Posts Tagged ‘Book of Mormon’

6
Jan

The Alarming Truths of So-called Anti-Mormonism

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in Mormonism

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 »

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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 »

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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 »

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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.

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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 »

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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9
Jul

So You Think the Book of Mormon Is Authentic?

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in apocrypha, Mormonism

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 »

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Elder Tad R. Callister is a member of the Presidency of the Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In his General Conference address on October 2, 2011, Callister presented an argument in support of his theme, “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God.” The argument reportedly comes from his great-great grandfather Willard Richards, an apostle in the LDS Church under both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. According to LeGrand Richards, grandson of Willard’s nephew Franklin, Willard’s first impression of the Book of Mormon was that it “was either written by God or the devil”—and after reading it twice in ten days he had concluded, “The devil could not have written it—it must be from God.”[1]

The Argument

Callister compares Richards’s argument to C. S. Lewis’s most memorable argument, the classic aut deus aut malus homo (Latin, “either God or a bad man”) dilemma argument for the deity of Jesus Christ.[2] According to Lewis, a merely decent or nice man, a “good teacher,” who was not God would not claim the sorts of exclusive, divine prerogatives that Jesus did, forcing us to choose between viewing him as a very bad man—“a madman or something worse”—or the divine Son of God.

According to Callister, “Likewise, we must make a simple choice with the Book of Mormon: it is either of God or the devil.” This choice is forced on us by the fact that “it is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud.” The Book of Mormon “claims to be the word of God—every sentence, every verse, every page,” and if it is not, “it is a sophisticated but, nonetheless, diabolical hoax.”

To determine which of these viewpoints is correct, he tells his listeners, “Ask yourself if the following scriptures from the Book of Mormon draw you closer to God or to the devil.” He then quotes Book of Mormon texts urging people to “feast upon the words of Christ,” to “build your foundation” on Christ, to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (2 Nephi 32:3; Helaman 5:12; Moroni 10:32). Callister asks, “Could these statements from the Book of Mormon have possibly been authored by the evil one?” He argues that they could not, because Christ’s teaching that Satan would never be divided against himself (Matt. 12:24-26) proves that Satan would never encourage people to turn to his arch-enemy, Jesus Christ. Since scriptures that teach people to worship, love, and serve Christ cannot come from the devil, the Book of Mormon “must be from God.”[3]

This argument presented by Callister takes the following logical, deductive form:

  • Either the Book of Mormon is from God, or it is from the devil.
  • It is not from the devil.
  • Therefore, it is from God.

The argument is a deductively valid one, which simply means that the form of the argument is properly structured or ordered such that if the first two statements (the premises) are both true then the third statement (the conclusion) must also be true. When assessing a deductively valid argument, the only relevant way to challenge the truth of the conclusion is to critique one or both of the premises. I will consider each of the premises in turn.

God or the Devil: The Argument’s First Premise

Is it true that the Book of Mormon is either from God or the devil? Dilemmas like this can be and often are oversimplifications, but some logical dilemmas are, after all, quite reasonable. One of the most common fallacies is the false dilemma, and it is important that we be able to recognize true logical dilemmas from false dilemmas. Here are some good examples of true logical dilemmas:

  • Either Jesus Christ rose from the grave, or he did not.
  • Either Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in 1820, or he did not see Jesus Christ in 1820.
  • Joseph Smith was either a true prophet of God or a false prophet.

Here are some examples of false dilemmas; note how these differ from the ones just stated:

  • Either Jesus Christ rose from the grave, or the disciples stole the body.
  • Either Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ in 1820, or he experienced a demonic deception.
  • Joseph Smith was either a true prophet of God or the Antichrist.

The first three statements are true logical dilemmas because in each case the two choices express the only hypothetical possibilities, either by definition or by accepted facts. The first two are proper dilemmas by simple definition: one either rose from the grave or one did not; Joseph either saw Jesus in 1820 or he did not. The third statement is a proper dilemma by accepted facts: it is an undisputed fact that Joseph explicitly claimed to be a prophet of God, and in such cases one either is a true prophet of God or one is a false prophet.

The next three statements are all false dilemmas because in each case significant hypothetical alternatives are overlooked or ignored. For example, if Jesus did not rise from the grave, any number of other things might have happened. The disciples may have stolen the body, or the Romans may have moved it, or the body might have been buried in a different place, or the reports of the empty tomb may be false…all of these hypothetical scenarios and more have been put forward and defended by non-Christians. The statement is therefore a false dilemma. This doesn’t mean the conclusion that Jesus rose from the grave is false (it turns out that all of the many proposed alternative theories are seriously flawed), but it does mean this dilemma is not a good premise to use in an argument for Jesus’ resurrection. In the next statement, Joseph Smith may have seen Jesus, or he may have experienced a demonic apparition, or he may have made the whole thing up (and there are still other possibilities). Finally, if Joseph Smith was not a true prophet, he must (since he claimed to be a prophet) be a false prophet, but it does not follow that he is the Antichrist.

In order to assess the first premise of Callister’s God-or-devil dilemma argument, we need to be clear as to its meaning. By themselves, the expressions “of God” and “of the devil” are somewhat ambiguous. However, in context Callister evidently means that the Book of Mormon was supernaturally inspired either by God or by the devil. One reason for concluding that this is his meaning is the fact that by “of God” he clearly means inspired by God supernaturally as the very word of God, which suggests that “of the devil” in the same context means supernaturally inspired by the devil. Furthermore, Callister introduces the dilemma with the words of his great-great-grandfather, “That book was either written by God or the devil” (emphasis added). Posed in that way, the dilemma would seem rather clearly to mean that the Book of Mormon must either be inspired by God or be inspired by the devil.

Assuming this is Callister’s meaning, the dilemma is clearly a false one. A fraudulent scripture certainly could be concocted by a false teacher without needing to have it supernaturally inspired by the devil. Mormons do believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and it is quite correct to say that this claim is either true or false. Thus, we could easily agree that either the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or it is not the word of God. But if it is not the word of God, it might not be the word of the devil, either. It might be the word of man.

Consider the following genuine logical dilemma posed by Jesus Christ: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” (Matt. 21:25 ESV). Since John the Baptist obviously was a man, Jesus’ dilemma is logically valid: if his baptism was not of heavenly origin (i.e., from God), then it was of human origin. These two views exhausted the hypothetical possibilities in that context. Notice that Jesus’ dilemma does not exclude a role for Satan in a religious practice not mandated from God, nor does it need to say anything about the devil at all, since to say that John’s baptism was of man would in no way exclude a demonic aspect if such were involved. On the other hand, if Jesus had asked if John’s baptism was “from heaven or from the devil,” Jesus’ critics might plausibly have responded that these two views ignored a third possibility, namely, that John was simply doing his own thing.

We should probably say the same thing about Callister’s first premise. Perhaps the Book of Mormon is neither of God nor of the devil; perhaps it is of man. In order to make the God-or-devil dilemma work, Callister would need to show that a book that claims to be the word of God but is not would have to be inspired by the devil. Callister points out that Joseph claimed that an angel of God gave him the Book of Mormon plates and that he translated them by the power of God. If Joseph’s claims on these points were false, that would be very bad indeed, but would it require the conclusion that the book was a production of Satan? Not necessarily. Joseph may have made up the story about the angel appearing to him, or he may have been suffering from delusions. Likewise, Joseph may have mistakenly thought he was inspired to translate the plates, or he may have knowingly claimed to have a divine gift of translation that he did not. Again, Callister poses a valid dilemma when he says, “It is either the word of God as professed, or it is a total fraud,”[4] but a “total fraud” need not be a Satanically inspired fraud.

To salvage the argument, one might suggest reinterpreting Willard Richards’s and Tad Callister’s dilemma so that “of the devil” did not mean inspired supernaturally by the devil. To do this, however, one would need to interpret “of God” to mean something other than supernaturally inspired by God. For example, someone might suggest that the Book of Mormon must either be something God approves or something the devil approves. Such an approach to the first premise, however, actually makes it far less plausible as a true logical dilemma. After all, God might approve of or like some things in the Book of Mormon but not others, and the devil likewise might be happy about some parts of the Book of Mormon but not other parts. All sorts of religious writings may be regarded as good books with some significant errors, or as bad books that make some good points.

The “God or a bad man” dilemma that C. S. Lewis and other Christians have posed with regard to the identity of Jesus Christ is a genuine logical dilemma once one understands that Jesus did make the divine claims reported in the Gospels (a point not at all lost on Lewis, by the way). If I were to claim in all seriousness that I would be sitting on the throne of God on Judgment Day deciding who lived forever in God’s kingdom and who did not, dispensing condemnation to some and forgiveness to others at my own discretion, you would rightly conclude that I was a menace. It would make no sense to reject such divine claims from me and at the same time to suggest that I was a pretty decent guy or even a good theologian! Lewis’s argument works because his dilemma, properly understood in context, does present two mutually exclusive possibilities regarding someone (anyone!) who claims to exercise the prerogatives of the Creator of the universe. The “God or the devil” dilemma with regard to the Book of Mormon does not, however, hold up, because a book that falsely claims to be inspired by God might be inspired by the devil or merely inspired by human creativity and ambition.

Not of the Devil: The Argument’s Second Premise

The second premise of the Richards-Callister argument is that the Book of Mormon cannot be “of the devil” because it draws people “closer to God” and teaches them to come to Christ and build their lives on him. The devil, Callister explains, would “be divided against himself and thus be destroying his own kingdom” if he were to encourage people to align themselves with the kingdom of Christ.[5]

It is true that Satan would never deliberately undermine his own dominion or control over people’s lives, as Jesus taught in his famous comment denying that his exorcisms were merely “Satan driving out Satan” (Matt. 12:25-26; Mark 3:23-26; Luke 11:17-18). However, Satan is not above pretending to support the cause of Christ for his own diabolical purposes. Simon Peter thought he was defending Jesus’ divine calling as the Messiah (Christ) by denying that Jesus would be rejected by the Jewish authorities and put to death, but Jesus responded to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:21-23; Mark 8:31-33). Paul, in the context of criticizing those who “preach another Jesus, whom we did not preach,” warns that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:4, 14). John, likewise in the context of warning about false teachers who claim to represent Jesus Christ, described those who follow the sinful path of such false teachers as “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10). Both Jesus and his apostles warned about “false prophets” and “false teachers” who claimed to represent Christ (Matt. 7:15-23; 24:23-24; Mark 13:21-22; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1-6). Although we should not make such judgments lightly or carelessly, the sad reality is that some people who talk in glowing terms about Christ and profess to follow him are, according to New Testament standards, really working for the kingdom of the devil.

I have already argued that there is no need to claim that the Book of Mormon is either directly inspired by God or directly inspired by the devil. However, the Book of Mormon might be “of the devil” in the more general sense of contributing to the cause of the devil’s agenda. We cannot assume that if a book such as the Book of Mormon speaks in pious language about Jesus Christ, then that book cannot in some sense be “of the devil.” After all, even the Book of Mormon itself describes what it calls “this great and abominable church” and claims that “the devil…was the founder of it” (1 Nephi 13:6; also 14:3, 9, 10, 17; 22:22-23). Clearly, then, the Book of Mormon itself acknowledges that some people who claim to believe in Christ and to follow Christ are deceived by the devil. If this is so, then it is not impossible for the Book of Mormon to be “of the devil” in some sense, even though it contains many pious statements about Christ.

Consider the following statements, each appearing in writings regarded by many as scripture:

  • “When Jesus appeared on earth, he performed miracles and great wonders for the salvation of humanity.”[6]
  • “His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honour in this world and the Hereafter.”[7]
  • “Jesus established in the Christian era the precedent for all Christianity, theology, and healing. Christians are under as direct orders now, as they were then, to be Christlike, to possess the Christ-spirit, to follow the Christ-example, and to heal the sick as well as the sinning.”[8]
  • “Never have I read in the works of the philosophers anything that can compare to the maxims of Jesus…. He could convert water into wine; he could change death into life, disease into health; he could calm the seas, still the storms, call up fish with a silver coin in its mouth.”[9]
  • “And as you go and preach, baptize the people in the name of Christ. They who believe and are bap­tized shall rise up in the newness of the life of Christ….”[10]

The above quotations come, in chronological order, from the Gospel of Judas (late 2nd cent.), the Qur’an (7th cent.), Science and Health (1875), the Archko Volume (1884), and the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1908). Each of these writings makes respectful and honorable statements about Jesus and encourages people to believe in him. Three of them are in effect alternative “gospels” or books focusing directly on Jesus. Yet each also makes highly controversial and clearly unbiblical statements about Jesus and about the gospel of Christ. Are these books “of the devil”? A Christian could easily justify such a conclusion, without necessarily suggesting that any of them was inspired supernaturally by the devil and without denying that there are good and true statements about God and about Jesus in each of them. That is, a Christian could argue that such books, despite their laudatory statements about God and Christ, work against the cause of Christ (and therefore in support of the devil’s agenda) by teaching confusing and contradictory ideas about Christ. The fact is that each of these books, in different ways, calls into question the reliability and adequacy of the New Testament writings’ teachings about Jesus Christ. Sometimes subtly, and sometimes blatantly, these pseudo-scriptures attack the biblical foundations of the Christian faith, challenging the historic Christian view of the person of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon, from an orthodox Christian perspective, falls into this same category of pseudo-scriptures that undermine confidence in the trustworthiness of the revelation of Jesus Christ found in the New Testament. It is one of a long list of supposedly inspired writings appearing in modern times that claim to “restore” the true understanding of the teachings and life of Jesus. In some cases these are supposedly new, modern scriptures or inspired writings, such as Heaven and Hell (by Emanuel Swedenborg, 1758), Doctrine & Covenants (mostly by Joseph Smith, 1828-1844), Science and Health (by Mary Baker Eddy, 1875), or A Course in Miracles (by Helen Schucman, 1976, supposedly dictated to her by Jesus himself!). In other cases these writings are modern fictions purporting to be rediscovered ancient scriptures, including the Book of Mormon (1830) and the Book of Abraham (1842), the Archko Volume (1884), the Life of Issa (1894), the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (1908), and the Secret Gospel of Mark (1973).

While the Book of Mormon is probably the most subtle of these pseudo-scriptures in its deviations from the biblical teachings about God and Jesus Christ, it still falls into this category. The Book of Mormon questions the completeness and integrity of the Bible, teaches that Jesus started a separate church in the Americas and that the church there and in the Old World had become apostate, and directs its readers to view Joseph Smith, its modern publisher, as the divinely chosen instrument of the restoration of the true Christian faith. The fact that it generally uses traditional-sounding Christian language about God and Christ makes it all the more potent as a means for drawing people from traditional Christian churches away from a faith resting solidly on the foundation of the Bible.

We have good reasons, then, to dispute Callister’s second premise. It may very well be that the Book of Mormon is “of the devil” in a loose sense. That is, it may be a tool or instrument supporting or helping to advance the devil’s agenda of undermining confidence in the Bible as the fully trustworthy and reliable word of God and of leading people away from a biblically sound understanding of the Christian faith.

Conclusion

I have argued that the first premise of the Richards-Callister “God or the devil” argument is false: the claim that the Book of Mormon must be either of God or of the devil ignores the possibility that the Book of Mormon might simply be the work of man, a product of human deceit and ambition. It does not follow that if the Book of Mormon is not directly inspired by the devil then it must be directly inspired by God. In a broader or looser sense, a book might be “of God” in some respects but “of the devil” in other respects; that is, it might be a mixture of truth and error, of good and evil.

With regard to the second premise, namely, that the Book of Mormon cannot be of the devil because it encourages faith in Christ, I have argued that many books purport to encourage faith in Christ but undermine a sound, biblically authentic faith in Christ. To the extent that the Book of Mormon is such a book, it might very well be described, in the looser sense, as “of the devil.” Thus, the second premise of the argument is also highly questionable.

Since the first premise is false and the second premise is at least highly questionable, the God-or-devil dilemma argument for the Book of Mormon fails. From an orthodox Christian perspective, the Book of Mormon is a mixture of truth and error. After all, much of the Book of Mormon is copied, often nearly verbatim, from the Bible! Where the Book of Mormon repeats what the Bible says, it is true. Where the Book of Mormon makes statements that reflect biblical truths and values (as it often does), even though it is not quoting the Bible, here again the Book of Mormon may be viewed as containing significant truth. Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon presents these true statements in the framework of a false historical narrative designed to undermine the integrity and trustworthiness of the Bible, to indict traditional Christianity as apostate, and to present Joseph Smith as a modern channel of divine revelation through which true Christianity is being restored. For that reason, despite all of the true and good things one can find within the Book of Mormon, we cannot accept its claim to be a restored scripture. Without going to the extreme of denouncing everything in the Book of Mormon as of the devil, we therefore conclude that as a whole the Book of Mormon is not of God.

 

NOTES

[1] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, rev. and expanded ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 79; see also D. Michael Quinn, “They Served: The Richards Legacy in the Church,” Ensign, Jan. 1980, 25.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 55-56; see also The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 23-24; Miracles: A Preliminary Inquiry, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1978 paperback ed.), 109; and especially “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 156-60. The cogency of the argument is currently the subject of vigorous debate among philosophers and theologians.

[3] Tad R. Callister, “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, 74-75.

[4] Ibid., 74.

[5] Ibid., 75.

[6] Gospel of Judas, trans. Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst (National Geographic Society, 2006).

[7] The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, trans. ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, 11th ed. (Beltsville, MD: Amana Publications, 2004), 3.45.

[8] Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: First Church of Christ, Scientist, numerous editions [orig. 1875]), 138.17.

[9] “Pilate’s Report,” in The Archko Volume, or, the Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews [by William Dennes Mahan] (Philadelphia: Antiquarian Book Company, 1913), 132, 146-47.

[10] Levi H. Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (London: L. N. Fowler; Los Angeles: Eva S. Dowling, 1911), 180.8-9.

 

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24
Oct

The State of Book of Mormon Studies

   Posted by: Rob Bowman    in apologetics, Mormonism

The October 2008 issue of Sunstone—a liberal Mormon magazine—includes a lengthy article by John-Charles Duffy entitled “Mapping Book of Mormon Historicity Debates—Part I: A Guide for the Overwhelmed” (36-62). The article is available online as well as in the print magazine; the online version has the advantage of easy access to links to numerous online resources. Duffy, a doctoral student in religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has written a must-read article on the state of Book of Mormon studies. Read the rest of this entry »

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