Archive for the ‘Mormonism’ Category

In a recent blog piece entitled “On the Alleged Indeterminacy of Mormon Doctrine,” LDS scholar Daniel C. Peterson argues that “that Mormon doctrine is impossible to pin down.” Not so, according to Peterson. Even though they don’t produce detailed creeds, he argues, this doesn’t mean “that Mormonism lacks any and all doctrinal clarity.” As proof, Peterson rattles off a list of 50 questions he typed up quickly the night before: Does God exist? Is Jesus God’s Son? Did Jesus organize a church? And so on. He concludes:

Latter-day Saint teaching doesn’t aspire to be like a system of geometry, with propositions, theorems, and deductive proofs. But that doesn’t mean that Mormonism is a doctrinal free-for-all, a total chaos in which all is confusion.

Peterson’s blog article does a fine job—of diverting attention from the issue.

No one claims that Mormonism is unclear about absolutely everything. We all know that Mormons believe that God exists, that Jesus existed and rose from the dead, that Jesus visited the Americas, and so on. What Peterson has done here is to knock down a straw man. When evangelicals (like me!) talk about the difficulty of pinning down what Mormonism teaches, we are not talking about everything Mormons think but about key doctrinal issues on which clarity ought to be available in a religion that claims to have living prophets and an overabundance of scripture. Questions like these:

  1. Did the Father become God after passing through a period of testing and exaltation, so that he was not always God but rather became God? (Joseph Smith said yes, but some Mormons today say no.)
  2. Was the Father a sinner during his mortality? Could he have been a sinner? (The LDS Church doesn’t seem to have a position on this question. Some Mormons answer yes to one or both questions, some say no.)
  3. Is the Father still progressing in knowledge or power? (Famously, Mormon leaders in the late nineteenth century publicly disagreed with one another on this question. It still comes up.)
  4. What is the relation of the Holy Ghost to the Father? Is the Holy Ghost another spirit son of the Father? If not, who is he? (I was once accused of misrepresenting the LDS position on this question—because I repeated what was in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which was written and edited by Mormon scholars.)
  5. Was there a God before our Heavenly Father who was his Father? Was there a Father before that one, and so in, in an infinite regress of divine Fathers? (Joseph clearly said yes to the first question and implicitly answered yes to the second. But the LDS Church no longer talks about these ancestors of Heavenly Father, and again different Mormons seem to have differing answers.)
  6. Is Heavenly Mother a God (or Goddess)? If so, why shouldn’t we worship her, since she is our divine Mother and is even the divine Mother of Jesus Christ? Why isn’t Heavenly Mother a member of the Godhead? (I don’t think the LDS Church has said much of anything on these questions. Indeed, they say as little as possible about Heavenly Mother except that one should not worship or pray to her.)
  7. Is worship properly given to the Father only, or to the Father and the Son? (Again, differing answers have been given. Since Mormons view the three Persons as three Gods, it is difficult to claim to worship only one God while affirming worship of both the Father and the Son.)
    (Note that Peterson doesn’t mention any of these first seven questions or anything close to them.)
  8. Were we actual self-conscious, individual persons from all eternity, or did we become such persons at some distant point in the past preexistence? (I’ve heard both answers from Mormons.)
  9. Did our heavenly parents literally procreate us as their spirit offspring, and again, what did that change about us if we were eternally preexistent? (Some Mormons say yes, some say no to the first question. Those who answer yes sometimes suggest that when we were procreated in heaven, we became individual persons or received spirit bodies.)
  10. If our heavenly parents literally procreated us as their offspring in the preexistence, why did they procreate us as spirits rather than as physical beings like themselves? Don’t physical beings have physical offspring? (I don’t know if any Mormons have even addressed this question.)
  11. If mortality and exaltation are essential steps in attaining Godhood, how did Jesus Christ become a God in the preexistence when he was Jehovah, before he had become mortal and attained exaltation? (He just did, okay? That seems to be the usual answer.)
  12. Mormonism affirms that Jesus Christ is the literal son of Heavenly Father and of Mary his mother in the flesh, actually “sired” by Heavenly Father. Is it consistent with this doctrine to infer that the Father impregnated Mary by physically uniting with her, i.e., is there anything in LDS doctrine that actually denies that this happened? If that is not how Jesus was conceived, how was he conceived such that he is the Father’s literal physical offspring? (Peterson’s “question” on this topic is, “Was Jesus the son of Joseph?” which neatly sidesteps the problem. Mormons usually take offense at these questions, however politely they may be asked, rather than offering any answers to them. Orthodox Christians don’t have this problem because their theology absolutely precludes the notion of God uniting physically with Mary.)
  13. Is the hill where Joseph Smith discovered the gold plates the same hill called Cumorah in the Book of Mormon? (The popular Mormon answer is yes, while most LDS scholars say no.)
  14. Is the Book of Abraham a translation of text that appeared on one of the papyri that the LDS Church bought in 1835? (The popular Mormon answer has until recently been yes; many Mormons still answer yes, but the scholars are divided on the matter.)
  15. Is the Bible missing any books that are actually extant today, and if so, why doesn’t the LDS Church include them in their editions of the Bible? (I’ve had Mormons tell me that the early church wrongly excluded books like Shepherd of Hermas or the Book of Enoch, but they can’t tell me why those books aren’t in the LDS Bible. Please don’t tell me that they aren’t included due to their not being copied or translated correctly, because you say the same thing about the books that are in the LDS Bible. Besides, y’all have prophets with the gift of translation, remember?)
  16. Why did the early church become apostate—because the Christians were bad, or because of persecution, or what? (Mormons have a tough time with this question. It’s a dilemma: if they say it was because the Christians were bad, that runs into the problem that Christians in the second and third centuries were renowned for their good works and willingness to suffer martyrdom for Christ; if they say it was because of persecution, that ignores the fact that the church continued to grow and flourish while suffering persecution.)
  17. If the purpose of polygamy is to “raise up seed,” then why did Joseph Smith apparently not have any children by his plural wives? (Mormons admit that Brigham Young and the Utah Mormons in the nineteenth century had large families with plural wives bearing numerous children, but argue strenuously that Joseph Smith had no children by any of his plural wives. Why not? Was he doing something different than the Utah polygamist Saints? Again, they claim that Joseph was simply restoring what the patriarchs of the Old Testament did, but those patriarchs had children by their wives. These questions often lead to Mormons coming up with all sorts of other possible reasons for the practice.)

Feel free to mention additional questions about LDS doctrine that you have found elicit varying answers from Mormons. If you are a Mormon, feel free to offer comments answering these questions.

The website of our ministry, the Institute for Religious Research, has hundreds of articles examining the history, doctrines, claims, and religious practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The purpose of these articles is never to belittle, attack, or offend Mormons. Rather, we are seeking to provide information for people who are seeking answers to questions about the truth claims of the LDS religion. Such people may be LDS who are open to learning from outside sources, or they may be Christians (or others) who have Mormon friends or family members. If you do not fall into such categories, then our materials are not for you, at least not at the present time.

Most of the responses from “true blue” Mormons that we receive, both through email and through social media, generally do not engage the facts or reasoning presented in the articles. We see the same types of responses over and over again. For the sake of convenience, I’m going to summarize these responses here and then give very brief, direct answers to them.

  • Your article is too long. (I sympathize. Sometimes our articles are very long. But have you read LDS scholar Dan Peterson’s “chapter” on Psalm 82:6? It’s about 120 pages long!)
  • The article is on an anti-Mormon website, so I’m not going to read it. (It’s your choice. But we try hard to be objective and respectful even as we disagree with the claims of Mormonism.)
  • You Pharisee, substituting scholarship for the Spirit. (We’ll take this criticism seriously only from Mormons who are prepared to denounce BYU, FairMormon, Interpreter, etc., as affronts to the Spirit.)
  • Why are you picking on us poor Mormons? Why are you persecuting us? (Relax. We’re just disagreeing with your belief and not hurting you in the least.)
  • I have a testimony and I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. (Fine. If that’s true, then there ought to be good answers to the arguments present in our article. Let’s have them.)
  • The Bible isn’t clear on this issue, which is why we need the Book of Mormon or a living prophet. (This claim won’t work if what the Book of Mormon says is demonstrably false or if the living prophet is a false prophet.)
  • You misunderstood or misrepresented what we Mormons believe. (If so, please tell us specifically what we misunderstood and provide documentation from current authoritative LDS teaching sources such as curriculum manuals, general conference addresses, and the like that show that what we have said is incorrect. We are open to correction but we need more than your say-so in the matter.)
  • I found a non-Mormon scholar who disagrees with something you said. So there. (Assuming the non-Mormon scholar disagrees with something I said, that fact alone proves nothing. What matters is whether he provides evidence that refutes our argument.)
  • Why don’t you just preach what you believe rather than spending so much time criticizing what other people believe? (Have you read the Bible? The Old Testament is full of material criticizing idolatrous religions. The Gospels report Jesus criticizing the Pharisees at length. Paul’s epistles are often focused on answering false doctrines such as denials of the resurrection from the dead, the claim that circumcision was necessary for salvation, and the like.)
  • I don’t appreciate evangelicals claiming that we Mormons aren’t Christians. We believe in Jesus, too. (Whether Mormons are Christians or believe in Jesus is rarely the issue. For example, an article on whether the Book of Abraham is Scripture or whether there is a Heavenly Mother is addressing a specific question that deserves an answer. Our position is that Mormonism as a religion is not a sound form of Christianity, but this is not a blanket judgment on every individual in the religion.)

 

Please note that we welcome constructive, substantive, honest disagreement with our resources. It is the above kinds of responses that misunderstand what we are doing and that ignore what we actually say that are unhelpful.

In an online Facebook discussion between evangelicals and Mormons, an evangelical gave a link to my 2014 article on IRR’s website, “The Mormon Doctrine of Becoming Gods: What about the Early Church Fathers?” A Mormon named Christopher took issue with the article, beginning with the following claim:

One of the less impressive arguments Bowman makes in his critical article is in his section of “becoming sons of God”. Obviously this approaches the biblical concept of adoption by/into God. But here Bowman is using a modern interpretation of the term (either deliberately or ignorantly).

This comment was odd because in fact I didn’t offer any “interpretation of the term” adoption, modern or ancient or otherwise. The word adoption appears only once in my article, in a quotation from Irenaeus—who was of course an ancient author and so could not be accused of “using a modern interpretation of the term”! The article also has no section on “becoming sons of God.” The term sons occurs only three times in the article: twice in a quotation from Justin Martyr, and once in my comment on Justin’s statement, in which I said:

Furthermore, according to Justin, we are not already God’s children (as the LDS Church teaches), but may become his sons. What Justin teaches here is incompatible with the LDS doctrine that we were God’s preexistent children in heaven and that we came here to make progress toward “growing up” to become full-fledged Gods like our Heavenly Father.

Instead of engaging what I did say on the subject, Christopher erected a straw man of his own invention in which I supposedly used “a modern interpretation of the term” adoption. Read the rest of this entry »

Two days ago (March 30, 2017) I responded to a short article by Mormon blogger Robert Boylan in which he and his non-Mormon friend Errol Vincent Amey claimed I had quoted Irenaeus out of context. They have now responded in another piece on Boylan’s blog entitled “Bowman shoots…and misses on sola scriptura.” In what follows, I will sometimes refer to Amey and sometimes to Boylan, but it appears that for all intents and purposes Boylan’s post speaks for both of them.

In my article, I stated repeatedly that Irenaeus did not hold to the evangelical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, but only that his position was far closer to sola scriptura than to the positions represented by Amey and Boylan: Read the rest of this entry »

In a Facebook exchange on March 25, 2017, in the group “B.C. and L.D.S. (Biblical Christians and Latter Day Saints)” with a non-Mormon named Errol Vincent Amey, I presented a series of quotations from the church fathers to counter Mr. Amey’s view of Scripture and authority. In brief, Mr. Amey is a follower of David Bercot, who teaches that true Christianity (which just happens in Bercot’s view to correspond to a modern form of Anabaptist Christianity) is to be determined solely on the basis of the consensus teachings of the ante-Nicene church fathers (i.e., the church fathers who wrote prior to the Council of Nicaea in AD 325). Mr. Amey ignored all but one of the quotations, my quotation of Irenaeus in Against Heresies 3.2.1, which he attempted to counter by quoting the next paragraph as well as a later passage (3.2.2; 3.4.1).

The next day, Mr. Amey’s friend Robert Boylan, a Mormon blogger, posted a critique of what he called my “abuse of Irenaeus of Lyons to support sola scriptura.” Mr. Boylan approvingly repeated Mr. Amey’s argument, again mentioning only my one quotation of Against Heresies 3.2.1 and answering it by quoting 3.2.2 and 3.4.1.

Anabaptists and Mormons make somewhat strange bedfellows, though of course they do share some agreements. Both are modern forms of restorationism, which seeks to re-establish the primitive Christianity that was supposedly lost in a massive apostasy that corrupted virtually all of Christianity for well over a millennium. Yet they have radically different views about what a restored Christianity should look like. The one thing on which they agree is that it would not look at all like traditional evangelical Protestantism. It is apparently this point of agreement that unites such persons as Mr. Amey and Mr. Boylan.

Mr. Boylan’s blog post knocks down a straw man of his own creation. I did not claim that Irenaeus held to the evangelical Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Read the rest of this entry »

False AlarmsDustin Phelps, a Mormon writer on the “Happiness Seekers” website, has written a blog article on “The Alarming Truth about Anti-Mormonism.” Within a few days it had over 30,000 “shares” on social media. In his article, Phelps claims “to expose what anti-Mormonism is and what its objectives really are.” The objective is to make Mormons become atheists:

Anti-Mormonism isn’t just about getting people to lose faith in our Church, it’s about getting people to lose faith in God, in Christ, in revelation, in religion. Once you’ve tasted the sweetest and most perfect form of Christianity, where else will you go when you leave?

Phelps arrives at this conclusion by the following reasoning:

  • “Basically every reason to doubt Mormonism is a good reason to doubt Christianity.”
  • Thus, arguments against Mormonism are really arguments against Christianity.
  • Once people lose faith in Christianity, they become atheists.
  • Therefore, presenting arguments against Mormonism turns Mormons into atheists.

He also restates his argument as follows:

  • Any arguments against Joseph Smith being a prophet also apply to the biblical prophets.
  • Thus, once one accepts arguments against Joseph Smith being a prophet, one has no sources of revelation about Christ and God that one can accept.
  • Therefore, any arguments against Joseph Smith as a prophet lead people to abandon belief in Christ and God.

Let’s look at these arguments, both of which turn on their first premises. Read the rest of this entry »

Armarna Tablet 290 RecreationIn an attempt to shore up his criticism of my article on the non-Hebraic character of the expression temple of Solomon in the Book of Mormon,[1] LDS apologist Robert Boylan has cited what he claims is an exception to my observation that ancient Israelites and their cultural neighbors named temples for the deity to which they were dedicated, not for their mortal builders. Boylan’s paragraph on the subject has gone through a couple of expansions as his friend Andrew Sargent has kept him apprised of my discussion with him on Facebook about this issue. At last check the new paragraph reads in its entirety as follows:

Bowman is also wrong when it comes to pre-exilic naming conventions of sanctuaries when one examines ancient textual discoveries-from a passage in letter 290 from el Amarna, written by the king of Jerusalem to the Pharaoh, some scholars have concluded that Bet-NIN.IB was also known by the name “Temple of Šulmán.” Letter 74 of the el-Amara letters, the king of Damascus gives an order to assemble in the Temple of Šulmán (Beth-Ninurt/Beth-Shulman (House [Temple] of Shulman) While scholars debate this meaning, there is reference to Uru-salem (Jerusalem) in this text, and Roger Henry in Synchronized Chronology: Rethinking Middle East Antiquity pp.72-5 makes a good argument that the letters may have been 9th Century during the reign of Jehosaphat. If this is the case, Bowman’s argument on shaky grounFurther, Letter 74 of the el-Amara letters, the king of Damascus gives an order to assemble in the Temple of Šulmán (Beth-Ninurt/Beth-Shulman (House [Temple] of Shulman). Bowman’s response to this was a juvenile “LOL” when a friend, Andrew Sargent brought up this issue. But remember, it is me who is disrespectful (more Bowmanian projection, I know).[2]

I did indeed write “LOL” in a Facebook thread when Sargent first quoted Boylan’s new paragraph (at the time a single sentence, I think). While “LOL” is not appropriate in an academic paper or scholarly publication, it is perfectly acceptable in the context of informal discussions on Facebook and is not generally an expression of disrespect, a fact that Boylan surely knows. My “LOL” was not an expression of disrespect for Boylan or Sargent personally, but of genuine amusement at the argument, for reasons that I will be explaining here.

Read the rest of this entry »

In a recent online article, I explained that the expression temple of Solomon (using the prepositional phrase of Solomon instead of the possessive form Solomon’s) is not, as LDS scholar Donald Parry had claimed, evidence of an ancient Hebraic original text underlying the Book of Mormon and in fact is evidence against that claim. In that article, I pointed out that the Book of Mormon also uses the more idiomatic English expression Solomon’s temple (in the same verse, 2 Ne. 5:16). I also argued that either expression is both chronologically and culturally anachronistic. At the time Nephi would have been speaking, the temple in Jerusalem would have been the only Jewish temple known to him, and its replacement by a second temple would not have been begun until after his death. More significant still, ancient Israelites and other people in their culture named a temple for the deity to whom it was dedicated (temple of Yahweh, temple of Dagon, temple of Diana, temple of Hercules, etc.), never for its mortal builder. I cited hundreds of texts in support of this point, mostly from the OT, but also from the NT and other ancient Jewish literature. I also discussed one apparent “exception,” where a Hellenistic Jewish author used the expression temple of Solomon in Greek (not Hebrew!) in order to manufacture a contrived etymology of the name of the city Jerusalem.[1]

Earlier today Robert Boylan, who has posted a fairly large number of pieces criticizing my articles on his blog, posted an attack on IRR’s recently announced renovation of the Book of Mormon section of its website.[2] The only article that Boylan mentioned specifically was the article on the expression temple of Solomon. Only one paragraph of 188 words, out of the 955 words of Boylan’s whole article, actually discuss the subject of that expression. Boylan devoted somewhat more of his article (210 words) to another alleged Hebraism in the Book of Mormon (garb of secrecy in Helaman 9:6). For the sake of focus, in this article I will respond only to Boylan’s comments about temple of Solomon, including comments made in an update to the article. If time permits, I will respond to some of his other comments separately.

Read the rest of this entry »

Your Path to Heavenly Father

The July 2016 issue of Friend, a Mormon periodical for teaching children, includes an article entitled “Your Path to Heavenly Father.” The article presents a game to teach children to recognize the “necessary steps” to salvation or to going back to Heavenly Father, and to distinguish those steps from other mundane activities such as biking or reading. Here is the list of “steps to salvation”:

  1. Premortal life
  2. Get a body
  3. Be baptized
  4. Receive the Holy Ghost
  5. Take the sacrament
  6. Keep the commandments
  7. Go to the temple
  8. Be sealed to your husband or wife
  9. Be resurrected

Strikingly, the list says nothing about repenting of one’s sins or putting faith in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior. Instead, the “steps” are all about undergoing rituals and following rules. Read the rest of this entry »

Robert Boylan is the author of a fairly sophisticated blog entitled “Scriptural Mormonism,” in which he frequently criticizes “Trinitarians,” especially evangelicals. A check of Boylan’s blog shows that I am mentioned in some 14 posts, mostly in the past twelve months or so. I contacted Boylan through Facebook at the beginning of 2016 asking if he would be interested in some dialogue, but he did not respond. Boylan has said plenty in those posts that merits a response, but here I am going to focus on one in which I am not mentioned.

elohimNote: The day after this article was first posted on June 6, Boylan posted three articles on his blog in response. In the first of those blog articles, Boylan suggested that I should “rework the article” in light of his comments.[1] I have therefore done so instead of posting follow-up responses, as I would normally have done. After I posted a revised version of this article on June 8, Boylan posted two additional responses, which shall be mentioned very briefly in the appropriate places. This article, posted on June 9, is thus the third version of the article.

 

Bokovoy or Boylan?

On May 8, 2016, Boylan posted a piece he titled “David Bokovoy vs. Luke Wilson on the names of God.”[2] Boylan begins as follows:

A couple of years ago, the now-Dr. David E. Bokovoy (PhD, Hebrew Bible [Brandeis]) commented on an article produced by the late Luke Wilson of the Institute for Religious “Research” (anti-Mormons like to use [loosely] the term “research” in the names of their ministries, including Bill McKeever]). The post is no longer online, but I did save it for future use. It contains some interesting material, so I believe it worthwhile to reproduce it here:

Read the rest of this entry »