James 1:5 — An Appeal to Scripture

Camp MeetingI was recently reading in The Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith — History regarding the events leading up to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. As Joseph told the story, he talked about his confusion over which church was correct in the things they taught. Or, he wondered, were they all wrong? Joseph said all the different “religionists” were “endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others” (1:9). He found himself in the midst of a “war of words and tumult of opinions” (1:10). He wrote,

“…unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible” (1:12).

Yet appeal to the Bible he did. Joseph said when he came across James 1:5,

“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know,… At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs…So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt” (1:12-14).

Joseph had the idea that his spiritual questions could not be settled by an appeal to the Bible due to the propensity of men to interpret the text in different (incorrect) ways, but for some reason he believed he could correctly and adequately interpret James 1:5. It was Joseph’s personal interpretation of this verse from the Bible that sent him into the woods to ask God which church he should join.

Holy BibleBut Joseph fell victim to his own fears. He did not correctly interpret James 1:5, and so he looked for his answers in the grove, rather than in God’s Word.

The context of James 1:5 places James’ instructions for seeking wisdom into a very specific situation. James wrote:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:2-5).

Here James was writing to encourage Christians who were in the midst of suffering intense persecutions for their faith. Against all human wisdom, James told them they were to joyfully recognize their trials as beneficial to their faith. If they had trouble understanding how this could be, James said, they were to ask God for the wisdom to understand His plan in their suffering. Christian theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) commented on this passage:

“As our reason, and all our feelings are averse to the thought that we can be happy in the midst of evils, he bids us to ask the Lord to give us wisdom. For wisdom here, I confine to the subject of the passage, as though he had said, ‘If this doctrine is higher than what your minds can reach to, ask of the Lord to illuminate you by his Spirit; for as this consolation alone is sufficient to mitigate all the bitterness of evils, that what is grievous to the flesh is salutary to us; so we must necessarily be overcome with impatience, except we be sustained by this kind of comfort.’ Since we see that the Lord does not so require from us what is above our strength, but that he is ready to help us, provided we ask, let us, therefore, learn, whenever he commands anything, to ask of him the power to perform it” (Calvin’s Commentaries XXII::281-2).

Joseph Smith decided that the Bible could not provide answers to his questions. Though the Bible is the very Word of God, though God commands us to “Be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and though God confirms “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), Joseph disregarded it all.

Having the form of godliness, Joseph did make “an appeal to the Bible.” He chose a verse, removed it from its context, and subsequently pursued a course not supported by scripture. Joseph sought answers apart from God’s revealed Word and in due time came to fulfill the woeful role of false prophet.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

This entry was posted in Bible, Joseph Smith, Mormon History. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to James 1:5 — An Appeal to Scripture

  1. “Yet appeal to the Bible he did.” That is an irony I don’t think I’ve observed before. Good post.

    Ron Rhodes deals with this issue here too.

    Instead of praying for an emotional epiphany, I like to encourage people to pray, “Lord, please open the eyes of my heart to clearly see what you have already revealed in scripture and in creation.” Bill McKeever calls asking God about something he has already answered “unfaithful” or “unbelieving” prayer. It calls into question what God has already revealed. See a related MRM article here.

  2. Burt T. says:

    Sharon,

    As you have read the scriptures, have you never come across a verse that seems to be speaking directly to you at that particular moment? I believe scriptures can be a very personal thing. It’s not up to you to question how Joseph Smith, or anyone, interprets them.

    [Section deleted. Burt, if you want to make a specific, relevant accusation, go for it. But sweeping, accusatory generalizations that don’t contribute to the conversation don’t belong here.]

  3. Jason Epps says:

    Bill,

    I’m with Aaron – good catch! I had never noticed this before.

    Jason

  4. Geoff J says:

    but for some reason he believed he could correctly and adequately interpret James 1:5

    That “some reason” is that the Holy Spirit revealed in powerful ways to him what he should do next — pray in sincerity to God for answers to his questions. This is very much like what Aaron just said we should all do, pray to ask God to “open the eyes of my heart”. God is alive and can still answer prayers today just like he could thousands of years ago. God answered prayers before there were printing presses and before most people had Bibles to read after all.

    But Joseph fell victim to his own fears. He did not correctly interpret James 1:5, and so he looked for his answers in the grove, rather than in God’s Word.

    I must confess that I have long suspected that many Evangelicals actually worship the Bible itself and not the living God. Comments like this don’t help dissuade me from that suspicion.

  5. As you have read the scriptures, have you never come across a verse that seems to be speaking directly to you at that particular moment? I believe scriptures can be a very personal thing. It’s not up to you to question how Joseph Smith, or anyone, interprets them.

    God is not a poor communicator. His words are not the result of his ambiguous mumblings, nor are they the product of his weak whimpers. The Bible has a basic clarity to it, so much so that when people reject its basic message they are morally held accountable for it and are subsequently punished if they die unforgiven (cf. John 5:39-47; Luke 16:27-31). The scriptures are not a “personal” thing if what you mean by that is that their meaning is privatized and not public. The scriptures are personal in that they personally impact us and help us to know God. There certainly may be personal applications to a passage (feeding the hungry might entail something different in a Sudanese refugee camp than in downtown Chicago), but the meaning of the actual text should be no more for us than it was meant for the original audience. What the original author intended to communicate is what we ought to seek from the text, and, like the original meaning of the U.S. Constitution, this meaning will never change.

    Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” We are to be responsible with God’s word, and no euphoria or emotional epiphany or context-ignoring interpretation will serve as a substitution. “Dear God, I’m too lazy to read your words in context, and even if I did, they’re not good enough. Would you instead tell me what I want to hear?” Those are the kinds of prayers Satan answers, not God.

    Geoff, would you likewise accuse Abraham of worshiping the Bible in Luke 16:27-31?

    “‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

    I think the real issue here is that Christians believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, authoritative word. To reject it is to reject God, not because the scriptures are God, but because they are his word. This isn’t rocket science. When a soldier rejects written orders from his superior, he is disobeying his superior. Jesus said in John 12:48, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” If this is true, then how is it idolatrous for Sharon to observe that Smith “looked for his answers in the grove, rather than in God’s Word”?

  6. rick b says:

    A few things to think about, Joseph Smith uses James 1:5 and says he prayed for wisdom. Read James 3:15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish.

    Not all wisdom is from God, I believe the wisdom Joseph Smith had was not from God.

    But then lets use King Solomon as an example, He prayed for wisdom from God, God granted him wisdom, we are told he was/is the wisest man to ever live.

    Yet what good did this God given wisdom do him? He walked away from God, and fell into Idolatry and allowed the forgiven women to lead him astray. He was even told by God not to do certain things, yet he clearly disobeyed the Lord. So Even if we receive wisdom from God, does it mean we will use it for good? Rick b

  7. Geoff J says:

    Aaron,

    I’m not sure why you think that passage in Luke helps your case here. It is well documented that Abraham had a revelatory dialog with God. What Abraham did not have was the Bible. Yet Abraham got along just fine without it because God can and does answer prayers directly. So at worst Joseph Smith was following the example of the great prophet Abraham by turning directly to the Source. That is what God wants all of us to do. As I’m sure you are aware, eternal life is to know God (John 17) not just to know about him. Knowing someone requires a lot more than reading about them or about their conversations with other people.

    If this is true, then how is it idolatrous for Sharon to observe that Smith “looked for his answers in the grove, rather than in God’s Word”?

    It’s not idolatrous for her to observe that. (I’m not sure why you even ask that question). But it could be idolatrous to assume that God cannot answer prayers in any other way than through the Bible. That has never been the case and the accounts in the Bible itself make that very clear.

  8. Geoff, again, I think the issue here is that you do not believe the Bible is literally inspired by God, carrying divine authority. If the Bible wasn’t inspired by God, then it would be simply be about him and not of him.

    The issue isn’t whether God can answer prayers in other ways than he normally does. The issue is that when we reject what God has already revealed we are rejecting God himself. Rejecting the scripture’s sufficiency in communicating what it already covers is a one-way road to idolatry and self-justification.

    The Christian prays,

    “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! … I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Deal bountifully with your servant,
    that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law… My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119)

    The idolater prays:

    “Your word has been rendered useless to me… You’ll have to do it another way, God.”

  9. Geoff J says:

    Geoff, again, I think the issue here is that you do not believe the Bible is literally inspired by God, carrying divine authority.

    That is just absurd Aaron. Of course I believe the Bible is literally inspired by God. God himself has revealed that fact to me through his Holy Spirit.

    My issue is that many Evangelicals seem to think these ancient and God-inspired records have some magical power in and of themselves. They don’t — they are mostly old letters and stories and journal entries and whatnot. The power is that they teach truth as revealed by God. The power is really in the fact that God himself bears witness to our souls of that truth and of his word. (If he didn’t do that how would anyone know the Bible was indeed scripture?) So it is that personal revelation that is powerful — not the book itself. But the book itself implies that God can give personal revelation to whoever he wants whenever he wants and I believe that message. That seems to be what we are disagreeing about.

    The issue isn’t whether God can answer prayers in other ways than he normally does.

    How does God “normally” answer prayers in your opinion? (This may be the heart of our disagreement.)

    The issue is that when we reject what God has already revealed we are rejecting God himself.

    I agree. We just disagree about the scope and meaning of what God has already revealed.

  10. Burt T. says:

    My point, which was deleted, is proven by Rick B. using James 3:15 to argue a point. This scripture is not in the same context as James 1:5, but Rick interprets them to be related. This is common, so why criticize how Joseph Smith interprets a scripture?

    Regardless of this argument, are you saying that we cannot pray to God to receive wisdom, but must turn to the Bible for all answers? Maybe Geoff’s comment about worshiping the Bible over God was correct.

  11. rick b says:

    “But I have greater witness than [that] of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. I receive not honour from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.” – John 5:36-42

    [Rick, please quote blocks of scripture like this, using the blockquote tag. It sometimes also helps to quote others using the blockquote tag.]

    Geoff said

    My issue is that many Evangelicals seem to think these ancient and God-inspired records have some magical power in and of themselves. They don’t — they are mostly old letters and stories and journal entries and whatnot. The power is that they teach truth as revealed by God.

    If that is true Geoff, what do you think this is saying, and focus on the verse.

    The Scriptures testify of Jesus. How can that be, if your view is correct Geoff? Rick b

  12. Burt, do you disagree with Rick’s assertion that there are different kinds of wisdom? That the two passages come from different contexts seems to support his point: there are different kinds of wisdom spoken of in different contexts.

    It seems for many Mormons scripture provides an occasion for receiving revelation from God, and that the scripture itself is not to be viewed as revelatory or inherently authoritative. Thus scripture is viewed as a human word about God, while the actual word of God comes through the emotional experience (usually initiated by prayer) either confirming the merely human word, modifying it, or negating it (I’ve talked to Mormons who claim the Spirit told them a passage was incorrect). Hence, the authority of one’s “testimony” trumps any authority in scripture, and any authority of scripture comes from the authority communicated through one’s “testimony”.

    That scripture is “inspired” means it is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). That it is “God-breathed” means it is by and from God. That it is by and from God means that when we go to the scriptures for answers we are going to God–not because the scriptures are God or are simply about God, but because they are “breathed” by God himself through the human authors. Like Christians speak of Christ as 100% human and also 100% divine, we can also, in a parallel, speak of the Bible this way. I question the Mormon commitment to the inspiration of the Bible because such a big functional distinction is made between going to the Bible and going to God himself. In a way, so radically separating “going to God” and “going to the scripture” is like separating “going to the incarnate Jesus” and “going to God”. The parallel works not because scripture is God, but because it is “God-breathed”.

  13. Rob H. says:

    I think a point not made yet is the most important one – Joseph Smith went to the grove to ask whose interpretation of the Bible was correct (in other words, WHICH interpretation of the Bible was correct). Thus he did exactly what you, Aaron, say you suggest to your followers. He did not know which church interpereted it correctly, and as a boy of 14 he did not think he could figure it out on his own. So after reading a scripture saying God would answer sincere prayers for wisdom, he prayed for help. He did not pray to see God or to have other scripture revealed to him. God Himself chose to call Joseph Smith as a prophet and reveal additional scripture.

    You may say what you want about Mormons not believing the Bible to be divine (though it isn’t true), but Joseph Smith himself said in one of our Articles of Faith that “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Thus, as far as men through the ages have not “modified” the scripture according to their whims or misinterpreted it from its ancient language, Joseph Smith proclaimed the Bible’s divinity. What Joseph Smith meant by not being able to settle things by looking at the Bible was this – he was 14 and confused and needed more than just to read to know what was correct – he needed God’s help to see what was right. Once again, it was God who chose to do more than that, not Joseph. And if you are saying God won’t reveal himself to those whom he choses, it is you who is the false prophet. Didn’t Christ reveal himself to Paul, long after his ascent into heaven? And who said he would not reveal himself again? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that. Therefore, you would be adding to the Bible you say cannot be added onto.

  14. rick b says:

    Rob H said

    Joseph Smith went to the grove to ask whose interpretation of the Bible was correct

    Well if that is true, I see a problem. This is what the Bible says,

    Rev 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

    Rev 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.

    Joseph Smith both added and took away from the Book of revelation. God Commanded both Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to “Correct” the Bible, yet LDS RARELY use the “NEW CORRECTED” version, Yes you use some of of the J.S.T. But only those verses you trust. Rick b

  15. Rob, from your reply I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. The scripture itself, sufficiently clear, will yield the correct interpretation. Our prayer to God should be for him to open our hearts to see the scripture’s plain meaning for what it is. The real problem with our ignorance isn’t with the ambiguity of scripture but with the coldness and hardness of our fallen hearts (cf. Ephesians 4:18). Smith ascribed futility, uselessness, and ambiguity to scripture when he should have instead simply ascribed sin to the hearts of men.

    God’s word has given us promises like, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Timothy 2:7) Instead of impatiently seeking extra-Biblical revelation, we should go to his revealed word, all of which is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

    Joseph Smith himself said in one of our Articles of Faith that “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”

    So what? Smith said plenty of things Mormons no longer believe. In any case, the last phrase of that article carries innuendo in Mormon culture and serves as an “escape hatch”.

    If you’ve been paying attention, neighbor, to the above conversation, no one has made the claim that God can’t or won’t make extraordinary revelations of himself. The point is that we should keep consulting the personal word God has already revealed instead of rejecting it as useless for our particular problem and complaining that we need something else. Otherwise we end up receiving an answer (in one way or another) from Satan who disguises himself as an angel of light.

  16. Rob H. says:

    To Rick B.

    We always use the “New Corrected” version. The LDS printing of the King James version of the Bible has footnotes for every correction Joseph Smith made except for portions where there was a great deal of correction, and those portions are given their own section in an appendix (Believe me – every one I have ever owned is that way). In one way we don’t have the full corrected version, in that Joseph Smith said he was not done right before he was killed, and none of the subsequent prophets have been commanded to finish. To me, that means we have what God knows we need right now.

    May I refer you to Deuteronomy Chapter 4 Verse 2 which reads-

    “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”

    Sounds a lot like Revelations, huh? There is no question that plenty more scripture was added after this point in history. So, let it be laid to rest that WE cannot add to what has been revealed, but GOD CAN (and he does through chosen mortal men – like prophets, same as always).

    Also, in Acts 2 it states that in the latter days there will be prophesy, visions, and dreams. In fact, Paul tells us to “covet to prophesy” (1 Cor 14:39). Are the “prophesies” to be what has has already been revealed? Wherein are they prophesies, if they can already be read in the Bible?

  17. Rob H. says:

    Aaron,

    Give an instance of the escape hatch. With a broad statement like that, there must at least one. And let me assure you that ALL FAITHFUL MORMONS believe in the divinity of the Bible. It’s divinty is proclaimed in every General Conference (once again – I have seen every one that has taken place in my lifetime). By their words, even the Book of Mormon should show us the divinity of the Bible. We cannot even enter into our temples without accepting the living prophet and General Authorities of the Church, and they are those that proclaim its divinity. We cannot enter if we do not accept that Joseph Smith was a prophet. And the Article of Faith I mentioned is part of the Pearl of Great Price, on of our Standard Works (Scripture). Please don’t proclaim to me what the teaching of my Church are – let me assure you that I have studied them more than you. And don’t lecture me on the modern thought of Mormons in general – I live with and am friends with them. I study scriptures with them. I discuss the doctrines with them. I know what our faults are and are not, and I say again, any Mormon who is faithful to the accepted teachings or the Church does not disclaim the divinty of the Bible. We only believe that there is more.

    May I also say that one should follow their interpretation of the Bible instead of looking to God for direction and even revelation does not earn my trust. If God’s whole work could be written in one book less than 2000 pages long, though it be divine, why did he not reveal it to the early prophets and have Christ tell the apostles to search the old testament? You seem to think that our believing in something more than the Bible, we take away its divinty. Does our being joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) make Him any less of an heir?

  18. Rob H. says:

    I noticed an error. My sentence should have read –

    May I say that one who says that we should follow their interperetation of the Bible instead of looking to God for direction and even revelation does not earn my trust

  19. If I had a dollar for every time a Mormon quoted “as far as it is translated correctly” in order to avoid dealing with passages like Isaiah 43:10, I could buy a Nintendo Wii on eBay. And an extra remote controller too.

    I take Mormonism’s confession of the Bible as “divine” about as seriously as I do its confession of the Father as “eternal”. Tell me you don’t believe the Father had to become fully God, but always was, and then I’ll take the adjective “eternal” more seriously. Tell me that it’s a sin to ask God whether there are multiple omnipotent beings in existence, and that Joseph Smith got the JST of Romans 4:5 utterly, hopelessly, and tragically wrong, and then I’ll take the Mormon usage of the phrase “divinity of the Bible” more seriously.

    If God’s whole work could be written in one book less than 2000 pages long

    This is silly, no one ever said the comprehensive work of God was written in the Bible (cf. John 21:25). Neighbor, this shows you’re missing the point, or that you’re not paying attention.

    Heartily a believer in what Bible passages Brigham Young condescendingly called “baby stories” (Journal of Discourses, Vol.2, p.6-7, Brigham Young, October 23, 1853),

    Aaron

  20. rick b says:

    Rob H said

    In one way we don’t have the full corrected version, in that Joseph Smith said he was not done right before he was killed, and none of the subsequent prophets have been commanded to finish.

    Rob, Some in Mormonism teach it was finished, others dont. Who do I trust? Is is finished or is it not?

    Dand C 73 says

    3 Now, verily I say unto you my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, saith the Lord, it is expedient to translate again;

    4 And, inasmuch as it is practicable, to preach in the regions round about until conference; and after that it is expedient to continue the work of translation until it be finished.

    Seems the Lord said finish it.

    Then we read in the 1993-94 Church Almanac pg 339 under July 2 The prophet Joseph Smith finished the translation of the Bible

    Then in the 2003 Church Almanac 536 again under July 2, it states JS finished the New Testament.

    But sadly, the Prophet and President Joseph F. Smith feels it was not finished.

    The reason that it has not been published by the Church is due to the fact that this revision was not completed…due to persecution and mobbing this opportunity never came, so that the manuscript was left with only a partial version.

    Then we read in the JST pg 11

    Changes made at some points in the inspired version were not followed consistently…. Some passages were corrected, but the parallel references were not corrected….Mormon authors Sperry and Van Wagoner have pointed out that the Psalms are evidence of the incompleteness of the translation.

    We read in Times and Seasons Vol VI pg 802 that the JST was completed.

    Again, is it finished or not, and who do I trust? Rick b

  21. Ruthie says:

    Sharon had great insight on this use–or should I say misuse–of the Bible. She wrote: “Joseph had the idea that his spiritual questions could not be settled by an appeal to the Bible due to the propensity of men to interpret the text in different (incorrect) ways, but for some reason he believed he could correctly and adequately interpret James 1:5.”

    That reminds me that I need to go on a diet and lose weight to be more healthy. And, since good health also includes good mental health and good emotional health, I’ll a second piece of that double-chocolate cake that’s in my fridge to help me cope with the rough day I’ve had at work! There’s nothing better than being happy and healthy on the inside! . . . Now, why can’t I lose weight when all I eat are carrot sticks all day?

    I wonder how many more times Joseph used the Bible to “prove his point” while at the same time saying that it was an unreliable source?

    Ah, ha! Now I know why Joseph Smith ran for the presidency! He was a born politician at heart.

  22. d allison says:

    The Bible, history’s most published, studied, translated and quoted book, is also its most misused and misinterpreted book. Cults and false religions use it to their own ends and others simply misinterpret it. That this occurs so often leads many to assume the Bible has no clear meaning. This is a false assumption. That any given passage is misunderstood, purposely or otherwise, does not demonstrate that the author of the passage had no clear meaning in mind. Nor does it follow that the readers cannot discern this meaning
    Imagine that someone read you one sentence out of the middle of a large book you had never read before. How likely would it be that you could properly understand the author’s meaning? If it were a novel you would not know who any of the characters were, what had happened to them previously, or what the plot was about. It would be an impossible task, one that we normally would never do. Yet often this is how the Bible is read. Another factor is a passage’s literary context. What I mean by this is that a verse from the Book of Proverbs should be treated as the type of literature it is, wisdom literature. Whereas a passage from Kings should be treated as historical narrative. The Bible is a collection of different books, written over many centuries. It contains various types of literature. Just as we would distinguish a written history of the United States from a technical journal on auto mechanics, we must treat a gospel as a different type of literature than an epistle. Common errors in interpretation result from a failure to do this.A final word needs to be said about context. The Bible is a unity, though written by dozens of authors over many centuries, the Holy Spirit inspired it all. The Bible has an amazingly clear and consistent message. Mormons and many Christian make the mistake of reading into a verse that was never met for the readers to have a personal interpretation.

  23. shelli says:

    Brigham Young said, In the book Discourses of BY pg 194 1925 edition also found in JOD vol 1 pg 237 a person ask’s BY a question.

    I ask you, brother B, how I must believe the Bible, and how shall you and every other follower of the Lord Jesus Christ believe it? BY replies with. “Brother Mormon, how do you believe it?” I believe it just as it is. I do not believe in putting any man’s interpretation upon it, whatever, unless it should be directed by the Lord himself in some way. I do not believe we need interpreters and expounders of the Scriptures, to wrest them from there literal, plain, simple meaning.

    Why do the LDS not follow this view by their Prophet? Brigham Young said he did not need anyone to interpret the Bible for him, because it has a literal, plain, simple meaning. It seems the LDS would not agree. Shelli

  24. rick b says:

    d allison said

    Cults and false religions use it to their own ends and others simply misinterpret it.

    I really do not see why it is so hard to read the Bible and take Jesus at His word. Example, I was talking to a LDS member who was telling me, many “Christian Religions” Do not agree on the Bible. Some teach for example you cannot eat meat, otherwise your in sin. LDS WoW comes to mind, So I said to the LDS member, what does the Bible teach?

    Act 10:10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
    Act 10:11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
    Act 10:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
    Act 10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
    Act 10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
    Act 10:15 And the voice [spake] unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, [that] call not thou common.

    And

    1Timothy 4:3 Forbidding to marry, [and commanding] to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

    Those verses tell us God made the Beasts of the earth clean and we can eat them. Read Matthew 15:16-20, Jesus said, It’s not what goes into Mans mouth (Meat, Drink, Etc) that defiles man, but what comes out of his mouth that defiles him. So these verses are pretty clear, I believe if you misinterpret them, it’s more a matter of you simply dont like what God said, and want to live in bondage and put people in bondage. Rick b

  25. d allison says:

    Prophecy is very much for today and for God’s people. All God’s people can now prophesy and speak of the clear revelation of God as revealed by Jesus, God come in the flesh. Sharing the gospel of God is certainly prophecy, as it is God’s true certain word given to all men. Beyond this type of prophecy, teachers and preachers who expound the scriptures are also prophets to His church in a certain sense as we see in 2Peter 2:1. Mostly when this topic is raised, the core issue regarding prophets and prophecy concerns guidance and seeking God’s will. While I believe that God can choose to raise up a prophet that predicts the future, such as Agabus in the book of Acts, God was very clear that His people were to judge prophets. God’s people were not to seek guidance from those who failed the tests given in Scripture. People who seek guidance from prophets who fail God’s tests are sinning and rejecting God’s authority. For our own protection we are commanded to judge this type of prophet according to the rules that God has laid down for us in Deuteronomy 13 and 18. For our own protection we are commanded not to listen to those who fail these tests. Mormon and Christians need to take a look at there so called PROPHETS with an honest biblical discernment. They are mystics and they are confident that their extra-biblical techniques and extra-biblical experiences are certainly from God and are making more pious than those of us who only have prayer as taught in the Bible and the Word of God to go by. Having discovered the secrets to increased piety and “intimacy with God,” they write books so that others can become similarly “enlightened” and be saved from their “ordinary” Christian lives. Dear readers, they are selling you a bill of goods. They are not infallible apostles or prophets, they do not speak authoritatively for God, their theology is unbiblical, and their practices are not ordained by God. This is not just in Mormonism but in some so called christian churches

  26. Jeff says:

    Yeah, I would like an LDS to answer the question Rick B. proposed.. It seems from the resources he quoted that some auhoritative figures said the JS translation was finished, but others didn’t. Which one was lying?

    Reading stuff on here about “hearing what you want to hear” reminds me of a childish situation my little brother in law seems to do ALL the time.. For instance, he wants to go to movie. His mom says No, you will absolutely not go to a movie… So he waits a little bit and then goes and asks his dad if he can go to a movie. His dad says “yes, you can go to a movie.”…

    It reminds me of Jesus, laying down the law for humankind, then all of a sudden, the LDS church comes along and picks/chooses/alters/removes/adds to the Bible until they hear what they want to hear. And then, just to make sure, they pray, receive a good feeling and claim that as knowledge. Don’t you understand, psychologically, that if you want something to be true, if you want to justify it, and that you pray, your mind (Being powerful) will manifest that feeling of assurance and peace?

  27. rick b says:

    Jeff said

    Don’t you understand, psychologically, that if you want something to be true, if you want to justify it, and that you pray, your mind (Being powerful) will manifest that feeling of assurance and peace?

    The sad part is, if you believe there is no gravity and jump off a 50 story building, your still going to fall hard and fast. or if you feel drinking poison will not hurt you, then you’re likely going to die.

    I would also like answers to my questions, but I honestly do not expect them. And if I receive them, I am guessing they will be on the vague and limited side. Rick b

  28. Geoff J says:

    Jeff: Which one was lying?

    Neither. Some people think it was finished and others think it wasn’t. Big deal.

  29. Andy F says:

    I hate to be critical, but this post seems somewhat ridiculous to me. It seems that you’re implying that Joseph Smith erred in seeking wisdom through prayer.

    You’ve narrowed the scope of applicability of this scripture by saying that James didn’t intend to say pray for wisdom to your spiritual questions, pray for faith to understand your trials. With that logic I say we narrow the scope further, maybe this scripture only applies to the original audience he wrote the letter to, what fools we are to apply this scripture to a different time period or geographical location!

  30. rick b says:

    Geoff said

    Neither. Some people think it was finished and others think it wasn’t. Big deal.

    I was correct, a vague reply. Geoff In reality it is a big deal. D and C 9:1 says

    #
    1 Behold, I say unto you, my son, that because you did not translate according to that which you desired of me, and did commence again to write for my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., even so I would that ye should continue until you have finished this record, which I have entrusted unto him.

    If the LDS Church does not believe or trust God, when he told your prophet to finish the work, then how can we trust the church to know about salvation issues?

    If Joseph did not finish, then God lied. So yes it’s a big deal. D and C 73:3-4 says

    3 Now, verily I say unto you my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, saith the Lord, it is expedient to translate again;

    4 And, inasmuch as it is practicable, to preach in the regions round about until conference; and after that it is expedient to continue the work of translation until it be finished.

    Then on the LDS website, you can read the J.S.T on line, but it is less scripture than the actual hard book. Something to hide by leaving off scripture?

    Then in the J.S.T of Romans we read romans 3:28

    therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.

    Then over in chapter 4 we read

    5 But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    So even the J.S.T Deny’s salvation by works. So was this complete? Or did Joseph smith forget to add Justified With/by works, theirfore it is not finished. So yes it really is a big deal as to is it finished or not. Rick b

  31. Jeff says:

    The big deal isn’t if it was finished or not, the big deal is you have authoritative figures, as Rick pointed out, contradicting each other on one (of many) topics.. You have a president of the church Joseph F. Smith saying no it wasn’t finished, and then you have two church almanac’s, a times an seasons article, and the prophecy in D&C coming from the Lord commanding that Joseph finish it..

    In that respect, you either have a false prophet or a false publication & prophecy. That is very important to me and I believe it should be to an investigator, to see that the publications and the words of prophets match up.. That is the issue with traditional Christianity and the LDS, is that the written word of God (the Bible) doesn’t match up with the doctrine the LDS teach/taught. Of course then an LDS member would just argue that the Bible and the “true church” have been tainted from its conception and that the LDS hold the true gospel that the Bible teaches. On that, I cannot sway or convince you otherwise. You have your beliefs, and I have mine. However, it just strikes me as odd that you seem to overlook the inconsistency’s with written and spoken word within the LDS church.

  32. Andy F, maybe you missed the first comment.

    Instead of praying for an emotional epiphany, I like to encourage people to pray, “Lord, please open the eyes of my heart to clearly see what you have already revealed in scripture and in creation.” Bill McKeever calls asking God about something he has already answered “unfaithful” or “unbelieving” prayer. It calls into question what God has already revealed.

  33. Geoff J says:

    rick b,

    My last response wasn’t in the least bit vague. It was quite direct in fact.

    D and C 9:1 says

    Ummmm… Rick… D&C 9 is talking about the translation of the Book of Mormon. There is no question that that process was completed.

    Now whether the JST was “completed” or not is only disputed in some small circles in the church because some people feel that Joseph would have continued the process had he not been murdered. Regarding that little issue, once again I say — whoop-dee-doo.

    So even the J.S.T Deny’s salvation by works.

    As the school kids would say: “No Duh”. Mormonism has never taught salvation by works alone. Rather, Mormonism has always taught that grace required for salvation even though we will be judged based on our free chosen (and certainly not predestined) thoughts, words, and deeds in this life. That is hardly shocking news.

  34. rick b says:

    Geoff, I never said Mormons teach salvation by works alone, but grace plus works. Christians teach GRACE ALONE. That was what I meant by the J.S.T. Denying works, it was saying GRACE ALONE. Not Grace plus works, or just works. Rick b

  35. Geoff J says:

    Oh I see what your point was now. Well my response to that charge is that I disagree with your rather narrow interpretation of those verses in Romans.

  36. rick b says:

    Geoff, If JS Said, Saved by Grace Alone, then if you disagree with that, how exactly DO YOU interpret that verse? I see the LDS are very quick to say, thats just Your interpretation, yet very slow to give their interpretation. About all I ever see is, your Wrong, never Were correct and this is why. Rick b

  37. Geoff J says:

    If JS Said, Saved by Grace Alone

    Where did Joseph Smith teach that we are “Saved by Grace Alone”? Certainly not in those verses you just quoted from the JST…

  38. rick b says:

    It says as I already posted

    Then in the J.S.T of Romans we read romans 3:28

    therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.

    Then over in chapter 4 we read

    5 But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    NO WORKS, PERIOD. If that is not grace, then what is? Rick b

  39. Geoff J says:

    That is my point rick b. Those verses do not actually say “NO WORKS, PERIOD”. That is just your (too narrow) interpretation of those verses.

    As far as I can tell those verses basically say that adherence to the Law of Moses alone is insufficient for justification.

  40. d allison says:

    Some negative means of man’s justification The scriptures are also very explicit regarding how man is not justified. For instance, the works of the Law of Moses do not save man. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law,” wrote Paul, “but by the faith of Jesus Christ …not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2: 16). What is said relative to the works of the law is true regarding “all works,” as such. There is no work thus performed that can eliminate the need of God’s grace. However, God does require certain “works” (expressions of faith), in order to access his grace (cf. Tit. 2: 11-14). Therefore, man is said to both save and justify himself and also not be able to justify himself (Acts 2: 40; Lk. 10: 29).

    The results of justification are many and wonderful. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ, ” Paul injected (Rom. 5: 1). Guilt and condemnation are adversely overwhelming, but acquittal results in peace that “passeth all understanding” (Phili. 4: 7). As a result of justification, man can be saved from the impending wrath of God, be made an heir of God, and be freed from the guilt of “all things” (Rom. 5: 9; Tit. 3: 7; Acts 13: 39).

  41. Jeff says:

    Lets all just agree that God appreciates when we believe/trust/depend upon his grace, and that we evidence that faith through doing good deeds…

    However, if we are speaking in terms having to get baptized and go through temple rituals and all of that just to be saved and deemed “worthy” to obtain Godhood, that is where a debate can arise between the Christian faith and the Mormon faith. There are plenty of scriptures as interpreted in traditional orthodox Christianity to say that we are not worthy of anything, but that Jesus was sent to give us the ability to live with God. And then on the other side, with added scripture by the LDS, there is plenty to say that we need to do all these ordinances/rituals to earn the highest degree’s of glory. This, boys and girls, we can argue till the end of times.

  42. rick b says:

    The religious leaders asked Jesus what works we must do, this is the question that was asked of Jesus.

    John 6:28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

    John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

    THey asked what WORKS (plural) We MUST DO. Jesus replied with WORK (SINGULAR) We MUST DO, That work is simple, believe on him, How hard is that, Jesus said no other works but beliefe upon him. If you choose to do more, then your under the law and under the curse. Rick b

  43. Bob V says:

    The discussion here seems centered on justifying a set of beliefs which discourages belief in the teachings of the Bible. James’ comments and the underlying Greek are not limited to persecutions, as Sharon writes in her article, nor is it limited to things he may have previously addressed, as Aaron asserts. Wisdom is virtually equivalent to Knowledge, meaning James is telling us that we should ask God for the knowledge for resolution of the issues challenging our lives. Joseph Smith did exactly as James commanded. But unlike the ‘Christians’ responding here, he fully believed God could answer. Putting limits on how God can answer is classic legalism and faithlessness.

    As Joseph explained, it was clear there was no church modeled after the Biblical Church to seek the true teachings of salvation, so he sought God’s direction on which of all the churches he should join. It had not occurred to him they were all false, just that none presented itself as based on the Biblical model. So he asked God.

    You have not because you ask not. Because you ask amiss, without faith but to promote your selfish agendas. If this were not a discussion about your views about Joseph Smith, you would not hesitate to say that God answers the prayers of his children. That is how every commentary describes this verse (See Jamieson, Clark, . The LDS belief concerning this passage is far more Biblical than the isogesis I am reading here. Sharon left off her quote of Calvin just a little too early. Here are his next sentences:

    “When he bids us to ask of the Lord, he intimates, that he alone can heal our diseases and relieve our wants.
    That giveth to all men liberally. By all, he means those who ask; for they who seek no remedy for their wants, deserve to pine away in them. However, this universal declaration, by which every one of us is invited to ask, without exception, is very important; hence no man ought to deprive himself of so great a privilege.”

  44. Mr. Robert B. Vukich,

    By assuming that your extension of the quote contradicts mine or Sharon’s point, you unfortunately indicate that you don’t understand what we are saying.

    When Calvin speaks “ask[ing] of the Lord to illuminate you by his Spirit”, he is referring to his view of illumination where the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds to better see and understand and esteem what God has publicly revealed, particularly in scripture. Praying should never be an excuse to avoid consulting what God has already revealed, nor should it ever be done in an unfaithful manner, assuming that God is a mumbling, ineffective communicator in his written word.

    This problem is exasperated by those today who use Smith’s prayer as a model of testing Mormonism’s fundamental truth claims about the nature of God and salvation, issues that God has already spoken of in ways that contradict what Mormonism promotes.

    All things considered, Christians like us believe Mormons should be praying more. But not in an unbelieving and faithless way that stiff-arms what God has already revealed. Rather, Mormons should be praying that God would open their hearts and minds to see with clarity what God has already beautifully revealed in the Bible about his nature and his gospel. Instead, the “elders” at our door encourage us Christians of the “Great Apostasy” to pray about Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon, using an emotional epiphany as the decisive criteria for truth rather than existing scripture.

  45. Bob V says:

    Aaron,
    As always, your comments are thoughtful, but steeped in extra-Biblical doctrine. I agree Mormons, and all people, should be praying more. I would like you to show me in clear and precise terms those passages from the Bible which identify which of all Churches in the world are true? Is that the Catholic faith? How about the Baptists? Joseph leaned towards the Methodists, where are they identified in scripture? Since you assert Joseph and Mormons generally “stiff arm” revealed truth, where are these or any Church named in the Bible? Should we follow Jim Jones, a good trinitarian, or how about the Jehovah’s witnesses?

    My heart is open to the Spirit. Always has been. I will entertain any conclusive statement you can provide which meets the test of Christian history and Biblical accuracy.

    With all due respect, Aaron, I believe you are reading Calvin’s use of the word “illuminate” both out of context and out of meaning. Calvin proffers that when we lack understanding, we are to pray for illumination, which means “to enlighten intellectually with knowledge” (Webster 1828). It’s not just we can detect truth. He gives us truth (Hebrews 10:26) as in knowledge. Reading Calvin’s comments further in verse 6 makes it clear his understanding is that God delivers knowledge to the faithful seeker, and new revelation at that.

  46. I would like you to show me in clear and precise terms those passages from the Bible which identify which of all Churches in the world are true?

    Approaching this issue with a question of whether a sect’s organizational name is mentioned in the Bible is just silly.

    We should approach this issue in a doctrinal way: What is the nature of God? What is the purpose of life? How do we become right with God? Finding out whether a church is “true” centers around whether this church preaches and teaches scriptural truth which helps people have a personal relationship with Christ.

    Not to be a turd, but I don’t think appealing to an 1828 dictionary is going to help you understand the historic Reformed approach to the doctrine of “illumination”, of which Calvin is a notable proponent. This is a larger issue I’d encourage you to look into.

    Hebrews 10:26 reads, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” This doesn’t specifically touch on the issue of how knowledge is received, so it doesn’t support your point or touch the heart of the issue.

    Now, regarding Calvin’s commentary on James 1:6:

    6. But let him ask in faith. He shews here, first the right way of praying; for as we cannot pray without the word, as it were, leading the way, so we must believe before we pray; for we testify by prayer, that we hope to obtain from God the grace which he has promised. Thus every one who has no faith in the promises, prays dissemblingly. Hence, also, we learn what is true faith; for James, after having bidden us to ask in faith, adds this explanation, nothing wavering, or, doubting nothing. Then faith is that which relies on God’s promises, and makes us sure of obtaining what we ask. It hence follows, that it is connected with confidence and certainty as to God’s love towards us. The verb diakri>nesqai, which he uses, means properly to inquire into both sides of a question, after the manner of pleaders. He would have us then to be so convinced of what God has once promised, as not to admit a doubt whether he shall be heard or not.

    He that wavereth, or doubteth. By this similitude he strikingly expresses how God punishes the unbelief of those who doubt his promises; for, by their own restlessness, they torment themselves inwardly; for there is never any calmness for our souls, except they recumb on the truth of God. He, at length, concludes, that such are unworthy to receive anything from God.

    This is a remarkable passage, fitted to disprove that impious dogma which is counted as an oracle under the whole Papacy, that is, that we ought to pray doubtingly, and with uncertainty as to our success. This principle, then, we hold, that our prayers are not heard by the Lord, except when we have a confidence that we shall obtain. It cannot indeed be otherwise, but that through the infirmity of our flesh we must be tossed by various temptations, which are like engines employed to shake our confidence; so that no one is found who does not vacillate and tremble according to the feeling of his flesh; but temptations of this kind are at length to be overcome by faith. The case is the same as with a tree, which has struck firm roots; it shakes, indeed, through the blowing of the wind, but is not rooted up; on the contrary, it remains firm in its own place. (>>)

    There is simply nothing in there that would indicate that Calvin thought the passage is encouraging us to persevere by receiving extra-biblical special revelation.

    On a related note, I’d encourage anyone to check out this sermon relating the topic of illumination and prayer.

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