By Michael Rabus
For a Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast on this topic that aired on May 23, 2016, click here.
The April 2016 issue of the Ensign magazine featured an article titled “Recognizing Satan’s Counterfeits” by Dennis C. Gaunt in which the Book of Mormon was offered as the foundation of detecting spiritual counterfeits. When approached with a spiritual truth, Mormons reading the article are encouraged to search the pages of the Book of Mormon to “determine what’s true and what’s not.” Throughout the article, the author explains some of the tactics used by Satan, and how the Book of Mormon can help us “gather intelligence” on Satan’s counterfeit methods.
Besides what was said in the May 23rd Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast, there are two more points that Gaunt made that I found to be noteworthy. Let me briefly explain before I provide a more detailed response.
First, Gaunt makes it clear that we are in a war with Satan who wants nothing more than to see us to fail. With the hopeful outcome being our failure, Satan will use an assortment of tactics to “lead us away”—including lies, flattery, and deceit—all of which Gaunt points out. It’s clear that Satan is definitely real and we should avoid any of his influence. As a Bible-believing Christian, I really don’t disagree with Gaunt on any of these points. The problem is that according to the Mormon perspective of the Fall, Adam and Eve apparently made a good decision when being tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. If that was true, doesn’t this mean there is a chance that listening to the tempting voice of Satan might actually be the right thing to do?
In this article, Gaunt seems to suggest that we should never listen to the tempting voice of Satan. If you are a Mormon, you are taught that Adam and Eve did the admirable thing in the Garden of Eden by listening to the voice of the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit, providing a blessing to all people because of their actions. If Satan really wants people to fail, why did he want Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit? Why was it a good idea to listen to serpent in the Garden of Eden?
Second, when Gaunt describes Satan’s tactic of flattery, he includes a clear theological truth of the LDS gospel that I rarely hear from professing Mormons. Here it is: God will not grant everyone eternal life. I want to highlight this fact of Mormon doctrine because this is contrary to what I hear from most Mormons. I am very appreciative when authors in the Ensign magazine bring to light these often confused doctrines in simple terms, like Gaunt did with eternal life.
Point 1: Should we ever listen to Satan?
Gaunt makes it abundantly clear that Satan is using just about any means necessary to steer us away from the truth of the gospel. He says, “Satan seeks to lead us away through his own brand of spiritual counterfeiting, and if we are not careful, we will be fooled.” He also noted that “today we are at war with Satan,” and that we therefore “need to know what the enemy is up to.” To “gather intelligence” on Satan, Gaunt suggests that we look to the counterfeiters in the Book of Mormon. One example of a counterfeit teacher used by Satan that Gaunt emphasizes in the article is Nehor, who used flattery to make a false teaching attractive. Flattery, according to Gaunt, “is the language Satan speaks.”
On the last page of the article, a quote from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf is included under the heading “Satan Spreads Lies” where he says:
Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail. He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naïve, blind, or brainwashed. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets (p. 15).
If it’s such a bad idea to listen to the counterfeit teachers influenced by Satan, and if we need to avoid the appealing and intriguing voice of Satan, I would like to ask Gaunt why it was such a good idea for Adam and Eve to listen to the tempting of Satan through the serpent in the Garden of Eden? Wasn’t it Satan who prodding Adam and Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, thereby breaking a commandment from Heavenly Father? So why was it admirable to listen to the temptation of Satan then and not now?
Bible-believing Christians will not understand why I implied that it was a good idea for Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. You’re probably questioning my biblical and Christian orthodoxy, and you have an excellent reason for doing so. According to the LDS perspective of the Fall, Adam and Eve made the right decision when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Mormon thought, as a result of the Fall, Adam and Eve received bodies and were given the opportunity to prove themselves worthy, because up until that point, they were living in a state of immortality, without a mortal body, which is needed for reproduction.
Here is how the Fall is described in Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie under the heading “Forbidden Fruit”:
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were first created in a state of immortality; there was no death in the world as things were then organized. (2 Ne. 2:22) While in their immortal state they were commanded to multiply and fill the earth with posterity. (Moses 2:28) They were also told that of every tree in the Garden of Eden they might eat excepting only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
For disobedience to this command death (or in other words mortality) was to enter the world. (Moses 3:17) In order to have children it was necessary that they become mortal; and so in accordance with the divine plan they partook of the forbidden fruit, death and mortality entered the world, and the bodies of our first parents were so changed as to permit them to have offspring and thus fulfil the purposes of the Lord in the creation of the earth. (D&C 29:40-44; Moses 5:11; 2 Ne. 2:22-25)
What the real meaning is of the expression forbidden fruit has not been revealed, and it is profitless to speculate. It is sufficient for us to know that Adam and Eve broke the law which would have permitted them to continue as immortal beings, or in other words they complied with the law which enabled them to become mortal beings, and this course of conduct is termed eating the forbidden fruit (p. 289).
From a Mormon perspective, Adam and Eve made the right choice in disobeying a command from Heavenly Father. To the Mormon readers out there, please let me ask you, when is it ever a good idea to disobey a commandment from God? I hope and honestly think you would say never! So, why was it beneficial for Adam and Eve to disobey this commandment and take the advice of the serpent, especially when Gaunt and President Uchtdorf make it clear that Satan is always trying to deceive us?
Look through the following five statements and ask yourself if you agree or disagree with them.
1) Heavenly Father commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 2:16-17; Moses 3:17).
2) Satan wants us to fail and therefore we should not listen to his advice.
3) Satan, through the serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
4) Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.
5) Adam and Eve did the right thing in eating the forbidden fruit.
Would Gaunt or President Uchtdorf agree with these? If you agree with all of them, and I think most Mormons would be theologically inclined to agree with all five, do you see the dilemma? This is what I call the Mormon Dilemma. Do you see that agreeing with statement number five shouldn’t happen if you agree with the first four?
If it was a good thing to listen to Satan in the Garden of Eden, doesn’t this mean that sometimes Satan is actually telling the truth and giving good advice? If you believe the Fall was a beneficial event in the history of humanity, as the LDS Church teaches, you would have to agree that Satan gave some really good advice to Eve when tempting her to eat the forbidden fruit. But why would we ever consider taking advice from Satan?
Here is another way I have presented the Mormon Dilemma in my conversations with Mormons:
First, I ask what were the first two commandments that Heavenly Father gave Adam and Eve? To find the answer, just open your Bible to the first page of Genesis:
Commandment Number One
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth (Genesis 1:28 KJV).
Commandment Number Two
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17 KJV).
It seems rather simple, the first commandment was to be fruitful and multiply. The second commandment was not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Second, I ask if God will always provide a way to obey all the commandments. With this question, all I’m trying to do is draw out a specific verse from the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 3:7. This verse just happens to be the first “scripture mastery passage” from the Book of Mormon that LDS seminary students are encouraged to study and memorize, and it states:
I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3:7).
So, according to the Book of Mormon, God will provide a way to accomplish all commandments. But according to Mormonism, the only way Adam and Eve could accomplish commandment number one was to break commandment number two. Therefore, it looks like God didn’t prepare a way for Adam and Eve to accomplish commandment number two, which seems to prove 1 Nephi 3:7 wrong!
Luckily, there is an easy answer to this dilemma for the Mormon people: don’t believe the teachings of Mormonism or the Book of Mormon. The biblical, Christian orthodox perspective of the Fall is completely different from the Mormon perspective, and in my experience, most Mormons don’t realize this fact. From a biblical perspective, Adam and Eve made a terrible decision in rebelling against the authority of God when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it was because of their decision that the sinful human nature abounds in the world today. It was a terrible idea to listen to Satan in the Garden of Eden, just like it’s a terrible idea to listen to him now, because he is always lying and deceiving.
In all of my conversations with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have never heard a response to this dilemma. Usually I hear, “Oh, Heavenly Father knew that Adam and Eve would make the decision to eat the fruit. It was all part of his plan. He actually out-smarted Satan.” But that doesn’t answer the question of why it was good for them to disobey a commandment, or why it was acceptable for Heavenly Father to offer contradictory commandments. If Heavenly Father issued two contradictory commandments then, doesn’t that mean he could do it again? How would we know which commandments are supposed to be broken in order to obey the right commandment?
A Mormon acquaintance recently encouraged me to read “The Development of the Mormon Concept of Grace” by Blake T. Ostler, which can be found in the Spring 1991 (Volume 24, Number 1) issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In this paper, Ostler provides this defense of the Fall:
In the Book of Mormon, humankind lacked moral freedom before the fall because at that point they did not have alternatives among which to choose. God gave them freedom when he provided to Adam and Eve contrary commandments. The Fall was therefore not regarded as a sin in the Book of Mormon, for one cannot sin unless one possesses knowledge of good and evil, and Adam and Eve did not possess such knowledge until after the Fall. The paradoxical commandments given to Adam and Eve forced a choice upon them. Adam and Eve had been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth, but they could not do that unless they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2 Ne. 2:22). Nevertheless, God had also commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2 Ne. 2:18). God thereby granted Adam and Eve a choice among alternatives—to remain in a state of innocence or to confront opposition that would make spiritual maturity possible, knowing joy because they experienced misery, able to do good because they were able to do evil (2 Ne. 2:23).
He also wrote:
The book of Moses records unambiguously that the Fall was not a calamity, but a happy occurrence in accordance with God’s plan. Adam and Eve rejoice over the opportunities afforded by God’s plan as a result of the Fall…Eve correctly understood God’s plan for their spiritual growth and maturation; she complied by partaking of the fruit forbidden by God. God’s purpose in commanding them not to eat was not to punish them arbitrarily for trivial acts, but to provide them options among genuinely open alternatives as a necessary prerequisite to genuine free agency (p. 67).
First, notice that Ostler agrees that the Fall was not a calamity, but instead a happy occurrence. This would agree with the historic teachings of LDS leaders and LDS scripture, such as the book of Moses and 2 Nephi. Second, Ostler says that God really only gave the second commandment to provide Adam and Eve with a second option, thereby guaranteeing legitimate free agency. I must admit, this is the first time I’ve heard this type of defense, and I don’t find it very convincing for a number of reasons. Mainly, this still doesn’t get God off the hook for issuing contradictory commandments. How are we to understand anything else about God if he might be inserting distracting or fake commandments throughout scripture, just to give us a viable option to ensure free agency? How are we supposed to know the correct commandment between two viable commandments from God?
From a biblical perspective, these two commandments are not contradictory. It was easy for Adam and Eve to fulfill the first commandment because they already had the means to obey it. They were already fully man and woman, capable of reproducing. I hear from a lot of Mormons that Adam and Eve were created in a state of innocence, and therefore had no idea how to perform the sexual acts required for reproduction. But this view doesn’t come from the Bible. In the Bible, Adam and Eve could follow the commandment to multiply while avoiding the forbidden fruit. The problem is that they disobeyed God, succumbed to the temptation to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5), and therefore tried to put themselves in place of God. The New Testament and Old Testament are clear that the result of the Fall was not beneficial to humanity. Since the Book of Mormon doesn’t line up with the teaching of the Bible on this issue, I’m left with no other option than to consider the Book of Mormon a counterfeit of Satan.
For additional information on the Fall, see here
Point 2: God will not grant everyone eternal life.
In my discussions with Mormons, I’ve found there is a lot of confusion with the term “eternal life.” Usually, at some point in the conversation, I will try to ask how confident they are of obtaining eternal life. I will purposefully not ask them their understanding of the term “eternal life” beforehand because I want to see how they answer based on their own personal definition. I want to get their gut-reaction without a definition of terms. Most of the time, I’ve found the response from Mormons is very confident, especially from missionaries.
I will follow-up with a question about their understanding of the term “eternal life.” I have asked the sister missionaries if they thought I was going to earn eternal life, and on numerous occasions they have immediately agreed. I’ll ask if eternal life is the life that Heavenly Father lives? Is eternal life the same thing as living in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom? Do you think you’ll obtain the Celestial Kingdom? Do you think you’ll be just like Heavenly Father?
Once these follow-up questions are asked, it turns out that maybe their confidence in obtaining eternal life isn’t as strong. They initially think they’ll get eternal life. But when I pin down that eternal life in Mormonism is synonymous with living just as Heavenly Father lives, in the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom, they immediately say “I think I’ll make it” or “I hope I’ll make it.” I have never met a Mormon that knows for sure, with 100% confidence, that they are going to receive the best that the LDS faith has to offer. The only Mormons I’ve met are the ones that are trying their best, hoping it will be enough.
First, let me reiterate my appreciation that Gaunt makes it clear that God will not grant everyone eternal life. I found his clarity refreshing, because this isn’t a doctrine that is stated so bluntly in conversation. In the article, Gaunt uses the example of the false-teacher Nehor to make this point, and it’s undeniable and obvious that Nehor taught that everyone will have eternal life (Alma 1:4). Gaut’s last paragraph makes very clear a point I find myself having to tell Mormons often:
Now here is the important difference that tells us Nehor is a spiritual counterfeiter. Salvation from physical death is guaranteed to all, but salvation from spiritual death is conditional on our willing repentance. If we repent, then we can receive eternal life (see Jacob 6:11). But there is no free ride (p. 15).
Immortality is guaranteed to all, but not eternal life. If eternal life isn’t going to be granted to everyone, how do we know that we will be guaranteed eternal life? The answer from the Mormon gospel is exactly what Gaunt said: it depends on repentance. If you repent of all your sins, then you will be guaranteed eternal life. But what needs to be accomplished in the repentance process? Again, according to LDS scriptures, repentance is only complete when a sin has been forsaken, abandoned, or stopped (D&C 58:43; Mosiah 4:10). The problem is that I don’t know a Mormon who has abandoned all their sins, or even one that thinks it’s possible, which is probably why I don’t know anybody that is confident of obtaining the Celestial Kingdom.
Second, the New Testament seems to tell us that we can have confidence in the guarantee of eternal life. Right now, my favorite Bible verse is 1 John 5:13:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
John is telling you that right now, while you are reading this, you can know for sure that you have eternal life. He didn’t say “that ye may know that ye might have eternal life.” He didn’t say “that if ye try hard enough, ye may possibly have eternal life.” He said that you can know for sure! Do you trust what he’s telling you? Don’t you want that full assurance? If you are a Mormon and don’t know with 100% confidence your eternal destiny, it might be that you’ve found a counterfeit gospel of Satan.