Eric and I had an interesting conversation on Sunday, October 7th, over Skype with a Mormon named Jason who lives in Utah. He runs a web site dedicated to Joseph Smith and is a committed Mormon. We talked among other things about the nature of God, eternal progression, and marriage. Our discussion on marriage brought out something I thought was worth sharing. We spoke to Jason about the views of Paul and Jesus on marriage, specifically on it being better, if possible, to remain single than to get married (cf. 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19:9-12). Eric asked Jason what he thought of Paul’s teaching and how he thought these passages might fit into the Mormon worldview (which not only values marriage but also centralizes it to the point of being mandatory for all who can enter into it). Jason was apparently unprepared for this question, especially over Paul’s admonition to remain single for the sake of single-minded devotion to God. It’s quite OK that Jason hadn’t considered 1 Corinthians 7. We weren’t simply trying to score “aha, gotchya!” points. We were trying to talk reasonably about the implications of scripture, hoping that the Holy Spirit would make an impact through it.
Jason’s response is worth sharing. After some thought he literally said, “Well, down with Paul, and up with Joseph!” Jason went on to say that he would take the “modern-day revelations” of the restoration “any day” over the letters of a “guy dead for two thousand years.” Jason then went on to suggest that 1 Corinthians could in fact be pseudepigrapha, which is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “spurious writings, especially writings falsely attributed to biblical characters or times.” In other words, he suggested that 1 Corinthians might be falsely attributed to Paul and really written by an impostor. What surprised me wasn’t the substance of the response but the forthright, raw, and blunt manner with which he expressed it.
Technically speaking, evangelical Christians agree that the Bible as we have it today is God’s word “as far as it is translated correctly,” but the problem is that this phrase is loaded in Mormonism with extra meaning. Lay Mormons identify the phrase as associated with the idea that crucial books originally destined for New Testament canon were taken out and are now missing, that the original content of the New Testament was significantly and even fatally corrupted almost from the beginning, that the text wasn’t reliably-preserved over the past two milleniums, and that today’s translations are overly dependent on prior translations, even resulting in the classic end-mess of a “telephone game.” Appealing to the supposed unreliability of the Bible often functions as a defense mechanism for Mormons.
It’s not uncommon for me to hear Mormons contrast “modern day revelation” with the writings of “dead men” in the Bible. As Eztra Taft Benson taught, “The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.” (>>) This frequently affirms for me something I have long claimed as prevalent in Mormonism. Mormons seem to have a very low view of the inspiration of scripture. That it was written by men who are now “dead” is used in a way that betrays a lack of belief in the dual-authorship of scripture. I believe that the Bible was and is inspired by God, communicating the voice and mind and authority of God himself, what God is saying and telling. Mormons tends to write off the Bible at convenient places, appealing to its human authorship as though that settled the matter. If a portion of scripture wasn’t ultimately authored by God himself, then it doesn’t have the binding authority and seriousness that it might otherwise have. For Jason, the best recourse for dealing with 1 Corinthians which seemed to contradict “modern-day revelation” was to question the integrity of 1 Corinthians.
Any evangelical who frequently witnesses to Mormons (both friends and strangers) will affirm that this kind of thought process is common among Mormons. It’s less than desirable that I would simply have to make this general claim from collective experiences of evangelicals who interact with Mormons. I would rather point to clear examples of the thinking in church-published curriculum. But apologists usually polish it up and Mormon leadership would never speak this kind of thinking with bluntness. But it’s deeply embedded throughout Mormonism, and I can testify to that on account of numerous interactions. Beyond the passing verbal tributes of LDS leaders to how much they “love” the Bible and find it “precious” and “the word of God,” Mormonism cultivates a very low view of it. It is essentially treated as dispensable whenever it is perceived to contradict what “modern-day revelation” has provided. Officially, Mormonism says that the Bible doesn’t contradict Mormon doctrine. Unofficially, the notion is cultivated that even if Mormonism does contradict what the Bible teaches, that’s quite OK since we can’t trust the Bible anyway like we can trust the products of the Mormon restoration.
Receiving Paul’s letters as the word of God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13),