Six Reasons I Take a Cautious Approach to Seeming Changes

When some changes to Gospel Principles were publicized, the Mormon response was varied. Some of the more intellectual Mormons with quaint positions (such as a denial of vivaporous spirit birth, denial of the past progression of God from mere mortality unto godhood, and denial of the existence of a female-gendered Heavenly Mother) were undoubtedly happy to see what they thought might be an institutional step to back off of traditional notions and allow for more theological diversity within the rank and file. One Mormon wrote,

“Aaron actually made my day by posting that chapter on Exaltation. I was really hoping for some significant changes. I recently participated in a conversation with a member online comparing our differing understandings of exaltation. I noticed that the Gospel Principles manual made an assertion(s) that was never made by Joseph Smith or by the scriptures, and I pointed out the part that I didn’t agree with. I’m glad to see that part was changed in the revised addition. I think this definitely a good thing!” (>>)

Others disputed that steps were being taken in this direction. shematwater, a Mormon commenter at Mormon Coffee, took a more “milk before meat” kind of position:

I will just say that for one who understands ALL the doctrine of the church, and who has read and studied, and learned concerning the words of the Prophets, nothing has changed from what was written to what is now written.

All that has happened is they have omitted certain items and topics that are difficult for the average person to truly grasp, and thus these topics or more a stumbling block then they are a blessing. This does not make them false, nor does it mean the church is denying them as doctrine. All it means is that they are looking after the spiritual welfare of the members. (>>)

At the end of the day, the Mormon Church is a fog machine, not a lighthouse beacon. The changes to Gospel Principles please all sorts of people in the Mormon Church with contradicting reasons to be pleased. I take a cautious and pessimistic approach to analyzing seeming changes from the Salt Lake institution. I am attempting to be optimistic about God at work, pessimistic about the depravity of unregenerate humanity, and realistic about changes (or lack thereof) that are taking place. Until we see the miracle of repentance, confession, tears, and godly sorrow, I implore anyone with an unchecked optimism to practice discernment and avoid naivety. Expect God to do great salvific things, but don’t be to quick to recognize a change as of repentance when it is done without integrity, clarity, and repentance.

Here are six reasons to be cautious:

1. Historically, when a Mormon teaching has died, it has died silently. Leaders lack the integrity to denounce it, and lack the pastoral love of their people to make clear contrasts between what is being taught and what was taught. The most important blog post I’ve read on this issue was at, called, “How Does Mormon Doctrine Die?”. The best example is that of the lifting of the priesthood ban. The Church lifted the ban, but never from the highest institutional channels explicitly denounced the theology that leaders once used to justify the ban. So the theology largely still continued among the Mormon people, and only started to die off with the effects of deemphasis, silence, and time. Had the Mormon Church denounced the theology once used to justify the ban, and named names, it would have called into question the reliability of the historic succession of its prophets and apostles.

2. Mormonism attempts to keep old doctrines by using new, euphemistic, cryptic language. For example, the Mormon Church replaced the statement in chapter 47, “These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father” with “These spirit children will have eternal increase”. This will function in different ways for different people. For a few, it will draw back from the explicit nature of the potential worship-relationship between our future spirit children. For many others, it will simply continue this notion, yet with a short phrase that isn’t so clear.

3. Mormonism teeters between minimalism and maximalism. As I have argued elsewhere, Mormonism teeters between minimizing what is doctrine to what is explicitly stated in its canon, and maximizing what is doctrine to the modern-day oracles of God who give a stream of continuing revelation. The former is regulatory, the latter is expansive and helps Mormons feel their need for something beyond the canon. The changes to Gospel Principles are useful for those who want to minimize what outsiders can engage, yet maximalism still lives on in strong ways that are irrevocably part of Mormonism until traumatic changes are made to the larger worldview and religious system.

4. Mormonism employs a deceptive “milk before meat” philosophy. As quoted above, shematwater interpreted the changes as a milk before meat stategy:

“All that has happened is they have omitted certain items and topics that are difficult for the average person to truly grasp, and thus these topics or more a stumbling block then they are a blessing.”

In another context a Mormon writes,

“I would be careful bringing [up] this matter with any nonmembers… [H]ow to address this [Lorenzo Snow Couplet theology] with nonmembers[?]. My advice: don’t. This is difficult doctrine. Remember, milk before meat.” (>>)

The popular internet Mormon apologist Jeff Lindsay even writes that such topics can be beyond meat, being a kind of “dessert”:

“I personally feel that the whole of issue of ‘gods’ is an advanced topic that we don’t know a lot about, so I consider it as meat (actually, dessert) that doesn’t need to be served as the first course.” (>>)

Mormon Ian M. Cook writes:

“Fundamentally you are right, we need to stand up and distinguish ourselves from the pack.

“I have an experience though that makes me think twice about it that way. I was about 16 and I had recently learned some of the deeper doctrines of the church etc. Not sure where I heard it, but I happen to be sitting on the school bus talking to a bunch of people about LDS doctrine. I was teaching the plan of salvation. The other kids were really interested. I went so far as to teach the three degrees of glory and then I told them we could become Gods.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later, I was helping this guy build a house and I didn’t realize it but he was a recent convert to the church and the step father of one of the kids that were listening to the conversation. He told me that his step son really liked what I had to say, up until I got to the Gods part. It turned him away from the church.

“I have felt bad about it since then. This kid was the only member of the family that did not join the church. This was based on what I taught.

“Perhaps he would have found this out later and left the church anyway. I can’t help but think that he could have been converted more spiritually and then he could have accepted those teachings.

“Milk before meat as they say.” (>>)

Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson once wrote,

“I myself prefer not to discuss certain things in certain venues. And the fundamental nature of God is one of those things…” (>>)

5. Mormonism prides itself in using non-”creedal”, ambiguous, amorphous theological language that functions at different layers in different contradicting ways for different people. This is related to #2 and #4. Mormonism seems to appreciate the usage of language that does’t yield enough the kind of clarity that causes unwanted problems. One example here is the change in Gospel Principles in the 90’s from becoming Gods to becoming “like” God. For outsiders, this usually brings to mind the notion of becoming morally pure and sinless like God. For insiders, it more often than not denotes the act of becoming equal with God in knowledge and power (if you take the Prattian view) or achieving the level of knowledge and power that God has now (if you have the Brighamite view; cf. the relevant MRM article). It denotes becoming a God worshiped and prayed to by our own spirit-children. Some Mormons are uncomfortable with this and choose not to think about it and even opt for a re-invented Mormon theology that denies the traditional understanding of the Lorenzo Snow couplet. But more often than not the euphemisms like becoming “like God” serve a purpose of obfuscation, not clarification.

Christian ethics, on the other hand, demand maximal clarity, especially when dealing with the fundamental nature of God. Borrowing a quote on Jakob Böhme, John Piper recently tweeted, “Let it not be said of you: His writings are like a picnic to which the author brings the words and the reader the meaning.” (John Piper)

6. When Mormonism makes corrections to its own teachings, it confusingly refers to them as “clarifications”, implying that the same teachings have persisted to now only with elucidated language. In my experience, Mormons have a penchant for describing fundamental, contradictory changes as natural progressions. Moving from Adam-God to post-Talmage theology, for example, has been described to me as God’s plan for moving the church line upon line, precept upon precept. The 1978 revelation to lift the priesthood ban is spoken of as a clarification overriding a mere past “policy” of church. The 1916 formalization of the Elohim/Jehovah naming conventions are spoken of as a clarification of what was Mormon doctrine all along, despite the fact that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had radically different usages of the terms. As Mormon historian Thomas Alexander writes,

“Perhaps the main barrier to understanding the development of Mormon theology is an underlying assumption by most Church members that there is a cumulative unity of doctrine. Mormons seem to believe that particular doctrines develop consistently, that ideas build on each other in hierarchical fashion. As a result, older revelations are interpreted by referring to current doctrinal positions. Thus, most members would suppose that a scripture or statement at any point in time has resulted from such orderly change. While this type of exegesis or interpretation may produce systematic theology, and while it may satisfy those trying to understand and internalize current doctrine, it is bad history, since it leaves an unwarranted impression of continuity and consistency.” (>>)

All these things considered, I am driven to take a cautious approach when discerning the movement of Mormonism. The Mormon Church is an evil, corrupt, dysfunctional organization that lacks integrity, institutional repentance, and a real pastoral love that yields clarity, crisp contrasts, and more practical bottom-up measures of correction and methods to afford checks and balances. For 179 years the Mormon Church has moved its people in a direction with theological momentum. This has affected real people that I love. When people flippantly give the Mormon Church a free pass for all this momentum it has created, I have to wonder if they have the same dwelling Holy Spirit that I do. I am not content to suppose that certain unsavory teachings and beliefs in the Church will simply die out in four or five generations to come. Playing the endless game of quasi-ecumenism over shallow common ground won’t do. Today is the day of salvation, and in accordance with the gospel-call to get on board with the kingdom of God, we are to call persons and institutions to repentance and the fullness of joy in the truth of Jesus Christ.

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164 Responses to Six Reasons I Take a Cautious Approach to Seeming Changes

  1. mobaby says:


    I will answer your questions when you answer mine – how many of the Joseph Smith changes do you see indicated? It would seem that a document over 1600 years old, before some of the corruptions and deletions supposed perpetrated by the Catholic Church, you could find at least some of the changes Joseph Smith insinuated into the scriptures?? How many of Joseph Smith’s revisions can be seen to be accurate???

    The great irony is that the Catholic Church was the preserver of the Bible – God used their dedication to the scriptures to preserve them down through the ages. It’s like accusing the fireman who saved the building from burning down and saving the lives of your children of doing the exact opposite after you murdered your own children, just as Joseph Smith slaughtered the Bible by plagiarizing it in the BOM and inserting himself into the scriptures. Astounding.

  2. setfree says:

    I find it amazing that any Mormon can defend the changes to the Book of Mormon, given the translation method.
    Both Martin Harris (Comprehensive History of the Church 1:29) and David Whitmer (An Address to All Believers in Christ pg 12) said that the words would be on the seerstone until the scribe had written them perfectly, and only then would they disappear from off the stone.
    Does that leave any margin for error? Why 4000 changes to the BofM?

  3. mobaby says:

    Okay Hank, I know you’ll never answer my questions, because there are no answers, so here goes with my thoughts on what you posted. I have a book titled “Fabricating Jesus” that takes a scholarly look at some of the problems that you copied and posted above. I have read some of it, and I do intend to wade through it, so I know of the issues that were in your post – the story of the adulteress caught in sin being absent from the best manuscripts (I think even my Bible notes this) – the absence of the last line of the Lord’s prayer (my church omits this line when we say the Lord’s prayer, which I frankly think is ridiculous as it is not antithetical to the scripture and does not introduce or change any doctrine). The other scripture-like books that are not included in our canon of scripture – there are reasons these books were not included – some of the same reasons why we reject the BOM, they are fabrications for the most part, obvious frauds.

    The differences in the scriptures are minor and inconsequential; the books were not included for reasons. I don’t have all the scholarly reasons, and I have not had the interest to read through the book I have that deals with these objections in a scholarly manner. I guess it laziness on my part, but I really need to read up on these issues so I can give a better defense of the scriptures.

  4. falcon says:

    You might enjoy “A General Intorduction to the Bible” by Geisler and Nix. It addresses four major issues about the Bible:
    Who wrote it (inspiration)?
    Which books belong in it (cannonization)?
    Has it been accurately preserved (transimission)?
    Has it been adequately translated (translation)?
    It’s not a recently written book, but I like it.

  5. Ralph says:


    The 4000 changes to the BoM come about from comparing the published text to the original handwritten manuscript in the church’s possession. It has nothing to do with the translation process but more to do with typesetting errors. That is why most LDS see these as being insignificant. And before anyone says anything, the 1830 edition (ie original edition) was published under extreme time and financial pressures so there was little ability to go through and correct mistakes while before the final print/copies was/were made. The 1830 edition is not the original translation of the BoM, but the original published copy. That is a difference to note because many here want to say that the changes between the 1830 and current editions are just to make things closer to current ideology. Thus you are making/referring to the 1830 edition the original translation. This is not true. The changes that have been made are direct comparisons of the published BoM with the original handwritten translation. This is like with the Bible, it is changed the more we find verifiable manuscripts from earlier origins. This makes it more accurate to its original form.

  6. HankSaint says:


    Sorry about not answering all your question, so lets just stay with the Codex and the Book of Mormon if you want. You mention a Book, but do not give the name of the Author and so I was wondering if you could source that for me. Is the author Craig Evans? I googled the title and it seems he is the one who wrote and authored the title you gave. I would also love to read his book and when I get done with, “Joseph Smith, A Rolling Stone”, I might just take it on. I think my point is more to the facts and evidence that point to the Bible not being inerrant. Who decides the Cannon of Scripture, different Churches including the Catholics all are prone to there own interpreting of scriptures and what constitutes what Books to keep and which ones to throw out. Even some Evangelicals point to the many variants, there is a comment about the number of textual variants among New Testament manuscripts, some have estimated there are about 200,000 of them. I doubt very much there are that many. Maybe the definition is similar to what we find others of accusing the Book of Mormon as in error and needed some thousands of corrections. A textual variant involve spelling, word order, omissions, additions, substitutions and sometime even a rewrite. All of these have over the course of Mormon history been part and parcel to corrections in the BOM. Another problem, shouldn’t the accuser or textual critic at least point out or define the errors they are counting? Fact, if one who truly was concerned about BOM errors, and actually spelled out the thousands they make reference to, how many would be spelling, how many would be punctuation, how many would be sentence structure, etc, etc.

    You state the differences are minor, but if there is a commission, lets say regarding the purpose of Baptism, would not this be considered more that a minor difference. Point being, the biggest debate between Evangelicals and LDS, is over whether Baptism is essential or not.


  7. HankSaint says:

    Continued, please put in the word omission for the word commission. Type-O mistake.

    I’m only pointing out that even the Bible has mistakes, how important they are is strictly up to ones own faith that God is in control, or God allows man his agency, and allows him to make mistakes, even in the Scriptures. My faith and belief allows for human error. Even the great Prophet Moses erred and sinned against God. His punishment was for him not to cross the river Jordan and go into the promised land. Did Joseph makes mistakes, of course he did, and so did the scribes that worked with him. The Original transcripts of some 600 pages was one long sentence, no verses, and many corrections in spelling and punctuation were needed.

    Regards, Richard.

  8. I find it so interesting that so many of you can criticize the Mormons for changing their doctrines so often, and yet at the same time believe in the truth of Christianity, as if that has never changed. Hey, I agree with you, the Mormons change their doctrines more often than Mitt Romney changes his political positions. But your alternative to this is the Christian religion? Really?

    Does anyone know of a blog about Mormonism that ISN’T written by people who believe in a religion that is just as ridiculous in different ways?

  9. setfree says:

    Hank, Ralph,
    Very funny
    There are a few good books, and even a semi-good rundown of changes at FAIR about the changes to the Book of Mormon.
    Many of the changes made were made to change farm-boy language like “we was a-goin” to “we were going” for example. Other changes make severe doctrinal changes: “white” changed to “pure” even though we all know that the whole Lamanite thing was that they were going to get a change of skin color once they repented etc.
    Also, “God” was changed to “son of God” in several places. Type setting? Give me a break.
    And then how about King Benjamin changed to Mosiah. Oops! Musta forgot ole King Benjamin died already. Better fix that!
    Didn’t you know all of the above?

  10. HankSaint says:

    Setfree, anything to say about the following:
    Joseph Smith Translation, did he get it right?

    King James Version John 4:2 — (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,)

    Joseph Smith Translation John 4:3 — Now the Lord knew this, though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples;

    Probably —–
    The Gospels do not say much about Jesus baptizing his followers. The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) are silent about this subject. It is the Gospel of John that mentions what little is said about this issue, and it is inconsistent about the answer.
    It would seem from John 3:22 that he did:
    “After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea, and there he tarried with them, and baptized.”
    This is reiterated in John 3: 25 – 26:
    “Then there arose a question between {some} of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying. And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all (men) come to him. ”
    But John 4: 1 – 3 also states that Jesus did not baptize anyone:
    “When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee. ”
    Scholars disagree on how to interpret this apparent contradiction. The prevalent theory is that Jesus baptized people at one point in his ministry, but ceased to do so after a time. This theory is consistent with the Jewish expectation that the Messiah would indeed baptize people, which the Gospel of John mentions in 1:25:
    “And they (the Pharisees) asked him (John), and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?”
    It is probable then, to conclude that Jesus did baptize people at some point in his ministry.
    It isn’t recorded if Jesus baptized anyon

  11. setfree says:

    Thanks for posting the reference. Did you miss the second part of it — “No He did not”? I agree with that. And this is partly why:
    Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16

    So, yes, I care to say something about that JST reference. Joseph Smith tried very hard to make sense of the Bible, in my opinion. This is why he quoted Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, and then went on to explain it to his (Nephi’s) brothers. This is why, in his “Moroni” visitation, Moroni explained parts of the Bible differently. This is why he made up two different versions of Genesis and made the Pearl of Great Price. Joseph Smith was, in the beginning, struggling to understand the Bible.

    Of course, his looking for treasures and their “guardian spirits” among other things finally led him to abandon the Bible all together. But not before he made a lot of creative attempts to fix what he didn’t understand, and of course, write himself into the most beloved book in human history.

  12. mobaby says:


    Yes, Fabricating Jesus is by Craig Evans. I heard a discussion on these topics on a radio program available on the internet called “The Whitehorse Inn” and it piqued my interest in his book. I think you may find their discussions interesting (on this topic and many others):

    On baptism, the obvious answer to me is that Jesus ministry baptized, but not Jesus Himself. The disciples baptized. So when it is said Jesus baptized, it refers to His ministry, under His authority, but the actual baptisms were performed by the disciples.

    I realized reading the BOM that Joseph Smith was trying to settle religious controversies of his day when I read about Jesus appearing in the Americas, with Jesus words lifted from the Bible, however, there was an addition describing precisely that baptism included immersion. I thought, a-ha, this was added by Joseph Smith in order to give authority to a particular form of baptism. Very transparent. I think the “clarifications” that flow from what Joseph Smith wrote follow the same pattern of a writer trying to solve perceived problems or address current theological issues by putting their thoughts in the authoritative voice of Jesus or scripture. This is precisely the same technique employed by those who wrote scripture-like books, they wanted to give authority to what they had to say, so they added to Esther, or invented another New Testament “gospel.”

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  14. Bonnie says:

    I don't think just Mormons are wrong about religius truth, I think all religions are wrong.

    There is not one shred of evidence to prove the existence of god. For me the only truth is science.

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