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Regarding an Open Canon

By Bill McKeever

Speaking at the 178th semi-annual General Conference in Salt Lake City (April, 2008), Mormon Apostle Jeffrey Holland gave what he called his defense against those who “erroneously” claim that the LDS Church is not Christian. In this talk Holland discussed what he called the “bold assertion that God continues to speak His word and to reveal His truth. Revelations that mandate an open canon of scripture.” Space does not allow me to critique his entire talk, but I would like to comment on a few of his points.

Holland stated that Joseph Smith was correct in saying that the Bible did not adequately answer questions that he and others had. He recounted how Smith said, “Priest [was] contending against priest, and convert [was contending] against convert.” He argued that the common denominator between those in contention was the Bible, but it was not a source of common ground. Rather, he said it was a “battle ground.” Holland’s implication, of course, is that  people tend to disagree over what the Bible says, which somehow means it is inadequate. His overly simplistic explanation gives the impression that there is this amazing unity in how Latter-day Saints interpret the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures, including the verbal comments made by LDS leaders in General Conference and elsewhere. This just is not so. The more you speak to average members of the LDS Church, the more you see a diversity in how they understand their faith.

I expect faithful Mormons to hang on every word spoken by their perceived prophet, Joseph Smith, but Holland insults the intelligence of  Christians everywhere when he chides outsiders for not embracing what he thinks should be designated as authentic utterances from God. The early Christian church took great pains when it came to the methodology it employed in order to discern which books should be included in the canon.  These included apostolicity (did a book arise from the circle of Jesus’ apostles?), theological consistency with the apostolic message delivered by Jesus to His apostles, and ecclesiastical recognition (was the book recognized by the legitimate heirs of Jesus and the apostles?).

Even if it had been God’s desire to give His church more scripture, why in the world would we think that what Joseph Smith brought forth qualifies as such? The Book of Mormon passes the test of antiquity only via the subjectivism of the faithful. It is fraught with internal inconsistencies and historical anomalies. The pedigree of its main characters (Hebrew descent?) cannot be supported outside of an exercise of faith, and none of the vast civilizations it mentions have ever been found. (If you don’t believe me, go to the LDS Museum of History and Art across from Temple Square and ask to be shown their Nephite artifact collection.)

Modern revelation, considered by Holland to be the solution to spiritual confusion, has given us numerous contradictions from alleged latter-day prophets. If this was not true, why do so many Mormons insist we throw the more controversial teachings of their past leaders onto the ash heap of mere opinion?

One of several reasons I have for rejecting Mormon scripture (written or otherwise) is not so much God’s supposed inability to give more scripture; no, it lies in the fact that my God is not so forgetful as to contradict what He previously revealed.


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