Archive for the ‘Mormonism’ Category

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 »

Mormon scholar Jeffrey Chadwick has a new article in Meridian Magazine in which he explains why he thinks Jesus died on a Thursday rather than a Friday. I won’t attempt a thorough point-by-point rebuttal here but do want to offer some brief comments.

Mark is very clear on the chronology: Jesus died on “the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath” (Mark 15:42), and the women went to the tomb “when the Sabbath was past…very early on the first day of the week” (16:1-2). Here “the Sabbath” must be what we call Saturday, and therefore Jesus died the day before Saturday, i.e., Friday. Chadwick’s explanation that the term “sabbath” could apply to other festival days doesn’t circumvent its usage in context in Mark, where it is explicitly the usual last day of the week in Mark 16:1.

Chadwick repeats some dubious arguments that a minority of non-LDS Christian scholars have made for a Thursday crucifixion. For example, “the third day” almost certainly should be understood to count inclusively; hence what we call Sunday would be the third day from Friday counting inclusively. The “three days and three nights” saying (Matt. 12:39-40) may seem difficult to square with a Friday crucifixion, but it has been shown that this is a Jewish idiomatic way of speaking and is not meant to be taken literally to mean a (roughly) 72-hour period. It can’t be taken literally even on a Thursday crucifixion view, since Jesus died just a few hours before sunset (Chadwick says around 3 pm, which is the usual understanding).

Chadwick’s agenda is really to square the day of Christ’s death with the Book of Mormon, and that’s understandable. However, there are some stubborn facts that make this almost impossible. Since Herod the Great died in 4 BC, Jesus must have been born in 5 BC (and 6 BC is possible). We know this because Luke reports that Jesus’ family stayed in the Jerusalem area for over a month (cf. Luke 2:21-22) and Matthew’s account indicates that they had lived in a house in Bethlehem for a period of time after Jesus’ birth (which was not in a house according to Luke 2:7, 12) and before Herod learned about the child king (Matt. 2:11). Herod’s order to kill Bethlehem boys two years and under (Matt. 2:16) also indicates that the child was perhaps a year old, again requiring a birth in early 5 BC if not 6 BC. This means one cannot square even a date of AD 30 for Jesus’ death with the Book of Mormon’s statements indicating that Jesus lived for 33 years (since if Jesus was born in early 5 BC and died in spring AD 30, he lived for 34 years. Besides, AD 33 is probably the correct date of Jesus’ death, which means Jesus was about 37 years old when he died.

Harold Hoehner’s book Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) is still the best book on the subject in my opinion. He has a more recent study but it is probably less accessible to those who are not scholars: “The Chronology of Jesus,” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, ed. Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 3:2315-60. On AD 33 as the date of Christ’s death, see also Paul L. Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion,” Church History 37 (1968): 3-13; Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington, “The Jewish Calendar, a Lunar Eclipse and the Date of Christ’s Crucifixion,” Tyndale Bulletin 43 (1992): 331-51. It should be noted that all of these scholars were working on the chronological issues without the Book of Mormon being on their radar. That is, they were in no sense trying to refute the Book of Mormon.

LDS scholars have been giving significant attention in recent years to the English grammar, vocabulary, and style of the Book of Mormon. The thrust of this literary output has been to argue that the language of the Book of Mormon, far from an embarrassing liability, is in some respects an apologetic asset—even evidence of inspiration. More broadly, these scholars have been arguing that allegations of ungrammatical usage in the Book of Mormon are often unfounded, being based on misunderstandings or ignorance regarding earlier English grammar.

The most recent offering in this burgeoning literature is an article by Stanford Carmack in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. According to Carmack, who has written other recent articles of relevance, mistakes in the analysis of grammar and usage in the Book of Mormon have been made on the assumption that Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is the appropriate reference in such matters. Carmack argues that the Oxford English Dictionary should be used instead. Following the lead of Royal Skousen, the leading scholar on the textual history of the Book of Mormon,[1] Carmack argues that the English of the Book of Mormon is written mainly in the Early Modern English that was current in the 1500s but archaic by Joseph Smith’s day—and not entirely due to imitation of the KJV. On this basis, Carmack argues that Joseph could not have been responsible for the English idiom of the Book of Mormon; it must have come from the Lord revealing specific words to Joseph. At the same time, Carmack admits that some of the language in the Book of Mormon is more modern.[2]

A thorough examination of Carmack’s article is beyond the scope of what I will attempt here. There are dozens of specific examples that would need to be considered and a thicket of assertions and inferences that would need to be evaluated. Carmack’s work in this and other articles will undoubtedly be hailed as having turned the English grammar question of the Book of Mormon into an astounding evidence of its divine inspiration. I believe there are serious holes in the argument and that it raises questions so far unanswered. For example, to the best of my knowledge no one has yet explained why God would reveal a translation of an ancient scripture to a nineteenth-century man in largely (but not entirely) sixteenth-century English. However, here I wish to address just one point, albeit a somewhat tangential point to Carmack’s overall project. The point concerns the use of the English pronoun thou in the King James Version (KJV), a matter of some possible relevance to its usage in the Book of Mormon. Read the rest of this entry »

On November 2, 2014, I sent an email to Christian Post regarding Anna Diehl, who is one of its bloggers. Since I have heard nothing in response, I am now making my concerns public.

Christian Post (hereafter CP) is a major online media organization based in Washington, DC, that describes itself as “the nation’s most comprehensive Christian news website.” It is a member organization of the Evangelical Press Association as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, and has a statement of faith that is generically, solidly evangelical. As I noted in my email to CP, “We share the same orthodox, evangelical beliefs as your organization, as reflected in your excellent Statement of Faith.”

It was recently brought to my attention that one of the blogs featured prominently on CP’s website exists to promote heretical teachings that are clearly at variance with CP’s avowedly evangelical doctrinal position. I refer to the blog called “The Pursuit of God,” the author of which is Anna Diehl. Ms. Diehl denies the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity; her version of the doctrine explicitly contradicts CP’s statement of faith. In a recent article on Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Oct. 31, 2014) on her Christian Post blog, Diehl wrote:

When giving that famous Great Commission, Jesus told His disciples to baptize people in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught that there were three Gods—three Beings who met Yahweh’s definition of praiseworthy…. There are three Gods. Jesus and the Holy Spirit have no beginning. They were not created. They are Almighty Gods who are separate from Yahweh, yet equal to Him in every way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Daniel C. Peterson, a leading LDS scholar and apologist, has written an article entitled, “When the criticisms of the Book of Mormon can’t be taken seriously.” In his article he suggests that some criticisms of the Book of Mormon are so silly that they should be dismissed with laughter. “Sometimes, an efficient response to certain criticisms is simply a good laugh.”

Well, some criticisms might well be so implausible as to deserve ridicule. Often, however, what is really happening is that Mormon representations of the criticisms are caricatures. Take, for instance, Peterson’s description of a supposedly laughable criticism of the Book of Abraham (apparently he didn’t have enough for just the Book of Mormon):

More than 20 years ago, two critics suggested that the cosmological ideas in the Book of Abraham derive from a 1728 entry in Benjamin Franklin’s unpublished personal papers and from an obscure 1755 work by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that was barely noticed in Germany and wasn’t published in English until 1900.

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In my previous article here on the Book of Abraham, I showed that there is some reason to think that it was written in direct dependence on the Book of Genesis in the King James Version (KJV). That is, Joseph Smith was not translating the ancient Egyptian papyri in his possession; he was revising and expanding portions of Genesis as he found it in his copy of the KJV. This article will show that this conclusion is true beyond reasonable doubt.

Any thorough examination of the relationship between the Book of Abraham and the Book of Genesis must take into consideration both the big picture and the little details. The big picture is that three of the five chapters of the Book of Abraham parallel chapters in Genesis:

Abraham 1: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 2: Parallels Genesis 11:28-12:13 with substantial additions
Abraham 3: New material not found in the Bible
Abraham 4: Closely parallels Genesis 1 with some additions
Abraham 5: Closely parallels Genesis 2 with notable addition and omission

Although I could go through all of this material here line by line, the curious reader will learn far more by doing the exercise for himself. If you have never done so, I recommend opening a copy of the KJV to Genesis and a copy of the Book of Abraham and comparing the chapters as listed above. Even better, you might print out a copy of Genesis 11:28-12:13 and Genesis 1-2 on paper and go through them verse by verse, comparing them to Abraham 2 and 4-5 (even marking up your paper to show the differences, or using a highlighter to mark the parallel wording). It won’t take long, and you’ll make your own discoveries and reach your own conclusions rather than having someone else spoon feed the information to you.

As I said, we want to look at the big picture, but we also need to look at the details. Here we can take a page from the notebooks of famous detectives from Sherlock Holmes to Lt. Columbo: it’s the little, seemingly insignificant details that often tell the tale.

Read the rest of this entry »

The recent LDS.org article “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” attempts to explain a number of problems with the Book of Abraham, the most controversial text in the Mormon canon. The most basic problem is the fact that the Book of Abraham does not correspond to the Egyptian text of the Joseph Smith papyri, a fact for which the LDS Church has no definite answer. However, from another perspective a problem that is just as important, if not as basic, is the relationship of the Book of Abraham to the Bible. The new LDS.org article addresses this problem briefly as follows:

Much like the Book of Mormon, Joseph’s translation of the book of Abraham was recorded in the language of the King James Bible. This was the idiom of scripture familiar to early Latter-day Saints, and its use was consistent with the Lord’s pattern of revealing His truths “after the manner of their [His servants’] language, that they might come to understanding.”

That sounds innocent enough. People were accustomed in the 1830s and 1840s to reading scripture in the idiom of the King James Version (KJV), produced not long after Shakespeare wrote his plays. That was the form that English readers in Joseph’s day would expect a newly translated scripture such as the Book of Abraham to take. The article is not specific, but the reader may be led to understand that the Book of Abraham uses such words as thee and thou, hearken, behold, and yea, just as the KJV does. Read the rest of this entry »

On July 9, 2014, the LDS Church issued an article on its official website LDS.org entitled “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.” This was another article in its recent series of semi-scholarly articles on “Gospel Topics” focusing on such controversial and problematic issues as the doctrine of becoming gods, Joseph Smith’s use of a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, and the past ban on blacks in the Mormon priesthood. This new article addresses the fact, known for 46 years, that the text of the LDS scripture called the Book of Abraham does not correspond in meaning to the text of the extant fragments of the papyri from which Joseph had purported to translate it. As the new article states, “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham.”

I plan to address a number of points in the new article in some forthcoming resources. Here I will only comment briefly on the main point of the article, which is that the Book of Abraham need not be viewed as a literal translation from any of the Egyptian papyri that Joseph Smith had acquired in 1835. The article does not, however, take a position as to how one should understand the relationship between the papyri and the book. “The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.” Instead it mentions several hypothetical explanations that Mormons have proposed and defended over the years: Read the rest of this entry »

Greg Trimble, a Latter-day Saint who blogs on Mormon topics, recently posted on the question, “So…You Think the Book of Mormon Is a Fraud?” After some poisoning of the well against critics of the Book of Mormon (they jeer at testimonies to its truth; the loudest critics have never even read it), Trimble asks eleven questions apparently meant to vanquish doubt about the truth of the Book of Mormon.

It is easy to ask short questions that seem just in the asking to provide evidence; it is another thing to back up the claims. Refuting them thoroughly in some instances might take whole books. Still, something must be said. The reader is warned in advance that what is offered here are brief, bottom-line responses, not academic treatises. Trimble’s questions are quoted below, followed by my responses.

  1. Could an uneducated boy come up with 531 pages of ancient scripture on his own that was historically accurate and prophetic in nature?

No, but that’s not what Joseph Smith did. He came up with 531 pages of material that copied extensively from both the Old and New Testaments, with a narrative that is historically implausible in the extreme, and that does not pass reasonable tests of being prophetic in nature. Read the rest of this entry »

The LDS Church has just released a new manual in its series on the teachings of its president-prophets, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. As are the other publications in this series, TPC:LS is an official curriculum manual of the LDS Church intended to be the basis of instruction in Mormon congregations worldwide.

This manual is of special interest because Snow was the author of a two-line saying (commonly dubbed Snow’s “couplet”) that epitomizes what is distinctive about LDS theology. As one would expect, it is quoted in the manual (p. 83):

As man now is, God once was;
As God now is, man may be.

As the manual reports, Snow actually formulated this couplet in 1840 and believed it to have been a “sacred communication” (i.e., a divine revelation), but did not teach it publicly until after Joseph Smith taught the same doctrine (83). Indeed, Joseph’s famous 1844 King Follett Discourse actually uses language that closely matches the first line of Snow’s couplet:

God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! …Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you… (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-46).

The TPC:LS manual reports that Snow frequently “testified” to this doctrine, “making this truth a theme for many of his sermons” and even “adopted it as the theme for his life” (83). The manual goes on to quote at length from Snow’s own exposition of the meaning and significance of the doctrine. According to Snow, we have “the nature of deity” undeveloped within us, including God the Father’s “capabilities, powers and faculties,” just as an infant child does the faculties and powers of its parent (84). We have “the capacity for infinite wisdom and knowl­edge” in the “divinity” that lies within us albeit “in an infantile state.” As such, we are uncreated beings who “have divinity within ourselves” and “will live from all eternity to all eternity” (84).

Through a continual course of progression our Heavenly Father has received exaltation and glory and he points us out the same path and, inasmuch as he is clothed with power, authority and glory, he says, “walk ye up and come in possession of the same glory and happiness that I possess” (85).

Our “high destiny” if we are faithful is “becoming like unto Him in every particular” (86, my emphasis).

It would be interesting to know what Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary (my alma mater from 1981!) and the author of the recent book Talking with Mormons, would say about this recent publication. Mouw infamously claimed in late 2004 that Snow’s doctrine has “no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine.” In 2006 evangelical scholar Ronald V. Huggins published an excellent article responding to Mouw, documenting that Snow’s couplet epitomizes a doctrine “that still lives at the heart and logical center of the whole Mormon religious system.” Six years later, we have yet another piece of evidence showing that assessment to be correct.