“Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests…”

Mormonism’s founding prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests” altered the ancient biblical text (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 327). Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, looks at this idea and the state of the biblical text we have today.

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Joseph Smith | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Mormonism and the “Great Machine”

Mormonism’s “eternal law” is the creed of multiverse.

Transcending all gods. Governed by no ultimate Persons. Impersonal. Cold. “Without body, parts, passions.” Incromprehensible. ”Unknown and unknowable—formless, passionless, elusive, ethereal, simultaneously everywhere and nowhere.”

All the gods must submit to it, abide by it, conform to it.

“We were there and then (say) born in the express image and likeness of him by whom we received our spiritual birth possessing the same faculties & powers but in their infantile state yet susceptable of an elevation equal to that of those possessed by our Spiritual Father But in order to effect this we must needs be planted in a material tabernacle. Accordingly the great machine was set in motion whereby bodies for the immortal sons and daughters of God came into being…” (Lorenzo Snow, Feb. 14, 1842. Quoted by Van Hale)

Is the idea of the Great Machine more eternal than God’s godness?

Do you think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?

If You Could Hie to Kolob

If a religion’s God is what it holds up as Ultimate and Original, then:

- Mormonism’s God is not Heavenly Father, but the eternal law that governs all the Heavenly Fathers.

- Christianity’s God is a Triune, Personal Being. Three happy persons in eternal relationship. Father, Son, and Spirit.

Posted in God the Father, Nature of God | Tagged , , , , | 44 Comments

The Book of Abraham: A Mormon Conundrum

TripleCombinationIn early July (2014) the Mormon Church released a Gospel Topics essay on the translation and historicity of its controversial book of scripture known as the Book of Abraham. The essay has done nothing to quiet the controversy. At issue is the question of Joseph Smith’s translation of some ancient Egyptian papyri that resulted in the Book of Abraham.

In the pre-2013 Introductory Note to the Pearl of Great Price (where the Book of Abraham resides in the Mormon canon of scripture) the Mormon Church explained the book in this way:

The Book of Abraham. A translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham.”

In the current edition of the Mormon Church’s scripture the Introductory Note reads:

The Book of Abraham. An inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri.”

The new wording side steps the issue of Joseph’s traditional/literal translation of the text. Whereas the Church used to promote the idea that Joseph translated the writing that was on the papyri (that is, he rendered the Egyptian characters into English), the revised explanation takes the resulting text of the Book of Abraham and removes it from the content of the papyri.

Joseph_Smith_Papyrus_IThis is no wonder since a major controversy surrounding the Book of Abraham following the 1967 discovery of Joseph’s long-lost papyri is the fact that Joseph’s translation is not supported in any way by the Egyptian – he got it all wrong.

The new Gospel Topics essay continues the effort to rescue Joseph Smith’s groundless “translation” from the harsh reality of informed scholarship. The essay admits, “Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the [papyri] fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham,” then goes on to state, “The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture.” In other words, the Mormon Church does not know what role the Egyptian papyri played in Joseph Smith’s rendering of the Book of Abraham. (Please see Rob Bowman’s excellent discussion of this topic at “What Kind of a Translation Is the Book of Abraham? A Multiple-Choice Question.”)

The Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham has created a conundrum for Mormons. As Utah Lighthouse Ministry’s Sandra Tanner asked elsewhere, which of the following two statements made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is accurate?

1. The canonized (current) heading on the Book of Abraham: “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”


2. An alternative suggested in the Gospel Topics essay statement found on the LDS Church’s website: “Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.”

Does a faithful Mormon choose to believe the canonized explanation? Or does he choose to believe an explanation provided by a nameless group of scholars (approved, no doubt, by someone in authority at Church headquarters)? Perhaps no choice is required of Church members since the Church itself is not troubled by the incongruity.

Rob Bowman notes,

“After all this time, the LDS Church is no closer to an answer. Was the Book of Abraham actually written in Egyptian on the papyri? They don’t know. The ‘only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (D&C 1:30), led by a series of presidents each of whom has been ‘a prophet, seer, and revelator (D&C 21:1; 107:91-92),’ has no idea how to explain the relationship between the book and the papyri.”

Perhaps this is because there is no relationship between them. It’s hard to conclude anything other than that the Book of Abraham is naught but a fabrication (at best), or a falsehood, perpetrated by Joseph Smith, the Prophet of this so-called Restoration.

Posted in Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon History, Pearl of Great Price | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Helpful, but not true?

Posted in Christianity | Tagged , | 9 Comments

A History Tour of Brigham Young’s Beehive House

BeehiveHouseSLCOn June 19, 2014 I visited Utah and took a tour of the Beehive House, Brigham Young’s principal residence in Salt Lake City. Guided through the 1854 home by two young sister missionaries, I learned a lot about the comfortable pioneer life enjoyed by Mormonism’s “Lion of the Lord” during the second half of the 19th century. However, much of what I learned was not true. For example, I was told that:

  • Lucy Decker Young was the only wife of Brigham Young that ever lived in the Beehive House. [Actually, Mary Ann Angell Young (Brigham’s only legal wife) also lived there until she opted for quieter surroundings, moving to another home in 1860 (see John G. Turner, Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet, 236, 377).]
  • The famous Lion House, located next door to the Beehive House, was built as a storehouse; no wives or women ever lived there. [Actually, the Lion House was built in 1856 to house Brigham Young’s growing family. In that year a “large number” of Brigham’s wives began living next door to him (Turner, 236).]
  • The only reason Mormons practiced polygamy in Utah was to care for the many women who lost their husbands back east because of persecution; legally, these widows were not allowed to keep their property or children. Mormon men married them in order to provide for their needs. [Actually, women had strong property rights as individuals in the 19th century. They did not need husbands to retain property or keep their children. And very few women became widows because of persecution. Additionally, there were more men than women in Utah Territory; why wouldn’t single men have married and cared for any needy women? This whole explanation made me wonder why, if Mormons were so committed to obeying the supposed laws regarding property rights, they did not feel constrained to obey the marriage law that said polygamy was illegal.]
  • A very small number of people practiced polygamy in Utah. [Actually, an average of 20-30% of Mormons lived in polygamy between 1850 and 1890, amounting to tens of thousands of people.]
  • Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young didn’t want to engage in polygamy, but he did it in order to help these widows legally and financially. [Actually, some of Brigham Young’s 55 wives were women who divorced their husbands just prior to marrying Brigham Young, women who had other interested suitors, and women who already had living husbands (Turner, 374-382; Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 45). Furthermore, Brigham Young’s stated rational for polygamy was theological, not altruistic (Turner, 205). See "Polygamy, Brigham Young and His 55 Wives" by John Turner for further reading.]

  • Once married, Brigham Young never even saw most of his plural wives again. [Actually, Brigham Young’s 58 children suggest otherwise (Turner, 375). But if this were the case, Brigham Young completely disregarded the biblical model of marriage that provides for a man and a woman to complete each other – the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). The husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” cherish her, and hold fast to her (Ephesians 5:25-31).]

In case you’re wondering, during my tour I didn’t challenge the sister missionaries about their misinformed history; I imagine they were just repeating what they have been told. But here’s the thing I struggle with. The Mormon Church knows its history. Given that, it seems to me that the Church can choose one of three options:

  1. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites of historical significance and tell visitors the difficult but unvarnished truth;
  2. It can choose not to provide historical tours at all (or to provide unguided tours) and thereby be relieved of any obligation to reveal embarrassing truths; or
  3. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites while lying about Mormon history.

The Church has chosen the third option. Why? It could choose to act faithfully, but instead has chosen that which is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 12:22).

Why has the Mormon Church made such a bad choice? Why does it choose to cast its lot among the wicked?

Posted in Brigham Young, LDS Church, Mormon History, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

John Walker’s Key Opens Book of Mormon Names

The wise biblical King Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Researcher Rick Grunder has provided a great latter-day example of “What has been is what will be.” In his massive work, Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source, Mr. Grunder provides readers with an interesting look at names found in the Book of Mormon and a parallel source that could have aided Joseph Smith as he wrote it.

JohnWalkerIn 1732 John Walker was born in England. As an adult, Mr. Walker was known as an “actor, elocutionist and lexicographer,” teaching and lecturing on elocution. In 1791 he published his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary in London. This work was reprinted in many editions and abridgements, one of which was advertised in the Palmyra (New York) Herald on September 24, 1823, and another suggested for inclusion in the curriculum for Colesville, New York schools in 1826 (in Joseph Smith’s neighborhood).

The specific abridgment of Mr. Walker’s book that is examined by Rick Grunder is A Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names, with the specific section of most interest being a 15-page list of “Scripture Proper Names.” Mr. Grunder explains,

“I have selected the following list of names and terms which I find similar to, resonant with, or identical to Book of Mormon names.  On page 79 alone appear not only the three eldest male members of the leading Book of Mormon family (Lehi, ‘Lah’man’ and Lemuel), but the Book’s first villain as well (Laban), plus two notable Master Mahan/secret combination protagonists in Joseph Smith’s 1830 Book of Moses (chapter 5): Lamech and Irad.  Walker’s Key also provides the unusual reference to the Apocryphal name Nephi, p. 81.  Of additional interest is a pronunciation rule to which ‘Ne´ phi’ is here referenced, showing the same pronunciation that is used by Mormons today.

“In preparing this list, I have excluded a number of the most famous biblical names shared or recalled by Book of Mormon people, as well as the names of exclusively biblical locations referred to in the Book of Mormon (primarily in 2 Nephi). Names which I place in LARGE & SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS, (not followed by comparison names in parentheses) are identical to names in the Book of Mormon.  Names which I signal with an asterisk (*) occur in Walker’s Key with added prominence by appearing first or last in a page column.”

Mr. Grunder’s list includes 137 of the 300-plus proper names found in the Book of Mormon. For you to get a taste of the list, the “A” section looks like this:

A-bin´ a-dab  (cf. Abinadi)
A-bin´ o-am  (cf. Abinadom)
A-bish´ a-i  (cf. Abish)
A ´ chish  (cf. Akish)
Æ´ nos  (cf. Enos)
A´ HAZ Al´ mon Dib-la-tha´ im [and,]
Al´ na-than,
Al´ pha,
A´ mal,
A-mal´ da  (cf. Alma)
Am´ a-lek  (cf. Amaleki)
Am´ non  (cf. Amnor)
Am´ o-rites  (cf. Amoron)
An-a-ni´ ah  (cf. Ammonihah)
An´ ti-och  (cf. Antion)
An-ti´ o-chus  (cf. Antionum)
An to´ ni-a  (cf. Antionah)
Ar-che-la´ us  (cf. Archeantus)

As another example, page 79 from Mr. Walker’s Key includes these notable parallels:

Jo´ tham  (cf. Jothan)
Kib´ roth Hat-ta´ a-vah  (cf. Kib)
KISH Ko´ rah [and,]
Ko´ rah-ites,
Ko´ rath-ites,
Kor´ hite,
Kor´ hites,
Kor´ ites
Ko´ re  (cf. Korihor, Corihor)
La-cu´ nus  (cf. Lachoneus)
Lah´ man  (cf. Laman)
[LA´ MECH - see Moses 5]
Lib´ nah  (cf. Limnah)
Lib´ ni [and,]
Lib´ nites,  (cf. Lib)

Rick Grunder’s research does not prove that Joseph Smith used Mr. Walker’s Key in writing the Book of Mormon. Indeed, Mr. Grunder does not even hint at this. Rather, he writes,

“I seek not so much to prove what another young man did or did not do in the nineteenth century, as to test in some measure the many easy assurances that I have heard since my own youth, that Joseph Smith simply could not have created the many unusual names which appear in the Book of Mormon.”

Along with King Solomon we affirm that there is nothing new under the sun. Joseph Smith did not need to create 300 new and unique proper names to fill out the Book of Mormon; many sources were available to him to draw from as he composed the book.

Joseph Smith by grindael

Joseph Smith by grindael

The reason this research is significant is that it is another piece in the grander puzzle to consider when contemplating the truth or falsity of the Mormon Church’s claim that Joseph Smith is “God’s mouthpiece.” Mormon Apostle Joseph Wirthlin wrote,

“Finally, conversion to the Book of Mormon is conversion to the divine, prophetic calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is the divine evidence of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s calling. Either this is all true, or it is not. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained it best when he wrote:

‘To consider that everything of saving significance in the Church stands or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth is as sobering as it is true. It is a “sudden death” proposition. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this Church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.

“‘Not everything in life is so black and white, but the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our religion seem to be exactly that. Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni’s lips, and eventually received at his hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero, or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he had lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would certainly be none of these…

“‘Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else a charlatan of the first order…’” (“The Book of Mormon: The Heart of Missionary Proselytizing,” Ensign, 9/2002, 14)

Did Joseph Smith “lie about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon”? Did he find those proper names he used engraved on gold plates, or did he find them listed in the back of a schoolbook? The Bible warns again and again against being deceived by false prophets and deceitful workers; the world has seen countless charlatans across the centuries. To follow them is naught but (borrowing the poetic words of Solomon) “striving after wind.”

God Himself defines where spiritual safety lies:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal…the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…whoever comes to me I will never cast out…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:27-40)

May we all cease striving after wind and instead find life in Jesus, the very bread of God.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

From Mormonism to Christianity Conference: July 17-19


See the Facebook event here. See more information here. Come!

I will be speaking at 11am on Saturday on “Matthew for Mormons”, a walk-through of some exciting and surprisingly relevant themes in the Gospel of Matthew.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Mormon logic of lost books and its implication for prophetic accountability

When talking to some Mormon missionaries in March I encountered an interesting line of thinking. One of the elders gave the standard claim that the Bible is missing books that should have been included.

I asked, “Which ones?”

He answered: Works that the Bible makes mention of.

So I asked, “So, mere mention of a work in scripture (of something presumably written by another prophet) indicates that the work should have been included in the canon as scripture?”

They answered, “Yes, because what prophets write should be considered scripture.”

This later was downgraded to a more modest claim: That the majority of what prophets write for public consumption should be considered scripture.

This is the default, functioning, practical view of mainstream Mormonism:

“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Article #9)

This is “functionally” (in practice) taken to encompass most of what the LDS Church teaches and publishes, especially General Conference messages. I call this approach prima ecclesia. (It is far different than the standard LDS apologetic approach, which is something akin to sola scriptura.)

Just to dig this in, I asked: “Would you agree that prophets should be held to a high standard of expectation and accountability over what they publicly teach about God and the gospel?”

They answered, “Yes.”

These kinds of principles are important to pull out and explicate. Get them on the table. Help your Mormon neighbor commit to these principles — out loud. With words they commit to. This might seem simple but it’s radical. It implicitly presses the point that prophets should not be given a free pass for false teachings — especially and most obviously for public false teachings about God and the gospel which are never repented of.

The more clear and heavy you make the point, the more powerful things like Adam-God and the priesthood ban are. Jesus said to inspect alleged prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Serious fruit-inspection is a way of obeying Jesus. We’re also helping Mormons obey their own scripture: to study things out in their mind instead of depending on mere emotional epiphanies (D&C 9:7-8). I love what my friend Matt says about fruit-inspection: “Don’t do it with binoculars.” Peel the skin off and get dirty. It’s our responsibility.

Posted in Uncategorized | 93 Comments

When it comes to the plates, there was no miracle

For the past several years I have been bringing a replica set of “gold plates” to the Mormon Miracle Pageant held annually in Manti, Utah. By encouraging Mormon visitors to lift my plates, it gives me an opportunity to explain the many problems I see with the official account of how Smith allegedly retrieved the plates back in 1827.

My plates are six inches by eight inches, by six
inches deep, the same measurements given by
Joseph Smith. And although my plates are made of sheet metal and are much lighter than gold plates, they are still quite heavy—80 pounds. If Smith’s plates were actually made of the metal gold, their soft consistency and dense weight would tend to expel any air gaps between the plates. In other words, as plates are added to the ever increasing record, the plates (at least near the bottom of the stack), would tend to flatten out. That being the case, it would be very likely that the six-inch stack would weigh around 200 pounds.

mormon-goldplates1Mormons are led to believe that Smith carried the plates under his arm, and while carrying them home three miles away, he was able to jump over a log, fight off three separate attackers, and that he ran “at the top of his speed” to get away from these men.

Amazingly, many Mormons insist that because Smith was “a buff farm boy” he was able to accomplish such a feat, but when a Mormon finally realizes that replicating Smith’s story is humanly impossible, they have no recourse but to insist that a miracle was involved. The problem with such a claim is that if Smith needed a miracle to carry the plates, then surely Moroni, the person Mormons believe buried the plates centuries ago, must have needed one too, not to mention all of the other Book of Mormon characters who certainly handled the plates towards the time they were supposedly buried in the ground. Amusing in- deed is a scene in the Mormon Miracle pageant where Mormon hands the plates to Moroni as if it was a football.

Are we to assume that the “eight witnesses” mentioned in the front of the Book of Mormon also needed a miracle to “heft” the plates? If so, wouldn’t Smith’s wife, Emma, who was known to have moved the plates around on the table “as her work required it,” also need a miracle? (See Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 70.)

Mormon leaders of the past never seemed to entertain the notion that a miracle was needed.

For example, if a Mormon wants to insist that Smith needed a miracle to carry the plates he must explain the following comment from Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe. Understanding that plates of pure gold would be much too heavy for Smith to carry, he offered this explanation:

“A cube of solid gold of that size, if the gold were pure, would weigh two hundred pounds, which would be a heavy weight for a man to carry, even though he were of the athletic type of Joseph Smith. This has been urged as an evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon, since it is known that on several occasions the Prophet carried the plates in his arms. It is very unlikely, however, that the plates were made of pure gold. They would have been too soft and in danger of destruction by distortion. For the purpose of record keeping, plates made of gold mixed with a certain amount of copper would be better, for such plates would be firmer, more durable and generally more suitable for the work in hand. If the plates were made of eight karat gold, which is gold frequently used in present-day jewelry, and allowing a 10 percent space between the leaves, the total weight of the plates would not be above one hundred and seventeen pounds—a weight easily carried by a man as strong as was Joseph Smith” (John A. Widtsoe and Franklin S. Harris, Jr., Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon, pp. 37-38).

Widtsoe would have no need to give such an explanation if he believed that a miracle was involved. Still, Widtsoe’s hypothesis fails for one simple reason — 117 pounds is not at all an easy weight to carry, no matter how strong he thinks Smith may have been. This can be easily demonstrated.

At the Utah Lighthouse bookstore in Salt Lake City, Sandra Tanner has a replica set of plates made of lead on display. Lead is lighter than gold, but like gold, it is very soft and very dense, hence the plates contain no air gaps, making it appear as a solid piece. Though only one pound heavier than Widtsoe’s estimate, visitors to the bookstore who attempt to lift the lead plates learn very quickly that Smith could not achieve what Mormons are led to believe. In fact, many who fail to lift the plates at all, often ask if they are bolted down. No, they are not.

Mormon apologists who admit that plates made of actual gold would be much too heavy for Smith to carry like to point to Reed Putnam, a Mormon metallurgist who insisted that the gold plates were actually made of an alloy consisting mostly of copper. Perhaps knowing that Witdsoe’s arbitrary 10% air gap between the plates is entirely inadequate, he argues that if plates had a whopping 50% air gap, the weight could be brought down to as little as 53 pounds.

But why bother if a miracle was involved? If God could miraculously allow Smith to carry 53-pound plates, He most certainly could have enabled Smith to carry 200-pound plates. Efforts by Mormon apologists to get the weight of the plates down to a manageable level tend to prove they do not believe a miracle was involved. Furthermore, Mormon attempts to make the plates lighter actually take away from the glory of God. After all, is it not more of a miracle for Smith to carry 200-pound plates as opposed to 118-, or even 53-pound plates?

This article is reprinted from the May-June 2014 issue of Mormonism Researched.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Mormon History | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

Sidney Rigdon’s July 4th Oration



Originally aired on Viewpoint on Mormonism on July 4, 2012

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments