By Eric Johnson
This is the first in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence is being reviewed.)
From His youth, Jesus seemed to be aware that He had a unique, sacred mission. But as Jesus prepared to begin His earthly ministry, the adversary sought to plant doubt in the Savior’s mind. “If thou be the Son of God,” Satan said (Luke 4:3, italics added). But the Savior had communed with His Father in Heaven. He knew the scriptures, and He knew who He was. To Him, Satan’s offer—“All this power will I give thee” (Luke 4:6)—was a hollow one, for the Savior’s lifelong preparation allowed Him to receive “the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). So despite temptation, trials, and rejection, Jesus Christ never wavered from His appointed work: “I must preach the kingdom of God … for therefore am I sent” (Luke 4:43).
It is true that Jesus had opposition from Satan in His ministry. Fortunately, Jesus did know the teachings of the Old Testament and, when confronted by Satan, cited from it three times to combat the wiles of the Evil One. This adversary even knew the scripture himself.
Which brings me to my point. Mormon leaders do use the Bible, but the question is do they use it accurately? I would venture to say, no, they don’t. But this makes it even harder because here we are in a series on the New Testament; last year, the Old Testament was covered. Yet there are many problems in the curriculum compared to what the Bible actually teaches. Just because someone uses the Bible–especially out of its context–to support their unique theology does not make it correct.
Like Jesus, Bible-believing Christians need to know the scripture. They should also know the angle taken by other groups, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only then can they do what the New Testament says, to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21) and to “try the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Jesus likened false teachers to wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). It is just something to consider. If Mormonism is true, then it will accurately reflect the teachings of the Bible; if it is wrong, then false teaching needs to be rejected. As Jesus said, Christians must be willing to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24) and expose false teaching.
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Communing with God prepares me to serve Him.
To prepare for His mission, Jesus went into the wilderness “to be with God” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:1 [in Matthew 4:1, footnote b]).
The JST’s addition takes away from what the accurate and most reliable NT texts say. Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus went to be temped by the Devil, while Smith’s version says nothing about the temptation but merely states that He went to pray. Which is it? If it really ought to be “tempt,” then why do none (not even one) of any reliable New Testament manuscript say this?
Think of what you do to feel close to God. How does this prepare you for the work He wants you to do?
When I want to feel close to God, I make sure that I’m in God’s Word, stay close to Him in prayer, and fellowship with other believers. It’s quite straightforward.
Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13
Jesus Christ set the example for me by resisting temptation.
Sometimes people feel guilty when they are tempted to sin. But even the Savior, who lived “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), was tempted. Jesus Christ knows the temptations we face and how to help us overcome them (see Hebrews 2:18; Alma 7:11–12).
Being tempted is not sin, but giving into temptation is sin.
As you read Matthew 4:1–11 and Luke 4:1–13, what do you learn that can help you when you face temptations? You could organize your thoughts in a table like this one:
|What did Satan tempt Christ to do?||What does Satan tempt me to do?|
|How did Christ prepare to resist temptation?||How can I prepare to resist temptation?|
Satan tempted Jesus to go against what the Bible teaches. So Jesus cited Old Testament passages to combat the temptation. In the same way, Satan tempts us to rebel against God and His Word. So Christian believers need to know what the Word of God says and follow that, not their sinful inclinations.
What additional insights do you gain from the Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 4? (see footnotes throughout Matthew 4).
In the previous lesson, I talked at length about the problems with the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), including:
- There are no early New Testament documents agreeing with his changes
- It is not an official resource of the LDS Church–if Smith’s version is more accurate than the KJV, then why isn’t it used officially?
- Most Latter-day Saints I know don’t even have a copy of the JST.
With that said, what differences are there in the JST compared to the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible when it comes to Matthew 4? Let’s take a closer look.
4:2: The JST says that Jesus “hungered” (as does the KJV) and He “was left to be tempted of the devil.” That phrase is not in the most accurate New Testament documents. Still, this is obvious and should not be considered new information from what has already been said in this passage.
4:4: Instead of saying “He answered,” the JST says “Jesus answered.” Since His name was already part of the context, there is nothing more offered by Smith’s version. Although some English translations use “Jesus” for clarity, His name is not found in the majority Greek text.
4:5: The JST ignores the use of Satan (“diabolos”) in the verse so it reads “Then Jesus was taken up into the holy city…” It is not a huge deal since no understanding is added by ignoring the word Satan in the passage.
4:8: Verse 8 (JST) again does not use Satan’s name even though it is found in the most accurate Greek manuscripts. Yet Smith adds “Jesus was in the Spirit, and it taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain.” The Greek word for “Spirit” is not used in this verse. So, who took Jesus up: the Spirit (as the JST says) or the Devil (as the majority text says)?
4:9: The Devil is indeed in the context when the JST says, “And the devil came unto him again…” But the word “devil” is not used in this verse. This is a very curious translation.
4:11: The KJV says, “Then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him.” The angels came to minister to Jesus. But according to the JST, these angels did not come to Him but to John! The JST says, “And now Jesus knew that John was cast into prison, and he sent angels, and behold, they came and ministered unto him.” This nuance is unique to the JST, for all Bible translations have the angels ministering to Jesus, not John! The New Testament manuscripts do not support this change.
4:12: The JST combines verses 12 and 13 in the KJV’s verse 12. So the rest of the chapter is one verse off.
4:19: The JST adds, “And they, believing on his words…” I guess it could be assumed they believed in the words of Jesus when they left their nets– but this is not what any Greek manuscript says. Whether it belongs or not, this addition adds little to no understanding.
4:22: The KJV says, “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.” The JST says in in verse 21, “And they immediately left their father in the ship, and followed him.” You have the same result, so this change does not add anything to the meaning.
4:23: The JST adds “which believed on his name” at the end of verse 22. These are words not included in the Greek text.
I’ve read the two passages and, as a former high school and college English teacher, here is my conclusion: The JST’s rendering of Matthew 4 looks like the additions of someone who is plagiarizing another’s work by just changing a few words (while keeping most of the wording intact). I dealt with this issues in those days before Google searches where plagiarism can now be easily detected. The excuse is perfect (i.e., “But I changed it a lot from the original where I got the information”). Occasionally fixing some of the archaic language (for instance, changing “those which were possessed with devils” to “those who were possessed with devils”) and adding a few details not found in the Greek text is, to me, not very impressive.
Jesus Christ is the prophesied Messiah.
If you were asked to describe what Jesus Christ was sent to earth to do, what would you say? By quoting one of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah, the Savior described aspects of His own mission (see Luke 4:18–19; Isaiah 61:1–2). What do you learn about His mission as you read these verses?
I notice that Luke’s account does not include the last part of Isaiah 61:1-2, which says “and the day of our God’s vengeance.” This is because this part will be fulfilled in the Second Coming. But Jesus was anointed by the Spirit to preach Good News and proclaim freedom and bring sight to the blind while freeing the oppressed. And I am so glad for this Good News.
What are some ways the Savior invites you to participate in His work?
The apostle Paul said we are called to be ambassadors of God (2 Cor. 5:20). This is what brings Him the glory, when we proclaim how great He is and how unqualified of righteousness we are.
Although the Jews had been waiting for centuries for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled, many did not accept that Jesus was the Messiah when He declared, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). As you read Luke 4:20–30 (see also Mark 6:1–6), try to put yourself in the place of the people of Nazareth. Is there anything that might prevent you from fully accepting Christ as your personal Savior?
It is a strange question to ask using the given passage. The Jewish believers did not like what Jesus has said. As Leon Morris put it in his commentary,
This was too much for them. It was bad enough when one of their own showed that he did not belong in the ruck with them. Now that he appealed to God’s dealing with Gentiles, that was too much.Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: IVP), 118.
I certainly believe it’s important to accept Jesus as my personal Savior. But I’m not sure what this passage has to do with this issue.
Matthew 4:18–22; Luke 5:1–11
As I trust in the Lord, He can help me reach my divine potential.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson , 42). Note how this happened to Simon Peter and his fellow fishermen. Jesus saw something greater in them than they saw in themselves. He wanted to make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; see also Luke 5:10).
As you read Matthew 4:18–22 and Luke 5:1–11, ponder what Jesus Christ is helping you to become. How have you felt Him inviting you to follow Him? How can you show the Lord that you are willing to forsake all things to follow Him? (see Luke 5:11).
The title in this section gives me reason to pause. What does that mean, “reach my divine potential”? I understand what it means in an Evangelical Christian context, as “my divine potential” is to be like God and be glorified with Him with a new body. Yet in Mormonism, “divine potential” means the beginning stage of becoming exalted and to become as literal gods as God the Father is. This is characterized as the celestial kingdom, as described by 10th President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“Those who receive the exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have the ‘continuation of the seeds forever.’ They will live in the family relationship. We are taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ that the family organization will be, so far as celestial exaltation is concerned, one that is complete, an organization linked from father and mother and children of one generation to the father and mother and children of the next generation, and thus expanding and spreading out down to the end of time.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, 2013, 68.
Becoming gods is something to be earned, as sixteenth President Thomas S. Monson put it:
“It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned.”“An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1988, 56).
But even a single sin can “damn” a person’s progress:
“Salvation comes by obedience to the whole law of the whole gospel. Joseph Smith said: ‘Any person who is exalted to the highest mansion has to abide a celestial law, and the whole law too.’ (Teachings, p. 331.) Thus, a man may be damned for a single sin.”Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 3:256.
In other words, a person’s “divine potential” is based on the ability to keep commandments. It is a precarious position for a person to rely on his or her good works to merit such a position.
For more, visit Crash Course Mormonism.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
Matthew 4:1–2; Luke 4:1–2.
What insights can we gain from this account about the power of fasting? To help your family learn about fasting, you might use “Fasting and Fast Offerings” in Gospel Topics (topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Family members could share experiences they have had with fasting. Perhaps you could prayerfully make plans to fast together for a specific purpose.
It is true that fasting is a powerful discipline. But taking these two verses as somehow being a mandate to fast is going beyond the text. After all, if we’re supposed to follow Jesus’s example here, shouldn’t we fast for 40 days as He did?
Little information is given about fasting in the New Testament. In Mormonism, this discipline has become a once-a-month duty and just another box that must be checked. In one church manual, it reports,
“Our Father in Heaven has told us to give an offering called a fast offering. This offering should be what we would have spent for the meals we did not eat on the day when we fasted. We should give more than this amount if we can. Our Father in Heaven will bless us if we do. These offerings are used to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other things for those who are in need. When we pay fast offerings we show we love our fellowmen.”Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, 155.
Latter-day Saints are free to fast and give their money to the “poor” (the monies are actually given to the church each month and members assume it really will go to the needy). But isn’t fasting just another “rule” that Latter-day Saints must observe in order to be considered righteous?
If this is a rule that must be kept, what are other rules? Baptism? Attending church? Reading the scriptures? Helping an elderly lady cross the street? The list goes on. By themselves, these things are wonderful things, but if these works are necessary to qualify for the celestial kingdom, it is problematic. Cited in a 21st century church manual, 8th President George Albert Smith gives a good summary for what is done to qualify for the celestial kingdom:
We are here to prepare ourselves and develop ourselves and qualify ourselves to be worthy to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly Father. We believe that we are here because we kept our first estate and earned the privilege of coming to this earth. We believe that our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came here, and that we are enjoying on earth the fruits of our efforts in the spirit world. We also believe that we are sowing the seed today of a harvest that we will reap when we go from here. Eternal life is to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation of life in immortality, holding out to us the power of endless progression and increase. With that feeling and that assurance, we believe that ‘As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.’ Being created in the image of God, we believe that it is not improper, that it is not unrighteous, for us to hope that we may be permitted to partake of the attributes of deity and, if we are faithful, to become like unto God; for as we receive of and obey the natural laws of our Father that govern this life, we become more like Him; and as we take advantage of the opportunities placed within our reach, we prepare to receive greater opportunities in this life and in the life that is to come.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 2011, 71.
Henry B. Eyring, the first counselor in the First Presidency, put it this way:
“That testing of our limits in priesthood service is made necessary by God’s plan to qualify His children to live with Him again forever. Heavenly Father loves His children. He offered us eternal life, to live with Him again in families and in glory forever. To qualify us to receive that gift, He gave us a mortal body, the opportunity to be tempted to sin, and a way to be cleansed from that sin and to rise in the First Resurrection. . . .The purifying can come only to those who have faith enough in Jesus Christ to repent of sin, be cleansed through the ordinance of baptism, and make and keep covenants to obey all His commandments.”Henry B. Eyring, “O Ye That Embark,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2008, 57. Ellipsis mine.
And Apostle Robert D. Hales said,
“We can qualify for eternal life only through obedience to the commandments. This requires having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in following the Savior’s example. In practical terms, we must receive all essential priesthood ordinances and endure to the end in keeping the associated covenants.”“The Plan of Salvation: A sacred treasure of knowledge to guide us,” Ensign, October 2015, 28.
How many covenants must be kept according to these leaders? How many commandments? Notice how these leaders very clearly used the word “all.” “All” includes fasting, observing the “Sabbath” day, keeping one’s life pure, dealing with others in the right manner, and being selfless, among other things. In all things. At all times. I’m not sure how many Latter-day Saints think they are keeping all their covenants, but it seems impossible to do as these leaders have taught.
Matthew 4:3–4; Luke 4:3–4.
When Satan tempted Christ to turn a stone to bread, he challenged Christ’s divine identity by saying, “If thou be the Son of God” (Matthew 4:3, italics added). Why does Satan try to make us doubt our divine identity—and the Savior’s? How does he try to do this? (See also Moses 1:10–23.)
Again, I have a problem with the wording given here, “our divine identity.” Are we really, as 12th President Spencer W. Kimball put it, “gods in embryo”? He said,
“Man is created in the image of God. He is a god in embryo. He has the seeds of godhood within him and he can, if he is normal, pick himself up by his bootstraps and literally move himself from where he is to where he knows he should be.”BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965, 26.
He also said,
“In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, ‘Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us’.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 286.
Satan will tempt us, no doubt. Christian believers are indeed considered “children of God” (John 1:12). So we Christians have that identity. I just don’t like the language used to describe our position, as the words “divine potential” makes it appear it is possible to become gods of our own right. And that is not a biblical teaching.
Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:11.
After Jesus was physically and spiritually tested, His thoughts turned to the needs of John the Baptist, who was in prison: “And now Jesus knew that John was cast into prison, and he sent angels, and, behold, they came and ministered unto him [John]” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 4:11 [in Matthew 4:11, footnote a). How are we blessed as we follow Christ’s example of thinking of others?
This is quite a stretch, as mentioned earlier in this review. It’s a good question to ask, “how are we blessed as we follow Christ’s example of thinking of others?” Different from the JST, however, verse 12 in the KJV says that when Jesus heard John was put into prison, He went into Galilee. The question asked in the lesson makes no sense according to the context of this verse! How did the authors of this series jam this in? Of course, by using the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible–a mistake every single time.
Do we know anyone who is brokenhearted or who needs to be “set at liberty”? (Luke 4:18). How can we help others receive the Savior’s healing and deliverance? You might also discuss how performing temple ordinances helps bring “deliverance to the captives” (Luke 4:18).
Talk about a verse that has been pulled completely out of its context to make it say something never intended in the original writing. Luke 4:18 does not have anything to do with us but rather with Jesus, that He would “preach deliverance to the captives.” The captives are not those who are dead but rather those who are living and in bondage to their sin.
Utilizing a variety of tactics, the authors of the Come, Follow Me series interpret these chapters in the Gospels different from the way they were meant to be read. One method used to make this happen is to utilize the Joseph Smith Translation and its unorthodox rendering to teach doctrines that are not found in the original text. As I have asked before, if the JST is so reliable, why won’t the church leaders advocating for its use as an official scripture? Until they do, we must be suspect whenever they attempt to use this “translation” to make unique interpretations.
Fasting, meanwhile, is a personal discipline. However, it (like all other disciplines) should not be turned into a legalistic command. Yet this is the way it is taken by so many Latter-day Saints who are on a pilgrimage to keep their covenants (and hence, all the commandments) in order to qualify for celestial glory. Introducing fasting in a passage that only refers to Jesus’s fast for 40 days as meaning we ought to fast is playing fast and loose with the text.
Finally, I am bothered by the use of “divine nature.” According to Mormonism, the “divine nature” is more than just receiving a glorified body. Instead, this religion has faithfully and continually advocated that humans have the potential to be gods (“gods in embryo”). This is not a teaching of Jesus or, for that matter, the rest of the New Testament.
Once again, another lesson that is not teaching God’s Word but the particulars of this unique religion. Any Latter-day Saint who thinks he or she is actually studying the New Testament is being fooled.
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