of a general apostasy is in the plethora of doctrines, practices, rites, forms of liturgy, organization, belief systems, scriptural interpretations, ordinances, authority, offerings, blessings, ceremonies, days of worship, prayers, tithes, condemnations, and confessions that are now used in the various denominations of Christian churches. There is little unity among Christian churches today; they cannot agree on the most basic of issues. For example, during the day of Pentecost, people were moved by the Holy Spirit because of the truths taught by Peter and the other apostles. These people’s conversions impelled them to ask the apostles what they should do. Peter, the senior apostle, was instant in his response: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Baptism was an essential ordinance of the gospel in the early church. I invite anyone to ask five clergymen of five different Christian churches what they believe about baptism. You will find that some believe that baptism is necessary, but only for adults. Others believe that everyone, including little children, must be baptized or they will be damned. Still others profess that baptism is nice but not really necessary. To some, baptism is a “work” and is therefore contrary to the doctrine of grace without works. You might ask a follow-up question about how and by whom baptism should be performed or how this gift of the Holy Ghost is to be received. Then ask a young missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the same questions. He or she will give instant, authoritative answers–the same that Peter gave the people at Pentecost.
Paul’s profound teachings to the saints at Ephesus are instructive:
He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Here Paul lays out the necessary offices and organization of the church established by Jesus Christ for the perfecting of the saints (church members). Is such an organization needed today? Well, have we come to a “unity of the faith” and an understanding of the “fulness of Christ”? Or are the children of the earth tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine?
The apostasy occurred, as had been foreseen, because those in authority–the apostles ordained by Jesus Christ, who had the power to reorganize and regenerate the church–were taken from the earth. According to legend, all but one, John the Beloved, were killed. John received a promise from the Lord that he would not taste of death until the Savior returned. This last apostle, the only person on the earth who still held the priesthood keys to the kingdom of God on the earth, was banished to the isle of Patmos for eight years in about a.d. 91. It was during this exile that he received the vision recorded in the book of Revelation.
At the conclusion of his banishment, John returned to Ephesus, where he wrote his three New Testament epistles.34 The death of the apostle Peter is traditionally given as a.d. 64. The accepted commencement of St. Linus’s reign as Roman Catholic Pope is a.d. 67.35 But where, during all of this, was John the Beloved, the only living apostle of Jesus Christ on the earth? The answer to this question has not been revealed, but the next few centuries confirmed that an apostasy had occurred. A form of Christianity was still practiced, but the authority and organization of the church as established by Jesus Christ did not remain. The falling away was complete.
Latter-day Saints believe in God, the Eternal Father, and affirm that we are his literal spiritual offspring. We believe that he lives and that he is involved in the lives of his children. We believe that our Heavenly Father has a divine plan for his children through the principles and ordinances of the gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ. We believe that God cares as much for his children in the modern day as he did for those in other ages. We believe that he communicates individually with his children and generally to all the world through authorized representatives called prophets, who are set apart to instruct, encourage, counsel, admonish, and warn God’s children according to their changing needs. For these beliefs, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are condemned, ridiculed, and excluded from mainstream Christianity.
Evangelical critics condemn the church for its affirmation of modern-day prophets and revelation. The basic reason for this condemnation is their conviction that the Bible is the only source of divine information and authority. Critics believe that God has spoken and need not speak again, and that the scriptural canon is complete–that adding to it in any way is heresy. Paul D. Wegner, author of The Journey from Texts to Translations, tells of the origin and development of the Bible, and pronounces the scriptural canon closed, adding that “once the apostles died, no more could be added to the collection of their writings.” He then explains that it took a significant amount of time to actually figure out what belonged in the Bible and what didn’t–but he doesn’t share with us by what authority the selection was made. Then, he denounces Joseph Smith Jr. as a false prophet because Joseph claimed new revelation!36
Thomas Huxley once wisely observed, “It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies.”37 The validity of Huxley’s statement can be seen in the treatment of the prophets by those they are sent to enlighten. The scriptures testify that prophets of God are conspired against, stoned, mocked, betrayed, imprisoned, ignored, persecuted, murdered, and reviled. This pattern has been in place since the world began, but God has never failed to send his prophets when his children went astray (see Amos 3:7). From time to time God’s word becomes so polluted that he must initiate a new dispensation of truth. The word dispensation translates from the Greek oikonomia, meaning the manner in which a steward orders the affairs of his or her household. In other words, because of the disobedience of his children, our Heavenly Father occasionally needs to set the affairs of his kingdom and family in order; this ordering is the act of restoring truth. The Bible indicates that such a restoration would be necessary in the latter days, and the ancient apostles knew it. They longed to know when the time would come when all things would be revealed to the children of men. “When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Peter, looking forward to the time when the Lord Jesus Christ would return and reestablish his word, instructed the Jews at the temple, “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; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21). How would such a restoration take place? What would be included in the promised “restitution of all things”?
Joseph Smith was only a little over fourteen years of age when he received what is now called the First Vision. He knew the reality of what he saw even if he didn’t comprehend the full import of the divine spectacle or the enormity of his sacred calling. However, according to his own account, he was troubled by feelings of inadequacy. He felt himself “guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, … not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God” (Joseph Smith–History 1:28). These feelings, coupled with the increase in faith gained from his earlier experience, caused him to seek out the God of Heaven on 21 September 1823, in “prayer and supplication … for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one” (Joseph Smith–History 1:29).
In answer to his prayer, Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni who had been sent from the presence of God with a message–God had work for him to do. Joseph records that the angel added,
My name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.” (Joseph Smith–History 1:33-34)
Thus was the Book of Mormon introduced as a part of the promised dispensation of the fulness of times. I will leave to the records and published histories of the church to explain the circumstances of how Joseph came to possess and interpret the ancient plates. The critical point is that the book was translated by the gift and power of God; it was the “marvellous work and a wonder” spoken of by Isaiah (Isaiah 29:14). The Book of Mormon is a delight to honest seekers of truth, and a stumbling block to those who have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear.
Like moths to a flame, anti-Mormons and critics are drawn to the Book of Mormon in large numbers. This book of scripture is the central testament of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, yet it has been the focus of antagonism and scorn from the day it was received. Moths, however, do not fare well in flames, and those who wish to find fault with the book and its message usually end up looking for another area of “Mormonism” to attack. Apparently, the Book of Mormon is easier to ignore than discredit. Ancient American prophets, who wrote and abridged the original manuscript, were privileged to see the day when the Book of Mormon would come forth. They knew, through the spirit of prophecy, how the book would be received by those blinded by the apostasy. The prophet Nephi recorded this vision:
And because my words shall hiss forth–many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. … Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? (2 Nephi 29:3-4, 6-7)
Clearly, the world’s reaction to the Book of Mormon was correctly predicted.
Anti-Mormons have a choice when faced with accounting for the existence of the Book of Mormon. They can accept the explanation and testimony of Joseph Smith or they can try to show that it was a product of his imagination (or someone else’s). Joseph was not the dimwitted bumpkin he was made out to be by early anti-Mormons. Neither was he an archaeologist, scriptorian, historian, botanist, military genius, or master of any other honored discipline needed to construct a complex book–let alone construct scripture about an ancient culture. In fact, as has been pointed out by Hugh Nibley, “There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith.”38
Critics of the Book of Mormon are left to challenge it on the basis of worldly, scientific study, claiming that no evidence has ever been found to authenticate its writings. In other words, there is no proof that the incidents described in the Book of Mormon ever happened, so, they claim, they never did happen. Interestingly, the same claims are made by anti-Bible groups who argue that the biblical miracles were not valid.
It is true that no absolute proof for the events of the Book of Mormon has ever been found in Mesoamerica. No inscriptional evidence has been unearthed that can be directly tied to any person or place mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Having made this obvious admission, I quickly add that much indirect evidence has been found that suggests a strong relationship between the culture described in the Book of Mormon and the people and events of ancient America. In fact, the parallels between the Middle East and Central American preclassic cultures are fairly substantial. Compelling geological findings corroborate the timing of earthquakes and eruptions recorded in the Book of Mormon.39 Jesus Christ had told his disciples in Palestine that he would yet visit other people, apparently not known to his followers. In John 10:16 the Lord says, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Following his resurrection, the Savior visited the people of ancient America as documented in the central message of the Book of Mormon. He told them that they were among his “other sheep.” What a marvelous impression such a visit must have made on those fortunate people, reflected in the legends and beliefs passed down, though often distorted, through the generations. The presence of an astonishing and miraculous visit of a great god or hero who made beneficial cultural changes to their civilizations, taught peace, healed the sick, and established religion, is recorded in the legends of ancient people from nearly every area of the Americas–north, central, and south. Francis A. MacNutt gives us this insight: “The identity of Quetzalcoatl remains an unsolved mystery. So numerous and striking were the analogies to Christian teachings presented by the Mexican beliefs and rituals that the conviction has obtained among many, that this mysterious personage was no other than a Christian priest or bishop.”40 William H. Prescott adds, “None of the deities of the country (Mexico) suggested such astonishing analogies with Scripture as Quetzalcoatl.”41 The teachings of the ancient Peruvian cultural hero, Tonapa, were described thus by an early Catholic observer: “So closely did they resemble the precepts of Jesus, that nothing was lacking in them but his name and that of his Father.”42
Pedro de Cieza de Leon (1518-60), a Spanish chronicler who often asked the natives of Peru about the conditions of their people and of their myths and traditions, records the following:
Before the Incas ruled or had even been heard of in these kingdoms these Indians relate a thing more noteworthy than anything else that they say. They assert that they were a long time without seeing the sun and, suffering much hardship from this, they offered prayers and vows to those whom they held for gods, beseeching of them the light they lacked. At this the sun very brilliant rose from the island of Titicaca in the great lake of the Collao, and all were rejoiced. After this had happened they say there suddenly appeared, coming from the south, a white man of large stature and authoritative demeanor. This man had such great power that he changed the hills into valleys and from the valleys made great hills, causing streams to flow from the living stone. When they saw his power they called him Maker of all things created and Prince of all things, Father of the sun. For he did other still more wonderful things, giving being to men and animals; in a word by his hand very great benefits accrued to them. This is the story that the Indians themselves told me and they heard it from their fathers who in their turn had it from the old songs which were handed down from very ancient times.43
I invite anyone to compare these comments to the Book of Mormon descriptions of the circumstances surrounding Jesus Christ’s appearance to the inhabitants of ancient America. Indirect evidences pointing to the validity of the Book of Mormon are many and well documented. Any interested person should reference the suggested reading list for more information.
In addition to questions of historical evidence, critics also argue that if the book were truly an inspired volume of scripture, changes would not have been made to Joseph’s original manuscript. The title page of the Book of Mormon attests that the ancient documents, or plates, would be translated by “the gift of God.” But detractors protest that thousands of changes have been made to the original translation–changes to correct mistakes! They loudly submit these changes as evidence that the Book of Mormon was not born of inspiration and is therefore not worthy of serious study. Such a proposition is interesting since revised interpretations and improved editions of the Bible are constantly coming off the presses. Printing and editing errors are common in any publication. So why should a corrected (or uncorrected!) Book of Mormon text be rejected without serious inquiry? I don’t expect a serious response to that question, but I will, nevertheless, reply to the accusation of damning changes to the Book of Mormon.
An overwhelming number of the changes to the Book of Mormon were punctuation, spelling, and grammatical corrections. Since the Book of Mormon was translated directly from the ancient plates, the interpreted text was written in one continuous stream of words–no punctuation whatsoever. Imagine deciphering a six-hundred-page paragraph! Spelling wasn’t standardized as it is today, and the common, nonacademic practice was to phonetically record sounds. For example, one of the original scribes spelled the word “Messiah” as “masiah.” In other places, “engreveings” was corrected to “engravings,” “plaits” became “plates,” and so forth.44 The text of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon was copied to what is called the printer’s manuscript. Many of the pages of the printer’s manuscript contained corrections by the typesetter, John Gilbert. He not only marked punctuation and spelling corrections; he also made “a few emendations in the printer’s manuscript.”45 Other changes to the Book of Mormon were made to correct actual errors or to reduce possible confusion for the reader.46
In what is now Mosiah 21:28, the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon stated that King Benjamin had the gift of interpretation, but the context clearly indicates that the king mentioned was actually Mosiah. This obvious mistake was corrected in later editions. How did King Benjamin’s name get confused with that of King Mosiah? Who knows? Any number of influences could have caused such an error. Another obvious change was made to the first edition passage of 1ÊNephi 11:18, where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is referred to as the “mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.” To clarify the meaning, the text was changed to read “mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” Now, should some ambitious person choose to examine the list of changes made to the first edition text of the Book of Mormon, he or she will find no alterations of the message of the original text. In contrast, the list of errors in the Bible could be very long indeed, and nonbelievers scoff at us who accept and revere it as the word of God in spite of a few inconsequential contradictions–errors introduced by circumstances beyond our understanding. Do such errors change the value and sacred nature of the Bible’s message? Not for me.
It is sad that some people ignore the central focus and pure examples of Christian teaching contained in the Book of Mormon. They concentrate their energies on minor textual changes in various printings–changes made to clarify and simplify difficult passages. Well, who ever said it was perfect in the first place? Certainly the Mormons never attributed infallibility to the Book of Mormon or any other thing that men have taken part in. Is the Book of Mormon perfect? Yes, in a way it is perfect. Its mission and purpose, as stated in the cover page, has been fulfilled for millions of people and will yet be fulfilled for other countless millions. It brings the light of the Lord Jesus Christ to a world sadly lacking a true awareness of its Savior. It brings hope and comfort and builds the faith of the faithful. It also separates those of honest heart–those who are willing to test the validity of the book in the Lord’s way–from those who, for whatever reason, choose to oppose, find fault, and deny the power of the Holy Ghost. Thus, the Book of Mormon accomplishes its mission perfectly.
Anti-Mormon groups hold in common the fairly consistent position that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that they are saved by works and deny the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith. Some go so far as to say that the Church of Jesus Christ thoroughly rejects the doctrine of divine grace in precept and practice. Such statements are outrageous distortions of truth, and any honest person who studies Latter-day Saint doctrine, scripture, or teachings knows it. The only way anti-Mormons can justify their stance regarding grace, or try to characterize its role in Latter-day Saint doctrine, is to ignore the historical development of their own doctrine. In addition, they must use isolated scriptures, overlooking or misinterpreting other scriptures that would refute their conclusions.
The doctrine of grace alone (solafidianism) is taught by many evangelical Christians. According to this doctrine, the only thing a person must do in order to attain salvation is to sincerely repent and accept Christ as his personal Savior. Now, as with other Christian doctrines, there is little common ground among churches or scholars on this issue. Some contend that certain works or ordinances are necessary and good while others argue that any act or ordinance constitutes a “work” and thus denies the effect of the atonement.
But the doctrine of grace through faith does not have its basis in the apostolic church, nor does it find authentication in the Bible. Locating the grace-alone doctrine in the scriptures is only possible for those who choose to distort the meaning or context of biblical statements. Many such references are drawn from the writings of the apostle Paul–particularly his statement to the Ephesians: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ find no difficulty with this scripture. We fully accept the idea that works will not save anyone. The context of Paul’s statement is important. He was speaking to converts to the church who were making the transition from the Law of Moses to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These people were used to worshiping though rites and symbolic ritual. Paul’s statements concerning grace were an effort to counter the influence of their former religious lives and of his training as a strict Pharisee, which were based on the exaggerated Mosaic observances of a multiplicity of ceremonial works, self-sufficiency, and spiritual pride. James’s explanation of the doctrine is about as clear as it can be:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)
The history of the grace-only doctrine began with Augustine, the author and advocate of the idea. Later, the great reformer Martin Luther popularized this apostate doctrine. It was his pet doctrine, one that he defended with great energy–even to the point of denying biblical references that clearly refuted his conviction.
The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding the Savior’s grace is fully consistent with the Bible. We do not ignore certain scriptures concerning grace in favor of others. We understand and accept the teachings of ancient and modern prophets of God on the subject. Lehi, the first Book of Mormon prophet, taught,
Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered. Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved. (2 Nephi 2:6-9)
We do not believe that all one must do to attain eternal salvation is confess the reality of Jesus Christ. Nor do we believe that our works will qualify us for eternal rewards. We believe that we must accept Jesus Christ by faith, repent and change our lives according to his teachings–doing his works as a demonstration of our love for him–and build the kingdom of God on the earth as he has commanded. We believe that we must do these things and endure to the end in order to qualify for the grace that is so freely offered.
Among the teachings of Mormonism is plainly found the profound, divine concept that man can become as God–eternal beings possessing all the attributes of deity. This topic is energetically denounced by enemies of the church as pagan and satanic. Of those anti-Mormons with whom I have discussed this doctrine, I ask a simple question, “Do you have children?” Most often they answer in the affirmative. I then ask, “Do you want your children to grow up to be just as good as you?” The typical response is, “Oh no, I want them to be much better than I am!” “How much better?” I ask. “Well, as good as they can be, to reach their potential, etc.” I would respond the same way to a questioner. Parents naturally want their children to have more and be more than they are themselves. Then I ask, “If you were perfect in every way and enjoyed all intelligence and power and glory, would you want your children to be just like you?” Sometimes I can’t get a straight answer to this question because they begin to see where I’m going. Others actually say that if they were perfect in all things they’d like their children to be like them because they couldn’t do any better than that.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understand that God is indeed our Heavenly Father and that we are his spirit children, literally begotten of him. He has a glorified body of flesh and bones. He is tangible and real. He is the Supreme Being and is perfect in every divine attribute. It is natural and logical that God, our Heavenly Father, would want his children to have all that he has and to become as perfect as he is. The Bible teaches this concept in Romans 8:16-17, where Paul declares, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” To the Galatians, Paul says, “If a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:7). The apostle John adds, “Now are we the sons of God,” and “we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). In his comments to the Athenians, Paul taught the audience that they were the “offspring” of God (Acts 17:28-29). The Greek word from which “offspring” is translated is genos,meaning “descent” or “race.” Paul is clearly teaching that mortal men are of the same race as God. The Church of Jesus Christ teaches that all perfected, resurrected mortals will again dwell with God, living and doing as he does in eternal worlds where happiness, power, glory, and love abound.
All of this–for good reason–is terribly offensive to anti-Mormons. To them, God is only a spirit. In spite of biblical statements to the contrary, they preach of a God who is without body, parts, or passions. They believe him to be uncontainable, immutable, and incomprehensible.47 How could such a being have offspring or hear or speak? The point is that anti-Mormon Christians cannot conceive of this whole idea of man becoming like God. Their only recourse is to claim that the scriptures quoted above, and others that validate the deification doctrine, are misquoted or misinterpreted.
Another common anti-Mormon tactic is to deny any historic basis for the deification doctrine in the early Christian church. Here again, their claims are pathetically inaccurate. Early Christian expositions on deification are found in many ancient sources. Similarities between Latter-day Saint beliefs and the statements of the early Christian Fathers point to an understanding and acceptance of this doctrine.48 It is of course true that Latter-day Saint doctrine on this issue is at odds with orthodox Christianity’s view of God and human potential, but the disparity is understandable. The apostasy extinguished many truths that were reintroduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith as a part of the restitution of all things. It is for this reason that missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ go throughout the world, carrying the message of the restored gospel to all who are humble and seeking for truth.
Those who oppose the church often ignore the very evidence that proves their positions wrong. Recently, I was in Omaha, Nebraska at an open house for a new temple at Winter Quarters. It was a pleasant day, only marred by the presence of anti-Mormon protestors who were handing out their slick brochures to visitors. As I flew home I read their material and wondered at how out of touch their comments were. One statement caught my attention because of its boldness. It simply stated that there was no evidence in Christian history for vicarious baptism for the dead. The fact is that there is much evidence for such doctrine and practice in the early church, aside from the obvious Biblical statement on the subject (1 Corinthians 15:29). The same thing could be said for the doctrine of eternal marriage, temple rites and ordinances, priesthood authority and organization–all documented in early church history. I would sincerely hope that those who wish to find fault with the church would get their information straight before they strike out. To those who wish to learn more on these subjects, I encourage them to make good use of the suggested reading list in this book or to investigate other reputable sources of early Christian history.
17 World Book, 19:447, s.v. “Trinity.” See also Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, and Hugh Pyper, eds., The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (New York: Oxford University, 2000), 715-18, s.v. “Trinity.”
18 Why Christians Believe in the Trinity (n.p.: Jude 3 Missions, 1994).
19 See Walter H. Wagner, After the Apostles (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1994), 233-36.
20 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 16:24, in Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, eds., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994).
21 James H. Smylie, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva, 1996), 9.
22 Lawrence J. Gesy, Today’s Destructive Cults and Movements (Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor, 1993), 17.
23 J.D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996), 1299-1300.
24 Why Christians Believe in the Trinity.
25 There are actually several less than 250 references in this brochure due to duplications. The argument is mostly focused on documenting the three entities of the Godhead and very little on the Trinity itself. Many references were ambiguous; several were embarrassingly off-target. Overall, given the difficulty of the subject, it was a decent effort, but confusing and unconvincing. If you want to see this for yourself, you can access the entire text at www.oca.org/Orthodox-Faith/Doctrine/Holy-trinity.html, or www.invitation.to/dance/cults-trinity.htm.
26 Wagner, After the Apostles, 193.
27 John R. Dummelow, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1920), cxiii.
28 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 319.
29 See Acts 7:57.
30 See Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 120.
31 Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, vol. 3, bk. 6 (Weimar: Bšhlaus, 1929), 10; cited in Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for a Word, 125-26.
32 See World Book, 2:286, s.v. “Bible.”
33 Lloyd J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong: A Critique of the Fundamentalist Phenomenon (New York: Pilgrim, 1989), 73-74; cited in Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for a Word, 127.
34 See Coke Newell, Latter Days: A Guided Tour Through Six Billion Years of Mormonism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 57-62.
35 See World Book, 15:660-67, s.v. “Pope.”
36 Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1999), 150-51.
37 Thomas H. Huxley, The Coming of Age of the Origin of Species, 1880.
38 Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 123.
39 See Blaine M. Yorgason, Bruce W. Warren, and Harold Brown, New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America (Arlington, Va.: Stratford, 1999), 229-36; John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985), 320-23.
40 Francis A. MacNutt, Fernando Cortes and the Conquest of Mexico, 1485-1547 (New York: Putnam, 1909), 65-66.
41 William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru (New York: Modern Library, n.d.), 695; see also 694-98.
42 Daniel G. Brinton, Religions of Primitive Peoples (New York: Putnam, 1897), 251.
43 Pedro de Cieza de Le-n, The Second Part of the Chronicle of Peru, No. 68 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1883), 2: chaps. 4 and 5; as quoted by Harold Osborne, South American Mythology (New York: Bendrick, 1986), 69.
44 Royal Skousen, ed., The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Extant Text (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001).
45 Royal Skousen, ed., The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the Entire Text In Two Parts (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2001), 1:15.
46 For further information on changes made to the Book of Mormon, see Robert J. Matthews, “Why Have Changes Been Made in the Printed Editions of the Book of Mormon?” in A Sure Foundation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), 33-39.
47 See Hastings, Mason, and Pyper, eds., Oxford Companion to Christian Thought, 269-74, s.v. “God.”
48 Ibid., 156, s.v. “deification.”