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Were the apostle Paul and Joseph Smith two peas in a pod?

LDS Church founder Joseph Smith

By Eric Johnson

Introduction

In the History of the Church 6:408-409, Joseph Smith bragged about his greatness when he said,

Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. 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. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.

This passage was Joseph Smith’s response to Paul’s “boasting” in 2 Corinthians 11. Latter-day Saints apologists have pointed out that Smith’s “boasting” is no different than Paul’s, so if Smith is considered to have unrighteous boasting, then it will only be fair to accuse Paul of the same charge.

On the LDS apologetic website fair-lds.org (FairMormon), the unnamed author of the article on this topic writes:

Do the critics dismiss the words of Paul and deny his calling as an Apostle because he used such a literary approach that included boasting? No, they do not. Yet, they dismiss Joseph Smith when it is clear by his own statements, in context, that he engaged in the exact same literary approach.

A paragraph later, FairMormon commented:

Joseph then makes the statements that the critics attack, in the same way that Paul made outrageous “boasts” to contrast his position with the position of those who the Corinthians were starting to listen to. Paul starts the next chapter of 2 Corinthians with the statement “boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable.” So, it would appear that Paul recognizes the necessity of boasting at times against the wicked and hard-hearted (though it may do little good, being unprofitable), yet the critics do not allow Joseph to follow Paul’s advice and, of necessity, boast at times. Perhaps the critics are unaware of Paul’s advice? Or perhaps they apply a double standard where Paul is allowed such literary and rhetorical license, but Joseph is not? Such double standards are, sadly, the stock-in-trade of sectarian anti-Mormonism. In short, Joseph is using the scripture in Paul as a counter-argument (or a rhetorical device)–he is responding to his critics, and demonstrating that (as with Paul) true messengers from God are often persecuted by those who should listen, while the false and apostate are praised. Source 

For Christians who like to utilize the History of the Church passage to show how Smith was a braggart, what is a good response to the LDS apologetic?

A closer look at the passages

To consider the LDS apologetic argument, it is important for us to take a closer look at the applicable verses in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul introduces his point in verse 1 by saying that he wished the Corinthians “would bear with me in a little foolishness.” His complaint? In verse 4, he said that his listeners accepted another Jesus and another gospel willingly from these so-called “super-apostles.” Apparently, Paul was considered by the Corinthians to be just “run of the mill” and they were more impressed with the credentials of others who had not sacrificed themselves to bring them the Gospel.

Paul claimed that he had robbed other churches because he preached to the Corinthians “free of charge” (11:7). These false apostles, he said in verse 13, were “deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.”

With that as a background, let’s compare 2 Corinthians 11 with what Joseph Smith said in History of the Church 6:408-9:

2 Corinthians 11 History of the Church 6:408-409 (May 26, 1844)
V. 16: “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little.” “As Paul boasted, I have suffered more than Paul did.”
V. 17: “What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool.” “…I glory in persecution.”
V. 18: “Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.” “When facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last.”
V. 19: “For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves.” “Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! For I will come out on the top at last.”
V. 22: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.” “I have more to boast of than ever any man had.”
V. 23: “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings and often near death.” “I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam.”
V. 24: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashed less one.” “A large majority of the whole have stood by me.”
V. 25: “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at seas.” “Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it.”
V. 26: “on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger as sea, danger from false brothers” “I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.”
V. 27: “in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” “The followers of Jesus ran away from Him.”
V. 28: “And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” “But the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.”
V. 30: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

Apples and Oranges

According to FAIR-LDS (cited above), the boasts of Joseph Smith and Paul are supposedly no different. A closer look at the two passages show that this is not the case. The key verse is 2 Corinthians 11:30 where Paul says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Everything that Paul “boasted” in showed how much he endured in contrast to the “super-apostles,” including how much he had to suffer in order to present the Gospel to the Corinthian people.

In their New Testament Bible Knowledge Commentary, theologians John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck explain Paul’s choice between “human greatness” versus “human weakness”:

If, however, the Corinthians persisted in looking at things from the world’s point of view, he would accommodate himself to their perspective. But he would still try to lead them to realize that divine accreditation should be seen not against the backdrop of human greatness but human weakness. The marks on an apostle were the marks of Christ, including weakness and suffering (2 Cor. 13:4; cf. Isa. 53:3-4; Mark 9:12). In this passage (2 Cor. 11:16-12:10) Paul recounted his frailties and with poignant irony said, in essence, “These are the credentials of an apostle” (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9-13). (p. 579).

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote about how he was given a “thorn in his flesh,” a “messenger from Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” Paul said he prayed three times to have this thorn taken away, but Jesus answered, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In verse 10, Paul explained, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This is not the type of boasting practiced by Smith. Instead, he bragged about how his ways were superior to the ways of Jesus and His apostles, with nobody ever running away from the Mormon prophet. While Paul “boasted” of his weaknesses to counter how the Corinthians believers were abandoning him in favor of these super-apostles, Smith boasted in his perceived strengths and how his people rallied behind him. Smith claimed to “suffer more than Paul,” “I will come out at the top at last,” “I have more to boast of than any man had,” “neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it,” and “I boast that no man ever did such a work as I.”

For those who remember the boxer Muhammad Ali—his famous line was “I am the greatest”—Joseph Smith resembles Ali more than Paul ever did. Paul pointed to his weaknesses, not his strengths, in order to bring forth his credentials. He was as Jewish (Hebrew) as these “super-apostles” ever were, and yet what separated him from them was the suffering he had to endure in order to bring them the Gospel.

There is no humility in Smith’s words. When he said this on May 26, 1844, his fortunes were already falling apart. A week and a half later, the Nauvoo Expositor—published on June 7, 1844—was produced by former members of his church, including William Law. This set into effect the downfall of Smith, as he ordered the printing press destroyed, which caused his to be arrested. A month later, on June 26, 1844, Smith was murdered in a gun battle at the Carthage Jail. As great as he thought he was at keeping his people together, his empire was in the process of being decimated.

One other thing ought to be mentioned. On page 411 of the sixth volume of the History of the Church, Smith told an outright lie! He complained about being charged by Law with adultery and said,

Be humble and patient in all circumstances of life; we shall then triumph more gloriously. What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers.

According to the LDS historians, however, Joseph Smith committed perjury since he had between 30-40 wives in May 1844! Every wife he ever married had already been married to him. Of course, polygamy had not been officially declared to the church, yet the church historians admit that Smith was actively practicing plural marriage, including marring wives as young as 14 as well as wives who already had living husbands.

Does Smith’s argument sound like the words of a humble man? No. Instead, Smith lied to protect himself. He did not act like someone commissioned by God.

Conclusion

There is a major difference between Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul. Smith bragged about how great he was at getting people to follow him; Paul boasted on his weaknesses and always pointed to Christ. LDS apologists who want to minimize the braggadocio of their founder will need to do better than turn Paul into the same type of braggart that Smith proved to be.

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