FARMS’ Critique of “Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend” (LeIsle Jacobson)
Over the years, many Christians have written Mormonism Research Ministry requesting a list of questions they might ask their LDS friends and loved ones that would hopefully get them to start seriously considering the unbiblical and illogical aspects of the Mormon faith. Though we have long held the position that there is no single question that seems to accomplish this, we have found in our many years of dialogue with Mormons that there are some questions which seem to get them to stop and think. Because of the many requests that we had received, we felt a book which listed some of these questions might be beneficial. In June, 1994, Bethany House Publishers published our Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend. As we state in the introduction, our purpose in writing this book was to accept the challenge offered by LDS Apostle Orson Pratt who said, “… convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the word of God, and we will be ever be grateful for the information.”
We made it clear that, for some Latter-day Saints, no amount of reasonable evidence will ever be acceptable. In light of these cases, it becomes necessary to “agree to disagree.” We emphasized that the Mormon should never be looked upon as some sort of “enemy” and that a Christ-like spirit must always be emulated when pursuing a discussion with those of the LDS faith. If we are to hope to win the Mormon to our way of thinking, we need to also show them that we are speaking as individuals who are genuinely concerned for them as people.
Shortly after our book was published, we received a letter from a Mormon who has been critical of us in the past. Dr. Daniel Peterson, a professor at LDS-owned Brigham Young University and the review editor of a journal produced by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (hereafter FARMS), inquired about our book and suggested that it might be reviewed in an upcoming edition of his journal called the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon (hereafter RBBM). We wondered why those who wrote for a journal that supposedly reviews books written on the Book of Mormon would bother reviewing our book since we have only one chapter that deals specifically with Mormonism’s sacred scripture. We have since learned that the FARMS’ Review of Books on the Book of Mormon has been expanded to include any book which deals with Mormonism. It is now entitled FARMS’ Review of Books.
When we first picked up the review on our book, we were interested to find out that neither Peterson nor any of his FARMS’ associates with doctorate degrees wrote the review. Instead, a woman by the name of LeIsle Jacobson was chosen to critique our work in print. Jacobson received her BS degree in pre-professional nutrition at BYU. According to her biography listed at the back of the volume, Jacobson is “currently a homemaker and serves as an online service consultant.” While we do not want to insult Ms. Jacobson’s accomplishments, we are wondering why someone who has no priesthood authority (as females do not have this office in the LDS Church) with no apparent theological background was chosen to write the review. While her lack of formal training would not be an issue with us, it has been an issue with FARMS’ writers who have often belittled critics of Mormonism who do not have the proper letters after their names, regardless of the scholarship they may present. At any rate, we feel Ms. Jacobson’s 15-page piece deserves a response.
Our review will cover each of Jacobson’s points. By no means is this review meant to be the final word on any of the subjects Jacobson raises, but we tried to be as complete as possible. The subheadings are hers, not ours, and the page numbers are listed in case the reader would like to reference her work for accuracy and context.
Nonoffensive? (Pp. 155-160)
In our book, we attempt to show the reader how to ask LDS friends and acquaintances questions about their faith that we have used with reasonable success in our ministry. These questions are designed to show how Mormonism falls short in light of the Bible and history. After all, many Mormons have never thoughtfully and systematically worked through the reasons behind their faith. It was in our preface where we attempted to give the Christian some hints on how to become a better witness. After quoting some of these references, Jacobson writes:
Since most of the arguments and accusations presented in Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend have, in the past, proven to be at least mildly offensive to the majority of Latter-day Saint members, it is hard to understand why the authors believed these same arguments would fail to offend this time around. In addition, the authors ignore much of the good advice that they gave to their readers and thus produce the same negative confrontations that they tell their readers to avoid. (pg. 156)
First of all, it needs to be pointed out that we have encountered many Mormons who perceive themselves as being “persecuted” for any attempt to question their beliefs, no matter how civil the question may be presented. We are well aware that this “persecution complex” is unfortunately a character trait of many Latter-day Saints. Still, we never said none would be offended; we merely state that the way in which we phrase the questions may be less offensive to the Latter-day Saint, thus allowing the Christian to engage in a meaningful dialogue. Jacobson charges that we break our own advice, which she summarizes from pages 10 and 11 of our book:
- “Avoid telling Mormons what they believe. Instead, ask them what their position is on a certain issue.”
- “Make sure to define your terms … Mormonism has adopted Christian terminology while substituting its private definitions.”
Under the first area of “good advice,” Jacobson attempts to show “What Mormons say” as compared to “What McKeever and Johnson tell the Mormons what they really believe.” In her set-up, Jacobson says that non-LDS like us cannot know what Mormons believe unless we directly quote LDS leaders or writers. When we attempt to clarify in our own words what Mormonism “teaches” (notice, we are not saying this is what every Mormon “believes”), Jacobson claims that we have no authority because we are not Mormon and therefore should not “tell the Mormons (what) they really believe.” What Jacobson has done is set up the classic smokescreen.
We need to point out that Jacobson would have to admit that not every person who claims to be a Mormon believes in the same things. Yet this is the impression Jacobson seems to give. If we quoted Ogden Kraut, D. Michael Quinn, or Richard Hopkins–all of whom consider themselves to be as “Mormon” as any other Latter-day Saint–should we assume that what they say is true Mormon thought? What if they disagree? Or what if our neighbor is “Mormon” but tells us something that contradicts the leadership in Salt Lake City? Should we believe the neighbor or the LDS prophet?
Unfortunately, Jacobson does not explain how we can tell which Saints can be believed and those who can’t be trusted. Jacobson and others who claim that we should only listen to those Mormons who don’t contradict Mormonism need to realize that this is why we try to be concerned with “what Mormonism teaches” rather than with “what Mormons merely believe.” In our writings we attempt to quote those Mormons who are either considered LDS general authorities or who speak in harmony with what official LDS doctrine teaches.
By using this argumentation, Jacobson makes a fatal error by attempting to give an impression
that, since we are not LDS, we do not have the authority to summarize what Mormonism teaches. Jacobson’s argument breaks down quickly. If her line of reasoning is correct, then how is it possible for any Mormon to attack such important Christian doctrines as grace and the Trinity? Mormons are not evangelical Christians, yet this hasn’t stopped such Mormons as Joseph Smith, George Q. Cannon, Bruce McConkie, Richard Hopkins, or the many Mormons to whom we witness to in the streets of Manti or on the phone, from chastising Christians and their beliefs. To say you have to be a Mormon to understand Mormonism is akin to saying that only politicians can understand politics or only auto mechanics are able to comprehend the inner workings of cars.
While we may not see eye-to-eye on important doctrines, many Mormons and Christians speak the same language–English–and, when the terms are fully defined, this is how we can compare our faiths and understand that the two are incompatible. This is why studying the Bible and the history of Christianity are essential as we dialogue in a civil manner.
Regarding the second piece of good advice (defining terms), Jacobson criticizes the Mormon/Christian dictionary that we produced at the end of our book. So, with words like “testimony,” “prophet,” “scripture,” “Christian,” “omnipotent,” etc., she wonders how is it possible for two non-Mormons such as ourselves to give LDS definitions. According to Jacobson’s logic, since she is a Mormon, and since these are not the exact words that SHE would have used for the definition, our LDS definitions are flawed. She never concedes that perhaps it is her definitions that may be flawed. She never backs her definitions with authoritative references.
While we attempted to be as complete as possible in such a concise 44-page dictionary (with close to 200 definitions), we obviously had to be short and to the point. We summed up whole doctrines in a paragraph or less, something that we discovered is an extraordinarily tough thing to do. However, the reader will notice that in many cases we defined the word by using a direct quote from official LDS sources.
We’d like to take a closer look at where she felt we “failed to recognize the definitions which Mormons give to many words.”
Jacobson claims that we failed to point out how Mormons believe a “burning in the bosom” is an indication “of a confirmation given by the Holy Spirit” (pg. 158). She criticizes us because we emphasized the good feelings of assurance that a Mormon receives upon praying and accepting the Book of Mormon as words from God. Perhaps we should have been clearer in this example, but we still feel that this idea of God being involved in the Moroni 10:4-5 prayer process was more than just inferred in our writing. Interestingly enough, LDS authorities such as John A. Widtsoe and George Q. Cannon were quoted in chapter 6, and they did not mention any “confirmation of the Holy Spirit” in the context of their quotes either; they too insinuate the belief that the answer is confirmed by the Holy Spirit through good feelings. Despite condemning our definition, Jacobson herself talks about the Spirit being manifest via prayer through “feelings of peace and joy” two pages later (pg. 161). So apparently our definition must not have been far off the mark!
Jacobson believes that we
make much of the fact that the Latter-day Saint prophets are men who are subject to infirmities of age and error of judgment—therefore, in the view of the authors, trusting the words of these men is the same as trusting in mortal men (pg. 158).
Since Mormons believe that prophets can be imperfect and still lead the church, we are told that we “fail to recognize that such arguments have no meaning to a member” of the LDS Church. She fails to account for the fact that Mormons are told that “God will not allow the prophets of the LDS Church to lead the church astray.” Certainly such an idea lulls many Mormons into a false sense of security. How can Mormons be sure what they are being told is absolute truth?
Our question in chapter seven–“Is it wise to place blind trust in mere mortal men?”–is an important one, and it is this type of question that has caused many thinking Mormons, including Steve Benson, the grandson of 13th President Ezra Taft Benson, to leave the LDS Church. If the prophet could possibly lead the church astray, would Jacobson and others be as willing to follow such a leader? Most Mormons would have us believe that we live in an age where the “latter-day” prophet should be more accepted at face value by God’s people than the prophets of olden times. (See Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:20-22.)
Also, notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15ff, John’s command in 1 John 4:1, Peter’s admonition in 2 Peter 2:1-3, Jude’s warning in Jude 3, and Paul’s wisdom in 2 Corinthians 11:4 and Galatians 1:8-10. The idea that the current “prophet” can “be imperfect and yet still be tools in the hands of God” is too dangerous of a mind set for any rational person. A standard criteria must be used when it comes to judging the actions and/or words of such leaders. There comes a time when all mortal men must decide whether or not to trust another mortal. The point is, how is the judgment to be made? Christians have historically tested the words of men by what God has already revealed in the Bible, not by a feeling they may have. As we pointed out in chapter three of our book, four of the past 15 Mormon prophets have made it clear that not even the standard works are a good criteria for truth since the prophet can contradict them whenever he “feels” it is appropriate.
The authors, on several occasions, address the question of which is best: scripture, or the words from living prophets? (p. 77) Since, by Latter-day Saint definition, scriptures are the written words of God as given through the prophets it is illogical to try to put one above the other (pg. 158).
Jacobson really does not answer the question, except perhaps to prove our point. Jacobson assumes her leaders are true prophets, ergo, what they say is scripture. The point we were trying to make in the section she criticizes is that there seems to be no criteria for testing the words of the LDS leaders other than circular reasoning. “Our prophet said it, therefore, it must be scripture.” All too often faithful Latter-day Saints are instructed to follow the words of their living leader while, on many occasions, their decrees have contradicted their leaders of the past. We would think that common sense would show that it is dangerous to attribute conflicting messages to the same God.
Referring to our chapter entitled “If Mormon Families Will Be Together Forever, Where Will the In-Laws Live?” Jacobson writes:
Mormons don’t define “together” as “all in the same place”–rather, the belief that families can be together throughout eternity is a belief that family ties will continue to exist after death, in much the same way that family ties continue to exist even when children grow up and leave home (pg. 159).
While Jacobson is entitled to her own opinion as to what “families are forever” means, we know that many Mormons with whom we have talked believe that they literally will be together with their families forever. They are taking the words of the English language quite literally. It doesn’t seem that the LDS Church minds this assumption since it has produced certain commercials and short films to show happy families who will be together in states of everlasting joy. This image is certainly given at the end of the annual summer Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah. If this idea of families literally being together for eternity is not true, then it would seem honest for the LDS Church to not give this impression through its media and plays. Meanwhile, consider some of the following quotes with bold print being our added emphasis:< /p>
[Speaking of going into the celestial kingdom] We will then comprehend all we know before we came here. We will comprehend everything we learned when we dwelt in the flesh; and we will be clothed upon with the spirit and power of God in its fulness, and the kingdoms and power and glory eternal will be given unto us. We shall have the gift of eternal and endless increase. Our families will be with us, and the beginning of our dominion, and upon that basis we shall build forever. Our wives and our children will be ours for all eternity … (Charles W. Penrose, November 16, 1884, Journal of Discourses 26:30).
When all the family are united together, they enjoy a heavenly spirit here on the earth. This is how it should be; for when a man in this Church takes unto himself a wife he expects to remain with her through all time and eternity. In the morning of the first resurrection he expects to remain with her through all time and eternity. In the morning of the first resurrection he expects to have that wife and his children with him in a family organization, to remain in that condition forever and forever … I have felt if, when I get through this world, where I have passed through many tribulations and afflictions with my wives and children, I can only have them with me in the next world, in their immortal bodies, to stand with me in the presence of God and of the Savior, and of the patriarchs and prophets … (Wilford Woodruff, May 19, 1889, Collected Discourses volume 1).
We believe in the glorious millennial reign, in a literal resurrection of the dead, in the reunion of families in heaven, of the sanctification of this earth to be the abiding place forever of the sanctified God. (Charles A. Callis, Conference Report, October 1919, pg. 191).
Well, that assurance came with the restored gospel of Christ and the authority of the Holy Priesthood, under whose power men and women were no more united in marriage until “death doth them part,” but they were sealed together with bonds that persist in holy matrimony for time and for all eternity, and into the marriage covenant so established came their children to belong to them forever and forever. What a satisfaction to the true lover of home and family! What a consolation in times of sad earthly partings! What a hope and faith to live for! (Stephen L. Richards, Conference Report, April 1954, pp. 33-34)
The celestial kingdom is where the most happy endings are. That is where the greatest rewards will be found. In the highest degrees of the celestial glory families will be bound forever in great joy. (Sterling W. Sill, BYU Speeches, Jan. 20, 1960, pg. 12)
If English has any meaning, and if the above LDS speakers are correct, then our chapter does have meaning. However, if Jacobson wants to believe that this doctrine refers to existence in separation of other family members, she is entitled to her opinion. But how does she know that “Mormons don’t define `together’ as `all in the same place'”? Is she the spokeswoman for all Mormons? And, if she is correct, she has failed to back up her interpretation of this key LDS doctrine with Scripture or any other LDS resource.
Furthermore, if Mormonism is true and each Mormon male gets his own planet, we can easily assume that, if this solar system is a model of that in the next life, the closest relative can be no closer than millions of miles away. It would seem that spending eternity in the terrestrial kingdom would allow you to be closer to your loved ones than the celestial kingdom. Some have argued that time and distance is no object for the “man-turned-God.” Still, this does not answer the question about who is running the planet if its God has left to visit a family member on some other earth.
The authors define omnipotence as meaning “to have more power than any other” and proceed to present an argument against the doctrine of deification that is based on this definition, i.e., there can’t be more than one God because the definition of omnipotent rules out the possibility of anyone but God being omnipotent (p. 121). But the author’s definition is by no means the only, or even the most widely accepted, definition of omnipotent, and their logic fails when they are speaking to someone who does not accept their definition. Omnipotent may also be defined as having “unlimited power” (Webster s Dictionary, 1977, p. 223), a definition which would allow more than one being to share the characteristic of “omnipotence.” (pg. 159).
Jacobson attempts to do a linguistic somersault in an effort to make her definition of God fit the definition of “omnipotent.” The word “omni” means “all” and “potent” means “powerful.” If two or more beings had the ability to have “all” power, the different powers would cancel each other out and therefore render the word meaningless. When the Bible refers to God’s omnipotence, it does so indicating that no other “god” or person can attain this status. The corruption of Mormonism is saying that we as humans have the potential to eventually claim the same attributes as God. We ask, “Where in the Bible or, for that matter, the Book of Mormon does it support the idea that any individual shall share in God’s “mighty” power? We know of not one reference, and Jacobson fails to give any to back herself up.
Jacobson argues that omnipotent also means “unlimited in power,” but she fails to recognize that this definition doesn’t even describe her God since the God of Mormonism is not able to create ex nihilo (or “out of nothing”). The God of Mormonism only has the ability to organize matter; he cannot create it.
The Bible is clear that man and God are completely different, and man does not have godhood potential. Let’s just take a quick look at several scriptures which deny this idea:
I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images. (Isaiah 42:8)
Who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I the Lord? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:21-22)
The definition of God as defined by Mormonism and Christianity differs when Revelation 19:1, 6 are considered:
And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God … And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Christianity teaches that God alone controls salvation, God alone gets glory, God alone receives honor, and God alone has power. In Mormonism, men can become gods, so therefore exalted men may one day receive all of these attributes and become “omnipotent. This is an impossible achievement because God alone is “God omnipotent.”
Infinite vs. Finite
Jacobson points out that Mormons believe intelligence is eternal, so our argument that no finite being can be omniscient is irrelevant. We ask, Do Jacobson and other Latter-day Saints believe they have infinite knowledge right now? Is this knowledge merely being suppressed? If not, then gaining “infinite” knowledge is a contradiction since “infinite” means without beginning or end. So our question remains: How can a finite person who does not currently possess all knowledge achieve this omniscient status? As we have shown, this is a logical impossibility.
Reason and Logic
Do we say we are different or do we say we are the same?
Twice Jacobson makes
references to our first chapter which was entitled “If I accept you as a Christian, will you accept me as a Mormon?” She writes:
To a Latter-day Saint member this question makes about as much sense as an alley cat asking a pampered Persian, “If I call you a cat, will you call me a housecat?” According to Latter-day Saint definition, the Mormons, the Methodists, the Catholics, the Baptists, the Anglicans, etc., are all subgroups within the greater category of “Christian” religions … The authors also state that it is possible for individuals to convert to the Latter-day Saint Church with the misunderstanding that it is “just” another Christian denomination … However, in conflict to their earlier position, the authors say that “Mormon leaders since Joseph Smith’s day have continually emphasized the differences, not the similarities, between Mormonism and Christianity.” (pp. 159, 160)
Obviously Jacobson must have not understood our chapter since it clearly showed how LDS leaders have historically distanced themselves from an alliance with “other” churches. As we pointed out, there has been a move in Mormonism toward Christian ecumenicalism during the past two decades. Instead of distancing themselves from the word “Christian,” we have seen many Mormons insist that they are “Christian” too. Our chapter showed that, despite the fancy language, Mormonism distorts or denies every major tenet of the historic Christian faith. Just as Mormons would be puzzled if we as Christians claimed to be Mormon, so it is for us when Mormons claim to be “Christian.” When more-than-superficial definitions to theological doctrines are given, it can be clearly seen that the two faiths teach two opposing doctrines. Mormons do not represent the teachings of Christianity any more than Christians represent the teachings of Mormonism.
Does the Holy Ghost play a part in bringing souls to Christ?
If it is the place of the Holy Spirit to convict hearts and bring souls to Christ, how does the Holy Spirit manifest his influence? The authors condemn the idea that the Spirit can be manifest through feelings of peace and joy, yet offer no alternative way by which the Spirit might manifest itself (sic) to man. (pg. 161)
It should be pointed out that we did not knock the idea of good feelings, and we made a point in our book to show this. (See the examples of Paul and John Wesley on pages 69 and 70.) So, despite Jacobson’s assertion that “the authors condemn the idea that the Spirit can be manifest through feelings of peace and joy,” we believe the Spirit brings “joy” as well as love, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Galatians 5:22-23.) However, we showed how a faith that relied on feelings and ignored the facts is a dangerous precedent. Jacobson once again failed to deal with the real issue of our chapter.
Trusting Mortal Men?
Jacobson makes her review’s most unusual argument when she refers to chapter seven, which is entitled “Is it wise to place blind trust in mere mortal men?” Since we
condemn the members of the Latter-day Saints for putting their trust in the words of living prophets because the Latter-day Saint prophets are “mere mortal men” (pg. 161),
she wonders how it is possible for us to quote Christian scholars such Dr. F.F. Bruce with a clear conscience. Apparently Jacobson would like us to accept the LDS prophet by blind faith despite the fact that this prophet may not have any other qualifications except the ability to have survived long enough in the LDS general authority structure. We would like to point out that quoting research done by certain experts in a field of study is a commonly accepted scholarly tool used to support one’s points. We do not pretend to be experts in every field of study such as textual criticism. Since Bruce is an expert in this arena, we will utilize such a valuable resource to show that our research is more than just our opinion. Jacobson’s response to our use of academic information to support our arguments fails to deal with the real issue of whether or not mortal prophets should be trusted on faith alone.
Is it wrong to quote pagans?
Because we criticized Milton R. Hunter for referring to pagan beliefs to support the deification of man, Jacobson points to Paul’s quote in Acts 17:28. As we wrote on page 116, the poem that Paul refers to was written by the Greek poet Aratus and
speaks of mortal men as the offspring of Zeus who depend on his goodness for their livelihood. Aratus describes Zeus as one who takes care of mankind just as the father takes care of his literal offspring. Paul uses this illustration to introduce the true and living God of the Bible….Paul is doing nothing more than referring to a world view held by his audience and using some of those concepts as a preface to sharing the gospel.
Hunter, however, quotes the teachings of pagans; because they are similar to what Lorenzo Snow and Joseph Smith taught, he assumes that the idea of deification is true. We contend that doctrinal similarities from a pagan world view do not determine God’s truth. Ultimate truth must be consistent with the Bible. Hunter and other Mormons who feel that men can becomes gods do not meet this criteria.
Can true Christians have personal opinions?
The problem with much of Jacobson’s review is that she tries to sum up her criticism of complex issues by writing only one paragraph. She runs into this error in the section on personal opinion. She does not develop this section at all, so her point fails.
Is it in the scriptures?
McKeever and Johnson find fault with the fact that many Latter-day Saint beliefs and ordinances are not drawn word for word from the scriptures (pp. 34-37). Yet the definition of the Trinity given by the authors (p. 183) is not found in the Bible; rather (as the authors point out), it is a derivative of the Athanasian Creed which was composed centuries after the death of Christ (pg. 162).
We never said the Trinity was a “derivative of the Athanasian Creed.” We quoted the Athanasian Creed as part of our one-paragraph glossary definition, but never did we say the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Bible. While the word did not come about until later, the doctrine of the Trinity predates the very beginning of Christianity. Those who wrote the later Fourth Century Creeds made concise definitions for the benefit of all Christians. This fact can be proved through the Bible as well as history.
Are prophets scientists?
McKeever and Johnson seem to think that statements made by Church leaders which are not accurate according to modern scientific views indicate that these leaders can’t be trusted to provide information regarding the will of God (p. 35). Yet they do not judge so harshly the writings of the Bible that include such statements as ‘All fowls that creep, going on all four…’ (Leviticus 11:20, KJV) and ‘he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajilon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed…’ (Joshua 10:12-13, KJV).”
We wish Jacobson would have taken the time to explain the examples we listed. Can she defend Brigham Young’s statement that there is life on the sun, or that gold and silver “grows” like hair, or that Adam is really God?
Since Jacobson feels that Leviticus 11:20 and Joshua 10:12-13 cannot be logically explained, we offer the following explanations:
By “fowls” here are to be understood all creatures with wings and “going upon all fours,” not a restriction to animals which have exactly four feet, because many “creeping things” have more than that number. The prohibition is regarded generally as extending to insects, reptiles, and worms. (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commen
tary on the Whole Bible, pg.92)
Regarding Joshua 10:12-13, most commentators feel that God miraculously turned a 24-hour day into 48 hours, thus not creating the certain catastrophe that would occur if the earth stopped moving on its axis. But whatever the situation, something special happened on this day. Christian scholar Dr. Norman Geisler gives the following suggestions:
First, it is not necessary to conclude that the earth’s rotation was totally halted. Verse 13 states that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.” This could indicate that the earth’s rotation was not completely halted, but that it was retarded to such a degree that the sun did not set for about a whole day. Or it is possible that God caused the light of the sun to refract through some cosmic “mirror” so that it could be seen a day longer.
Even if the earth rotation was completely stopped, we must remember that God is not only capable of halting the rotation of the earth for a whole day, but He is also able to prevent any possible catastrophic effects that might result from the cessation of the earth s rotation. Although we do not necessarily know how God brought about this miraculous event, we know that He did it.
Finally, the Bible speaks in everyday observational language. So the sun did not actually stop; it only appeared to do so. (When Critics Ask, pg. 14)
We are not saying that prophets have to be scientists, however, if a man is clearly a prophet representing the God who created science, and he speaks on subjects relative to the scientific realm, he should not contradict it. Even LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie recognized this when he wrote:
Obviously there never will be a conflict between truths revealed in the realm of religion and those discovered by scientific research. Truth is ever in harmony with itself. But if false doctrines creep into revealed religion, these will run counter to the discovered truths of science; and if false scientific theories are postulated, these ultimately will be overthrown by the truths revealed from Him who knows all things (Mormon Doctrine, pg. 250).
For instance, take this statement by Brigham Young who declared that he had never given incorrect counsel and challenged any Latter-day Saint to prove otherwise. Just four years before he died, Young gave the following challenge:
I am here to give this people, called Latter-day Saints, counsel to direct them in the path of life … If there is an elder here, or any member of this Church, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who can bring up the first idea, the first sentence that I have delivered to the people as counsel that is wrong, I really wish they would do it; but they cannot do it, for the simple reason that I have never given counsel that is wrong; this is the reason (Journal of Discourses 16:161).
Jacobson and other Latter-day Saints have every right to accept Young’s counsel as perpetually true if they desire; however, we wish they would explain Young’s comments to those of us who are not as receptive to such bravado. We have no problem with “miracles” such as that mentioned in Joshua 10, but we do have a problem with bizarre comments such as those made by Young and other LDS leaders. There has to come a time when rational, thinking people must decide that such men are not credible sources for truth.
Does the word of God change?
Responding to the idea that Mormons should remember the past unique teachings from their early leaders, Jacobson writes:
Yet, presumably, McKeever and Johnson do not make regular burnt offerings of a dove or lamb to the Lord, nor is it likely that they believe that male children must be circumcised. One might say that McKeever and Johnson are distancing “themselves from past teachings” of the Bible by not following the Mosaic law. (pg. 163)
The difference between our situation and the LDS situation is that Jesus Christ came between the Old and New Covenants to fulfill the law. Jacobson is correct in that we do not sacrifice animals any more. This is because Jesus paid the full price with His atoning death and therefore took away the temple rites that prefigured the final sacrifice. Because of this, New Testament Christians do not practice like Old Testament Jews. Jacobson, however, fails to answer the real issue we raised on page 37, and that is, “If both [prophet and written word] are inspired, there should be no contradiction.” Mormon leaders have a propensity to contradict each other as well as the Bible, making it necessary for Latter-day Saints to choose which one to believe.
Can truth change?
Jacobson seems to say that truth changed with the New Covenant. In one paragraph she apparently feels like she answers the LDS dilemma of a constantly changing truth. Her example is that Christ came onto the scene and made a “large change from many of the ‘truths’ that were taught in the Old Testament” (pg. 163). Such a statement is absurd in the light of history! Again, Jesus never came to destroy the law or the prophets but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). But, as Paul said, the law was incomplete without Jesus Christ (Romans 8:3) because He is the “end of the law” (Romans 10:4). We would be interested to find out how Jacobson proposes that Jesus “changed” truth. Unfortunately, in this review at least, Jacobson gives us no answers.
Is the Bible translated correctly?
In a mere two-sentence response, Jacobson apparently feels that she answers chapter four of our book (“What if the Bible is translated correctly after all?”). Because we point out that most Mormons have a low opinion of the Bible since their church’s eighth article of faith states it is true only “as far as it is translated correctly,” she responds,
But the authors themselves admit that when it comes to Bible translations, “Some are good and some are not so good” (pg. 163).
On page 47 we list numerous quotes from LDS leaders who have viciously attacked more than just translations of the Bible, but the Bible as a whole. Too many Mormons want the luxury of saying they believe the Bible while retaining the freedom to disbelieve sections of it when it suits their purpose. In other words, when the Bible contradicts their unique teachings, the Bible is deemed errant and the LDS teachings are upheld as correct. As James White so aptly points out in his book entitled Letter to a Mormon Elder (Bethany House), the problem Mormons have with the Bible is not with translation. It has to do with transmission, or how the Bible came into our hands over the past 3,000 years. Despite what some Mormons may think, the Bible is not a translation of a translation of a translation. Rather, we can reference sources as far back as 100 BC for the Old Testament and as far back as the Second Century for the New Testament to examine the early Greek and Hebrew documents. The science that is concerned with the transmission of the Bible is called textual criticism. As far as translations go, of course there are good and bad translations–and as we pointed out, it is impossible to make a translation exactly word for word from any one language into another–but it is not fair for the Mormon to say, “We are not sure if that passage was translated correctly” whenever a verse contradicts his or her doctrine. Rather, we should go to the original texts to see which translation is best. Our chapter pointed out the reliability of God’s Word; Jacobson failed to prove otherwise.
Logical and Consistent Criteria?
Do Christian sects squabble with each other?
The authors suggest that Mormons can’t be Christians because some of the leaders of the Latter-day Saint Church have insulted the ministers of other Christian churches and condemned the doctrines of other Christian churches (pp. 15-20). Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, one
must reason that all Christian churches must be excluded from the ranks of Christianity. This is an interesting, if not entirely new, approach to defining the term “Christian,” but hardly practical given that Christian churches have always squabbled amongst themselves over which creed is correct, and which creed is an abomination in the sight of the Lord. Indeed, members of Christian churches have made a habit of not only insulting each other, but actually killing each other over such issues (pg. 164).
Jacobson’s “logical conclusion” is tenuous based on the fact that we never claimed that criticizing other Christians meant that you could not be a Christian. Even Peter and Paul had their differences as reported by Paul in Galatians 2:11, and the delegates at the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1ff) had opposing views. Paul also opposed Barnabus and John Mark in the same chapter (15:36ff). By quoting these LDS leaders in our book, we showed that there was more than just criticism of the Christian Church going on. Instead, they condemned the historic Christian faith as being of the Devil. Perhaps Jacobson should take a closer look at these quotes and even look some of them up to get the vilification of Christianity in its context.
Should we condemn all beliefs that might foster sinful pride?
Should Christians be prideful when they know that they possess eternal life while other less fortunate than them go to hell? According to Jacobson, this is the attitude Christians can have when they are assured of their salvation. She writes:
Yet the authors do not condemn Christianity, even though the belief that one is saved, while others are damned, can foster a class society and feed the ego of those who are “saved”–thus causing a sinful attitude of pride to become a reality in a Christian’s life. (pg. 165)
Having talked to numerous Mormons, we know that temple Mormonism does “foster a class society and feeds the ego of those who hold temple recommends.” Other Mormons who do not hold this same privilege–whether intentional or not–are looked upon as not being on the path to eternal life.
Granted, there may be some Christians who look at others in a prideful manner, but to do so is in complete opposition to the Gospel message. Salvation according to the Bible is granted purely on the basis of God’s mercy. It is gained without works (Titus 3:5). As Paul clearly pointed out, this prohibits the Christian from having any right to boast (Ephesians 2:8,9). The Mormon however, must perform numerous works in order to gain his eternal life. As LDS Apostle James Talmage said, “Redemption from personal sins can only be obtained through obedience to the requirements of the gospel, and a life of good works” (The Articles of Faith, pp. 478-479). Paul points out in Romans 4:2 that “if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” Why couldn’t he boast before God? Because works are not how mankind is justified before God. On the other hand, if the Mormon has “earned” his so-called right to eternal life by his personal merit and asceticism, and if the Mormon view of salvation were true, he would actually have a right to boast. He could, by all rights, demand his entrance into God’s presence. Such an idea is offensive to the Christian who recognizes that if it was not for the merciful, saving grace of his Creator, he deserves nothing more than eternal punishment for the deeds he perpetrated against Him.
Did it really happen?
Regarding the First Vision account and our showing that there were different versions, Jacobson does not deal with the real issue but introduces a red herring. Considering the different accounts of Alvin Smith’s death, she writes:
According to McKeever and Johnson’s criteria, when one considers all the inconsistencies that exist in the reports of Alvin’s death, one may conclude that Alvin did not actually die. (pg. 165).
We’re not sure of the logic behind the above statement, but our point was that there are so many versions of the First Vision that Joseph Smith’s credibility should be questioned. We’re not saying this definitely proves our point, but it sure doesn’t lend credibility to the story either. To make her point, Jacobson takes the usual Mormon road by again attacking the Bible. This is another area where Jacobson’s lack of theological expertise rises to the surface for she lists what she feels are biblical contradictions to defend her position. The first so-called contradiction concerns the three accounts of the vision of Paul as recorded in Acts 9, Acts 22, and Acts 26. According to critics of the Bible, these accounts show that Luke couldn’t get the story straight. This issue has been dealt with more than once, so we would refer the interested reader to other resources which show how this “contradiction” is nothing of the sort. For a good example, see Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason Archer, Zondervan, pp. 382-3. She also mentions the different account in the four gospels of the women going to Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1). For this, we refer you to When Critics Ask by Norman Geisler, Victor Books, pp. 365-7 (including a great chart on page 366) and Archer’s book on pages 347-356. If Mormons such as Jacobson honestly research these so-called “difficulties,” we are confident they would quit bringing them up. Instead of returning to the original “contradiction,” we really wish the Mormon would rebut the rejoinder.
How strong is the power of God?
In this section, Jacobson appears to admit that gold plates are indeed very heavy–at least a hundred pounds or more. Instead of trying to show that the plates were not gold, Jacobson says that such a feat could have been accomplished by the work of God. For once we have found a Mormon author who admits that this feat took a Samson-like effort. If this is so–and we are not claiming that through the power of God it couldn’t have happened–why doesn’t the LDS Church recognize this as a miracle of God that would have been necessary for Smith to have accomplished such a task? If she attributes Smith’s strength to God, is she willing to give the same strength to the witnesses who also claimed they “hefted” the plates?
FARMS vs. Moroni?
If there would have been a reason why Peterson and the other FARMS’ editors would have wanted a review on our book, this section might have been it. We not only struck at the credibility of the Mormon founder, but we also criticized a FARMS bulletin which theorized that the gold plates were possibly made of “tumbaga” (an alloy of copper and gold). Instead of trying to fully support the assertion from FARMS, Jacobson criticizes us and says that it doesn’t matter what these researchers found. However, our purpose was to explain the different theories of the plates consisting of material other than gold. We were not saying that FARMS was right; we only mentioned this to show that even certain Mormons were looking for different theories. But, Jacobson left open the option that FARMS was right when she wrote:
But supposing that the FARMS researchers are correct and the plates were made of tumbaga, it is absurd to insist that the plates should be called “copper,” whatever the percentage of copper they might have contained, since “gold” refers to color as well as composition. Tumbaga is “gold” and not “copper” in color (pg. 166).
First of all, as the article we quoted states, tumbaga only appears to look golden in color when treated with an acid. Jacobson fails to respond to our quotes from various Mormons which claim that the plates were made of the metal gold, not the color gold. So which is the official LDS Church version? Were the plates gold or copper? If they were gold–as the LDS Church appears to maintain–then how did Smith carry such a load? If they were copper, then why doesn’t an LDS Church spokesperson clarify the situation for the world to know. Again, this is an organi
zation that claims to have the living prophet upon the face of the earth, so shouldn’t we expect clarification by God’s spokesman?
Jacobson lists three points in her attempt to show how we made “use of unsupported or unproven statements.” In the first of her three examples, mention is made of our use of Wesley Walters’ discovery of the court records from 1826 which show that Smith was arrested, tried, and convicted as a glass looker. She points to an article written by attorney Gordon Madsen, who wrote, “In 1826 Joseph Smith was indeed charged and tried for being a disorderly person and that he was acquitted” (BYU Studies 30 (Spring 1990): 106).
Jacobson gives us one man’s opinion as evidence that Smith was acquitted. She fails to mention that even Madsen himself recognizes that Emily Pearsall, the niece of the judge who presided over the Smith case, was an eyewitness at Smith’s trial. She stated in her notes, “And thereupon the Court finds the defendant guilty.” Madsen theorizes that, because Smith was earlier referred to in the Pearsall notes as “prisoner,” this somehow shows that he was no longer a “prisoner.” The problem with this conclusion is that the expression “finds the defendant” is a common expression still used in our court system today, regardless of guilt or innocence.
Because there is no record of Smith having to pay further fines for his incarceration, Madsen concludes that he must have been acquitted. Unless evidence can be supplied to the contrary, it can also point to the fact that Smith was not forced to spend time in jail for his crime. This doesn’t, however, take away from his earlier guilty verdict. Guilt doesn’t always involve jail time. Let us also not forget that Smith was a minor at this time (20 years of age) and that his crime was only a misdemeanor. In his book entitled A New Witness for Christ in America (pp. 484-485), LDS author Francis Kirkham quotes A.W. Benton, who wrote concerning the 1826 trial:
At length the public becoming wearied with the base imposition which he [Joseph Smith] was palming upon the credulity of the ignorant, for the purpose of sponging his living from their earnings, had him arrested as a disorderly person, tried and condemned before a court of Justice. But, considering his youth, (he then being a minor), and thinking he might reform his conduct, he was designedly allowed to escape.
Madsen states that if Smith had been convicted, a “record of conviction would have needed to be filed with the county clerk within forty days. No such record has to date been unearthed in the office of the Clerk of Chenango County.” Considering the fact that the condition of the court record found by Walters was in terrible shape and barely readable, finding other documents from that time period may be difficult. Not finding it, though, doesn’t erase the eyewitness accounts.
Like many Mormons, Jacobson gives us the impression that Smith’s run-ins with the law were all the result of his religious call and that certainly his character would not warrant such treatment. As Joseph Fielding Smith has so appropriately stated, “Mormonism must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith.” If Smith was a con artist, the credibility of the Mormon Church must be adversely affected. Even former LDS historian D. Michael Quinn, among others, shows that Smith had quite an unruly reputation as a young man (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, 1987).
Second, she quotes a statement that we made on page 31 about how the conflicting testimonies of the First Vision account would not make “a strong case in a court of law.” Jacobson writes, “The authors reference no kind of expert legal opinion to support this statement” (pg. 167). We were making the point that conflicting “facts” do not make good cases. Did the reviewer really want us to interview F. Lee Bailey and other attorneys to back ourselves up on such a statement? This is silly, and we are unsure what we should make of Jacobson’s point.
Third, Jacobson takes issue with a point we make about LDS leaders wanting potential LDS converts to rely on feelings rather than facts. She writes:
The authors do not reference their claim that the Latter-day Saint Church teaches its converts to search for truth through subjective feelings. I know of no church publication which teaches either members or converts to use “subjective feelings” as a basis for determining truth. (pg. 167)
If she would like a reference, then we would turn to Moroni 10:4,5. This passage is familiar to anyone who has ever talked to a Mormon, and the passage is often highlighted by the missionaries in the new copies of the Book of Mormon that they distribute to potential and new converts. By saying that prayer guides a person into the truths of Mormonism, subjective feelings are emphasized over historical facts. Despite the many conversations that we have had with the LDS on how Mormonism contradicts Christianity and the Bible, we have more than once been left with the Mormon’s testimony of how the LDS Church is true based on the feeling he received from his original prayer.
What is fascinating about this “test” of truth is that it is not a test at all because it is claimed that the right answer will always be affirmative. On numerous occasions we have been told by Latter-day Saints that an individual has to want the book to be true in order to receive the confirmation of Moroni 10. Consider 12th LDS President Spencer W. Kimball’s words:
Such a testimony is not promised to anyone who reads the book with a critical attitude nor one who reads it to satisfy curiosity nor to one who resists it, but definitely it will come to everyone who has fully surrendered himself with an open mind and heart. And when this testimony comes to readers it is quite unlikely that it will come by flourish of trumpets or by handwriting on the wall or by audible voice, but by a burning of hearts in bosoms, and he that will receive it will know it and appreciate it, but if there is resistance it will not come (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pg. 134).
In other words, the deck is stacked. If the individual who is reading the book fails to come up with what the Mormon feels is the proper conclusion, he must not have had “a sincere heart, real intent,” nor even the proper “faith in Christ.” On numerous occasions we have been told that the Book of Mormon did not ring true to us because we must have had preconceived notions that it was false. The Mormon, in making such an accusation, fails to acknowledge that our conclusion was based on an examination of the claims of the Book of Mormon, not on a feeling.
As we have pointed out, Jacobson gives little support to be able to say the following on page 167:
Given the examples of inconsistent reasoning and inaccurate or unsupported statements which can be found in McKeever and Johnson’s publication, I would have to judge their attempt to appeal to the Latter-day Saint member through logic and reason a failure.
If our reasoning is “inconsistent” or “inaccurate,” we can hardly find support in her listed examples. Did FARMS limit the amount of space in her review? While we don’t expect Jacobson as a Mormon to accept everything we say, we would have hoped that such a review would have had more logical reasoning and perhaps even given some answers to our valid questions.
Using the Word of God?
Jacobson points out that Christians and Mormons differ on their interpretation of theological words. So, while both Christians and Mormons may use the word “scripture,” Christians only think of the Bible while Mormons also include the Book of Mormon, Doctrine of Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as “any other scriptures which might be brought forth by God in the future” (pg. 168). This is no different than what we have said all along, including in our glossary on page 177. Ho
wever, just because Christians and Mormons differ on this terminology does not mean that the issue should be dropped. Yes, we place a heavy emphasis upon the Bible because we feel it is the Word of God. Mormons supposedly hold to the same view. If this is true, why does the Bible contradict much of what Mormonism teaches? While this is open to debate, it is important for us to come to a consensus as to the importance of the Bible, and that is why we wrote chapter four (What if the Bible is translated correctly after all?). Much of our book dealt with the importance of the Bible to the Christian and how the Mormon should question Article Eight’s assertion that the Bible is true only “as far as it is translated correctly.” Jacobson makes another point, stating:
The authors also quote Hebrews 1:1-2 … Mormons certainly accept that Christ is at the head of the Church, but the authors seem to be interpreting this scripture to mean that Christ is the last of the prophets and that no other living prophet will be appointed to guide and direct the church on earth. This scripture makes no such claims, nor does any other passage in the Bible. (pg. 168)
The “Prophet” who was understood by the Jews to be the “Elijah,” or final prophet, was Jesus Christ. Some mistook John the Baptist to be this person in John 1:21, but John answered that he was not this person. John had been sent to be the one preparing the way for Christ. Some Mormons like to claim that there were other prophets in the days after Jesus, and so Jesus was not the “last” of the prophets. However, there is a major difference between the role of prophet and the gift of prophets, one point being that none of those given the title of prophet in the New Testament was ever the head of the Church. Consider also that LDS leaders have said that there could be no more than one prophet at a time, something the New Testament appears to allow (Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). The Old Testament also allows for more than one prophet at a time. It is seen from the Bible, especially the book of Hebrews, that Jesus was the culmination of all prophets.
Jacobson feels that our book may have been designed to appeal to evangelical Christians and not Mormons. She concludes her review:
As such, the book might be an effective tool for convincing non-Mormon Christians that the doctrines of the Latter-day Saint Church are different from the doctrines of evangelical Christianity, but it is not likely to convince many Latter-day Saints that the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are in error (pg. 169)
While Jacobson may not agree with our premises, she may be right in saying that not many Latter-day Saints are likely to be convinced … that is, if they follow Jacobson’s line of reasoning. If the thinking Mormon logically considers these questions asked in our chapter titles, we believe there is value. We wish Jacobson would stop looking for the little problems she sees in our book and instead concentrate on the big issues that we addressed. Perhaps she should try to answer the questions herself, something that her review very rarely attempts to do.
We do not write this rebuttal to be contentious or to personally attack Jacobson or any other Mormon. Our only plea is for the Mormon to “come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) in a non-contentious way using the gift of reasoning that God has provided us. That is the plea of each of these authors. To God be the glory.