FARMS’ Critique of “Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend” (D. Charles Pyle)
When we wrote our book Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend (hereafter Questions) in 1994, we knew there was a good possibility that the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) would review the book in its journal entitled Review of Books. And sure enough it was in Volume 7, Number 1, 1995, pages 155-169.
About a year later we came across another review of Questions, this time by D. Charles Pyle. We first heard of this review from a pastor who knew Mr. Pyle. He gave us a copy of the review, which Pyle later published on the Internet. A condensed review of the Internet version was then printed in FARMS Review of Books, Volume 8, Number 2, 1996, pages 231-250. We can understand why FARMS decided to edit Mr. Pyle’s longer and apparently initial version, which is quite acidic and even mean-spirited in several parts. It is to FARMS’ edited version that we will most often refer.
The James Carvel of Mormon Apologetics?
Mr. Pyle gives the impression (especially in the Internet version) that in order to make a good case for his faith, the opponent must be made to look stupid and silly. We find this unfortunate method of defense to be both childish and bush league. While such language may be expected on a junior high school playground, it really serves no purpose in this arena. It would be nice if he would mature a little bit more before venting his disagreements.
Mr. Pyle uses a number of ad hominem arguments (attacks against the individual) by utilizing loaded terms and mocking insinuations to make Questions look ridiculous and hokey. Although this is traditionally considered to be a weak tactic, this did not stop Mr. Pyle from his sarcastic mockery. He declares to his Internet readers, “McKeever and Johnson are biblically impaired!!!” In the Internet text he states that one of our points “shows the utter ignorance of the authors in things Mormon and demonstrates their biblical illiteracy as well!” He does not hide the fact that he is unimpressed with our work and us as he demonstrates in the first paragraph of the Internet version:
After closing the book for a brief recess (needed to recover from the pain in my aching sides after much laughter), I continued to read until I finished the book. I even read some of it to my spouse. My wife and I were in tears. We had not laughed that hard in months! However, I do not quite think that either Mr. McKeever or Mr. Johnson had ever intended to write a comedy piece. Why was the book so hilariously written?
Mr. Pyle gave some possible reasons as to its humor, including the audacity we would have to receive input from friends such as Dick Baer and Marian Bodine as well as from one of Eric’s 10th grade English classes at Christian High School. Despite his disagreement with the above-mentioned people and the apparent silliness of our argumentation, he decided to go ahead and review our book. Alas, he has given room for a sequel, saying that someday when he is “bored and (has) nothing else to do, I will prepare a point-by-point refutation of the book’s contents.” He concludes his introductory paragraph thusly: “Until then, know that whatever I have not dealt with, I felt was too much a waste of time and effort to comment on!”
Needless to say, even FARMS, an organization notorious for verbally flaying those with whom they disagree, deleted this entire first paragraph. For instance, after listing all 15 questions that the book presents in the Internet version, Mr. Pyle wrote, “Let’s take a quick look at a few of those great pearls of wisdom!” The editors of the FARMS version changed it to read, “Let’s take a quick look at a few of the issues raised by McKeever and Johnson.”
In 1859 Brigham Young said, “If I should hear a man advocate the erroneous principles he had imbibed through education, and oppose those principles, some might imagine that I was opposed to that man, when, in fact, I am only opposed to every evil and erroneous principle he advances.” It seems that Young understood the difference between a diversity of opinion and personal attacks. It could be that Mr. Pyle doesn ‘t take Young’s words seriously since they can be found in the Journal of Discourses (7:191), an issue we will discuss later.
More recently, LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard stated, “As members of the Church, we need to be kind and gentle in our conversations as we express our convictions and feelings that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in its fullness through the Prophet Joseph Smith” (address given at the Logan Institute of Religion, Utah State University, on 17 February 1998). No doubt this is advice all people, including LDS apologists, should heed.
We are not saying that a bit of levity among disagreeing friends is always bad; however, since we don’t know Mr. Pyle on a personal level, we don’t think his remarks would qualify as “just kidding around.” It is the goal at MRM to respond to Mormons while observing the guidelines of 1 Peter 3:15. We firmly believe that if a person cannot defend his faith with gentleness and respect, perhaps he shouldn’t be involved in this type of work. We do not have a problem with Mr. Pyle responding to our work; we are however, troubled by his arrogant tone that even many Mormons would probably find offensive.
We concede that our purpose at MRM is to present what we believe to be truth. We can only say so many times that we hold no hatred or grudges against any individual Mormon, and we hope our writings demonstrate this. Paraphrasing the apostle Paul, we ask, “Are we therefore become a Mormon’s enemy because we tell them the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). We hope not! While we have had Mormons write and accuse us of hatred, when we challenge these same folks to show us even one sentence we have written that gives them this impression, we have yet to receive a valid example.
Before we go any further, we also should point out that not every Mormon agrees with Mr. Pyle’s assessment that Questions is a book that will make your sides “ache” and cause you to “cry” by making you laugh so hard. We have had communication with a number of Mormons who took our book seriously and who attempted to interact with us on a more rational level. Although his words could be taken in several ways, one Mormon author said that our book was NOT a joke. Writing in his book Understanding These Other Christians: An LDS Introduction to Evangelical Christianity (Sounds of Zion, Sandy, Utah, 1998) by Richard G. Grant, we read:
This is not a joke book about Mormons. It is written by the Mormonism Research Ministry, as a serious work intended to help Christians “know what to say” as they seek to help their Latter-day Saint friends “seriously examine their faith.”
One counselor to a stake president read the book, and, while he did not completely agree with some of our conclusions, wrote to Eric to say that we treated his church with “respect and fairness” and that the book did “spell out what Mormons believe.” He concluded his remarks by saying that the book was “well written. I have the highest regard for you and Bill.”
While the above are nothing more than personal opinions, Mr. Pyle needs to recognize that his comments are that as well. It is obvious that Questions is not a book to make anyone laugh, and it would appear that Alma 5:27-30 in the Book of Mormon heaps judgment upon Mr. Pyle’s hea
d for his condescending tone. It says:
Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
Even if we are in error and Mr. Pyle is exactly right, it does not seem that mockery is an acceptable way to make a point. Instead of offering sardonic comments, shouldn’t Mr. Pyle be saddened by our alleged incorrect assessment of truth and/or the facts of Mormonism?
The First Vision
In chapter 2 of Questions, we described the different first vision accounts of Joseph Smith’s encounter with God (and Jesus). Saying that “a number of excellent publications treat this oft-answered subject” (FARMS, p. 232) and then listing several sources, Mr. Pyle spends several paragraphs attacking biblical passages he thinks are contradictory by saying the accounts of Paul’s first vision of Jesus were of the same nature. He states, “I think it would be instructive, however, for evangelicals to look critically at accounts of the first vision of Paul. A comparison of Luke’s secondhand account of Paul’s first vision in Acts 9:1-20 with Paul’s own accounts in Acts 22:4-21 and Acts 26:9-20 reveals a number of differences.”
Just as Mr. Pyle is able to state that there are “a number of excellent publications” dealing with Smith’s first vision, so too have biblical scholars dealt with the “problem” of the three accounts of Paul’s vision. These include Does the Bible Contradict Itself? by W. Arndt (Concordia Publishing, p. XIII), Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible by John W. Haley (Baker, p. 359), and Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Zondervan, p. 382-383).
Perhaps Mr. Pyle should exercise caution before criticizing the biblical accounts he cites. After all, except for Acts 9:7, Joseph Smith felt “inspired” to leave them intact in his Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. A good Greek lexicon would alleviate any apparent contradiction in the Acts 9:7 passage. If these citations are really contradictory, as Pyle maintains, it most certainly casts doubt on his prophet’s inspiration.
The accounts, listed in Acts 9:1-20, Acts 22:4-21, and Acts 26:9-20 do reveal a number of differences. The keyword here, obviously, is differences, not contradictions. Joseph Smith’s account of how he was met by the “personages” changed over the course of time. The events of Paul’s vision certainly have differences, but there are no contradictions. Just because there are not full and complete details in each of the three accounts given in Acts does not mean they contradict.
Not everyone familiar with the problem areas regarding Joseph Smith’s First Vision brushes them aside as easily as Mr. Pyle. For instance, in 1977 Richard P. Howard, historian for the RLDS Church, addressed some of the many problems pertaining to Smith’s First Vision and stated, “One thing does seem certain: we cannot be certain about the First Vision. We cannot know that it occurred or, if it occurred, when or what Joseph experienced.” He also said, “Neither Joseph Smith nor any other Latter Day Saint analyst has satisfactorily accounted for the discrepancies among the accounts on the point of the number and identity of the personage(s) appearing to him in the First Vision” (“An Analysis of Six Contemporary Accounts Touching Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” as printed in Restoration Studies I: Sesquicentennial Edition, p.112).
BYU professor Marvin S. Hill, in his book Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism, recognizes on page 10 that “considerable controversy has been generated by the various accounts of Smith’s vision.” On the same page Dr. Hill rejects the notion that Smith’s “religious excitement” took place in 1820 as the official account states.
Mr. Pyle criticizes our third chapter (“How Do You Determine Doctrinal Truth?”) by claiming that our “multitude of quotations” are “obscure” because “not everyone has access to them and many do not have the funds to purchase these sometimes hard-to-obtain sources” (p. 235). It appears that we cannot win for losing. Of the 14 sources we cite in this section, perhaps four of them might require a little digging to find. The rest are quite accessible and can probably be found in the libraries of most LDS Stake houses and Ward Houses. In light of this charge, we wonder if Pyle is as critical of Dr. Hugh Nibley, a Mormon scholar who is known for citing numerous obscure references.
Nevertheless, should the facts listed in this chapter not be believed because “not everyone has access to them”? This is ridiculous. If our facts are true, then they’re true whether or not people have easy access to the information. But the point that these sources were “obscure” is unreasonable since most of them were available in the 1993 LDS Infobases CD-ROM, which at that time was several hundred dollars. Today the updated Infobases CD-ROM has thousands of additional resources, and it is available for less than $100.
Mr. Pyle appears to be on some crusade to downplay the significance of the Journal of Discourses. He tries to make it appear that we are guilty of giving the Journal the same status of LDS scripture when he says, “McKeever and Johnson try to make the Journal of Discourses appear like a scriptural standard work by displaying, on their page 40, the preface to volume eight, which informs us ‘The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church.'”
This is absurd since we clearly state on page 34 that the standard works of the LDS Church are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. We make a similar distinction between the standard works and the Journal on page 43. Pyle’s accusation that we are trying to place them on the same level as these four books is clearly unfounded.
When we reprinted the preface of volume eight of the Journal of Discourses (p. 40), it was done to show that the publisher obviously felt it was an important work. On page 41 of Questions we mistakenly claimed that George Watt was the publisher. Actually, George Q. Cannon published volume eight, George Watt was the reporter. It was George Q. Cannon, a member of the LDS First Presidency, who was willing to declare that a “rightminded” Latter-day Saint would welcome this particular volume. That was his opinion, not ours. We gave plenty of references from LDS leaders who gave credence to the Journal, and Latter-day Saints should be reminded that the material contained in this 26-volume set were not just flippant conversations made over a cup of Postum.®
These were sermons that were given by leaders who felt a sincere calling to guide the LDS people and it is unlikely that they were not carefully prepared before being delivered. Many of these messages were given in General Conferences. Whether Mr. Pyle wants to agree with us or not, there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of Latter-day Saints who personally heard these messages believed they were being misled.
The fact is, we commend Mr. Pyle for wanting to distance himself from the Journal of Discourses. It seems clear to us that his objections regarding our use of the Journal tends to confirm the fact that not even he agrees with some of the irresponsible things his own leaders have said in the past. The problem is he is not consistent. One minut
e he chides us for quoting them, and then he turns right around and quotes them himself. His desire to claim these men as inspired men of God and his eagerness to ignore things they said is nothing less than a double standard.
Mr. Pyle has even taken it upon himself to try and persuade as least one pastor to think twice before having Bill McKeever speak at his church. In an e-mail message dated July 9, 1999, Pyle wrote, “Mr. McKeever will attempt to get you to believe otherwise on the status of the Journal of Discourses because it suits his purpose. He may even try to get you to believe this and use an off-the-cuff statement in the eighth volume of that series that the series ‘deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church.’ Please do remember that things are NOT always what they seem.”
First of all, we would like to see Mr. Pyle’s proof that George Q. Cannon was making an “off-the-cuff remark.” How does he know this? Are we to accept Mr. Pyle’s opinion over a General Authority? We are also curious as to how Mr. Pyle would know what Bill was going to speak on? As of this writing, we have no knowledge that he has ever attended a presentation given by Bill. If he has, he has never introduced himself. While it is true that Bill does occasionally reference the Journal of Discourses in his talks, most of these same quotes can also be found in works such as the Discourses of Brigham Young and other church publications.
In the same letter to the above-mentioned pastor, Mr. Pyle tries to bolster his case against the Journal by quoting, of all things, the Journal of Discourses! He quotes Brigham Young who said:
“In trying all matters of doctrine, to make a decision valid, it is necessary to obtain a unanimous voice, faith, and decision. In the capacity of a quorum, the three First Presidents must be one in their voice-the Twelve Apostles must be unanimous in their voice, to obtain a righteous decision upon any matter that may come before them, as you may read in the Doctrine and Covenants… Whenever you see these Quorums unanimous in their declaration, you may set it down as true” (Journal of Discourses 9:91-92).
Admittedly, we find Mr. Young’s statement perplexing, especially since we don’t recall this rule ever being applied to Joseph Smith’s “revelations.” If Smith’s successors have the same authority as their founder, why is such a check and balance system like this necessary? Furthermore, if Mormonism is really the restoration it claims to be, we would be curious to know where prophets in the Bible and the Book of Mormon were subjected to such a test. Apparently there was some disagreement as to whether or not a prophet’s message should be scrutinized in such a manner. For instance, George Q. Cannon seemed to share our concern for he wrote in 1891:
It seems nonsensical that the Prophet of God should submit to such a test as this, and not deem the revelations he received authentic until they had the approval of the different quorums of the Church. They were authentic and divinely inspired, whether any man or body of men received them or not. Their reception or non-reception of them would not affect in the least their divine authenticity. But it would be for the people to accept them after God revealed them. In this way they have been submitted to the Church, to see whether the members would accept them as binding upon them or not. Joseph himself had too high sense of his prophetic office and the authority he received from the Lord to ever submit the revelations which he received to any individual or any body, however numerous, to have them pronounce their validity (Juvenile Instructor, January 1, 1891, 26:13-14).
Mr. Pyle admits, “The Journal of Discourses was considered a standard work by some in the sense that it was of recognized excellence-it contained the words of God to mankind and to his servants, as well as commentary on the meaning of the scriptures.” If Mr. Pyle includes himself as one of those who believe the Journal contains “the words of God to mankind,” we fail to see his objection to our referencing it. If he is not one of those who feel they contain the words of God to mankind, perhaps he needs to complain to the editors of the Ensign magazine. This monthly periodical of the LDS Church quotes from the Journal of Discourses on a regular basis. Other LDS sources that use the Journal are LDS Church manuals, teaching materials, and books. Why, even Mr. Pyle himself lists more than a half dozen footnote references to the Journal in his review of our book! Mr. Pyle lists several quotes from Brigham Young and concludes that “he was keenly aware of the possibility that he might make a mistake and wanted the Saints to understand that they should not have blind faith in their leaders” (p.237). He then refers to an 1854 statement made by Brigham Young in which the second LDS president admitted, “I have known many times I have preached wrong” (p.238). Apparently Mr. Young either forgot he made such a statement or had had second thoughts, for in 1873, just four years before his death, Young declared:
I am here to give this people, called Latter-day Saints, counsel to direct them in the path of life. I am here to answer; I shall be on hand to answer when I am called upon, for all the counsel and for all the instruction that I have given to this people. If there is an Elder here, or any member of this Church, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who can bring up the first idea, the first sentence that I have delivered to the people as counsel that that is wrong, I really wish they would do it; but they cannot do it, for the simple reason that I have never given counsel that is wrong; this it the reason (Journal of Discourses 16:161, emphasis ours).
The Bible and Its Trustworthiness
Regarding our fourth chapter on whether or not the Bible is correctly translated, Mr. Pyle refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls in his attempt to cast doubt upon the Bible we have today. This is the role of textual criticism, something that whole books have been written about. In our footnotes we listed numerous sources that deal with this very issue. In a book of our size and with the layperson audience to whom we wrote, we never pretended to cover all textual critical areas. Mr. Pyle apparently wanted more (i.e. on page 238: “For example, the evidence of the Septuagint, or Greek Old Testament, taken with the Dead Sea Scrolls, reveals at least two different recensions of the text of Jeremiah, one of which is about 12.5% shorter”). If Mr. Pyle is implying that the King James Version is too long, he needs to address his complaint to Joseph Smith, not us. Except for 54 verses, Joseph Smith’s translation of Jeremiah reads word-for-word as the King James Version and is just as long.
Curiously, Mr. Pyle did not answer the question in either version of his review. Is the Bible translated correctly? If he believed it is, then why did he attempt to criticize our chapter? And why does his church continue to abide by their Eighth Article of Faith (“We believe the Bible to be true as far as it is translated correctly?”), which implies there might be places where corrupt translation took place, and therefore the Bible is not fully trustworthy.
On the other hand, if Mr. Pyle believes the Bible is not translated correctly (which it appears we can assume based on his short two-paragraph review of our chapter), then how does he know anything in the Bible is true? Who determines whether a certain passage is or is not true? Does Mr. Pyle really expect Christians to follow the guidelines of his leaders for determining biblical accuracy? Consider this statement from the LDS First Presidency dated May 22, 1992, “The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any bibl
ical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations” (printed in the LDS Church News, June 20, 1992, page 3). We doubt that any biblical scholar would take this advice seriously.
If the Bible cannot be trusted, why is Mr. Pyle’s own church so intent on giving away millions of copies of a corrupt book via radio, TV, and magazine advertisements in the United States, a nation where the Bible is easily recognized and usually respected? You would think that if the motives of LDS Church leaders (for giving the Bible away) were virtuous, they would also give a detailed sheet listing alleged errors lest the general public be deceived. Answers to these questions would help us better understand his criticism of chapter four.
The Mormon Priesthood
After skipping a critique of chapters five (“If the Bible is Corrupt, Why Doesn’t the LDS Church Use the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?”), chapter six (“Why Should a Person Pray about the Book of Mormon When the Bible Says We Should Not Rely on Such a Subjective Test?”), chapter seven (“Is it Wise to Place Blind Trust in Mere Mortal Men?”), and chapter eight (“Why Does the Mormon Church Ignore Jesus’ Role as Prophet of God’s Church?”), Mr. Pyle moves right into chapter nine, asking “Is the Mormon Priesthood Really of Ancient Origin?” He uses Alma 13:1-2 and 6-11 to claim that
Alma speaks of many priests who were ordained after the order of the Son of God. He then refers to “Melchizedek, who was also a high priest after this same order” (Alma 13:14). If this is not a clear reference to the Melchizedek Priesthood being held by the Nephites, I don’t know what is.
A paragraph later, Mr. Pyle quotes from the Doctrine and Covenants. Apparently he had forgotten that the Christian does not accept the validity of the teachings from either the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants. While these are certainly books that he believes to be true, we do not hold to the same view. We need solid proof from our common scripture, the Holy Bible, and historical evidence to be convinced of that point. Mr. Pyle does quote from Ephesians 1:10, but this passage does not say that the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are valid for people today. He then asks several questions:
- “First of all, how does one interpret the scriptures as teaching that the Aaronic Priesthood is fulfilled (or completely abolished, as most evangelicals understand it) when there is no explicit verse of scripture that supports this view?”
Answer: Unless we’re missing something, it appears that Mr. Pyle did not read our chapter very carefully. We certainly spent much of the chapter quoting from both the Old and New Testaments (especially Hebrews chapter 7), showing how the priesthood has been fulfilled.
- “How does one interpret passages like Exodus 40:15 and Numbers 25:13, which declare quite clearly that the Aaronic Priesthood was to be an everlasting priesthood to be passed down from generation to generation?”
Answer: The word used in the above-mentioned passages does not literally mean “eternal” as the word everlasting (used by the King James translators) implies. A better rendering is “for all generations.” It is clear from New Testament passages that this priesthood was not meant to be perpetual. As we explained in our chapter, the author of Hebrews clearly taught that the Aaronic Priesthood was inadequate to bring salvation to men and therefore was no longer necessary due to the Great Sacrifice of Christ (see pages 86-87 in Questions).
Mr. Pyle insists that if the priesthood did not continue, then “Isaiah, Malachi, and Ezekiel are false prophets.” We don’t see how the LDS interpretation helps this situation, for if Mormonism is true, priesthood authority was suspended for nearly two thousand years. Today all true Christian believers hold what Peter called the “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). So, in effect, a priesthood does continue.
- “How does one deal with Isaiah 66:18-22, which prophesies that in the end time there would again be priests and Levites or, as others translate it, levitical priests?”
Answer: The answer to this question lies in how one defines “end time.” Mr. Pyle’s devotion to Mormonism compels him to have this mean a period of time beginning with 1830. Respected Christian scholar Joseph Addison Alexander made the following remarks concerning this passage:
The mass of the Jewish people was to be cast off from all connection with the church; but the elect who should escape were to be sent among the nations and to bring them for an offering to Jehovah, as the priests and Levites offered the oblation at Jerusalem. But this agency was not to be confined to the Jews who were first entrusted with it; not only of them, but also of the Gentiles themselves, priests and Levites should be chosen to offer this oblation, i.e. to complete the vocation of the Gentiles. Should the context be supposed to require a still more general meaning, it may be that the sacerdotal mediation of the ancient Israel between Jehovah and the other nations, which was symbolized by the Levitical and Aaronic priesthood, was to cease with the necessity that brought it into being, and to leave the divine presence as accessible to one race as another (Commentary on Isaiah, pp. 478-479).
Mr. Pyle states on page 241:
After citing Alma 13:10, the authors quote from a Doctrine and Covenants student manual and then say that the references are “a clear contradiction of the biblical pattern” (p. 90). The authors here compare apples with oranges and expect the reader to agree with them. Their comparison of statements from Church publications with history is not accurate, since the high priests mentioned in the Church publications are after the order of Melchizedek, while the high priests mentioned in Luke 3:2 and throughout most of the Old Testament are of the order of Aaron. The two offices are completely different in their function and authority, as anyone with an understanding of Latter-day Saint doctrine would know.
Mr. Pyle’s conclusion is based on an assumption that there was such an office as the Melchizedek priesthood. We read nowhere in either the Old or New Testaments where there existed numerous high priests of this supposed office. While the priests being talked about in Luke are certainly from the Aaronic priesthood, it is a historical fact that there was only one valid high priest at a time. This pattern changed only through political maneuvering around the time of Christ when a person could be removed from such a position prior to his death (Questions, pp.90-91). If there was only one authoritative high priest at a time during biblical days, it demonstrates that the LDS pattern has no precedence.
Mr. Pyle refers to Exodus 19:22, 24 where it says there were priests who existed before the “Aaronic Priesthood” was established. “Logic dictates that these individuals held the Melchizedek Priesthood,” he states on page 241 of FARMS. If this is so, he reasons, then there were others beside Melchizedek and Jesus who held this priesthood.
Such a conclusion is an argument from silence, and we again insist that such a “priesthood” is never discussed in the Bible except when referring directly to Melchizedek himself and Jesus Christ. Although we have admittedly used such expressions when referring to the Old Testament priesthood, the fact is the terms “Aaronic Priesthood” or “Priesthood of Aaron” or “Melchizedek Priesthood” are never used in the Bible. Perhaps the reason why the priests mentioned in the Exodus 19 passage did not have an official title was because no one thought it was necessary. A pri
est is merely a person who serves the people in things considered sacred. The priest’s duties, not necessarily his title, made the position important.
It could be that the priests mentioned in Exodus 19 were some of those who would later be called to the Levitical priesthood. Bible commentators G.C.D. Howley, F.F. Bruce, and H.L. Ellison write the following in The New Layman’s Bible Commentary:
It would be surprising if the Israelites did not have some religious functionaries before the consecration of the `Levitical priests’. The term may even be used proleptically of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, in consideration of their later appointment to the priesthood (28:1; cf. 24:1 f., 9 ff.)
In our tenth chapter we asked for any biblical references to prove that a person needed to be worthy in order to go to the Jewish temple. We ask how it was that a sinful publican (mentioned in Luke 18:11-14) could get into the Jerusalem temple if such requirements were of ancient origin. In his Internet version, Mr. Pyle responds to our question by saying, “The utter stupidity of this comment shows how illiterate of biblical affairs the authors really are!” He then rebuts by pointing out that the word temple in our English Bibles can be derived from two distinct words: hieron, meaning the outer court, and naos, meaning the temple proper or “divine habitation.”
Mr. Pyle insists that the publican did not need to meet any requirements of “worthiness” since he was in “one of the outer courts, not in the temple proper.” Perhaps unwittingly, Mr. Pyle presents evidence that confirms our point. Only priests were allowed in the naos, and even the most pious of Jewish believers, be they male or female, would have been confined to areas outside of this inner sanctuary, an area that even Mr. Pyle admits was open to all regardless of a person’s worthiness or lack thereof. Thus, no special permission would have been necessary for the great majority of Jewish believers since the naos was restricted only to priests. Even the sinless Jesus was not allowed in the naos! Mr. Pyle must have known this, for he quotes Christian scholar Richard Trench who correctly noted, “Christ never entered the naos during his earthly ministry, since that right was reserved for the priests.” That being the case, we must conclude that if such a rite as the “endowment ceremony” did exist, Jesus Himself must not have participated in it!
Mr. Pyle notes that
The statement ‘standing afar off” (Luke 18:13) in the passage makes clear that the Pharisee and the publican were not close together. To think that the Pharisee, who thought himself superior to the publican, would have allowed an unclean person to stand in the sacred precincts without an uproar is asking too much.
We are not sure why Mr. Pyle thinks this must be noted. Is he implying that the Pharisee was standing in the naos and was looking at the publican at a distance? If so, what proof does he offer that the Pharisee mentioned in the story was qualified to enter the naos? It would be wrong to assume that all Pharisees were qualified since not all Pharisees were of the Levitical line (e.g., Paul, a Pharisee, was from the tribe of Benjamin).
It is true that priests were compelled to submit to strict standards before being allowed to enter “the holy areas;” however, the requirements do not at all resemble those imposed on modern Latter-day Saints. Numbers 8:5-13 points out that the Levites had to undergo a series of ceremonies that included the shaving of their body, washing of their clothes, sacrifice of a young bullock, and the laying on of hands. They would then be presented to Aaron and his sons who would “offer them for an offering unto the Lord.” Priests could not have any deformities nor have any contact with the dead; they were forbidden to marry a prostitute or a woman who was divorced (Leviticus 21:7). Priests were not allowed to shave their head or trim the corner of their beards, nor were they allowed to cut their flesh. Rather than pay tithes like the rest of the people of Israel, the priests would be supported by the people and given a tenth of their tithe (Numbers 18:26-28).
Regarding our tenth chapter, Mr. Pyle states on pages 241 and 242 of his review in FARMS:
In this chapter, the authors again compare apples with oranges. They contrast the differences between practices in the Jerusalem temple and modern Latter-day Saint temples. In addition to belaboring the obvious, the authors make serious mistakes. The reason for the differences should be apparent, since the authors have been tirelessly claiming throughout the book that sacrifices to animals under the Law of Moses have been done away with because of the sacrifice of the Savior. Could this be why there is such a difference between the two types of temples?
Mr. Pyle then brings up an interesting argument on page 243. He says,
Since the final sacrifice of Christ, the temple is no longer a place to purge away sins-the atonement takes care of that. Today the temple is a sacred place in which to do work for those who cannot do it for themselves and while we learn m ore of the ways of the Lord.
We appreciate Mr. Pyle’s candidness, for it is obvious that what is performed in LDS temples is not the same as what was performed in ancient times; hence, it cannot be a restoration as most LDS members suppose. However, we have visited several temples during their brief open houses and were shown videos that give this distinct impression. To make sure we were just not misunderstanding the implication, we have been told that what Mormons do in their ceremony is the same as what was done in biblical times. Why shouldn’t they say that? After all, it was LDS Apostle Mark E. Peterson who said:
In Biblical times sacred ordinances were administered in holy edifices for the spiritual salvation of ancient Israel. These buildings thus were not synagogues, nor any other ordinary places of worship…Following the pattern of Biblical days, the Lord again in our day has provided these ordinances for the salvation of all who will believe, and directs that temples be built in which to perform those sacred rites (Why Mormons Build Temples, pg.2, emphasis ours)
We would invite any Mormon to supply evidence that the ancient Jews used their sacred temple to teach participants secret handshakes (tokens) and passwords (key words) that Jewish believers felt certain were necessary if “exaltation” were to be achieved. We would also like to see evidence that the ancient temple in Jerusalem was used for weddings as well. If they cannot do this, they cannot honestly say the LDS temple and its ceremony is a “restoration.”
If, as Mr. Pyle seems to say, the unworthy sinners never went into the temple to sacrifice but merely brought their sacrifices to be offered by the priests, then what is the purpose of Mormons attending the temples today? While the priests of the temples of old performed sacrifices on behalf of the living for the penitent who brought forth their sacrifices, temple-worthy Mormons perform ordinances for only themselves and people who are already dead. This is not the only difference, and if we really are comparing apples with oranges (as Mr. Pyle continually asserts), then perhaps he has an answer to this as well as to other questions we have on the subject. In fact, where does the Bible say (or even infer) that:
- the Levites had to obey the Word of Wisdom as so stated in D&C 89 in order to enter the temple?
- the Levites had to hold a “recommend” card based on their worthiness?
- anyone, except for Levites, could perform ceremonies in the temple?
ficing was not to be the major role for the priests?
- marriages were to be performed in the temple? And why did the early Jews not get married here? If this was a custom of a good Jew, then why was a wedding held at Cana (notice, John 2:1 said it was a “marriage,” not just a “reception”) that Jesus apparently blessed by attending?
- works for people who were already dead were to be performed in the temple?
- there was to be more than one legitimate temple?
Mormons leaders want the world to believe that their church is a “restoration” of early Christianity and that their temples are of the same order as the temples of Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod. However, they then need to show how their temples are a continuation of the temples of old. Mr. Pyle does not do this in his review.
Baptizing for the Dead
Chapter 11 asks, “What Historical Support Does the Mormon Church Have to Justify Baptism for the Dead?” Incredibly, Mr. Pyle says that our conclusion that there is no evidence for the LDS doctrine of baptism for the dead is “a conclusion based upon an argument from silence” (FARMS, p. 244). Instead of answering the question at hand, Mr. Pyle gives the impression that the reason it was not discussed was because early Christians readily accepted it. He writes:
doctrinal issues involving grace, faith, the relevance of the law to Christians, and the atonement of Christ were hotbeds of theological debate and misunderstanding. It is no wonder that these subjects were mentioned so many times (FARMS, p. 245).
To say a doctrine should be considered a truism because it is hardly mentioned in the Bible makes as much sense as saying that the apostles believed in reincarnation. After all, Paul said he would “return again unto you” in Ephesus (Acts 18:21). The Mormon may claim that a belief in reincarnation based upon this verse alone would be faulty because it is an argument from silence. Yes it is! And so is the idea that Paul’s acknowledgement of a practice of his day should be an assumed teaching of the New Testament church.
To finish his argument, Mr. Pyle explains that perhaps more of this teaching was described in Pauline letters that we no longer have. But doesn’t this take away from his previous argument that baptism for the dead was a non-controversial topic that didn’t need a whole lot of explanation? We are surprised that Mr. Pyle said that our conclusion was based upon an argument from silence!
Mr. Pyle then proceeds to quote a few Christian commentaries that he feels supports the LDS position. Is Mr. Pyle inferring that these Christian commentators agree with the LDS practice of proxy baptism? We should point out that we never said that baptism for the dead never occurred, since something of that sort obviously was practiced during the days of Paul. However, our point was that, historically, it can only be verified that a very few aberrant groups actually practiced such a rite. (How exactly they practiced it is unknown.) To assume from this one verse that Paul and other Christians participated in a ritual similar to the Mormon ritual reads far too much into an isolated passage. With no other biblical or historical support of the doctrine, however, we cannot agree with Apostle James Talmage that “as baptism is essential to the salvation of the living, it is likewise indispensable to the dead” (Articles of Faith, Ch.7, p.149).
Becoming a God
Mr. Pyle skips chapter 12 (“If Mormon Families Will Be Together Forever, Where Will the In-Laws Live?”) in order to talk about chapter 13, which asks the Mormon if he really believes that he can become a god. Using quotes from early church fathers to try to support the LDS view that men have the potential to become gods in the next life, Mr. Pyle apparently failed to read what we wrote on page 119. We said:
Some Mormons have even attempted to quote early Christian church fathers in order to support the idea that men may become Gods. This approach fails since many of those quoted by LDS scholars make it clear that they believed in only one God. It would be logically incoherent for Christian church fathers to believe in one God, while at the same time believing men could be Gods as well.
For Mr. Pyle to quote from men such as Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian shows desperation, especially in light of the quote above. Why would someone who believes a general apostasy occurred after the apostles died quote from men who would have then belonged to this time period? How can they be sure that what these men were saying did not contribute to the apostasy rather than be a remnant of truth? According to Mormonism, would these men even have had authority from God? Another point that Mr. Pyle fails to point out is that most of these men were talking about the state of glorification. Instead of teaching that men could become Gods, they were merely stating that men could be glorified and thus be like God. Being like God and being (a) God are two completely different things.
Furthermore, if Mr. Pyle thinks that Bible believing Christians should place the words of the early church fathers on a par with Scripture, we find it interesting that he does not invoke the same litmus test with his early church fathers. However, he has already made it clear that he thinks such authority was never meant to be. Christians have historically been compelled to apply the Word of God when it comes to evaluating the words of man, and while it is often helpful to see what Christians thought during any given time in church history, never are their words to be taken as a final authority. Mr. Pyle further writes on page 249 of the FARMS review:
Of further embarrassment to the authors is their philosophical jangling about the nature of God (pp. 120-21). They try to explain that it is impossible for a finite being to become infinite. Of course, they seem to forget that “with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). It appears that God as he is known to Mormons is much more powerful than God as he is know to evangelicals because Mormons believe he is able to change our finite nature to an infinite one, while that task is obviously impossible for the God of the evangelicals to accomplish.
We were never implying that finite mortal man could not be made to live eternally. We were merely explaining why it is impossible for a finite being to all of a sudden own the attributes of an infinite being such as the God of the Bible. Mr. Pyle rebuffs our illustrations by merely retreating to Mark 10:27. However, when this passage says, “with God all things are possible,” we are never to assume this means God can possibly contradict His word or His nature. Since God is God alone, it is not possible that men can become so, and using Mark 10:27 in such a fashion is not sound. Thus, when God says in Isaiah 44:8 that He knows of no other Gods, He is telling the truth.
Regarding our objection to mortals becoming omniscient, Mr. Pyle says on page 249:
What is interesting is that the authors place a great deal of emphasis on the present-day meaning of the word infinite. In ancient times the Latin word infinitum, the source for the English infinite, did not mean what the critics infer. The word simply indicated what is beyond counting. A cursory examination of the Latin Bible text shows that the word is often used to indicate the number of men in a large army. Does that mean that it is truly an infinite number? God is said to have an infinite knowledge. He is also said to know all things. The phrase all things necessarily places a limit upon what can be known. If God knows all things he cannot, therefore, have an infinite knowledge, for if God knows all things there is no more that can be known; hence that knowledge can never be truly infinite, in the loose, present-day s
ense of the word.
His play on words leaves us to believe that Mr. Pyle really does not believe his God is omniscient. Christians have long accepted the biblical truth that there could never be anything unknown to God. His knowledge is not capable of increase. It is all-comprehensive and is not a result of observation. God’s knowledge goes well beyond the recognition of “things.”
On page 249 Mr. Pyle accuses us of
attacking the view that works are important in obtaining what the Lord has promised to us and affirming the supposed impossibility of our someday becoming perfect. The authors in essence, say, ‘Why even bother trying?’
His synopsis of our chapter is misleading. While we firmly believe that works are the result of true salvation, it is not the requirement in order to obtain true salvation. We never say that trying to perfect oneself should never be attempted, we do, however, state quite clearly that the method employed by Latter-day Saints to achieve this goal is impossible. Perfection on the part of Mormons such as Mr. Pyle will never be achieved by what may appear to be righteous living, for even the most sincere work of sinful man is tainted by his sin.
Take, for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Can a Mormon honestly say that what he does is solely to bring glory to his God? This would be hard to believe, for every Mormon would have to admit that if he does not live up to these set expectations, he himself will not achieve the glory he expects to receive in the next life. Instead of his works being offered to give God alone glory, he performs them also knowing it will bring him glory as well.
We gave numerous examples from LDS leaders on what is expected from Mormons if they hope to achieve exaltation, and while many, Mr. Pyle included, like to point to Matthew 5:48 (“Be ye therefore perfect.”), we have yet to meet one who has accomplished this. Mr. Pyle says this verse
means [there is] something we must do ourselves-it will not be done for us… In short we must gradually but consistently become perfect, or fully developed, like our Father in Heaven. Only through the ordinances, as administered through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and by the grace of our almighty God can this be accomplished, to the chagrin of our detractors.
But when does Mr. Pyle hope to “gradually but consistently become perfect?” Today, tomorrow, after he dies? He doesn’t give a time frame. How can he know if he were to die right now that he would have chalked up enough good works to appease his God who demands his followers to “keep the whole law.” Can Mr. Pyle say without reservation that, in light of the requirements laid down by his leaders, he currently qualifies for exaltation?
The Book of Mormon makes it clear that “now is the time for men to prepare to meet God.” President Spencer Kimball said, “Only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 210).
On page 139 of Questions we mentioned that Spencer Kimball said salvation was like climbing a ladder. “Each command we obey sends us another rung up the ladder to perfected manhood and toward godhood; and every law disobeyed is a sliding toward the bottom where man merges into the brute world. Only he who obeys law is free.” Perhaps Mr. Pyle could tell us how tall this ladder is, and what rung he thinks he is on.
We are not for a moment doubting Mr. Pyle’s sincerity. We are, however, doubting his ability to live up to the standards of his leaders. His arrogant writing style makes us think he has a lot of rungs to go since boasting and arrogance are described by Spencer Kimball as “transgressions the Lord has condemned” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 25).
It is interesting how Mr. Pyle closes his Internet version of his critique:
My assessment of Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend is that it is simply a travesty. It is an embarrassment to Mr. McKeever and Mr. Johnson. It is an embarrassment to scholarship and it is an embarrassment to the publishers of the book. It is simply not worth the $13.00 paid for it (an overcharge on the part of the book store). Perhaps, someday, Mr. McKeever and Mr. Johnson will get a life, repent of their sins and join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day (sic) Saints.
Fortunately, the editors at FARMS saved Mr. Pyle embarrassment of his own by deleting this. However, Mr. Pyle continued in his sarcastic way (page 250 of the FARMS review):
I personally know of several baptisms that have recently occurred after individuals studied and questioned this book and other writings from the Mormonism Research Ministry. I believe that far more will join the Church when they see the errors of this book; they will know that the anti-Mormon movement cannot be taken seriously, just as this book cannot be taken seriously as a tool to help Latter-day Saints more closely examine their faith, much less abandon it.
We’re not quite sure how to interpret this assertion by Mr. Pyle. Is he saying that our material, including this book, has brought people into Mormonism? If so, then why would he consider it a travesty and not worth the price he paid for it? Perhaps his bishop would like to put a copy into the hands of every investigator. After all, if it is bringing people into the LDS Church, we would think the LDS missionary program would want to put it to good use.