Written by Mormonism 101 co-author Eric Johnson
- Check out a 4-part Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast series on this topic: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 May 25-29, 2015 Article
A list of discussion questions is provided at the end of each chapter of Mormonism 101 Revised and Updated (Baker, 2015), authored by MRM’s Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson. These questions can be used by the individual as a reminder of what the chapter covered or by a group desiring an impetus to further discuss the content of the book. This guide is provided to add additional background information while guiding the leader to additional information, including internet links. Purchase Mormonism 101 at Utah Lighthouse Ministry, amazon.com, christianbooks.org, or your favorite Christian retailer. And if you have a chance, please write a review of this book on any of those sites!
Chapter 1: God the Father
- When a Christian says that God is incomprehensible, what does that mean? Does it bother you, as a Christian, that there are some things about God that cannot be understood? How do you reconcile your lack of knowledge with the existence of a God whom we cannot fully grasp with human minds?
To say that God is “incomprehensible” means that it is impossible for a human being—finite in nature and “omni” in nothing—to fully grasp the everlasting and eternal God. For example, it is impossible for people to comprehend eternity. Our minds are geared for a beginning and cannot envision anything that existed for eternity. Many Mormons feel that they want to better grasp God and shy away from anything that attaches mystery to God. Yet their problem is quite similar! After all, if matter is eternal (ex materia, meaning matter is eternal) and other gods existed before God the Father, then what is the Mormon’s reaction when asked who this first God was? Many just shrug their shoulders and call it a mystery.
The syllogism for the Kalam cosmological argument can be produced to support the existence of God. It argues:
Everything that had a beginning had a cause
The universe had a beginning
Therefore the universe had a cause
What this proves is that creation was produced ex nihilo (this means “out of nothing”) and that matter is not eternal but had a beginning. Genesis 1:1 clearly says that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” At this point, the skeptic may complain and ask, “What about God? Who created Him?” But notice the first line of argumentation in the syllogism above. whcih reads, “Everything that had a beginning had a cause.” God did not need a beginning because He is, by definition and nature, eternal. (See Psalm 90:2.) So who or what created God? Nobody and nothing. He didn’t need to be created because He always existed. Each member of the Trinity existed before the universe began. (See Gen. 1:1, as the Father created the heavens and the earth; Genesis 1:2 says the Holy Spirit also was the creator; and John 1:1-3 along with Colossians 1:15-17 say that Jesus created all things.) All three persons had a role in the creation of the universe. God, then, came out of eternity and created time and matter. While this is definitely a mystery to finite humans, it makes more success than the alternatives. After all, the atheist has only two possible theories:
1) Everything always existed. But when did everything begin? If there was no beginning (i.e. time is infinite), then how did today ever come to be? And according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, there is limited energy. If the past goes back into the past history infinitely, then why do we have energy left today? (An infinite set in mathematics is merely theoretical; it cannot be taken literally.) This wonderful argument has been best explained best by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig; check out this wonderful 4-minute video listed here.
2) Everything was created at a particular point in time. Then the question must be asked, what existed before this creation? Many atheists respond that there was nothing. But it doesn’t take Einstein to understand the adage that out of nothing nothing comes.
God defines Himself as knowable yet incomprehensible. He desires a relationship with people yet He cannot be fully understood. In human terms, perhaps this can be likened to a human couple. Even after 50 or 60 years of marriage, there remains some mystery in fully understanding everything about a spouse. Some things may still be a surprise even after a couple has spent so many years together. Part of this is because men and women are made differently. What is important to a man could mean very little to a woman, and vice versa. Yet a healthy marriage understands that there will be mystery and rejoices in the fact. After all, how boring would it be if the two people in a marriage were exactly alike? In the same way, God can be understood yet not fully comprehended.
One more thing ought to be added. The minute a person claims to fully know God (i.e., having the ability to understand every nuance about Him), then in essence he or she becomes omniscient. After all, to fully understand God means everything is understood. If we want to have a healthy understanding of God, it will include the fact that not everything about Him will be fully comprehended. And I, for one, am content with this fact.
- Brigham Young said that the idea that God was once a man and progressed to be God was “unique to this Church.” In what ways is the LDS God unique? How does this version of God differ from what the Bible teaches? Are there any Bible verses you can use in support of your views?
The God of Mormonism is not the same as the God of the Bible. He is just the latest god who was preceded by a plethora of gods. There are many biblical passages to counter this heretical version. For example, Isaiah chapters 43 through 45 clearly teach against Mormonism’s version of God:
Isaiah 43:10: “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
Isaiah 44:6,8: “This is what the Lord says—
Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty:
I am the first and I am the last;
apart from me there is no God. . . .
Do not tremble, do not be afraid.
Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?
You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me?
No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”
Isaiah 45:5-6: I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
According to the Bible, God could never have been anything but God. He has always been God. (See Psalm 90:2; Malachi 3:6.) Even the Book of Mormon agrees with this concept. For example,
- Mosiah 3:5: “For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity. . . .”
- 3 Nephi 24:6: “For I am the Lord, I change not.”
- Mormon 9:9-10: “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing? And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles.”
- Mormon 9:19: “And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.”
- Moroni 8:18 reads, “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
If these verses are scripture to the Latter-day Saint, how can they be reconciled to Mormonism’s version of God (as described in Mormonism 101)?
- What are the implications if God has not always been God? For instance, is it possible that God the Father was a sinner? If something like this is true, would this change the way you viewed and even worshipped God?
If God has not always been God, then He is not eternally God. Yet the Bible never allows for this possibility. To suggest that God was once a man—possibly even a sinner—is about as heretical as it gets! (Many Latter-day Saints don’t seem to have a problem with this…check out this site at MRM.) First Samuel 15:28 says that God “is the Glory of Israel (who) does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” Numbers 23:19a says, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.”
If I were a Latter-day Saint and believed that God was nothing more than an exalted, earlier model of me, I think I wouldn’t uphold Him as highly as I do as a Christian. After all, who was “Grandfather God” (God’s God)? Or who was the very first god of all gods? Such beings would seem to deserve more honor and respect than “Heavenly Father,” merely the latest God in line.
Chapter 2: Jesus
- When questioned about whether or not their church is “Christian,” Mormon missionaries sometimes point to their badges, showing how “Jesus Christ” is depicted in a large font size. If you had to provide three examples to show how the LDS Jesus is different from the version described in the Bible, what would you say? Provide evidence.
Just because a person claims to have “Jesus” does not necessarily mean that it is the correct Jesus. I have studied a number of world religions and cults, and rarely have I found one that doesn’t have a prominent place for Jesus. For example, the Muslims say Jesus is one of the greatest prophets (“Peace be upon Him,” they say). Yet the Qu’ran teaches that He is not God in the flesh (John 1:1-14) and did not die upon the cross. Hare Krishna devotees have high regard for Jesus, saying He was a great guru. But Jesus is not as great as Krishna. And, of course, Mormons say that Jesus plays a prominent role in their faith. Indeed, Jesus does play an important role. Unfortunately, though, the Jesus portrayed in Mormonism (as recorded in the book’s second chapter) is different from what is described in the Bible.
As quoted in the book, 2 Corinthians 11:4 says that “if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.” Also quoted was Galatians 1:8-9, which said that it is possible to accept a false gospel. Those talked about in this passage were “Judaizers,” people claiming to be Christian but requiring works (i.e. dietary laws and circumcision) to be added to the gospel. This kind of gospel is no gospel at all, which is why Paul was so strong with his words.
- In his talk titled “Eternal Life—to know Our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ” given at the October general conference, Apostle Robert D. Hales described his version of Jesus this way: “Jesus is a God, yet He continually distinguishes Himself as a separate individual being by praying to His Father and by saying that He is doing His Father’s will.” Ensign (November 2014), 81. Based on what he said, describe Jesus as understood in a Mormon mindset. How is this similar or different from the biblical description of the Savior?
In Mormonism, Jesus is a separate god from Heavenly Father. At best, this is called “tritheism” (the belief in three separate gods), not “monotheism” (the belief in one God). According to LDS teaching, Jesus is literally the “firstborn” child of Heavenly Father and Mother and the Savior of mankind. How does this different from biblical Christianity? The gulf is wide. Ask a Christian believer what motivates him or her in life and very likely the name of Jesus will be mentioned over and over again. Worshipping the Savior and having a relationship with Him is paramount.
The depiction given by this Mormon apostle is faulty in many ways. For example, he specifically calls Jesus “a god.” This idea was debated in AD 325 at Nicaea. Arianism was rebuffed and orthodoxy taught that there is one God as revealed in three persons. The bishops there agreed that the Bible teaches how Jesus was “very God of very God.” As John 1:1-3 explains,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
Notice, this passage equates the Word with the God who created everything. (How could Jesus have created Himself if He “created everything”?) Then, in verse 14, it says,
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In summary, there are differences between Mormonism and Christianity’s version of Jesus:
|“A” God||“The” God in the flesh (Col. 2:9)|
|Created being (first born in preexistence)||Uncreated (always existed)|
|Paves the way for salvation||Is “the way” of salvation|
|More than “belief” in Jesus needed for forgiveness||Belief in Jesus = Forgiveness of sins (Acts 4:12, 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10)|
|We should not pray to him||We have freedom to pray to him (Acts 7:59)|
|Relationship with Jesus not stressed||Relationship with Jesus is the goal|
The nature of Jesus is important to grasp if He is to be worshiped in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). More on this topic is given in chapter 3 on the Trinity.
- Evangelical Christians have consistently held to the idea that it is possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus as their Savior. Part of this intimacy includes conversing with Him in prayer. However, some Mormon leaders have encouraged their people not to pray to Jesus. Is it possible for a person to have a personal relationship with someone whom they are not allowed to speak? How would your intimacy with Jesus be affected if you were not allowed to talk to Him?
Before Stephen was martyred, he prayed directly to Jesus (Acts 7:59). In the same way, why shouldn’t believers have the ability to do the same? Though Jesus was “in the form of God” but “took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” Even though He humbled Himself in such a way, even dying in His body, He has been given “a name which is above every name” where every knee will bow and everything tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. (See Phil. 2:5-11.) This passage coincides with Isaiah 45:23-24, which was spoken about as happening with God Himself!
While the name of Jesus is certainly a part of the LDS Church’s title, He doesn’t seem to play as large of a role as found in Evangelical Christianity. Mormon leaders have taught that Jesus, though important, is humanity’s spirit brother and therefore ought not to be worshipped. This is why Latter-day Saints don’t pray to Jesus or sing praise songs directly to Him. Consider the words of tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“We worship Elohim, the Father of Jesus Christ. We do not worship Adam and we do not pray to him. We are all his children through the flesh, but Elohim, the God we worship, is the Father of our spirits; and Jesus Christ, his first Begotten Son in the spirit creation and his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, is our Eldest Brother” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:106).
Seventy Milton R. Hunter agreed when he wrote:
“We read in modern revelation that Jesus Christ was and is our elder brother, the ‘Firstborn’ unto the Father. We accept, as Latter-day Saints, the teachings of the prophets to the effect that Jesus of Nazareth was the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father in the flesh; therefore, the revelation I referred to points back to a previous birth, a birth in the spirit world. You and I were sons and daughters of our Eternal Parents in the spirit world. In fact, all the people in this world were of that family, and Jesus Christ was the Firstborn” (Conference Reports, October 1949, p. 69).
Imagine the look of horror on my face when I first read this quote in an LDS Church-produced tract:
“Christians speak often of the blood of Christ and its cleansing power. Much that is believed and taught on this subject, however, is such utter nonsense and so palpably false that to believe it is to lose one’s salvation. Many go so far, for instance, as to pretend, at least, to believe that if we confess Christ with our lips and avow that we accept him as our personal Savior, we are thereby saved. His blood, without other act than mere belief, they say, makes us clean” (LDS Tract titled, What the Mormons Think of Christ, p. 31).
To find true happiness, a relationship with the true Jesus as described in the Bible is necessary.
For more on this topic, see “Is the LDS Jesus different from what is taught in the Bible?”
Chapter 3: The Trinity
- Critics of Christianity seem to enjoy critiquing Christian doctrines such as the Trinity or salvation by grace alone through faith. Why do you think these are two common targets? Are these two doctrines worthy to be defended? Why or why not?
A variety of answers may ensue, which is fine, as there are many possiblities. We believe these two doctrines are common targets because they don’t seem to make sense. After all, how can “3” be “1”? And if a person is “saved by grace,” not works, then what motivation does he or she have in doing good works? Why not sin like hell if you’re allowed?
It is fallacious thinking to eliminate important doctrines that don’t seem to make sense to our finite minds. (We discussed “mystery” in chapter 1 of this study guide.) As Chapter 3 discusses, the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible; however, the concept is certainly there. As James White explains in his book The Forgotten Trinity, the Trinity solves problems rather than creates them. It allows humans to understand, for instance, how God the Father (Gen. 1:1), the Son (John 1:3, Col. 1:15), and the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2) all participated in creating all things. When it comes to determining who raised Jesus from the dead, it provides guidance in showing how the Father (Acts 3:15), the Son (John 2:19), and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:11) were all responsible. When Jesus calls Himself the great “I am” in John 8:58 (an obvious reference to Ex. 3:14 where God told Moses this was His name), it makes sense why the Jewish leaders wanted Him killed for He, merely a man in their opinion, claimed to be God. As Christians, our desire is to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). The Trinity allows us to uphold the Shema (Deut. 6:4, as quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:29), which says God is one. We can understand that there are three Persons but one essence of God. Such a doctrine ought to be defended as essential theology.
- Historically, Christians have not pretended to fully comprehend the nuances of the Trinity. While this teaching must remain a mystery in our finite minds, we must accept the Trinitarian formula presented by the biblical evidence. Suppose a Mormon argues that he can’t believe in anything he cannot understand. Can you give a reasonable response to this objection?
How much do we really know about anything? When it comes to total knowledge involving quantum physics, nuclear engineering, the size of the universe, the speed of light, the extent of astronomical time, and as Ecclesiastes puts it, a man and a maiden! Proverbs 30:18-19 says:
“There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.”
The Latter-day Saint also must depend on “mystery” to deal with issues Mormonism has not been able to answer regarding events that took place before this world, including:
- Who was Elohim’s God?
- Was Elohim a sinner needing forgiveness of His sins? Or was He perfect?
- Why do we forget everything that supposedly took place in the spirit world (preexistence)?
- What was the name of the first God? And why shouldn’t we worship Him?
Mormonism denies an “ex nihilo” creation but instead teaches in ex materia, which says that matter has always existed. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig does a good job describing “Hilbert’s Hotel,” which shows the absurdity of an actual infinite set. Thus, it is impossible to be here today if there was no beginning.
In addition, Mormon leaders have debated a number of issues over the years where there was no agreement. For instance, does God progress in knowledge? Or does He know everything now? Another disagreement has concerned whether or not Adam was God? How many times have I spoken with a pair of missionaries who ended up disagreeing with each other on a particular issue! Because their views contradicted each other, the law of non-contradiction says it’s impossible both could be right. Thus, we must accept the fact that we don’t know everything; in addition, there are some things we can never know, no matter how hard we study it out. I can agree with the words of Joseph Smith who said,
“One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:499).
If teachings such as the Trinity and salvation by grace are true, these must be accepted even if we cannot fully fathom its implications.
- As one LDS resource puts it (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Student Study Guide, 147), the Mormon view of the Godhead “may seem natural and logical to long-time members of the Church. However, this doctrine is very different from the beliefs of most other Christian churches. List and explain three ways that your life—such as your thoughts, behavior, and prayers—is different because you know what the Godhead is really like”? Turning the tables, list and explain three ways that your life is different based on your Christian understanding of the Godhead.
Answers will vary, but for me I will provide my three ways my life is different:
- God loved me so much that Jesus was sent to die on behalf of me and my sins. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Forgiveness from my sins is now attainable!
- Jesus is the mediator between people and God (1 Tim. 2:5). He is, as 1 John 2:1 puts it, our “advocate with the Father.” And Hebrews 7:25 says that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”
- The Holy Spirit is a source of comfort for me today. He was sent directly by Jesus for these “latter days.” John 16:13 says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” Today it is possible for the Christian believer to be filled with the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18)!
Other Internet sources on this topic:
For a series on blogs on MRM site, go here.
- Cory Anderson speaks on the Trinity. During our 2013 trip to Turkey, we had a chance to hear devotionals at important sites. Here Pastor Cory Anderson (Shadow Mountain Church, West Jordan, UT) gives a great summary on this important topic.
- Matt Slick and Bill McKeever speak on the Trinity. During our 2013 trip to Turkey, Matt Slick (CARM.ORG) and MRM’s Bill McKeever stood at the foundation of Constantine’s palace in Nicaea and spoke about the important decision made in AD 325 that determined that Jesus was both God and man.
- Ravi Zacharias
- Desiring God
Chapter 4: Preexistence and the Second Estate
- One LDS tract titled “Your Pre-Earth Life” explains that each person is “a descendant of God” and that God “is your Heavenly Father in a very literal sense. . . . You are the lineage of God.” What are some biblical problems with the doctrine that everyone existed as spirits previously to birth on earth, and then each person was born in circumstances defined by good or bad actions done prior to birth? List any Bible verses that support your view.
I agree with the following statement found in a church magazine:
Of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (“Life Before Birth,” Ensign, February 2006, p. 30).
It is a unique teaching for a reason since this idea does not emanate from biblical Christianity and the 2,000-year-old history of the Christian church. Rather, this belief is rooted in Eastern ways of thinking, including Hinduism and Buddhism. To support the idea that there was such a thing as “premortal” existence, Mormons like to trot out biblical passages that have been taken out of context, including Job 38:7, Jeremiah 1:5, Ecclesiates 12:7, and Hebrews 12:9. But the Bible contradicts such a view. For example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” Second Corinthians 6:2 adds, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” And listen to what Jesus said regarding the healing of a blind man in John 9:1-3:
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
If “preexistence” really is true, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to talk about it. Instead, He claims that being born blind was not the result of a preexistent sin but rather because God could receive glory from it.
In addition, the Book of Mormon—called “the most complete correct on earth” by Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith—doesn’t support this important notion. In fact, this was not a doctrine advocated until after 1835.
- Certain biblical passages are utilized by Latter-day Saints to support the doctrine of a premortal existence, including Jeremiah 1:5 and Job 38:7. Why are these not good references for support of the doctrine of premortality? Formulate an intelligent response to someone who insists that humans once existed as preexistent spirits.
Consider the words of one LDS manual explaining preexistence:
QUESTION Then what determines where and when you are born? ANSWER We don’t know in detail all the factors that influence the circumstances into which we are born, but the prophets have clearly taught that the basic rule of obedience to law as the prerequisite for blessings holds true in this matter as well. QUESTION Meaning that the kind of life we lived in the premortal existence influenced where we are now? ANSWER Yes (The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles Religion 211-212, p. 255).
According to Mormonism, a person’s deeds in the preexistence influence the place of birth and the future blessings that come. Terry Ball told a BYU devotional crowd:
Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why you were not born 500 years ago in some primitive, aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of your birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency. And that we grew and developed as we used that agency. Some, as Abraham learned, became noble and great ones. We believe that when it came time for us to experience mortality, a loving Heavenly Father who knows each of us well sent us to earth at the time and place and circumstances that would best help us reach our divine potential and help Him maximize his harvest of redeemed souls (Terry Ball, BYU dean of Religious Education, “To Confirm and Inform: A Blessing of Higher Education,” March 11, 2008, BYU Devotional).
Commonly used passage to support this type of thinking come from Jeremiah 1:5 and Job 38. Jeremiah 1:5 records God telling the young prophet,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
Notice how the action is on God (“I”), not Job. God formed Job and knew him, appointing him as a prophet. It does not indicate the Job would have known God. This makes perfect sense since the context of the Bible supports a sovereign and omniscient God!
The context of Job 38, meanwhile, shows that Job wasn’t in existence when the creation took place. Therefore, what right did he have to second-guess God? The answer? None whatsoever.
If this idea of preexistence should be considered a true doctrine, then why is the New Testament rarely used in support of this teaching? Hebrews 12:9 is occasionally trotted out. It says,
Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!
To say that the “Father of spirits” is talking about preexistence takes this verse far out of its context. First of all, the author of Hebrews is using “Father of spirits” in a passing notation. The main thrust of the passage has to do with the comparison of godly discipline with parental discipline. A person using this verse must be very desperate to support a unique LDS teaching.
To summarize, consider asking your LDS friends what their scriptural sources are for such a belief. Use the John 9 passage to show that Jesus didn’t think actions in a previous state influenced any circumstances in this life.
- If premortality did not take place and human beings did not know God before this world, would this be a major blow to Mormonism? Or could Mormonism still be true despite being wrong on this particular issue? Is there any unique doctrine of Mormonism that, if proven wrong, would undermine the entire religion?
This is an interesting question that could generate much discussion. Mormons often like to say their religion answers three fundamental human questions:
- From where did we come?
- Why are we here?
- Where are we going?
If preexistence is not true, then the Mormon has nothing to offer about “from where did we come.” A major teaching in this religion is that all spirits were created by God and that a third of these spirits rejected Jesus in this state. If Mormonism is wrong about the preexistence, then how could anyone know if the LDS view of heaven (i.e. three levels, exaltation (godhood), no eternal hell for humans, etc.)—something that cannot be empirically shown to be accurate—is true?
In my view, I think this is one of the doctrines that, if shown to be false, ends up causing a domino effect. Others include:
- The LDS teaching that God has a body of flesh and bones
- The LDS teaching that God is not eternally God but once lived another world
- The LDS teaching that Jesus was created and is a god but not “God”
- The LDS teaching that getting married in a temple is necessary for godhood
- The LDS teaching that baptism for the dead availeth nothing for souls already dead
As far as historical events, Christianity depends on the efficacy of the bodily resurrection of the dead. (For proof, just read 1 Corinthians chapter 15.) For Mormonism, if either the First Vision account or the Book of Mormon story is show to be nothing more than fictional, the whole religion falls apart. This is why so much care is given by church leaders in supporting these two foundational accounts.
Chapter 5: The Fall
- According to the Book of Mormon, “Adam fell that men might be.” Is this teaching consistent with what is taught in the Bible?
Did sin really need to be introduced in order for Adam and Eve to propagate? The Bible doesn’t say this. Adam and Eve were told to “increase” before sin came into the world (i.e. Gen. 1:28 says they were to increase and multiply). While it is true that even through sin God can be glorified, nowhere does it show that “Adam fell that men might be,” as taught in the Book of Mormon. Adam and Eve were given free will, and they freely chose to disobey God and His commandment not to eat. This disobedience created a sinful nature on all of Adam and Eve’s posterity.
- What Christians call “sin” has been called a “fall forward” by some Mormons. What do they mean by this? Read Romans 5:12-21 and summarize how Paul described this fall and how Jesus was able to overcome its effects.
In a twisted way, Mormonism attempts to show that the fall of humanity should be accepted as positive. Yet the effects of the fall was nothing less than eternal death, as Romans 5:12, 15 quoted in the book explains. Yet there is hope, as verse 18 and 19 shows how the work of Jesus on the cross “leads to justification and life for all men.” Though we were once sinners because of disobedience, we can now be cleansed through the work of the Righteous Man, Jesus Christ.
- Some Mormons have tried to use the word “transgression” instead of “sin” to soften the abruptness of the LDS teaching on the fall. Why should renaming the cause of the Fall not minimize its severity?
Harrell is correct in his quote where he said that the fall “came to be regarded even more favorably than an innocent error in judgment. It is seen as a wise and righteous decision made with God’s full commendation.” In essence, many Mormons apparently believe that the fall was something commanded by God. No biblical passage can support such a notion. Minimizing the fall by calling it a transgression (rather than sin) doesn’t make any sense since even Joseph Smith equated the two words in D&C 132:26.
Chapter 6: Apostasy
- Mormon leaders have claimed that there was a “Great Apostasy” and the authority of the church was lost soon after the death of the apostles. How important is this teaching for the Mormon Church? Why? And what reasons can you give your Mormon friend to show how God’s authority was not lost and thus a restoration of Christianity was not needed?
It ought to be said upfront that some Mormons are attempting to minimize the “Great Apostasy.” We have met more Mormons in recent years who have become Pluralists (or Universalists), suggesting that every person has a chance to enter the Celestial Kingdom, even those who deny Mormonism in this life. While this may be a more popular view in these pluralistic times, this is certainly not the view of the LDS leadership speaking from the pulpit of General Conference.
Yet the very genesis of Mormonism comes to the First Vision account found in Joseph Smith-History 1:15-20. In verse 19, no words are minced when God supposedly told Joseph Smith that the Christian churches “were all wrong” and that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” In addition, the Christian leaders “were all corrupt” because “they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” If this was just Joseph Smith talking, then perhaps we could suggest this was nothing more than his personal opinion. However, this passage portrays God as speaking.
Jesus was clear that He would never leave nor forsake His people (Matt. 28:19-20). While it was prophesied that there would be “some” apostasies, no biblical passage can be used in its rightful context to support such a notion. God has preserved His Word through what is called the Holy Bible.
- The Bible says in 1 Peter 2:9 that believers hold “a royal priesthood.” Before June 1978 when the policy was changed, males with black skin were not allowed to hold the LDS priesthood. Today women are prohibited from holding the priesthood. Thus, they depend on their husbands to receive “priesthood blessings.” What is the problem with this scenario according to the Bible? And do you think the Mormon Church will ever change its policy just as it did with blacks?
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Whether a person has a certain skin color or nationality or even a certain sex (female), this does not matter in God’s sight. The Bible depicts a God who looks at the individual. As 1 Peter 2:9 says, the believer has a “royal priesthood,” regardless of who he/she is. Many people never thought the church would change its view on blacks, but it did in 1978. Whether the leadership will some day make a change for women holding the priesthood, many speculate it will never happen. But sometimes church leaders surprise even us, so this is still a future possibility. However, with LDS feminist Kate Kelly getting excommunicated from the church and general conferences from 2013-14 firming up the position, this doesn’t look like a change that will happen anytime in the near future. See here for more information.
- 3. Mormon leaders in the past have said that there are four apostles who would remain alive until the Second Coming. If this is true, then what is the dilemma for the Mormon who claims there was a “Great Apostasy”?
This is a good point that ought to be brought up to those who say that there was a complete apostasy. If, for whatever reason, any of these four men survived (as taught in LDS scriptures), then there is no “total” apostasy and thus no need for Joseph Smith to restore the priesthood. For more information on this topic, see “Surviving Apostles” and “Calling the Apostle John.”
Chapter 7: The Bible
- One former Latter-day Saint wrote, “Every single time I talk to a TBM [“true-believing Mormon”] about the things I discovered about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon, instead of defending the indefensible, they begin to try to tear down the Bible.” Indeed, much ire can be directed toward the pages of the Bible by Latter-day Saints in their attempt to defend their faith. When Mormons say they believe the Bible only as far as it is “translated” correctly, they probably are referring to the transmission of the text. Why do you think so many Mormons critique the Bible’s authenticity—even though it’s part of their church’s canon? Based on your study, is it possible to trust the Bible? Give reasons why or why not.
Mormons may tend to be more critical of the Bible than their other “Standard Works” because there are many places the King James Version contradicts Mormon teaching or thought. This is certainly problematic in defending the faith. There have been many times I have shared biblical references with Latter-day Saints who told me that the Bible must be wrong. The passage must not have been translated correctly, they will say. So often, Article 8 of the Articles of Faith is referenced at this point.
Every person needs a foundation for why he or she believes anything. Some claim truth is based on their understanding. But is it possible for anyone to know everything? And is it possible we might be wrong? Others would say they know truth when they “feel” something is right. But can’t feelings possibly deceive? Skeptics will say they believe in science and that’s all they need to ascertain truth. Yet while they demand empirical evidence for everyone else, what ability do they have to “prove” something unprovable such as, say, the Big Bang taking place without a Designer? For Christians, the Bible is the cornerstone without which it is impossible to understand what God intends for us. I believe that there are 10 good reasons why it makes logical sense to accept the Bible as God’s Word.
Suppose a Mormon suggests to you that the Bible can’t be trusted. Perhaps the Joseph Smith Translation might be just the ticket. After all, according to the first volume of the History of the Church on page 368, Joseph Smith claimed he finished his translation in July 1833. While this is not the “official” translation of the LDS Church, the Joseph Smith Translation is used numerous times in LDS publications and even noted hundreds of times throughout the LDS Church-published Bible. For more information on this topic, click any of the following links:
- The Joseph Smith Translation: An Improvement over the Original? Or Much Ado about Nothing?
- The Joseph Smith Translation
- Why Isn’t the Joseph Smith Translation (Inspired Version) of the Bible used today?
- The Joseph Smith Translation: Inspired by Whom?
- Faith alone and the Joseph Smith Translation
- President Joseph F. Smith explained, “All members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be as familiar as possible with the words that are recorded in the New Testament, especially with reference to those things spoken as recorded by the apostles, and the Savior Himself.” What advantages are there for a truth seeker to be “as familiar as possible with the words that are recorded in the New Testament”? For the Mormon, what could possible happen by studying the New Testament books (say, the epistles) by themselves?
If the Bible is scripture and ought to be trusted (or even trusted when it was originally written), then understanding what it says is vital for anyone claiming to be a truth seeker. We recommend reading the Bible “as a little child.” The goal is not to allow our presuppositions influence the way something ought to be read. One excellent book of the Bible to consider is Romans.
- Suppose someone says that the Bible is filled with errors because corrupt translators incorporated their pagan ideas into the text. How can having a basic understanding of how the Bible came into existence enhance our ability to evangelize?
In apologetics the reliability of the biblical manuscripts are often attacked, especially the gospels and the New Testament itself. Thus, allow me to give a couple of resources that would be good to consider. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Paperback by F.F. Bruce is a classic on the topic and is generally very readable for the layperson. Another one that is well done is Historical Reliability of the Gospels by Craig Blomberg. These books should be considered excellent esources on the topic. It hasn’t been around for long, but former journalist/atheist Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Case for … Series) (or Kindle) is excellent for giving to skeptics, as the author interviews some big names to determine the historicity of the Bible and the very person of Jesus Christ. For teens, I recommend The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Student Edition) and Case for Christ for Kids (Case for… Series for Kids). A six-pack collection at a reduced price is also available, which can be used to hand out in your evangelism efforts.
It is so important to have a good understanding about how our Bible came to be. Much is also available on our website (www.mrm.org) to help you better understand this. For instance, check out the many articles on our friend Matt Slick’s website carm.org.
Chapter 8: The Book of Mormon
- Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the “most correct book on earth.” Suppose a Mormon asked you why you have problems with this LDS scripture. If you only had five minutes to provide three reasons for your view, what would you say?
Five minutes may be all the time we get to be able to explain our position. Therefore, it is important to summarize our thinking as much as we can in order to present the reasons why we believe the way we do (1 Peter 3:15).
There can be a variety of answers to this question, but here are 10 reasons why I reject the Book of Mormon as scripture:
- There is no archaeological support for this book.
- There are entire sections copied from booksavailable only after the Book of Mormon was supposedly written.
- There is no evidence Joseph Smith had the ability to translatesuch plates.
- The plates would have been impossible to carryfor three miles in a single run.
- There were a number of changesmade in the Book of Mormon after the original 1830 publishing, even though Smith supposedly received his translation word for word.
- There is no manuscript evidenceto support the existence of such a book.
- Praying about a scripture (to see if it’s ture) is never recommended in the Bible.
- Nobody ever saw the plates with their physical eyes.
- There is no evidence that the people described in the Book of Mormonever existed.
- The ideas found in the Book of Mormoncoincide with written materials available to Joseph Smith.
There are other articles on our website that ought to be considered, including:
- Archaeology and the Book of Mormon
- Smithsonian Institute Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon
- Is the Book of Mormon from God?
- When if comes to the Gold Plates, there was no miracle
- Problems with the Gold Plates in the Book of Mormon (CRI article)
- Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?
- Can myth be scripture?
- Examining the Story of Coriantumr and Shiz
- Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this Church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.” Is this general authority correct? What would you say to those Mormons who say it doesn’t matter if the events in the Book of Mormon never took place as long as it provides them with spiritual comfort?
It is not an “either/or fallacy” to say that gravity exists..or it does not. Or that I am alive right now or deceased. In the same way, the Book of Mormon:
a) is (or is not) a historical book in its major premises (i.e. ancient Jews came to the Americas;
b) depicts (or does not depict) a historical event by documenting Christ’s visit to this continent;
c) plates were buried (or were not buried) in a New York hillside some sixteen centuries ago.
In other words, the Book of Mormon is either a true historical book or it is not. Some have deluded themselves into thinking that the historicity of the Book of Mormon doesn’t matter. For example, LDS apologist Van Hale declared:
More than 20 years ago I concluded that my belief in the Book of Mormon as a divinely inspired book of scripture did not require that it be an accurate, detailed translation of an ancient history (Host of Mormon Miscellaneous, radio broadcast that aired February 6, 2005).
If this sacred LDS scripture contains nothing more than spiritual significance but nothing historical, it offers nothing to the conversation concerning spiritual truth! Joseph Smith declared:
Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none (History of the Church 2:52).
And I wholeheartedly agree with early LDS Apostle Orson Pratt when he stated:
This book must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God to man, affecting both the temporal and eternal interests of every people under heaven to the same extent and in the same degree that the message of Noah affected the inhabitants of the old world. If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions who will sincerely receive it as the word of God, and will suppose themselves securely built upon the rock of truth until they are plunged with their families into hopeless despair. The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it (Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 1:1, Liverpool, October 15, 1850).
LDS apologist Louis Midgley declared,
There is no middle ground on the question of whether the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text. On this—but not of course on every issue—we are confronted with an either/or possibility…There is nothing in the Book of Mormon (or in Joseph Smith’s account of its coming forth) that suggests that it should be read as anything other than historical fact (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures, Paul Y. Hoskisson, ed., pp. 149-150).
I believe the 10 points I listed in the answer given in question 1 of this chapter are good reasons to seriously doubt the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Certainly God intends for people to have faith, but blind faith is never expected. Praying about a book that could very well be fictional and coming away with a feeling that it is somehow true does not negate the facts.
- It is often stressed that a person ought to pray about the Book of Mormon to see if it is true. Should Christians be willing to take this test for themselves? Describe the advantages or consequences to praying about the Book of Mormon.
The Bible does teach that we are to test all things (1 Thess. 5:21). But praying about a book of scripture and praying to God to see if it is true is never advocated. The Bereans were considered to be most noble because they tested Paul’s words in Acts 17 with the Old Testament scripture. There are many false prophets, we are told, who will mislead us if they possibly can. While they may attempt to pass counterfeit $30 bills, we have enough tests in our arsenal to spot the fraud and keep ourselves from accepting something less than the genuine.
If the Book of Mormon is true, it should be able to be seen without having to “pray” about it. The archeological findings should help verify the events as uncovered by the Book of Mormon; the history would coincide with ancient American happenings; and the characters listed in the book would be shown as real people participating in real events.
And why should the seeker limit “prayer” to just one scripture? If this really is the method to understand a true faith, then the Qu’ran, the Tripitaka, the Vedas, and any other scripture should also be read, studied, and prayed over. Limiting the test to the Book of Mormon would appear to be incomplete.
Consequences to praying about the Book of Mormon and relying on personal feelings—no matter how strong they might be—to help determine the veracity of this book include being fooled. After all, our feelings can mislead on a number of issues. The missionaries will also likely point out how Moroni 10:4 says that a person must “ask with a sincere heart” and “with real intent.” The test isn’t legitimate because the only possible answer is that it is true, so those who don’t see it for themselves must not have been sincere or did not have “real intent.” For more on this issue, click here.
Chapter 9: The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
- According to President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Doctrine and Covenants brings men to Christ’s kingdom, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth’ (verse 30). I know that.” Is Benson’s statement reasonable? Why or why not?
If the Doctrine and Covenants was consistent with biblical truth, then it would bring forth truth. But so much that we find in this unique LDS scripture contradicts biblical Christianity. (Check out this PDF reference sheet that can help you in evangelism.) As far as the Mormon Church being the “only true and living church,” if what is taught in this church contradicts the truth, then no, this is not a reasonable statement. Consider the major differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.
- Except for Section 138 and the two “official declarations,” nothing has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants since the 19th century. In your opinion, why doesn’t the church add more teachings and revelations if God is still speaking to LDS leaders today?
This is a legitimate question. If the purpose of the LDS leadership is to be our guide in these latter days, what do they have to offer in these complicated times of ours? Yes, the LDS Church leaders did give us “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” Yet besides offering us some unique LDS teachings (i.e. premortality) and a general consensus about the importance of family, did this statement really add anything new that wasn’t already known to Latter-day Saints?
There are a number of “thus saith the Lord” statements that could be helpful when contemplating any number of moral issues never dealt with by the Mormon leadership. There are a number of ethical issues where there is no clear guidance. For example, a simple statement on the LDS website regarding abortion says
The Church opposes abortion and counsels its members not to submit to or perform an abortion except in the rare cases where, in the opinion of competent medical counsel, the life or good health of the mother is seriously endangered or where the pregnancy was caused by rape and produces serious emotional trauma in the mother. Even then it should be done only after counseling with the local presiding priesthood authority and after receiving divine confirmation through prayer.
This was written in 1973, soon after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in America. No “thus saith the Lord” is offered. No explanation as to why a fetus produced through rape ought to be denied life is offered. With so much more available to the Pro Life Cause, how do we know that this is what God intends? (For example, consider this article in this important discussion.)
In addition, if God can guide these latter-day leaders, there are a number of issues that we think a modern-day prophet ought to be able to address and possibly turn into scripture. For instance,
- Which Book of Mormon theory (where the events took place) is correct? Did the events take place in Central America? Or in North America?
- And if the King James Version of the Bible is considered “true as far as it is translated correctly,” and if the Mormon president is still considered a “prophet, seer, and revelator,” then why doesn’t the church make its own translation in the same manner Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon?
If there is a direct connection between God and the LDS leadership, it would seem that there would be more guidance in Salt Lake City rather than the business / public relations mentality that marks these men sitting in the church’s administration building.
- In your mind, does the Book of Abraham help or hinder the idea that Joseph Smith knew how to translate ancient languages? Explain your reasoning.
The Mormon Church leaders had to be stunned when the Book of Abraham papyrus came forth in 1967. Attempting to explain this common funeral papyri has been exhausting, I’m sure, to this PR machine. In August 2014, the LDS Church came out with a Gospel Topics essay explaining the Book of Abraham. See our response here.
Chapter 10: The Atonement
- In Mormonism, the Garden of Gethsemane is given preeminence when mentioned by general authorities in reference to the atonement. Why do Christians stress the cross rather than the garden for where Jesus atoned for the sins of all believers?
Throughout Christian history the Garden of Gethsemane has never been emphasized in relationship to the cross because the Bible never associates the blood Jesus shed there for the atonement. Nor was the blood coming from the flogging, the fists that pounded his face, or the crown put onto His head ever emphasized. Instead, the Bible is clear that it is the death (expiation) that provided atonement, not the perspiration with drops of blood.
- Some Mormons, including Gordon B. Hinckley, said that they don’t like displaying the cross because “it is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of a Living Christ.” Is this description accurate with what the biblical writers said?
Besides the Gospels, much of the references to Christ and His saving work refer to His death and ultimate resurrection. Let me share a verse from practically every New Testament epistle emphasizing His blood and death:
Romans 5:6-9: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”
1 Corinthians 2:2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
2 Corinthians 4:10: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Ephesians 2:13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Philippians 2:8: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Colossians 1:19-22: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—“
1 Thess. 4:14: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
Hebrews 12:2b: “…For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
1 Peter 1:2: “. . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.”
1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Revelation 1:5-6: “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”
Other verses could have been trotted out as well, including those we included in chapter 10 of our book, but it certainly seems like the cross as well as the blood and death of Jesus is referred to quite often throughout the New Testament. It is certain that the death of Jesus plays a prominent role in a biblical faith.
- Joseph Fielding Smith said that he disliked a physical image of the cross because it could end up being bowed down to and possibly worshiped. What parameters should there be in Christian worship with displaying a cross around one’s neck or a decoration on the wall? How would you respond to Smith’s accusation?
Anything can be abused. Of course, someone could misunderstand and worship the cross and it’s something to be mindful of. But at the same time, it is an important symbol reminding the Christian about how salvation took place. I was very proud of my youngest daughter who attended an LDS function (a missionary farewell) and was criticized for wearing a cross around her neck. She meant no offense and responded to her teenage critic, “This symbol means so much to me.” Why did she get criticized? Because wearing the cross was considered offensive. Symbols are powerful, as the Mormon can attest. For example, there is plenty of symbolism associated with the temple, including certain emblems on various LDS temples, markings sewn into temple garments, and a ceremony that symbolically covers the creation of the world. If the Mormon is allowed to treat these symbols as “sacred,” why can’t the cross also be considered in such a way?
Chapter 11: Grace and Works
- The idea of grace is a difficult topic for many to grasp. After all, how could something of great value not come at great personal cost (i.e. plenty of good works)? Why is this concept so hard for nonbelievers to accept? What are ways that the evangelical Christian can explain grace without making it appear that good works aren’t important?
Every religion besides Christianity asks the question, “What can we do for God?” Whether it is dealing with karma from past existences (and trying to get everything right) or making God happy by keeping a church’s commandments, it seems that nobody with this mindset can ever know that enough has been done. There is no assurance that heaven/Nirvana/the Celestial Kingdom/??? has ever been guaranteed. There are lots of spinning wheels but frustration seems to be the rule and not the exception.
Biblical Christianity, however, asks, “What did God do for me (first)?” The perspective is radical. Good works are done because of what God has done. They’re not performed with the thinking that, somehow, God’s grace and mercy was ever something to be earned.
People should be aware of getting swindled. After all, nothing in life is free. There must be something a person has to do in order to make God happy. No, the Christian responds, I do good works because of what He did for me. An illustration I have created may help this concept make sense:
A young man was celebrating his birthday with his family and friends. As he opened up his presents, he came upon a card from his grandfather who was sitting in the corner. The young man picked it up and read the words aloud: “Grandson, I love you so much. I have put 10 into your bank account. Enjoy! Love, Grandpa.” The young man swallowed hard, looked up, and waved to his grandfather. “Thanks,” he said, though he really didn’t mean it. He considered it as nothing more than a cheap gift from someone who he thought had the means to be more generous.
A few weeks later, the boy needed gas for his car and didn’t have any money. Then he realized that he could go to the bank and collect his $10, good for at least another 100 miles on his car. He handed his passbook to the teller, who looked at her computer screen, wrote into the passbook, and handed him a crisp new $10 bill.
As the boy walked out of the bank, he glanced at the page. All of a sudden, he became livid. Running back inside, he bumped the customer standing where his tell had just given him the money. “What’s the meaning of this!” he exclaimed. “Is this a cruel joke?”
The teller looked at him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The boy replied, “Why did you write “$9,999,990” into my book?” “Well,” she answered, “you had $10 million, but you took out $10, so that’s what’s left.”
All of a sudden, the boy understood something that he didn’t before. He had received a gift he could never earn on his own. While entertainment stars and sports figures can make this figure in a single year, it would require the average person to make $250,000 for 40 years, an impossible sum for most of us!
What do you think the reaction of the boy will be? Will he go to his Grandpa’s house and throw lye in the grass, spray paint graffiti on the garage door, and kick the man’s dog? I doubt it. At the very least, I bet he will send a thank you card. But $10 million is a pretty sizable gift. No, I think he will go over to Grandpa’s house and thank him in person.
After hugging his Grandfather and thanking him, he looks at the yard and realizes that the grass needs mowing. “Why is your grass so long?” the boy wondered. Grandpa replied, “Well, I pretty much gave you everything I had, so I don’t have the funds to pay the gardener any more.”
The grandson had an idea. Why, he could mow the grass! He took his grandfather’s mower out and, two hours later, completed the job. It made him feel good to do something for someone who has done something as nice as a $10 million gift.
In fact, it made him feel so good that he decided to come back for the next 51 weeks, mowing the grass each week. What a nice gesture! But wait. What if, at the end of the year, the boy went up to his grandfather and said, “I’m all paid up.” What do you think Grandpa’s reaction would be? No doubt he would be confused. After all, what he gave his grandson was a gift, something that was not meant to be paid back. Imagine if you gave someone a birthday present and the person took out his wallet, asking how much the gift had cost so you could be repaid. This isn’t the protocol! A gift is received, not paid for.
Yes, it’s natural to want to do nice things for someone who has blessed you so much, but it would be a mistake to think that somehow the gift can ever be paid back. In the grandson’s case, he apparently thought he was “earning” approximately $200,000 every time he mowed the grass. That’s certainly not what the grandfather intended.
In the same way, good works are what we do in response to what God has first done for us. To think we are even paying a portion back is silly. How can you measure the cost of eternal life? And what could a person ever do to ever “earn” a portion of it back? This is the mistake in Mormon soteriology. To think we are paying anything for our salvation—even 67 cents for a bicycle and the father pays the rest, according to Stephen E. Robinson’s famous analogy—is faulty logic. As the hymn goes, Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. A Christian’s good works is the mowing of the grass in gratitude for what has been given.
- Elaine S. Dalton told a general conference audience, “When you renew your covenants each week by partaking of the sacrament, you covenant that you will always remember the Savior and keep His commandments.” What is the problem in promising to God to keep the commandments and then breaking them later in the week?
It’s a worthy goal to attempt to follow God’s ways and not sin. I empathize with that. The problem is that nobody can keep all the commandments. It’s impossible. Even when you think you have not murdered or committed adultery, Jesus says hate or lust in your heart turns you into a murderer and adulterer. And if you have ever stolen anything, you rightfully deserve the title of “thief.” Therefore, repentance will always be necessary in Mormonism. But what is repentance except admission that you didn’t do what you covenanted you would? It’s a vicious circle.
That is the problem with this type of thinking. Promising to keep the rules and regulations is empty; you know you can’t do it, but you promise to do it anyway. While the Mormon wanders around attempting to Do, Do, Do, the Christian fully understands that the work is DONE, DONE, DONE. And that’s the glory of the cross!
- In this chapter, we said that a Christian is a person who has received forgiveness of sins. How would you explain this concept to someone who thinks this sounds too good (and too easy) to be true?
Matthew 1:21 says, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This is the whole reason why Jesus came to earth in the first place. Offering forgiveness of sins is what the entire Old Testament prefigured. Yet the blood of animals was a temporary solution. Eternal forgiveness required the ultimate sacrifice. While this may sound “too good to be true,” it is reality. There are only two options: accept the gift or try to earn it on your own. If it can’t be earned, then isn’t the only legitimate option to eagerly accept God’s offer?
Chapter 12: Heaven and Hell
- Exaltation, or eternal life, is the goal that the LDS leaders say every Mormon should have. Based on the information presented in this section of salvation, what is the likelihood for that a faithful Latter-day Saint will to qualify for this state? How does this view of godhood and eternal increase differ from the Bible’s teachings?
We don’t typically meet Mormons who think they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do. If they were to die right now, they tell us, they would not be qualified for God’s best. At public venues I offer copies of The Miracle of Forgiveness to any Latter-day Saint who hasn’t read the book and doesn’t have a copy. Most walk by without saying anything. However, a Mormon will occasionally mention that he or she read the book. “So,” I ask, “how are you doing at doing what Kimball said you needed to do?” Very often, the question evokes a sheepish grin and the person will say, “I’m not.” No matter how hard a person tries or does the best he can, the goal is impossible. They understand the rules of their church. The gospel of Mormonism does not correspond to the biblical standard of reality.
While the Bible teaches that a Christian can be glorified (i.e. receive a glorified body, as talked about in 1 Cor. 15), nowhere does it say that a person can attain “godhood” or have “eternal increase.” To a Christian, “families are forever” is a reference to spiritual families, which is called the “Family of God.” Spiritually, believers are brothers and sisters in the Lord.
- Many Mormons think that the Christian view of hell is “unfair” and that God loves His children so much He would never send them there for eternity. Using the LDS view of three levels of heaven and the reality that most Mormons will not attain the top level, explain to a Latter-day Saint how this scenario might be perceived as “unfair” by those outside the LDS Church. And how is the LDS view of punishment in “outer darkness” for one-third of God’s spirit offspring no better than this view another reason to claim Mormonism’s view of the afterlife is “unfair”? Is it a problem that the great majority of God’s offspring won’t qualify for celestial exaltation and will be forever banned from entering his presence?
Consider what John A. Widtsoe said about “no” hell:
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is no hell. All will find a measure of salvation; all must pay for any infringement of the law; but the payment will be as the Lord may decide. There is graded salvation, and this may be a more terrible punishment: to feel that because of sin a man is in one place, when by a correct life, he might be in a higher. The gospel of Jesus Christ has no hell in the old proverbial sense. (Joseph Smith: Seeker After Truth, p. 178).
Notice what he said: a “graded salvation” that “may be a more terrible punishment”! And BYU professor Daniel H. Ludlow wrote,
There are, of course, three kingdoms of glory to which resurrected persons will go—the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial. (1 Cor. 15:39-42; D. C. 76.) Of these three, only the celestial is the kingdom of God; it is the kingdom reserved for the saints who obey the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Great hosts of persons will go to the other kingdoms and hence will not attain salvation in the full gospel sense (A Companion to Your Study of the New Testament, p. 311).
So, eternity in any place other than the celestial kingdom will make one “very unhappy.” This sounds like punishment to me, especially since the majority of all mankind will never enter this presence. Even many Latter-day Saints won’t!
As far as those preexistent brothers and sisters who were “cast” out of heaven, they are destined for Outer Darkness due to their solitary sin of rebellion. (How many sins have you committed in “rebellion”?) Their fate for this past disobedience is eternity with no hope of repentance. How is this any more fair than Christianity’s version of hell? Seventy Milton R. Hunter explained:
Many Latter-day Saints will not attain the celestial glory because they did not abide by the commandments of God; therefore, they will be very unhappy because they did not gain celestial life which could have been theirs (Conference Reports, October 1949, p. 74).
Certainly tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t have a lot of hope for his people when he stated,
NOT HALF THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS TO BE SAVED. Those who receive the fulness will be privileged to view the face of our Father. There will not be such an overwhelming number of the Latter-day Saints who will get there. President Francis M. Lyman many times has declared, and he had reason to declare, I believe, that if we save one-half of the Latter-day Saints, that is, with an exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God, we will be doing well. Not that the Lord is partial, not that he will draw the line as some will say, to keep people out. He would have every one of us go in if we would; but there are laws and ordinances that we must keep; if we do not observe the law we cannot enter (Doctrines of Salvation 2:15. Italics in original).
I have to wonder, do you think the Latter-day Saints are better (i.e. more moral and obedient) today than they were 75 years ago? Do you think Smith would be more optimistic today than when he originally said this?
- Why do you think many Mormons bristle at the idea they may have about the biblical view of heaven? If you only had a few minutes to explain the biblical view of heaven, what would you say?
When this issue comes up, I like to ask the Latter-day Saints what they think Christianity teaches about heaven. So often, their stereotype is very typical: Angels with wings sitting on clouds strumming on their harps. How many times have I heard a Latter-day Saint tell me he would rather be in hell than to put up with this scenario!
To me, this is a false concept of what the Bible teaches on heaven. Jesus referred to a mansion and said He would reserve a room for us. I don’t think heaven will be like a Marriott. Others take the “streets of gold” literally. Do you know how hot that would be on our feet in the summer? Actually, I think there is a lot of mystery to heaven because, quite frankly, God’s intention isn’t for us to dwell on details. We have work to do here with limited time; heaven will take care of itself! I might be carnal, but I had all types of ideas what marriage life would be like, including the ability to freely have sex. And sex is a wonderful thing. Yet the dynamics of a relationship and everything that is involved with sex makes it much different than what I think I expected. There was a lot more involved than I could have ever imagined. In the same way, we can have a general idea of what heaven will be like, but the experience will be so much deeper than what we might expect now. That’s OK. Mystery is not a bad thing. Indeed, there is so much more than sitting around the clouds and singing praise songs to Jesus (though that will be a highlight of each day for His people!). Heaven will be totally awesome.
I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven, as he spends an entire volume discussing the biblical heaven.
Chapter 13: Communion and Baptism
- In what ways is the sacrament in Mormonism similar/different to the communion of Christianity? Suppose you, as a Christian, were invited to attend an LDS service and the elements were passed. Would you participate? Why or why not?
Recently I attended a “fast and testimony” service, which takes place on the first Sunday of each month. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to miss two meals and then take that money to be given to the needy in their congregation. (If you are to ever visit a local LDS congregation, these meetings are typically the most interesting.) Each Sunday they pass the elements separately on trays with handles. A friend who was with me would not even touch the tray. As a former Mormon, he just didn’t feel comfortable doing this. Yes, we passed the tray down and did not partake. These verses in 1 Corinthians seem to apply:
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
While I wouldn’t be as strong in my language as Paul was (i.e. tell my hosts that I thought their bread and water constituted food and drink from “demons”), I would say giving glory to a “false god” and “Jesus” thorugh this symbolic act should not be a practice of the Christian. Of course, the Mormon God and Jesus were not present in those elements, but what it represented offered a different view of the Ones we worship. I attended the service to show others from our church what a Mormon service looked like, but we certainly didn’t want to participate in their worship. Handling this in a kind and gentle manner (1 Peter 3:16) is key. Just quietly pass the elements and let it be. Let’s be gracious guests and not make our hosts feel uncomfortable while maintaining our stand.
- Many Christians are not sure what to do when they are invited to a baptismal service for a Latter-day Saint friend or family member. Should a faithful Christian attend the baptism? Provide reasoning for what is obviously a very sensitive issue.
This is a personal preference. There are two choices. Make a statement by not attending because this is ordinance is not authentic. Or attend to maintain the relationship. As the leader of the group discussion, pleae be gracious in allowing for differences of opinion on this issue.
For me, it would depend on who was getting baptized. A neighbor? A co-worker? Someone who once belonged to my church? If this were the case, I don’t think I would attend.
However, if the baptismal candidate was a close friend or a relative, I might consider. (Honestly, this situation has never presented itself to me.) I know Latter-day Saint family members have come to my church to observe the Christian baptism of one of their loved ones. I’m sure this wasn’t very comfortable, but I appreciate the support they attempted to lend. Seeing this played out, I think I would probably go. I would leave overt evangelism behind for the day but consider how my attendance might provide an opportunity to share the faith down the road.
Scripturally speaking, though, I think there is freedom in making this difficult decision.
- Consider the verses that are used by Mormons to support the idea of baptismal regeneration (the idea that water baptism is a requirement for salvation). What approach would you use to show that conclusion to be in error? What are some verses you could share that would be beneficial to explain how salvation comes by grace through faith and not by works?
This would be a good time to go back through the chapter and consider the verses that are often used to support baptismal regeneration. The Bible seems very clear that it is faith, not works (including baptism), paving the way for the relationship. If this is the case, then getting dunked in water is not efficacious for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, it is an act of obedience and, though important for sanctification, does not have any effect in justification from sins. It is, as one quote in our book says, “the gateway through which we enter the path to the celestial kingdom.”
But here’s the point I would like to make. A person who gets baptized into the Mormon Church is no more “saved” than anyone else, even non-Latter-day Saints. A nonbaptized person is headed to one of the three kingdoms (celestial, terrestrial, telestial) just as much as the baptized person. Joining the church and getting baptized is nothing more than the first step on the road to exaltation. To get there, a person must have complete obedience to the commandments. And as we write in the book, nobody is doing that.
Chapter 14: The Word of Wisdom
- According to Mormonism, keeping the Word of Wisdom is tied to one’s salvation, as a person cannot receive a temple recommend without foregoing coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. Without this recommend, a person cannot do the work necessary to attain the celestial kingdom. Is there any biblical precedent that one’s intake of certain foods or even the use of alcohol and drugs could put one’s spiritual destiny in jeopardy? What does the Bible have to say about this?
The temple recommend is the carrot that puts many people in line. After all, without this, it is impossible for a person to attend the temple. Even a parent of a child getting married in the temple is unable to enter without this important card.
While there certainly was an Old Testament dietary law, this has not transferred to New Testament times. Jesus himself said that it wasn’t went into the body that polluted but the attitude of the heart (Mark 7:17-23). Paul dealt with this issue with fellow apostle Peter. As Paul explained in Galatians 2:11-15, Peter was a hypocrite for separating himself from the Gentiles. And in a section titled “Freedom from Human Rules,” Paul wrote the following in Colossians 2:16-23:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
The difference between Mormonism and Christianity is that Mormons are told to make themselves presentable to God. Christians read in the Bible, however, that God makes a person presentable to Himself through the work done on the cross. While we certainly don’t believe that drugs, tobacco, or alcohol should be abused, at the same time we would never equate one’s eternal destiny based on their intake of illicit substances. We also disagree with the LDS leadership that “hot drinks” such as coffee and tea are prohibited by God. The very fact that Smith—who supposedly received this “revelation”—and other early LDS leaders drank alcohol and hot drinks and smoked cigars shows me that they didn’t believe the Word of Wisdom to be very important either.
- Suppose a Mormon says that the Word of Wisdom proves how Joseph Smith truly was a prophet of God, such as his ability to know the dangers of tobacco. How would you respond?
It can be shown that there were others in Smith’s day who proclaimed the dangers of tobacco. Could it be that Smith was merely parroting what he had heard? And because there is testimony that Smith, at least on occasion, smoked cigars, why should the Mormon be required to take this prohibition seriously?
- Sometimes situations arise that the Bible does not provide specifics. Suppose, for instance, that you were having dinner with a fellow believer who was once an alcoholic. The waiter asks at the beginning of your meal if you would like something to drink. If you normally felt comfortable in public ordering a glass of wine with your meal, what would be your course of action? In another situation, suppose the dinner partner was a Latter-day Saint co-worker to whom you have been sharing your faith. Would you order the glass of wine with dinner or perhaps a cup of coffee after dinner? What biblical precedence would you cite for your decision(s)?
This is a sensitive question and answers may vary. For me, I will defer to 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
Paul adds at the end of the chapter (verses 31-33):
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
We have many rights, but as Paul says here, not everything is beneficial or constructive. So the overriding questions are as follows:
1) Does my freedom impinge on someone else’s conscience?
2) Is what I am doing seeking after my own good or the good of others?
3) Are there times where I ought to limit my rights so I don’t offend someone carelessly?
I know a man with a Mormon background who regularly attends my local church, though he hasn’t necessarily “bought in” to Christianity. (His wife is a believer.) At a men’s church function (watching a football game together), some of the men were drinking beer. This event has caused a terrible problem for this man who is currently trying to determine truth. It turns out that he was offended by those calling themselves “Christian” drinking alcohol at a church event.
Is drinking beer ever OK? At the right place at the right time, I believe it can be. Or it might not be. It depends, as this is a personal decision. When it comes to drinking beer at a church function, though, I think the rules change, especially if not everyone who is attending is on the same page. If our choice could possibly offend someone—say, a nonbeliever or weaker brother—then I would suggest refraining from the freedom, including drinking a beer. It might sound legalistic to some, but we must be careful that we consider all possibilities of how an innocent bystander could be caused to stumble.
Suppose, for instance, that you were having dinner with a fellow believer who was once an alcoholic. The waiter asks at the beginning of your meal if you would like something to drink. If you normally felt comfortable in public ordering a glass of wine with your meal, what would be your course of action?
If I liked alcohol with my meal but was eating with someone who might have a weaker conscience (especially someone who has struggled in the past with alcohol), then I would decline a drink for the sake of my brother. I have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial or constructive. Not having a drink with the meal is better than causing a brother to stumble.
In another situation, suppose the dinner partner was a Latter-day Saint co-worker to whom you have been sharing your faith. Would you order the glass of wine with dinner or perhaps a cup of coffee after dinner?
Notice the last part of 1 Corinthians 10: “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” Why would I purposely want to offend another person, even a Latter-day Saint? If the person understands that I know the basics of Mormonism (and know that alcohol is prohibited in their religion), wouldn’t it be better for me to forego my freedom and hope that my example of respect would be understood. Not everyone may agree with me on this issue, but this is my position based on this scripture. However, if I knew the dinner partner well and he had told me that my having a drink of my choice wouldn’t offend him, then I think there could be freedom in this case.
Regardless of my opinion, this question should provide plenty of good practical discussion in your group and cause the group memebers to think and articulate their views.
Chapter 15: The Temple
- Describe the temple of Bible times and then contrast its characteristics with those of the Mormon temples. Do you see more similarities or differences? Give three examples to support your case.
Among the differences that could be discussed include:
Biblical temple Mormon temple
|Only one temple (in Jerusalem)||Multiple temples|
|Slaughterhouse (killing of sacrificial animals)||No animals are killed here|
|No baptisms for the dead||Baptisms for the dead is the primary function|
|Genealogy was used to determine Levite priests (who did the work in the temple)||Genealogy is used to determine who should have work done on their behalf|
|No marriages performed here||Marriages for time and eternity performed here|
|Unworthy people went to perform sacrifices||Temple recommend needed to do any work here|
|Priestly garments worn (though they weren’t white and no green fig leafs)||Garments are white, green fig leaf|
|No women did work in the temple||About half of those attending are female|
- Mormons typically see nothing wrong with having experiences encounters with those who are the dead, especially in the temple. How would you explain your views on such a practice?
Saul was reprimanded when he consulted with the witch of Endor. And the Bible seems to pretty clear that Christians should have nothing to do with those already dead. What good could take place when a Christian becomes involved with the occult? The danger of becoming engaged with demonic activity is a good reason to avoid any type of dealing with the dead.
- Certain people holding temple recommends have gone into the temple and recorded the endowment ceremony, even putting the information on the Internet. What are your thoughts on this? What role should could your knowledge of what goes on inside the temple play in your evangelistic efforts with your Latter-day Saint friend or family member?
The information is on the Internet. To me, understanding the ceremonies and what goes on could be beneficial in a conversation with a Latter-day Saint. When something secret becomes exposed, sometimes its power becomes minimalized. So, while we don’t advertise our knowledge of the temple ceremony in the first five minutes of a conversation, sometimes our understanding can be helpful in explaining why we have difficulties for what goes on inside a Mormon temple.
Chapter 16: Lamanites, the Seed of Cain, and Plural Marriage
- Regarding the priesthood ban for those of African heritage, the Mormon website lds.org claims, “It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended.” What are your thoughts on this assessment?
The problem with such a statement is that history does not support the assertion. The early leaders of the church knew exactly why there was a “restriction” (or, better, ban), and this is what they taught. While it’s true that the ban is no longer doctrine, the fact is that it once was taught to be true and was supposed to never end.
- When the issue of plural marriage is brought up, many like to point to the Old Testament patriarchs and kings who had married multiple wives. It is argued that if these people practiced plural marriage, it should not be considered sinful or immoral. How would you respond to this argumentation?
Contrary to the church leaders, we must understand that, like divorce, polygamy was tolerated by God; however, this practice certainly was never commanded. In fact, the only biblical passage mentioned to support the idea that God commanded biblical saints to practice plural marriage is Genesis 16. Here is what the first verses say:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
The Mormon might point to verse 3 where it says Hagar was given to Sarai’s “husband to be his wife.” In the context, however, this is nothing more than a reference that Abram and Hagar joined together in a sexual union. As one commentary says,
The phrase “to be his wife” in verse 3 is merely a euphemism for sexual intercourse. That is clear from the phrase that immediately follows it as well as from the original request (v.2). The context makes it clear that Hagar remained the slave not of Abraham, but of Sarai.
Even after the agreement between Sarai and Abram (v.2), Hagar is still considered her maidservant (v.3). The language is important. It is not Abram who takes Hagar into his tent, but Sarai gives Hagar to Abram. Sarai is in charge. After Abram slept with Hagar and conceived, not only Sarai (v.5) but also Abram still talks about Hagar as Sarai’s servant (v.6), not as his (new) wife. Furthermore, the narrator continues to call Sarai “her mistress” (v.4).
All throughout Genesis we find Sarai addressed as Abraham’s wife many times (11:29,31; 12:5,17,18,20; 13:1; 16:1,3; 17:15,19; 18:9,10; 20:2,7,11,12,14,18; 23:3,19) by the narrator, by Abraham, or by God himself. Hagar is never called the wife of Abraham, whether by Abraham, or by Sarah, or by God and only once by the narrator in the above discussed verse 16:3.
Hagar herself speaks to the angel about “my mistress Sarai” She does not question her status as a servant of Sarai. It is not the status but mistreatment by Sarai which is the issue.
More importantly, when the angel of the LORD appears to her he addresses her as “Hagar, servant of Sarai”, not as “Hagar, wife of Abram”. The messenger from God surely knows her proper title and position. And the angel gives her the command, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
For a look at a Gospel Topics essay on this topic, go here.
- Some sects not officially aligned with the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church believe this organization entered apostasy by eliminating important teachings such as polygamy and the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. Given the statements of LDS leaders prior to 1890 and 1978, who do you think has a stronger case as true followers of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young?
Mormons certainly dislike having people associate their religion with Mormon fundamentalist groups. For example, the FLDS group is despited by most Mormons I know. The group’s president, Warren Jeffs, is serving a lifetime prison sentence for having sex with two young girls. But this man, with 78 wives, was not much different from his views on plural marriage than the Mormon Church founder! As far as blacks holding the priesthood, Jeffs sides with Brigham Young’s views. Who is more closely aligned with Smith and Young? While the Mormon Church talks a good game, the fact of the matter is they are far away from fundamental teachings of these early leaders.
Chapter 17: Joseph Smith
- Although the LDS Church does not advocate the worship of Joseph Smith, he certainly is highly revered. What is it about this man that you think appeals to the faithful? If it was discovered that Smith was not the man he’s been made out to be, what could that possibly do to someone’s faith in Mormonism?
Smith certainly had charisma, which appealed to both males and females of his day. He was the type of person who, upon entering a room, commanded attention. While he isn’t worshipped, for a Mormon to even intimate that Smith was not the man he is made out to be would be anathema. In fact, a person’s disbelief in Smith could cause a quicker excommunication than a disbelief in Jesus! While it’s not the first topic we like to go, we should understand that Smith and his character is the soft underbelly of Mormonism. So often issues involving his polygamous ways, his bravado, and his flip-flopping on doctrinal issues causes the most consternation for Latter-day Saints.
- Suppose plural marriage is something that God truly wanted Christians to practice. Even so, how does Joseph Smith’s example go beyond the norms of plural marriage? Should the LDS religion be judged on the founder’s personal bad behavior?
Just for a moment, let’s pretend God intended for polygamy, one man and many women. Even so, Smith went much further than marrying multiple women. For example, a third of his marriages involved women who were married to other men. If Jacob 2:30 is correct, then the only possible reason to have polygamy is to raise up seed? Why did Smith marry wives of other men who were fully capable of raising their own seed? And where is the evidence of Smith’s children from these relationships? We also must wonder why Smith married teenagers, even girls as young as 14. They were not yet mature enough for a marriage relationship, and their bodies were not fully prepared to have children. The way that Smith hid many of his relationships from his first wife Emma is also disgusting. If this is what God intended, then why didn’t Emma see it this way? And why did he have to hide his practices behind her back?
As far as whether or not the religion ought to be judged on Smith’s bad behavior, I am reminded of a quote given by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, who stated,
As we remember and honor the Prophet Joseph Smith, my heart reaches out to him in gratitude. He was a good, honest, humble, intelligent, and courageous young man with a heart of gold and an unshaken faith in God. He had integrity (“Precious Fruits of the First Vision,” Ensign, February 2009, p. 7).
As the October 2014 conference, Apostle Neil L. Andersen said,
I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, . . . (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2014, p. 31).
The presupposition in Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was a moral man. When a person reads more about Smith’s philanderous ways, I’m not sure how this opinion could still be held. If this man could not be trusted in his moral lives and no repentance could ever be seen, then how are we supposed to trust him with our eternal destiny? Character does matter.
- Some Mormons have insisted that Smith’s boasting is no different from what Paul claimed for himself in 2 Corinthians 11. If a Mormon used this argument to explain Smith’s boasting, how would you respond?
Paul was reluctant in his “boasting” and only went that direction in order to make a point, that he had the authority as an apostle. The ultimate goal for Paul was to bring glory to God. Smith’s boasting was all about himself. Consider the following quotes by the Mormon Church founder:
I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I (Joseph Smith, May 26, 1844, History of the Church 6:408-409).
God made Aaron to be the mouthpiece for the children of Israel, and He will make me be god to you in His stead, and the Elders to be mouth for me; and if you don’t like it, you must lump it (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 363).
When did I ever teach anything wrong from this stand? When was I ever confounded? I want to triumph in Israel before I depart hence and am no more seen. I never told you I was perfect; but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 368. Also cited by Apostle Neil A. Maxwell, “How Choice a Seer!” Ensign (Conference Edition), November, 2003, p. 100).
While I was thus in the act of calling upon God I discovered a light appearing in my room which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside standing in the air for his feet did not touch the floor. …He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi (1842 Times and Seasons 3:753. Ellipses mine. See also 1851 Pearl of Great Price, pp. 40-41).
“I combat the errors of the ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers; and I solve mathematical problems of Universities: WITH TRUTH, diamond truth, and God is my ‘right hand man’” (Times and Seasons 4:375).
There is no comparison between Paul and Smith!
Chapter 18: The Church and its Leadership
- In the opening quote, Gordon B. Hinckley said that this is “not a reformist church but a restored church.” What did he mean? How would you respond to such a claim?
The Protestant church is a “reformed church” in the sense that, while it’s not Catholic, its teachings emanate from historic Western Christianity. Mormonism, Hinckley felt, was its unique brand because it picked up where the ancient Christian church left off. Is Mormonism the same as ancient Christianity. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, and when you check out the consistency of what Mormonism offers, it’s plain to see that there are too many differences. Mormonism denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church.
- If you were given a quote from a living human being (such as an LDS leader) and the words of the Bible, and the two quotes conflicted, which source do you think is more worthy of your trust? How would you explain your decision to a Latter-day Saint?
It depends on the person’s worldview. If you accept the Bible as God’s Word—yesterday, today, and forever—and that God has provided His thinking in the pages of this book, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else things. However, if you believe that God works through men today who call themselves prophets, seers, and revelators, and you accept the idea that it is fine when their teachings contradict the words of the Bible, then you are apt to follow them. The way to explain this is to show how often the leadership has been wrong in the past. In addition, show them how their words contradict the Bible. Given the choice, I’ll choose God’s Word over the personal opinion of fallible men.
- What are some of the problems when the newer revelations of LDS prophets and apostles abrogate or cancel out revelations from deceased general authorities?
If what these men taught in the past is “true” and then is later deemed as not being “true,” then we have to wonder if God was really speaking in the first place. For example, take plural marriage (repealed in 1890) and the ban on blacks holding the priesthood (repealed in 1978). If plural marriage was meant to be in force until the end of time, as some leaders taught, then how could this teaching change? And if God intended for it to change in 1890, then why did LDS leaders continue to practice polygamy until 1904? See here. And if blacks were never meant to hold the priesthood, how come this was changed? The two “revelations” sound more like politically correct decisions made by a multi-billion dollar corporation.
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