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Monday, March 07, 2016

The Chain that Veils: A Word Play in Moses 7:26?

As I'll explain in more detail in the near future, an important verse in considering possible connections between the ancient brass plates and the Book of Moses is found in Moses 7:26, which refers to a vision of Enoch:
26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.
Tonight as I was writing about this verse, I was curious about the imagery. How could a chain veil the earth? Chains aren't especially opaque. Fortunately, Hebrew is. So I used my Blue Letter Bible app to search for "veil" and "chain" in the Old Testament. The first hits I found for both gave me these words:
  • Candidate for "chain": Strong's H7242 (רָבִיד), rabiyd, a neck chain or collar according to Gesenius's Lexicon, used in Genesis 41:42 (Pharaoh gives Joseph "a gold chain about his neck") and Ezekiel 16:11 ("I decked thee also with ornaments, and I put ... a chain on thy neck").
  • Candidate for "veil"/"vail": Strong's H7289 (רָדִיד), radiyd, a "veil" in Song of Songs 5:7 and "vails" in Isaiah 3:23, a word which means something spread, a wide wrapper or large veil, or, in Gesenius's Lexicon, "a wide and thin female garment, a cloak."
Bring me down to earth on the problems with these proposals, please, but for now, I quite like these possibilities. If these words were actually used in a Hebrew document (say, on the brass plates--more on that later), then Satan's chain, a rabiyd,  wouldn't necessarily be something that looks frightening, but is something ornamental and attractive, the kind we might gladly receive and wear around our necks with pride, only to realize too late that, like the golden handcuffs we speak of in the business world, it limits our freedom. Satan's pretty chains are chains of slavery. They connect us to his crushing yoke and lead us captive into bitter servitude. And we like fools are happy to clasp them around out necks. "Wow, thanks, it's so shiny!"

Second, the veil as some form of radiyd would seem appropriate, for it would be a cloak, spread out widely over the earth. And what a nice word play with rabiyd. Four letters, three of which are identical, and the "b" and "d" sounds aren't that distant phonetically. To me, it sounds like a winner as far as Hebraic word plays go. But I really don't know, so I welcome your feedback. Of course, the Book of Moses has "veiled" as a verb, not a noun, but perhaps "veiled" could be translation of a construction literally meaning something like "to act as a veil." Let me know if that is a problem.

If this could be a legitimate albeit speculative word play in Hebrew that someone has already noticed and written about, either regarding Moses 7:26 or some extant Hebrew text, I would appreciate a reference to cite. I'm working on an article where it might be helpful to cite such a reference. In any case, I think that Moses 7:26, word play or not, has some significance for the Book of Mormon that I hope to discuss more fully as part of an article I'm working on. If the word play is plausible, it would add a little more intrigue to the beauty of the LDS scriptures.

165 comments:

James Anglin said...

If you could make your rabiyd into the headband that would suspend a veil over the face, instead of a necklace, then you might perhaps turn this verse into an image of Satan marrying the Earth, and adorning her with a veil of darkness. I'm not sure there are really any marriage customs where the groom veils the bride, but maybe Satan's deception is firmly established as a kind of veiling, and it's enough to just associate that with a bridal veil.

Moses 7 seems to be mainly about the taking up of the holy city of Zion into heaven, while the rest of the earth falls into Satan's power. Bridal imagery here would therefore be a sort of perverse echo of Revelation 21, in which the New Jerusalem descends from heaven adorned as a bride.

If Mormons are edified by any of this hypothetical reconstruction of original Hebrew wordplay or imagery, then great. I don't think it works well as apologetic, because when one allows oneself this much freedom to speculate about hypothetical Hebrew originals, it's just not surprising that one can come up with a certain number of plausible cases. A jingle of rabiyd and radiyd may be better than a great chain that veils, but it's not a jackpot of profound meaning that makes the reconstruction compelling.

The theory that Moses 7:26 had a more coherent Hebrew original is also somewhat problematic, it seems to me. Whatever an original Hebrew might have been, bridal image or jingling wordplay, the English text is just awkward. If the Hebrew original was better, the translation failed to capture it. As I understand it, the Book of Moses is supposed to have been revealed to Joseph Smith by God, or miraculously translated by the power of God. So how well does it really fit with Mormon doctrine, to suggest that Moses 7:26 is a bad translation?

bearyb said...

I have always thought it interesting that a study of holy writ has something for everyone. It gives satisfaction to those simply seeking for hope and peace, yet also gives those searching for deeper meaning something more to do.

I don't think Jeff was looking for - or claims to have found - some earth-shattering evidence for LDS belief or interpretation. It seems he is just trying to appreciate some of the subtleties of scripture that are not readily apparent, but that enhance the experience and understanding one might (and often does) get with more in-depth searching.

Anonymous said...

James, I suggest the following because of your interest and work in the hard sciences. This particular matter aside, no hard evidence from the BofM that you have encountered works well as an apologetic for you. Your soft judgments on these topics are rather uninteresting at this point. What would be interesting is for you to engage substantial hard evidence of your choosing, write an article for a receptive Mormon journal arguing for a naturalistic view, against the apologetic. Then the debate could be engaged academically. Cheers.

James Anglin said...

@ anonymous:

I'm sorry if my comments are uninteresting. I'm just curious about how Mormons think about things. It surprises me that intelligent people can really believe some of the things Mormons believe, but evidently some intelligent people can and do, so I'm curious about how. Several times I've gotten answers here that did help me see how an intelligent person could take the Mormon viewpoint. When this has happened, I've acknowledged it.

I don't know what substantial hard evidence for the Book of Mormon I could choose to engage, since as far as I know, there is none. "Substantial hard evidence", to me, would be something like the ruins of Zarahemla. Arguments which only purport to show that if Joseph Smith were a fraud, then he would have to have been an awfully darn good fraud, do not count for me as substantial hard evidence for the Book of Mormon.

James Anglin said...

@bearyb:

Reading again my sentence "If Mormons are edified by any of this ..., then great," I admit it sounds a bit snarky. But I really didn't mean it that way. If people get something out of this, then that is great. I recently argued here that God could in principle send meaningful revelations in snowfall, or in redacted compilations of ancient myth. However the Book of Moses really came about, if you can find meaning in it, then you've found meaning.

I also really am curious, though, about how the kind of in-depth searching that Jeff has done in this post really jives with the Mormon theory of revelation. Biblical scholars often clarify strange passages by improving on poor translations from the original versions. When this happens, the original versions are usually available, at least with fairly high confidence. Occasionally there is speculation on what an unavailable original version might have been.

For example, I've heard such a speculation about Jesus's famous statement that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The speculation was that there might have been either wordplay in what Jesus actually said, or confusion about translating it into Greek, because in Aramaic the word for 'camel' sounds a lot like the word for 'rope'. What Jesus actually said might therefore (says this speculation) not really have been quite as absurdly extreme as the version we have.

Even in that case, there actually is an ancient Aramaic version of the New Testament; and many Christians would accept that Jesus's spoken words could have been imperfectly preserved in the Greek texts, because minor discrepancies among the oldest manuscripts have long been known. No translation into English has ever been considered inspired, and so improving the English text with the help of original versions is perfectly in order. Given the different Mormon teaching about how the English text of the Mormon scriptures was produced, it's just honestly unclear to me how Mormons really think about the kind of point that Jeff has made in this post.

JKC said...

"As I understand it, the Book of Moses is supposed to have been revealed to Joseph Smith by God, or miraculously translated by the power of God. So how well does it really fit with Mormon doctrine, to suggest that Moses 7:26 is a bad translation?"

James, you may be overstating the extent to which Mormons believe that the Book of Moses is a revealed translation, or you may be conflating the Book of Mormon translation with the Book of Moses translation.

Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon translation was revealed, and I think it's safe to say that most Mormons would accept Joseph Smith's statement that the Book of Mormon is the "most correct book on earth." But even then, we don't believe in inerrency. The Book of Mormon itself claims that it is not perfect. I suppose you could draw a distinction between the text and the translation and argue that even if the text itself is not perfect, the translation was perfect, as it was inspired/revealed, but I think even the most conservative Mormon would accept the possibility of translation errors in the Book of Mormon.

The case for inerrency in the Book of Moses is even weaker. It was not a separate revelation, but was a part of Joseph Smith's biblical revision, which he referred to as a "translation." Joseph Smith did not, to my knowledge, ever make any claim that his biblical revision was "the most correct," such as he did with the Book of Mormon. And the majority of the biblical revision (called the Joseph Smith Translation, or JST by the LDS church) is not even accepted as canonized scripture by the church. It is treated as a helpful study aid, but not a replacement for the KJV. The Book of Moses has been canonized, but the fact that it was canonized and the rest of the translation was not is really more the result of historical accident than a conscious decision that the Book of Moses is somehow more reliable than the rest of the JST.

So in short, Mormons don't claim the sort of inerrency for the Book of Moses that your comments seem to assume. The closest Mormons come to inerrency is the belief that the Book of Mormon translation was inspired by God, but even then, we don't claim that that makes it without error.

I'm also not sure that Jeff is arguing that these verses are a "bad translation" as much as they are a more literal translation. Every translator has to choose between on the one hand sticking closer to the source language, which will yield a more literal translation, but will obscure poetry, rhyme, meter, etc., and some of the idiomatic meanings that are apparent in the source langauge, and on the other hand trying to translating some of the elements of rhyme, meter, idioms, etc. into the target language, which will require a much looser, less literal translation. I think the point that Jeff is making here is not that these verses are a bad translation, but that they are a much more literal translation, which obscures the hypothetical Hebrew wordplay unless you know how to back into it by hypothesizing what the Hebrew source words are.

To answer your question about how Mormons think about that kind of point, personally, as somebody who is an active, believing member of the LDS church, I regard the kind of point like that made in the OP as sort of mildly interesting, but far to speculative to really prove anything. I certainly wouldn't base my decision to accept the claims of the church on it. But if somebody finds meaning in it, I won't begrudge them that. I actually thought your comment that it was not a very convincing apologetic, but potentially useful as devotional material was pretty well-stated. But then I don't find much use for apologetics, personally, so I may be a biased source.

Toni said...

So in short, Mormons don't claim the sort of inerrency for the Book of Moses that your comments seem to assume.

A lot of Mormons would disagree with you about that. Can you give us an example of an error in the Book of Moses?

James Anglin said...

Ah: thanks very much for the clarification. I had indeed been assuming that the Book of Moses was considered to be revealed like the Book of Mormon, perhaps even under 'tight control'. If this isn't actually part of Mormon belief, then Jeff's kind of hypothetical expansion of the canonized text is clearly not such a problem.

And, once we are not talking about divine translation, then 'bad translation' might indeed just mean ordinary human translation, which makes compromises. Conceivably the original was just awfully tricky to put into English, and Smith went for a literal rendering. Suggestions about a hypothetical original text for the Book of Moses are still more speculative than analogous suggestions about original Bible texts, but Jeff's just making a suggestion.

And from the general tone of his post, I think it probably is directed more towards Mormons than to non-Mormons. Jeff likes to use putative Hebraisms in the English texts of Mormon scripture as apologetic evidence, but in this case he seems to be offering the same kind of thinking just as food for Mormon thought — kind of like a restaurant owner serving their own family the same food that's on the menu for guests. To use the crude business buzzword, Jeff is "dogfooding".

I think this is an important part of what a good apologist should be doing, even though it isn't apologetics per se, because it would be bad if apologetic arguments became entirely separate from the thinking of already committed believers. Suppose some religious apologist comes up with an absolute humdinger of an apologetic argument, which somehow reels in converts like crazy, but which is just utterly foreign to the whole mental and spiritual culture of the religion as it is actually practiced. That argument would really be at best a bait-and-switch, which is a pretty dishonest tree to be growing the fruit of true faith. To make sure this doesn't happen, it probably helps to keep doing things like this post of Jeff's, to maintain contact between the apologetic front lines and the home front.

Anthony said...

Suppose some religious apologist comes up with an absolute humdinger of an apologetic argument, which somehow reels in converts like crazy, but which is just utterly foreign to the whole mental and spiritual culture of the religion as it is actually practiced.

Happens all the time. My wife was drummed out of her relief society teaching calling for saying that not everything that comes out of the church authorities' mouths is revelation, but that's a favorite apologetic argument.

bearyb said...

I'm just curious about how Mormons think about things. It surprises me that intelligent people can really believe some of the things Mormons believe, but evidently some intelligent people can and do, so I'm curious about how.

Let's start with the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith referred to it as "the keystone of our religion." That means that without it, the LDS Church would not exist. It is the most tangible evidence we have of Joseph's prophetic calling.

So how could an "intelligent" person ever believe in such a thing? The answer lies not in "hard evidence," but in experimenting on the word. How or why does anyone believe in the Bible? Same way, hopefully. The correct process is explained in great detail in Alma 32, with other examples found througout the book, and with a clear challenge to engage in the process in Moroni 10.

A "testimony" based on any other thing besides the result of such an experiment is shaky at best. Unless and until a person has tried it they have no grounds upon which to base any criticism of such belief as can result - similar to so many other things in life that, until experienced, may not be understood.

So, if anyone wants to destroy the Church, they will first have to destroy the Book of Mormon.

Though not the basis of my belief in the BoM, it seems to me that evidences supporting it grow stronger, while arguments against it are sorely lacking.

What surprises me is that so many intelligent people do not recognize or acknowledge the inner longing of their soul to know of such things, or indeed, that they can be known. It seems much easier to distract ourselves with other, more apparently pressing temporal considerations while ignoring the weightier matters of eternal things. After all, the spiritual consequences of decisions do not seem immediate or tangible, especially for those not accustomed to recognizing them.

As an example at the other extreme, consider Christ's response when the woman touched the hem of His robe in the crowd. What did He say, and what could He have possibly meant by it?

Everything Before Us said...

Bearyb,

This test you use to determine the truthfulness of the BoM, it can be applied to any religious text or even any self-help book. It is not a test that can be relied upon to determine which church to join. I can read Mere Christianity and put into practice C. S. Lewis's beliefs about the Christian life. If I receive fruit from this, does that therefore mean that the Trinitarian doctrine, which Lewis expounds upon so eloquently in Mere Christianity, is true? Or if I read the Koran, and put into practice those admonitions, and receive blessings in my life, does that mean I should convert to Islam?

And what do you do after you read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony that God is unchangeable from all eternity and to all eternity (Moroni 8:18), and join the church, but then find out that, as Smith preached in 1844, "we have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity," but that Smith refuted this idea and preached that God was not unchangeable, but he was once a man. What do you do then?



Anonymous said...

Perhaps the past eternity -- æternitas a parte ante -- is anchored to terrestrial or human time. Who knows.

James Anglin said...

It may be that many people ignore their souls' longings. But I wouldn't say that everyone who is not convinced by the Book of Mormon must be doing that. Billions of human beings are religious. Less than 1% of these are Mormon.

Everything Before Us said...

Anonymous,

So you are saying that "eternity" does not mean eternal?

JKC said...

Everything Before Us:

Sorry to jump in between you and Bearyb, but to me, if there is a conflict between canonized scripture and uncanonized preaching, it seems to me almost a no-brainer that scripture trumps preaching. But maybe that's a cop-out. It's clear that many Mormons give precedence to the later sermons of Joseph Smith over passages like the one you cite from Mormon, and there are all kinds of ways to reconcile that if that's what you want to do. Anonymous hints at one of them.

For me, personally, I think we have to recognize that on the more speculative things such as the nature of God, even canonized scripture does not speak with one voice. The only things on which scripture is arguably pretty well united are the message of the gospel, that Christ came to do the will of the Father, and will draw all men to him on conditions of repentance, and will give the Holy Ghost to those that come to him and are baptized. Those are the things that I'm certain of, and quite honestly, that's more than enough to keep me occupied. On everything else--including things like whether in some far distant time--so long ago so as to be characterized as before "eternity"--God was changing or unchanging, I can live with uncertainty.

JKC said...

Toni, which version? :) It was revised multiple times, and lots of mistakes were corrected, which it could not have been if it was inerrent ab initio. Seriously, here's a good, but very general overview of the textual history of the Book of Moses. https://www.lds.org/ensign/1986/01/how-we-got-the-book-of-moses?lang=eng

Maybe you're saying that it wasn't inerrent in the first draft, but it became inerrent by the time it got to the last draft? That seems like an odd argument to make. Maybe there are some Mormons who claim that the Book of Moses in inerrent. I've never met one.

Anonymous said...

Well, ebu, "eternity" can mean the whole duration of the world -- in other words, it can be limited. The semantics is very hard to be sure of. The matter appears to be inconclusive.

Everything Before Us said...

"from all eternity to all eternity" seems to be quite direct and clear. It at least tell us what Joseph Smith thought of the nature of God in 1829. The fact that he then uses the same language to refute the idea of an eternal God is quite telling.

I hope you realize that the matter only appears to be inconclusive to you, who so desperately needs Joseph Smith's later additions to Christian theology to seamlessly attach themselves to Christian theology. No other Christian has this same problem. Because Christians have always consistently believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ETERNAL God.

James Anglin said...

Moroni 10 contains the famous challenge to pray for personal divine assurance that the Book of Mormon is true. The whole idea has bothered me since I heard about it, and I think maybe now I can articulate why.

You have to make your prayer "with real intent". To me this means that you're prepared, in principle, to be convinced — otherwise, I would say, you're just pretending to pray for guidance, but not really asking. But if you're praying for the truth of the Book of Mormon to be manifested to you, being seriously prepared to conclude that it is so manifested, then it seems to me that you must already have decided that all that stands between you, and firm commitment to Mormonism, is experiencing a certain feeling. To me, even before you either get or don't get that feeling, deciding to let a feeling make that big decision for you means you're already in a pretty peculiar state of mind.

Suppose a person decides to marry the next green-eyed stranger they meet. I won't be surprised if this person then immediately falls head-over-heels in love with that next green-eyed stranger, because the only reason anyone decides to marry the next green-eyed stranger is that they are desperate to marry someone, as soon as possible; and people in that state of mind are prone to falling in love on the first excuse.

It seems to me that if you are seriously prepared to commit your life to a cause, if you only get a certain feeling, then you must really be longing to throw yourself at a cause. Given that, it seems to me that Moroni's promise is a self-fuliflling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

You must not know many Mormons. I would bet that if you polled a general population of card carrying Mormons and asked them if there are errors in the Book of Moses, the majority would consider you a blasphemer, and a large percentage (I would say close to 90%) would say there are no errors.

I took 4 years of seminary and 4 years of religion classes at two different church schools, and though we discussed the contents of Moses in great detail, I was never taught that it was a lesser scripture, nor were any errors ever discussed.

It sounds like you are taking the church's new stance about The Pearl of Great Price (specifically the Book of Abraham) that it doesn't matter how it came to be, it's the doctrine it conveys that's most important.

Steven said...

Nice observations James Anglin in your initial comment. I suspect you are correct in your original assumption that most Mormons would see the Book of Moses as revealed in much the same way The Book of Mormon is. I do, for one.

Your take on Moroni 10 is interesting, and I can understand why that would be disconcerting. I didn't experience it that way so I view it differently, to me "real intent" simply means with an honest heart, with real integrity in confronting one's assumptions and limitations.

I could definitely see the case you lay out occurring for some people, but I would imagine such a shaky foundation built more on desperation than an honest heart would eventually crumble. Like your hypothetical desperate love-seeker, the relationship would likely be shallow and full of dependencies rather than strength, which would crumble if the person did not mature in their love and approach to love.

Everything Before Us said...

The Book of Mormon does not tell us to ask God if it IS true. It tells us to ask God if it is NOT true. It expects skepticism from the start.

bearyb said...

EBU,

First of all, it is not just a "test I use to determine the truthfulness of the BoM," it is the method contained in the book itself. I didn't invent it, nor can I judge how well anyone follows it. It is what it is.

Secondly, neither the LDS Church nor the BoM claim to have a corner on all truth. In fact, the D&C says quite clearly that if we receive a blessing, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated. Obviously this does not only pertain to members of the Church. You don't have to be a Mormon to reap the benefits of obeying the Lord's law of health (the Word of Wisdom), or the benefits of obeying the Ten Commandments, or even those of the Golden Rule. There are many people of faith - and many people who aren't religious at all - who benefit by being generous with their material things.

You don't even have to be a Mormon to feel spiritual promptings! I don't think Joseph Smith was a member of any church when he received his First Vision...

As far as God being unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity, yes it says that. But it cannot mean unchangeable in every way. If you'll recall, just over 2000 years ago God the Son underwent a very drastic change. He was born on the earth into a body, within which He grew "from grace to grace." then He died, was resurrected, and continues to live as a resurrected, glorified being. What a change! So "unchangeable" must mean something else.

bearyb said...

James,

As I said previously to EBU, I don't believe the LDS Church claims to have exclusive access to all things spiritual, or even all truth. In fact, we are taught in the Church to seek out truth wherever we may find it. We are encouraged to learn about all sorts of things and gain a wide knowledge and understanding.

Of course you do not have to be LDS to be religious. I hope I didn't mislead anyone.

Everything Before Us said...

Bearby,

Back in 1885, God the Son underwent another drastic change, too. He became Jehovah. Joseph Smith and others believed and taught that Jehovah was God the Father. Only until the very late 1880's did Mormons start speaking about Jesus as Jehovah. There was so much confusion, and the Q12 got so exhausted receiving letters asking for clarification, that in the early 1900's, they asked James Talmage, who had been developing the Jesus/Jehovah doctrine, to write up a statement. This is now known as the Exposition of 1916. John Taylor even wrote a hymn. Jehovah is the Father. Jesus is Jehovah's son.

Everything Before Us said...

As in the heavens they all agree
The record's given there by three,
Jehovah, God the Father's one,
Another His Eternal Son,
The Spirit does with them agree,
The witnesses in heaven are three.

"We believe in God the Father, who is the Great Jehovah and head of all things, and that Christ is the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father." 1841, The Times and Seasons.

"O Thou, who seest and knowest the hearts of all men-Thou eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Jehovah - God - Thou Elohim, that sittest, as saith the Psalmist, 'enthroned in heaven,' look down upon Thy servant Joseph at this time; and let faith on the name of Thy Son Jesus Christ, to a greater degree than Thy servant ever yet has enjoyed, be conferred upon him." - A prayer penned by Joseph Smith in 1842.


The Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer in the D&C also is clear evidence that Jehovah is the Father.

JKC said...

None of what you said establishes that inerrancy is a doctrine of the church.

JKC said...

None of what you said establishes that inerrancy is a doctrine of the church.

bearyb said...

EBU,

Setting aside what may or may not have been understood about who was which or what was who, don't you agree that the taking upon Himself a physical body was a major change?

Why do you attempt to distract from the point I made, something that had been prophesied from ancient times and very well documented during His ministry?

Do you agree that this was a change, or not?

Everything Before Us said...

Bearby,

Right. I would agree that God is not unchangeable in every way if we are going to say that the Incarnation proves the changeability of God. But the claim isn't that God can't change. It is that God, perhaps while changing in certain ways from time to time to fulfill his purposes, has always been God.

If God was still God even while he was a man learning to become a God, then you are a God right now, even while you are learning to become a God. Of course, you wouldn't make this claim for yourself. Therefore, you cannot make this claim for God. When he was a man, he was not a God. Thus, he has not always been God. And that kind of God simply isn't the God described in the Bible.

If you don't believe the Bible, that is your right, but perhaps it is time for the Mormon missionaries to stop carrying the Bible around with them. It is kind of deceptive to whip out the Bible on the doorstep of an 85-year old Catholic woman and say, "We have the Bible, too!"

Yes...you have the Bible in your possession. And you read it. But you reject some of the essential doctrine found within it.

Everything Before Us said...

JKC,

Since inerrancy isn't a doctrine of the church, would you be so kind as to tell me which doctrines taught in the past or present are wrong?

Mormons might not believe in inerrancy, but I think most would believe that everything they have been taught is correct.

Anonymous said...

Hi EBU,

Care to define doctrine before we go down this path? For example, it was taught that the majority of the American Indians were descended from Lehi's group that came to America. As a teenager, I realized through reading various books that this just did not make sense. Some regarded this as doctrine, others did not.

What do you consider doctrine?

Steve

Steven said...

EBU,

"Of course, you wouldn't make this claim for yourself. Therefore, you cannot make this claim for God."

Interestingly enough, it seems Jesus approved of and reiterated this very claim. Referencing Psalm 82:6, Jesus says in John 10:
"34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?"

Joseph Smith seemed to be getting at this very reconciliation as well in the King Follett Discourse (normally I wouldn't copy and paste such a large block, but I believe it really gets to the heart of this conversation):
"The soul the mind of man, where did it come from? All men say God created it in the beginning. The very idea lessens man in my estimation; I do not believe the doctrine, I know better. Hear it all ye ends of the world, for God has told me so. I will make a man appear a fool before I get through, if you don't believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble--we say that God himself is a self existing God; who told you so? it is correct enough, but how did it get into your heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? ...The mind of man is as immortal as God himself. I know that my testimony is true, hence when I talk to these mourners; what have they lost, they are only separated from their bodies for a short season; their spirits existed co-equal with God, and they now exist in a place where they converse together, the same as we do on the earth."

JKC said...

Everything Before Us, It may not have been clear, but my comment was actually a response to Anonymous' comment above that I "must not know many Mormons" (which is completely false) and that in 4 years of seminary and 4 years of religious ed and church colleges he or she was never taught that the Book of Moses was "lesser scripture," so therefore Mormons must believe that is the inerrent word of God.

My point is not that Moses is "lesser scripture" my point is that any scripture, whether you categorize it as "lesser" or "greater" is not inerrent. I'm frankly surprised that some people are finding that a controversial statement. It's stupid to make this a dick measuring contest about church credentials, but I also attended 4 years of seminary, took more than 4 years worth of religion classes at BYU, served a mission, have been active in the church my entire life, and have never heard it taught as a doctrine of the church that scripture is inerrent. In fact, I was taught more than once in BYU religion classes that, if for no other reason, the very nature of human language itself means that inerrency cannot be a fact of latter-day scripture. At least one BYU religion teacher taught that "as far as it is translated correctly" is implied to apply to the Book of Mormon as well, and honestly, if you know even a little bit about the textual history of the Book of Mormon, you realize, it has to apply, if you are going to accept it as scripture. Anonymous' guess that if there were a survey, 90% of respondents would call such a view blasphemous is meaningless speculation, and not very persuasive to me since it is so at odds with

But to answer your question, I don't see how whether doctrines taught by the church are related to the question of scriptural inerrency, because inerrency has to do with scripture, not with church teaching. I think it is pretty uncontroversial that church teaching is subject to normal human error. I'm not interested in giving an exhaustive list, but there are plenty of examples: You've already pointed out the changing views on the Godhead, to which you could also add the lectures on faith version. Other examples include Adam-God, blood atonement, certainly all the justifications for the race-based priesthood ban, if not the ban itself.

JKC said...

I find that discussions about what constitutes doctrine vs. just teachings are rarely productive, and often just leads to a sort of circular reasoning where we say doctrine is only things that can't change, so therefore if it changed, it wasn't doctrine, even if it was presented as such at the time. And I honestly don't see what the point is of drawing the distinction between doctrine and teachings. Are they treated any differently? As far as I can tell, the only reason for such reasoning is to be able to preserve the claim that "doctrine" doesn't change. But why do we even need that claim?Whether you call it doctrine or teachings, it is clear that things taught by the church have changed and sometimes dramatically. Sometimes those changes may be able to be reconciled, but sometimes it's better to just admit that the teachings or doctrine was wrong. That's not a problem unless you have the unrealistic and unscriptural expectation that prophets are never wrong.

Having said that I will say that there is a smaller subset of "doctrine" that Jesus in the Book of Mormon calls "my doctrine," which is limited to the message of the gospel: that Jesus came to do the will of the Father, that he died on the cross and was resurrected, that all of us will be resurrected and judged, and that if we will come to Christ through repentance, faith, and baptism, he will forgive us and cleanse us by the power of the Holy Ghost. If we are talking about those things, I would agree that doctrine does not change. If we are talking about anything else, all bets are off.

Everything Before Us said...

Steven, that is a misinterpretation of what Jesus is saying. What you are doing is called "proof-texting."

Jesus is saying, "The scriptures call those who have the word of God (the Jews) 'gods.' So why are you making a big deal when the one who God himself has sanctified and sent into the world is called the 'Son of God.'"

He is not saying that everybody is a God, especially not in light of the fact that the only ones who had the word of God at the time he was speaking were the Jews. Nor is he saying that those who have the word of God are going to become God, and will be worshipped as such by their posterity. He doesn't say this. It is a stretch to make this passage say that. The scripture he is quoting from Psalms has to do with apostasy: "Ye are gods, but you will fall like men." When he quotes it in the New Testament he is not answering questions about the eternal progression of the human race toward Godhood. He is defending the claim that he has been sanctified by the Father and sent into the world as the Son of God.

He isn't expounding on the King Follet Discourse.

Steven said...

EBU,

I'm not clear what you think my interpretation is. Limiting it to the Jews doesn't change my point, as I understand it Jesus was pointing out the irony that they are condemning him for supposed blasphemy for calling himself the Son of God, while the scriptures already go so far as to call them gods. Whether the Jews only or not, Jesus seems to approve of the idea that mortal men or at least a particular subset of mortal men are gods, and therefore how could it be blasphemy or extreme to call himself a Son of God. Do you disagree?

James Anglin said...

Perhaps because I've never been Mormon, I'm getting a bit confused. Is the dispute about what exactly Mormons believe? Or about how it differs from what the older Christian churches teach? Or about whether the Mormon scriptures (including the Bible) are consistent with each other about the nature of God?

The Trinity is of course a famously mysterious concept. Its most thorough exposition, in the Athanasian Creed, is mostly negative; it is easier to say what the Trinity is not, than to say what it is. The Trinity is not three Gods. It would be wrong (according to traditional trinitarian teaching) to deny that Mary was the mother of God. On the other hand, the Trinity is not one Person (whatever 'person' means in this context). It would be wrong to say that God the Father was crucified. The Mormon theory of God definitely seems simpler than this.

Mormon teaching makes human beings bigger than traditional Christian teaching does — eternal spirits who can progress to Deity instead of created things who can be eternally saved. In contrast, though, the Mormon theory of God seems to me to make God not only simpler than the God of trinitarianism, but also smaller than the God of any true monotheism. The God of Jews, Christians and Muslims is the ultimate being who creates and controls all reality. Their God didn't just organize pre-existing stuff into worlds, but created all the material from nothing, along with space and time themselves. To trinitarian Christians, the first verses of the Gospel of John are saying that Jesus is actually something like meaning or pattern.

This is admittedly a rather extravagant theology for a bunch of jumped-up monkeys like humans. We can't even make a fusion reactor; what do we know about ultimate reality? The more limited Mormon God would still be far enough above us, in understanding as well as power, that we might be wise to obey him. Nonetheless I think I would feel awkward, as a Mormon, having to argue against traditional Christians: "Actually, God isn't nearly as great as you think."

JKC said...

I don't think Jesus is necessarily approving of the idea that men are gods by quoting the psalm. I think he is just using it to mess with the pharisees, pointing out the inconsistency between their slavish devotion to the letter of the law (" If . . . the scripture cannot be broken") and their quickness to condemn him for making a claim to be the Son of God, when those very scriptures go so far as to call "gods" those who received the word of God. He's saying "hey, your own scriptures call men gods, and if you claim to be so devoted to them, why is it so blasphemous that I say I'm the Son of God." By saying "it is written in YOUR law," rather than, it is written in the law, I think he is not taking a position one way or the other on whether and under what circumstances the psalm's designation of men as Gods is correct, he is just pointing out the hypocrisy of his critics.

King Follet may be true or it may not be (it isn't canonized scripture, so nobody in the church is bound to accept it) but I don't think this scripture is a very strong support for it.

JKC said...

James, I think we need to be a bit more precise about what really is the canonical Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and what is the appcryphal, non-canonical teaching that has grown up around it.

The canonical Mormon Godhead doctrine is very simple, you might even say vague: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." Add to that the Book of Mormon's teaching that Jesus is "God himself," and that he and the Father and the Holy Ghost are "one God." You end up with something not all that different from the Apostles Creed. The biggest departure is probably the Doctrine and Covenants' teaching that "the Father has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as a man's, the Son also, but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bone, but is a personage of spirit."

All the stuff about the Father having once been a man is a huge departure from traditional Christianity, but it is not canonical. It is apocryphal. Some would even argue that it is unscriptural because the Book of Mormon says that Jesus was and is God "from all eternity to all eternity." Joseph Smith was unconstrained in his thinking, he was wonderfully speculative. But those teachings were never accepted as canonized scripture and they are not binding on the church.

Although, I would also suggest that the idea of the Father having once been a man is not, by itself, as incompatible with traditional Christianity as it might seem at first glance, if only because it is pretty uncontroversial in traditional Christianity that Jesus was once a man (that's the whole point of the incarnation) but that he was still God both before and after the incarnation. So the idea of God having a body is not, by itself, an insurmountable problem. In fact, portions of the Book of Mormon can be read to suggest that the Father was incarnated in some sense in the person of Jesus Christ as well as the Son (though that is not how most members read that passage, and not hoe church leaders have interpreted it).

Everything Before Us said...

JKC,

I agree. But Steven used this scripture "Ye are gods" to support the ideas of the King Follet Discourse. Hence the discussion.

Everything Before Us said...

JKC,

But while the KFD isn't canonized in scripture, the endowment has as its foundation the doctrines of the KFD. So...I think you have to agree with the KFD if you put any stock in the promises of the endowment.

Everything Before Us said...

JKC

You call the idea of God being once a man apocryphal, but this apocryphal doctrine is making its way through the Correlation Committee and being printed in official church manuals. This is the Mormon problem. They have a very loose definition of the word "doctrine." Something will be taught as doctrine until it is no longer taught as doctrine. And all the additional doctrines that sprung off that now-disavowed doctrine don't necessarily go away when the parent doctrine is disavowed. That is how the concept of eternal marriage survived when the doctrine of Celestial marriage had to be altered when polygamy was ended.

Steven said...

JKC, it may be correct that Jesus was merely pointing out the hypocrisy of those with whom he was speaking. I don't think it proves the truth of the King Follett teachings (actually it would be using "gods" in a different way than JS defines God there), only that it is an example in scripture where we see men being called gods, which I point out to say that perhaps it is not without precedent to define a god in such a way, which is a possible option to reconcile the earlier revelations in the Book of Mormon with the later Nauvoo teachings.

But whether both are teaching two truths that can ultimately be reconciled, or whether one teaches about God like Newtonian physics teaches us about gravity and the latter like General Relativity speaks to gravity in a more advanced way, or whether there was simply a error in earlier understanding, to EBU's original point - it doesn't shatter my testimony of the Book of Mormon or of spiritual truths I have learned. Testimony or spiritual knowledge is a line upon line deal, and a confirmation of one truth does not give me all light and knowledge upon all principles, and I therefore expect a constant revision of my understanding and beliefs as God reveals to me principle upon principle.

I'm not interested in proving any particular point, or debating with anyone. Just sharing my experiences and my personal understanding.

As I see it, I really love the Book of Mormon doctrine that in the last days there are but two churches only, the church of Christ and the church of the devil. I see a great purpose in the many religions and teachings that exist throughout the world, and so much good can be found in so many places. These who bear good fruit are to me who the Book of Mormon considers the church of Christ. The purpose as I see it for the restoration of Priesthood authority through heavenly messengers and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is to be the beacon and ensign that all truth might ultimately be gathered in one in Christ, and to be the vehicle and organization by which the Kingdom of God can and will be established on earth bringing forth Zion in preparation for the millennial reign of Christ and peace on earth. It's a grand work, and the good in the Buddhism, in the Koran, in Mere Christianity, etc. are all part of it as I see it. If people pray and find truths in them that aid help them to grow and find happiness and therefore perpetuate love and the cause of goodness, then I rejoice, and to me they are my brothers and sisters.

JKC said...

Everything Before Us,

Right, I was responding to Steven's comments.

I'm not convinced that the atonement has its foundations in the KFD. I think it's foundations are in the Kirtland pentecost. It was used as support for KFD ideas, but I disagree with the assertion that that is the only way to interpret it. But I don't think I'll say any more about that.

Re: the loose definition of doctrine, I agree. That's something that we should be more precise about. As I mentioned above, I wish we were more willing to limit ourselves, when speaking of doctrine, to what JEsus calls "my doctrine" in the Book of Mormon, and be more okay with uncertainty as to other issues. But for a long time, we've been taken the position rhetorically that the gospel answers any and all questions, so we've gotten into a habit of inventing doctrines by extrapolation to answer questions. That's not a bad thing if you have the humility to understand when you are speculating, and to be open to further light and knowledge, but if you assume that just because the church teaches it, it must therefore be eternal truth no matter what, you're gonna have a bad time.

Steven said...

...and if it wasn't clear, whether apocryphal or not, I for one do believe the teachings found in the KFD. Like Joseph Smith, the ideas and truths put forth there do taste good to me. I feel it helps me understand better who I am, and to me that God's perfections and attributes came by way of work and learning and growth through opposition does not lessen what He is in anyway, for me it becomes much more meaningful and inspiring altogether.

James Anglin said...

I hope this isn't offensive, but I have read some online accounts that claim to describe some Mormon temple ceremonies. I won't quote anything from them, but my impression from them was that (if they were accurate) they did make Mormon theology seem more starkly different from my own than the Book of Mormon did. (Well, except for Jesus's massacres in 3rd Nephi — those were pretty starkly different already.)

Having sacred secrets is one thing, but to me it would be another thing if Mormons had discrepancies between what they present to outsiders as their doctrine, and what they actually practice. I myself am not saying this is so — I'm certainly not very familiar with Mormon temple practices, and those things I have read may have been wrong. But I have heard it suggested, in effect, that secret Mormon ceremonies represent a kind of unpublished Mormon scripture. Apologists don't necessarily have to spill all the beans, but they may at least want to address this concern in some way, perhaps just by explaining the kind of doctrinal authority which is attributed to the ceremonies, without describing their content.

everything before us said...

Re: the loose definition of doctrine, I agree. That's something that we should be more precise about. As I mentioned above, I wish we were more willing to limit ourselves, when speaking of doctrine, to what JEsus calls "my doctrine" in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon makes it pretty clear that you HAVE to limit yourself to what He calls "His doctrine." Because he says that if anyone teaches more or less than what he calls his doctrine, they are of evil. Kind of really puts a damper on the majority of Mormon doctrine. That sort of rules out any possibility that the temple rituals are doctrinal. Eternal marriage, then, clearly becomes not doctrinal either. Because this stuff is all "more than" the doctrine, as Christ declares it.

Steven said...

"explaining the kind of doctrinal authority which is attributed to the ceremonies"

I don't think there is anything official, not that I know of at least. My sense is that the temple and its ceremonies are viewed in high regard and as something very sacred and precious by the majority of members, a smaller group that don't find it of much worth, and then a smaller subset that find it off-putting. I would say the leadership endorses the first view. Where some people find discrepancies with what they feel is taught in the temple with what is taught currently by the leadership, it has been my experience that the current teachings publicly taught by leaders takes precedence in every case that I'm familiar with. I would also guess that most people either don't see discrepancies or don't focus on them if they feel there might be any.

As it is a sacred subject for me and most Mormons, I appreciate you being careful. And I wish to do the same, while still trying to be helpful to your inquiries.

Aside from the teaching that further ordinances are necessary to receive the highest blessings from God, such as receiving an endowment and sealing of a marriage and family for eternity, which are also taught frequently outside of the temple, I'm having a hard time imagining what other doctrines are really introduced in the temple at all. While the format of the ceremony might stand in contrast to other forms of worship, particularly new testament and even Book of Mormon most common forms of worship, if we include the old testament the elements and theology in almost all instances are taken directly from the accepted cannon of the church, ranging from tabernacle/temple washing and anointing / or priest and kingship practices of the old testament, to elements of creation found in the pearl of great price, to doctrines of atonement and restoration found in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps there is an implied theology of ascension and returning to the presence of God, that was more expressly taught at the end of Joseph Smith's life. But I don't think such doctrines are kept from the public, although they might not be taught with the same frequency in favor of more practical here and now teachings.

That's my take at least.

everything before us said...

"My sense is that the temple and its ceremonies are viewed in high regard and as something very sacred and precious by the majority of members."

It is more than that they are held in high regard, and as something sacred. Without the ordinances, there is no eternal life for humankind.

While the format of the ceremony might stand in contrast to other forms of worship, particularly new testament and even Book of Mormon most common forms of worship, if we include the old testament the elements and theology in almost all instances are taken directly from the accepted cannon of the church, ranging from tabernacle/temple washing and anointing / or priest and kingship practices of the old testament, to elements of creation found in the pearl of great price, to doctrines of atonement and restoration found in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.

You need to understand the proper relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Joseph Smith didn't get this. Christ is the end of the law to all those who believe in him. In this commandment, love one another, you have fulfilled the entirety of the law. The old law became obsolete. This is all New Testament doctrine. There is no need to have a "restoration" of "all" things. Not all things needed to come back for a second act, as Joseph Smith taught. Jesus fulfilled the law.

Steven said...

EBU,

I understand the sentiment you express, and I think it is a reasonable belief.

On the necessity of the restoration of the temple and many of the rites thereof, I personally don't believe all of it pertained only to the old law of Moses. In places like Ezekiel and other places, I see prophesies of the necessity of the restoration of the temple in the last days. I see Christ's actions in the temple, and Peter's and leaders' subsequent actions post Christ's death as evidence that they too believed that these things were not simply done away by Christ. I believe Joseph Smith understood a thing or two about these principles.

Again, not to knock your belief, I see how that can be a reasonable conclusion. And you're right, I meant the doctrines presented in the temple are held in high and sacred regard. Yes, I too believe without the ordinances there cannot be a fullness of salvation. Which I guess at the same time the doctrine of vicarious work for those who didn't get that opportunity is likewise such an important belief to me, and I believe to Mormons generally.

JKC said...

If you pay attention to the endowment narrative, it's pretty clear that it is not to be taken literally. Not that that stops a lot of people from doing so anyway.

JKC said...

If you pay attention to the endowment narrative, it's pretty clear that it is not to be taken literally. Not that that stops a lot of people from doing so anyway.

Anonymous said...

JKC said...
None of what you said establishes that inerrancy is a doctrine of the church.

You weren't discussing whether or not it is church doctrine. You stated:

"Maybe there are some Mormons who claim that the Book of Moses in inerrent. I've never met one."

Which I am pointing out is extremely disingenuous. If you'd like proof, in your next Priesthood or Sunday School class, point out that there are errors in the Book of Moses and ask how many class members agree with you. I'm sure you would then meet several Mormons who claim that the Book of Moses is inerrent (more than likely a majority of the class). Some in the class will likely wonder if you are "struggling with your testimony."

You also mentioned in an earlier post that:

"the fact that it was canonized and the rest of the translation was not is really more the result of historical accident than a conscious decision that the Book of Moses is somehow more reliable than the rest of the JST."

If it was an historical accident, why hasn't the accident been fixed?

bearyb said...

James,

Your "green-eyed stranger" scenario is interesting, but incomplete and not representative of the process of conversion as I understand it.

First, an interest in only green-eyed strangers would seem arbitrary. Why that type of person over all others? Would they posess some quality others don't?

Second, the process described in Alma 32 is a process, not usually a head-over-heels type of thing.

Third, you do have to be in a "peculiar" state of mind, if you will. You need to be receptive, humble, and intent on following the promptings you receive. Why should the Lord reveal anything to someone who is only curious?

Also, what if there is only one truly green-eyed person out there, and all others apparently so are only wearing colored contact lenses?

Anonymous said...

JKC said:

"I was taught more than once in BYU religion classes that, if for no other reason, the very nature of human language itself means that inerrency cannot be a fact of latter-day scripture. At least one BYU religion teacher taught that "as far as it is translated correctly" is implied to apply to the Book of Mormon as well"

I wonder if this is a generational thing? It's been more than 20 years since my religious educational experience. I wonder if this is indicative of a distancing of the church away from Joseph Smith's canonized doctrinal "translations." The Internet and scholarship had not yet caught up with the Book of Abraham when I was in school, and there was less need to cover bases.

I'm wondering if, when you discussed possible errors in scripture, even in the BoM, specific examples of errors were brought to light or was it left to you to find them yourself? Any official, general-conference from-the-pulpit discussion of errors in the BoM I have ever heard were in regards to spelling, punctuation, & grammar, not doctrine or practice. It seems the acceptance of inerrancy is extremely limited.

JKC said...

Anonymous, it might be a generational thing. My BYU experience was about 10-15 years ago. But are you sure that scholarship had not yet caught up with the Book of Abraham? A lot of that stuff was pretty well covered in the 1980s, wasn't it? (Of course it took longer for teh scholarship to trickle down.) Or it might be a regional thing, because I've had discussions about this topic several times in Elders Quorum lessons and nobody has ever expressed shock or surprise at the idea that scripture, being expressed in human language, is not inerrant. So no, my statement is not "extremely disingenuous." Maybe your experience is different, but my point is simply that your experience is not universal, and from my limited perspective, my experience has been just the opposite.

As to whether specific errors in the Book of Mormon were discussed in my BYU classes, I honestly don't remember. I certainly learned about them at that time, but I honestly can't remember if they were brought up in class or if I read about them on my own outside of class. I think the teacher just sort of generally referred us to the work of Royal Skousen as a source for all the Book of Mormon changes. I vaguely remember that he might have pointed out the changes in 1 Nephi from "the Eternal Father" to "the son of the Eternal Father," but honestly, I may have read that on my own after class, I just don't remember.

When I said "historical accident" I did not mean it in a pejorative sense, as a problem that needs to be fixed. The interesting thing about the JST and the Pearl of Great Price is how the church accepted the Pearl of Great Price basically unquestioningly, because it was presented to the church and canonized in late 1800s, while the church took a much more skeptical view toward the JST/Inspired Version, because it came from the Reorganized Church, given the historical distrust between the two churches, not realizing that the JST and the Book of Moses came from the same source. The JST became much more widely accepted as authentic in the 1980s, and much of it was eventually incorporated as footnotes in the LDS edition of the KJV, but it is still not canon.

Does this need to be fixed? I'm not so sure. The fact that something is in the canon does not necessarily mean that it is perfect. The Song of Solomon is technically part of the canon, but must church members probably agree with the JST that it is not inspired (to the extent that they have even read it). I think we can accept that the Book of Moses is part of the canon, and at the same time, recognize that it comes from the same source as the JST, which we have accepted as often inspired, but not inerrant.

I suppose you could ask the same question about why has the Bible not been updated to reflect, for instance, the dead sea scrolls. The fact that the Bible has the version it has rather than some other version often a historical accident, rather than a conscious decision that the version we have is the most accurate version. But I don't think that means that we need to change the canon to reflect that, we can just let it inform our understanding of the canon.

Everything Before Us said...

Which I guess at the same time the doctrine of vicarious work for those who didn't get that opportunity is likewise such an important belief to me, and I believe to Mormons generally.

Why would you need to do vicarious work for those who died with the law? Moroni says that to baptize people without the law is a dead work, and is mockery before God.

"For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing— But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works."

Why is baptizing dead people who may have died without the law not a "dead work?" (No pun intended.)

This is the Mormon conundrum. If all are alive in Christ before they receive the law, and the power of the redemption comes on all such people, then receiving the law brings the person into condemnation. Missionary work is the work of the devil. They'd be better off left alone.

Everything Before Us said...

I meant..."died WITHOUT the law..." Sorry.

James Anglin said...

@bearyb:

The arbitrariness of letting eye color determine a spouse was supposed to be analogous to the arbitrariness of letting a feeling determine a faith. Eye color isn't actually a very good guide to any of the things that make a good marriage; neither is it good, it seems to me, to base faith on a brief feeling.

The reason for the arbitrary decision was also part of my analogy. Marrying the next green-eyed stranger is a terrible way to get a good marriage, but a good way to stop having to search for a partner (which can be very stressful). So deciding to just go for green eyes means prioritizing an end to the agonizing search, over finding the elusive prize. In the same way, trusting your feelings of assurance as a personal answer to prayer seems to me like a terrible way to find truth, but a good way to stop having to look for truth. So merely accepting Moroni's challenge seems to me to imply a strong will to believe.

Among the very religious people I've known (very few of whom have been Mormons), a fair proportion have seemed to me to be people who craved certainty. Often they would say explicitly that they believed what they did because the alternative was to be uncertain about important questions. They took for granted that this alternative was unthinkable. When a big part of why you have faith is just in order to have faith, it may not take much to bring you to faith. Where there's a will to believe, there may well be a way.

Steven said...

EBU,

All save Christ, who have developed the mental capacity to be capable of sin, have fallen to sin. Since all knowledge and all things have not been revealed, I imagine no person has received all law. Conversely, all places and times have some degree of the light of Christ and some form of law by which they can do right or wrong. Having sinned, they can repent, and baptism becomes applicable for salvation.

That's my understanding.

Steven said...

Mormon conundrum solved ;)

Everything Before Us said...

And 8-years old is the universally-applied standard to determine who is accountable and who is not. Sounds as random and arbitrary as declaring all human beings wicked and condemned upon birth.

All save Christ, who have developed the mental capacity to be capable of sin, have fallen to sin. Since all knowledge and all things have not been revealed, I imagine no person has received all law. Conversely, all places and times have some degree of the light of Christ and some form of law by which they can do right or wrong. Having sinned, they can repent, and baptism becomes applicable for salvation.

Steven,...and that is what you think the Book of Mormon is telling us?

Steven said...

EBU,

I believe that is the truth, and it is the truth I glean from spirit of that passage. Perhaps Moroni didn't know of the doctrine of vicarious work, and he was trying to reconcile the issue of those who died without the opportunity in the way you interpreted it. Even if so, I feel truth in what he speaks and it's true enough anyway, and now with expanded knowledge on the subject (vicarious work) the truth is even clearer in my mind. I'm not as concerned about what was thought or said as much as what is. I don't feel bound to former understanding when more light is shed on the subject.

I think 8-years-old is a revealed generalized standard, I don't find it arbitrary, but I agree that when an individual becomes truly accountable and capable of sin will vary person to person, likely around that timeframe. Or in the case of those who do not fully mentally develop, perhaps many in such cases never reach that standard of capability and therefore accountability for sin, for whom I think this passage becomes very relevant.

In my estimation where there is sin, it stands to reason that repentance is available through Christ, and if repentance then baptism also to open the doors to salvation.

Everything Before Us said...

Steven,

Mormonism has crafted for itself several escape routes out of any difficult situation. One of these escape routes is this notion that "not all has been revealed." Anytime something doesn't add up, or scriptures are in conflict, or words of prophets are in conflict, you can throw down that card and....voila!....the church is true!

Uchtdorf recently presented us with a nice version of this when he said the Restoration is an ongoing process. You do realize what this means, I hope.

It means that you cannot really have a testimony of Truth, because the ongoing nature of the Restoration means that this Truth may end up being modified, or even changed, later on. And indeed we see many examples of this happening.

The only thing you can have a testimony of, then, as a Mormon is that that leaders of the church are the people you need to obey, because they are entrusted with the task of revealing this Restoration as we go along. You don't need to believe in Truth. Just believe in the authority of the source.

That is it.

Everything Before Us said...

By the way..Joseph Smith never saw it as an ongoing Restoration. After the Kirtland Temple dedication, he declared that he had finished all that God need him to do. The church was now in its proper form. The Restoration, basically, was over. Of course, he hadn't yet revealed temple marriage, endowments, initiatories, proxy ordinances, etc...

Steven said...

Haha, yes good example. You think you know everything, finished what you need to do, and then wham, God says not so fast, there's still more. Happened to Joseph Smith, has happened to me frequently, and I expect it happens to many people.

I think the reality is that Pres. Uchtdorf didn't come up with that concept, it's been with us nearly from the beginning, our Article of Faith #9 from Joseph Smith, "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."

Yes, I can see how trying to hold a Mormon to a particular doctrine or scripture might be a frustrating pursuit. I guess it goes back to the idea that we just don't see scripture or teachings as inerrant, but ever expanding until that day that all things are revealed. In my mind that seems far distant. For example, we have an expanded version of the afterlife from the idea that there is a heaven and hell to now an understanding of many degrees of salvation / glory. But how much do we really know about the afterlife and everything that happens there? My impression is that we still understand relatively very little.

However, going back to comparing this to truth as understood through the means of science, just because we don't have a theory of everything doesn't make the discoveries we have made irrelevant or useless. Newtonian physics still has it's place, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are very useful and insightful although apparently incompatible and thus suggesting we are still waiting for a more complete answer. That doesn't mean I have to throw out everything.

And while I respect leaders and have a testimony for myself that they are chosen by God to fill their stations, ultimately it is truth, revelation, and confirmation that I receive through the Holy Ghost that I rest my faith on. I believe God love his children, I believe He wants to speak to them, I feel I have received personal knowledge from Him, and I look forward to not stopping but continuing in my pursuit and acquisition of further light and knowledge that I might be a more loving person to my family, friends, and fellow-man and have joy with and in one another.

Steven said...

EBU, Quotes from Pres. Uchtdorf and the Book of Mormon, knowledge of the endowment, etc. Were you once a member of the LDS Church? Or just someone who's invested a lot of time learning about us?

James, you've mentioned your own religion, do you belong to a particular denomination?

Just curious, hope it wasn't rude that I didn't ask you both earlier.

James Anglin said...

I don't mind being asked. I mentioned in another thread that I've been Anglican (Episcopalian, for Americans) most of my life, but have been in a Lutheran congregation for the past ten years — and haven't found it all that different. I see myself as pretty traditional in belief, but that's the so-called 'high church' tradition that's not far from being a sort of Roman Catholicism without the Roman part. In particular I'm not big on scriptural authority. I'm prepared to say the Bible is wrong in some places — and that in many places its real, inspired meaning is not the most obvious one.

In principle I'm willing to talk further about my own beliefs, just in the spirit of comparing notes; but I don't think that anyone should particularly care about what I believe. Dammit, Jim, I'm a physicist, not a theologian.

Steven said...

Haha, love the reference, yes I was mostly just curious. I know of several Mormon bloggers who really appreciate the Anglican tradition (see here for example), and Joseph Smith was really taken by the Luther Bible.

bearyb said...

@ EBU

There is no need to have a "restoration" of "all" things. Not all things needed to come back for a second act, as Joseph Smith taught.

What, then, is the meaning of Acts 3:21?

bearyb said...

@ EBU

"For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—"

This is the Mormon conundrum. If all are alive in Christ before they receive the law, and the power of the redemption comes on all such people, then receiving the law brings the person into condemnation. Missionary work is the work of the devil. They'd be better off left alone.


Please read the verse a little more carefully. Taken together with an eariler verse (10) which says

Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin;

it would seem that anyone who is "accountable and capable of committing sin" would be considered "in the law." You don't have to have been visited by Mormon missionaries to be capable of committing sin, and hence in need of baptism.

Everything Before Us said...

What, then, is the meaning of Acts 3:21?

It's the end of the world when all things are finally made whole and complete once again in Christ. Not just us and our physical bodies, but the whole creation. Acts 3:21 says the Heavens will receive Christ up UNTIL the restoration of all things. I don't believe that Jesus coming to Joseph Smith in the woods is the coming of Christ that ushered in the period of the restoration of all things. This is not talking about the restoration of a church or of an authority. It is talking about the restoration of ALL things.

Romans 8

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.

Ephesians 1

Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.

1 Corinthians 15

For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.




bearyb said...

@James Anglin:

I equated eye color in your analogy to represent general faith traditions (Christian, Islam, Taoism, etc.). A person might decide to follow one of these for various reasons: First introduction during a time of need; An individually favorable comparison to the others; What they are used to; Any of a number of other reasons or a combination of reasons.

I agree that it would not be good to base a faith decision on a "brief feeling." That is one reason I find Alma's "experiment" approach beneficial. It is also biblical to learn the truth of something by following it, or doing it.

In the LDS tradition, the search for truth is never "over." It is not a destination, but a continuing journey. In fact, chapter 32 of Alma is more a chapter on how to gain knowledge than on how to excercise faith. If you were to ask any number of LDS adherents, I'm sure they would generally agree that each of them is in a different place on the path. And accepting Moroni's challenge implies more than just a strong will to believe, but also a strong will to act.

The choosing of a marriage partner based on eye color or any other physical quality is generally a poor way to do it. And even if they were to possess all the qualities you think you might want in such a match (has that EVER happened?) and had an exceptional courtship and beautiful wedding, there is still no guarantee that the marriage will last for any given period of time.

So while the search for a partner may have ended, the work will have only just begun (yes, I'm a Carpenter's fan).

bearyb said...

@James Anglin:

I'm not sure if what you meant by your comment was that of the Mormons you have known very few were religious, or that you have known very few Mormons.

Either way, religious or not, I figure most people crave certainty.

On one hand, the LDS Church does claim certain knowledge about "important questions," as you put it. But on the other, it arguably raises more questions than it answers. There is probably some disagreement about the relative importance of a lot of such questions.

You do raise a good point about a possible reason to have faith - for it's own sake. But the LDS approach is not so passive. The cost of discipleship can be quite high at times. There are, however, many who will tell you that the benefits of dedicated service more than compensate.

bearyb said...

@EBU:

Mormonism has crafted for itself several escape routes out of any difficult situation. One of these escape routes is this notion that "not all has been revealed." Anytime something doesn't add up, or scriptures are in conflict, or words of prophets are in conflict, you can throw down that card and....voila!....the church is true!

Obviously, we don't see it that way. What you might call a difficult situation we may not see as a problem at all. Or, if there is confusion, we might well say that we don't yet have a complete understanding. Aren't there things in your life about which you wish you had a better understanding? How can you live a happy life without having all the answers?

Now, what would be a difficult situation would be our claiming to have living prophets among us, and then saying that they don't really matter because we already know all we need to know.

Everything Before Us said...

I think a truly difficult situation would be to have living prophets among us who have to constantly revise the words of past living prophets. It sort of looks like there might not be any living prophets at all.

Joseph Smith taught that Jehovah was the Father. Brigham Young taught that Adam was the Father. James Talmage says Jehovah is Jesus. The other leaders say, "Jim...put that in writing." And voila! The 1916 Doctrinal Exposition on the relationship and identity between the different members of the Godhead.

This doesn't look like there are prophets speaking directly to God. They don't even seem to know who God is. It actually seems to mirror the same kind of chaos and confusion that lead to the Nicene Creed. No one could agree on who God is.....so lets meet in Turkey and write it all down.

Mormonism has done just about everything it has accused the early Christian apostate church of doing.

1. Deciding doctrines through a committee process (It's called "Correlation). Check.
2. Changing the form of sacred eternal ordinances. Check.

This kind of stuff is what is supposed to have caused the early church to go into apostasy. But for some reason, it is okay for the restored church to do it and still possess the authority.

If the Restored Church were to ever lose the authority, how would you know? Would they announce it to you? Or would they go on believing they still possessed it, just like the Catholic Church has done?

Did God ever appear to a pope and say, "By the way...you don't have anymore authority. You are in apostasy?" Nope. Or if he did, the pope never admitted to it.

The Mormon faith ultimately rests on Wilford Woodruff. Not J. Smith. Not BY. Not the Book of Mormon (other Mormon sects believe in the BoM, too.) It all comes down to Wilford Woodruff, who was the first to say, "We can't lead you astray. Ever." (He said this to defend his decision to write the Manifesto, by the way.)

It is all on WW. If it is just JS, well...all Mormon sects believe in him. If it is BY, well, many Mormon sects believe in him. So the foundation of your faith has to rest on WW and the cessation of polygamy. That is it. If it is anything other than that, then there is another Mormon sect out there somewhere that also has claim to the rightful heir of the authority.

Polygamy. It will forever be the Mormon albatross.

Anonymous said...

Hi EBU,

- You have successfully shown that members of the Godhead did not refer to themselves with the names / titles with which we refer to. That is all.

- You are assuming that even the second bishop of Rome, Linus (the first assuming to be Peter assuming that he was even in Rome) properly received the priesthood authority. Since all of the other apostles were present when a new apostle was brought in, this second bishop of Rome was never mentioned as being made an apostle so I will guess he never properly received authority.

- Thank goodness that JS penned D&C 13 so that the Aaronic Priesthood would never be taken again. Kind of sounds like the WW pronouncement that the leaders of the Church will never lead us astray. But, it ultimately does rest on Joseph Smith and the transmission of authority, not BY, not WW.

- Nice how you slide in changing the form of sacred eternal ordinances without providing references....

Steve

Everything Before Us said...

It does rest on Wilford Woodruff. As a SLC Mormon, you need polygamy to have been officially disbanded in 1890. If that didn't happen, then the FLDS and other polygamists are the one true church. But you also need polygamy to have been commanded by God and properly continued by Brigham Young, otherwise the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) has the claim.

See...the RLDS and the FLDS all recognize Joseph Smith. So it comes down to having a testimony in the proper continuation of polygamy after Smith's to set you apart from the RLDS. And you need a testimony that Wilford Woodruff was commanded to stop polygamy to set you apart from the FLDS.

Otherwise, someone else also might have a valid claim to the true authority.

This is the fix SLC Mormons are in.

The changing ordinances..How old are you Steve? The iniatory changed in 2005. The endowment changed in 1990. In the earliest, the washing and anointing was a full body affair.

Steven said...

EBU,

Were you once a Mormon? You clearly know a fair amount about Mormons coming from the outside, yet in some key elements and general mindset you seem a bit ignorant (I don't mean that pejoratively). I can't quite see where you're coming from. It seems you have some sort of motive to convince Mormons that our religion is not true, where does that come from?

This is one of those examples where you seem a bit ignorant, polygamy or not is not really the question, the question for Mormons is where are the keys of the Kingdom. From everything I've seen or read, I haven't seen any other offshoots have any meaningful claim to those keys/authority. I would say the RLDS / Church of Christ have the most convincing argument of any of them, but when going into the depths of it, to me it is still quite unconvincing (no surprise given the church I belong to I suppose), to say nothing of my personal witness on the matter.

Whether WW made the best decision or not, that to me says nothing about where the heavenly keys are had.

Steven said...

*Community of Christ

bearyb said...

@EBU:

Actually, Joseph Smith did admit to being out of favor with the Lord, and thus lost his ability to translate. He was even warned that if he didn't straighten up he would be replaced. And that is not in some lost, forgotten commentary. It is right there in the D&C.

Yes, policy - and doctrine I suppose (or at least the application of it) - is decided through a committee process. If the First Presidency or the Twelve are not in complete agreement (not just a majority) it doesn't happen. Can you think of another governing body of similar numbers where this is the case? Not that this alone proves anything, but isn't it at least interesting...?

You mentinoned the Nicene Council. From where did the confusion arise that led to such an effort? Words that had been already written down! So why the confusion?

Indeed, why does confusion still persist, even after that Council, and another, and another...?

And yesterday (or whenever) the "Mormon Condundrum" was the doctrine of the necessity of baptism and temple work, now we also have the "Albatross of Polygamy" to deal with. Tomorrow it will be something else.

Circumstances change, people change, instructions change, and clarifications need to be made from time to time. Not everyone is in the same place regarding knowledge and understanding. Do you think it was easy for the Jews to accept that someone showed up who called Himself the Christ, and said that in Him the law was fulfilled and old things should be done away, and that they should completely change their traditions and modes of worship that had existed for centuries? Of course not, and most still haven't.

Apparently you are convinced that the Brethren sit around all day (or if not, then they should) worrying about how long they're going to be able to keep up the falsehoods and stories and keep everyone in the dark about what is "really going on." I'm sure that is not the case.

And, btw, the Mormon faith doesn't rest on ANY of the prophets, living or dead. I'm pretty sure it rests in Jesus Christ. He's the only One we "believe in."

Everything Before Us said...

Indeed, why does confusion still persist, even after that Council, and another, and another...?

Why does confusion still persist even after the Lord's One True Church has finally been restored? Do you know how many Mormon sects there are? A lot. And Mormonism didn't finally clear up all the confusion in Christiandom. It only put a new player on an already overcrowded field.

Tomorrow it will be something else.

Indeed, it will.

Circumstances do change. But they are only allowed to change in Mormonism. If they change elsewhere, it is a sign of apostasy. Immersion is to sprinkling what anointing different parts of the body is to anointing only the forehead. But in the former case: Apostasy! In the latter case: a sign of the every ongoing Restoration of All Truth.

It's really just hypocrisy.

bearyb said...

@Steven:

Unless and until EBU answers your question to him, I'll tell you that my best recollection of what he has shared here was that yes, until relatively recently he was a member of the LDS Church. RM and everything. He still keeps up with LDS publications more closely than most active members I know. One thing I still haven't found out about him though is why he is so interested in ongoing Church affairs.

Maybe he'll tell us someday.

bearyb said...

@EBU:

Of course, my answer about the confusion that exists is that it is only a problem for those who have or are deciding whether to join or leave the Church. Oh, there is some confusion within the Church as well from time to time, which is why I mentioned the need for clarification. I myself don't understand everything that has been said or written that I've encountered. But my experiences, faith, hope, and desires for the present and future are enough to keep me on the path. And, besides being a husband and father, I have not found anything else nearly as engaging, challenging, or fulfilling as my membership in the Church.

Yes, there are many splinter groups based on the Church organized by Joseph Smith. I suppose they have reasons for doing what they do. However, I don't follow them and their teachings. I couldn't tell you when or if they have General Conferences, or if or how they are able to control the uniformity of policies and practices throughout their congregations. I don't know what their latest pronouncements are, or the biggest problems they face as organizations. I don't know how they conduct their meetings, or how they administer to each other day to day.

Honestly, I have enough to do without feeling the need to investigate, question, or belittle anything they do. Nor do I believe that doing so would somehow enhance my life. I have plenty of sources at my disposal if I need edification, and the best part is that I am often edified in ways I didn't even know I needed, just by trying to be who I'm supposed to be and doing what I can along the way.

I do have questions at times when seeking understanding about how others think and interpret things, but try not to do it in a mean-spirited way (nobody's perfect).

Speaking of hypocrisy (just for clarification), what does your new-found faith tell you about how you should approach others who's beliefs differ from yours? Or maybe, put another way, does your recent enlightenment lead you to believe that the best way to edify others is to point out what you think are flaws in the way they choose to believe?

Everything Before Us said...

Bearyb

I guess you'd have a problem with Paul, too, who went into the Jewish synagogues to tell the Jews they were wrong. At least I have the decency not go to Fast and Testimony meeting and stand up there and tell everyone they are wrong.

Nor do I go door to door to tell everyone that their "creeds are an abomination and their pastors are all corrupt."

Of course, my answer about the confusion that exists is that it is only a problem for those who have or are deciding whether to join or leave the Church. Oh, there is some confusion within the Church as well from time to time, which is why I mentioned the need for clarification. I myself don't understand everything that has been said or written that I've encountered. But my experiences, faith, hope, and desires for the present and future are enough to keep me on the path. And, besides being a husband and father, I have not found anything else nearly as engaging, challenging, or fulfilling as my membership in the Church.

I think you missed my point. A new church shows up claiming to be the one true church that puts an end to centuries of confusion. It isn't in anyway obvious, however, that this claim is true.

What is the practical difference between having 1000 churches that can't agree and 1001 churches that can't agree? Only from YOUR point of view, being a believer who was most likely born into this 1001st church, does it appear that your 1001st church is what it claims to be.

You accept this 1001st church's historical narrative that creates the problem of the "Great Apostasy," and then offers itself as the solution to this problem. And this is supposed to be convincing to others? Why, exactly?



bearyb said...

EBU,

It would be more acceptable, I think, if you were to explain how and why you think your path is the correct one rather than tell us why ours is the wrong one.

And we can greatly reduce the number of "plausible" churches if we assume:

1) The Bible contains the teachings of true salvation (thereby eliminating all non-Christian faiths),

2) Christ actually organized a Church, setting it up with certain offices that He called and ordained people to serve in, and

3) The authority He gave to these individuals has to be passed from generation to generation in an unbroken succession, or restored by someone given the authority to do so (which has happened several times in history, and which we call "dispensations" of the gospel).

One of the best explanations I have heard is one you are likely familiar with. I take it as an excerpt from a talk given by LeGrand Richards in 1977:

"[It] was the statement of a Catholic prelate who visited in Salt Lake. Brother Orson F. Whitney told about his visit–he said he could speak a dozen different languages and knew all about science and religion. The prelate’s comment was this:

"'You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. . . . If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg to stand on. For, if we are wrong, they are wrong with us, since they . . . went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago.' [quoted in LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 3]

"The prelate went on to say, 'If we have the continuation of the gospel from the days of the Savior, there was no need of such a man as Joseph Smith; but if we have not that continuation then such a man as Joseph Smith is necessary.' I always add that the Catholic church and the Bible cannot both be right because the Bible definitely declare an apostasy and a restoration in the later days; that leaves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with the only right in the world to claim to be the true church of Jesus Christ."

James Anglin said...

Just for perspective: the reaction of protestant Christians to 2) and 3) is likely to be a flabbergasted "Wha?" There are very few texts in the Bible which make it sound as though Jesus had any interest at all in establishing a formal organization, and these few passages are pretty ambiguous.

The reaction of Orthodox and Catholic Christians, of course, will be rather the opposite: Christ established the Church, and the gates of Hell have not stood against it. There was no great apostasy, there was never any provision for restorations, and of course there haven't been any.

My point is that point 2) is anything but a neutral basis that all Christians accept, and point 3) is even more in dispute. Mormons can certainly believe these points; but only Mormons would ever seriously consider them at all.

(I am also curious who this "Catholic prelate" can have been. 'Prelate' is a general term for senior ecclesiastical officials, not any specific rank, and the vagueness is suspicious. Any actual Catholic prelate would have had to have been John Jones, Bishop of Toledo, or something like that. Why not name the guy?)

bearyb said...

From

https://bycommonconsent.com/2008/01/16/a-footnote-to-the-strength-of-the-mormon-position/

The Catholic theologian’s name is John A. Reiner. The source is Orson F. Whitney’s autobiography, Through Memory’s Halls: The Life Story of Orson F. Whitney, as Told by Himself (Independence, MO: Zion’s Printing and Publishing Company, 1930), 222-23.

bearyb said...

Yes, I understand that points 2 and 3 above are not generally agreed upon. Point 2 at least has some pretty clear references though, as in Ephesians 4:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:


And what is understood by others about Matthew 16:19?

And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

And what about the pattern established in John 15:16?

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

James Anglin said...

The problem is that this is prooftexting: grabbing a few isolated verses and elevating them into major principles. One can find about as many verses in which Jesus talks about sparrows. If church organization were so vitally important a part of what Jesus was doing, that it should today be a decisive sign for what denomination to follow, then Jesus and the apostles would surely have emphasized church structures much more than they did.

Who knows what "the keys of the kingdom" mean? Jesus never elaborated. The concept of "keys", which seems so prominent in Mormon teaching, is not emphasized anywhere else in the Bible. Protestants generally interpret these verses as conferring an authority of some kind upon all believers; since in the Bible it was conferred directly by Jesus, protestants don't look to any earthly ritual or hierarchy for conferring it today. Catholics, of course, consider the verse about keys to be the institution of the Papacy, which is why crossed keys are the basic papal symbol to this day. I'm not sure how the Orthodox take this text; if I had to guess, I'd guess somewhere in between.

The list of job titles in Ephesians 4 reads naturally as a set of offhand examples of possible roles, to illustrate the general point that everybody in the church ought to pool their talents and work together. If it were meant to be a prescriptive organization chart laying out all the distinctive offices by which the true church could always be recognized, Paul would surely have made this a lot more clear.

What's the implication of John 15:16? It seems awfully vague and general, unless you read a lot more specific meaning into "ordained" than the original word can really support.

James Anglin said...

Googling "John Reiner catholic" turns up webpages, both Catholic and Mormon, which suggest that this guy was actually John M. Reiner, a married lay professor of modern languages at a small Catholic college near Philadelphia (Villanova). If this is him, then he was no doubt a learned man and he may very well have spoken many languages, but he was not a prelate of any kind, and his views on Mormonism and Catholicism carry no authority at all.

If Orson Whitney called this professor Reiner a "prelate" in print, then I can only hope that Whitney was misusing the title from ignorance, because otherwise this would be a serious enough exaggeration of Catholic respect for Mormon claims that you'd have to think about calling it a lie. The default meaning of "prelate" in the Roman church is "bishop". Roman Catholic bishops are ordained by laying on of hands in unbroken apostolic succession from Peter, and they share the Pope's authority to declare what constitutes official Catholic teaching. For Catholics this is a big deal. So for an actual Catholic prelate a to concede that Joseph Smith might have been necessary — that would be something. An obscure Catholic professor of modern languages, not so much.

bearyb said...

Proof texting? I would say that other churches do that much more than we do. Many seem to base much of their theology on just a few verses or biblical books, ignoring most of the rest of it. I think we embrace much more of the entirety of the bible's teachings than any other organization, though I realize our interpretation of much of it is unique.

There are many more references that could be cited that mention church organization. How many need to be before they would be considered more than "a few isolated verses?" Besides, most of them were addressed to those who were already members of the church, so why would the organizational offices they mention need special emphasis? Or, perhaps there was more such emphasis originally than has survived the centuries.

There are many such things as "the keys of the kingdom" that receive only cursory mention in the Bible, that have been clarified by modern revelation. It doesn't surprise me that other churches hold the views you describe - how else could they justify their existence? Of course, the same may be said of us, I suppose. But that is a question to which we each need to figure out the answer.

I'm not sure if you have any disagreements with Roger Williams (1603-1684), but he recognized that "There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking."

In addition, Williams also said, “The apostasy… hath so far corrupted all, that there can be no recovery out of that apostasy until Christ shall send forth new apostles to plant churches anew.” What did he see that so many others have not?

We are grateful for all the Reformers, for they paved the way for the Restoration. It couldn't have happened without them.

As far as the Catholic prelate goes, it is less important to me who may have said it than the details of what was said. Does it make sense, or not?

Everything Before Us said...

bearyb,

I think you need to really step away from the Mormon interpretation of history to see what James and I are trying to tell you. If you were born and raised in the church like I was, you simply do not have much of a clue at all about how other churches proof-text or do not proof-text. And you are certainly not capable of seeing how your own church is proof-texting.

In most Christian churches, nearly the entire Bible is read aloud over the course of a few years. In LDS churches, every four years the same books are covered, but only selected verses are chosen to be discussed as a group, and this group discussion is led by prompts in a manual that are full of interpretative statements. You really need to get out of the system for a while to see what is happening, to see how scripture (even Restoration scripture) is being cherry-picked and delivered to you. The LDS church is very crafty in its ability to tell you one thing, tell you the opposite thing, and make you think both are true at the same time. This is called "doublethink" in Orwell's novel 1984. Recently there was an very enlightening blog post about this in which it was called a "doublebind."

James Anglin said...

Mormons certainly aren't the only people who proof-text. The New Testament writers themselves are not infrequently guilty of this kind of strip-mining of the Old Testament. It's still a serious problem, because proof-texting is really self-contradictory. It appeals to Scriptural authority, and yet it effectively turns Scripture into a ventriloquist dummy that speaks only what human dogma wants to hear, by dropping Scriptural soundbites into a framework of context and emphasis that is actually quite alien to Scripture. Not only Mormons do it; but I don't think anybody should.

The notion of church-wide apostasy was very big in the 16th century, and I guess it stretched over into the 17th century in English, because the Reformation came to England late. It was all about rejecting the church of Rome, of course. Most of the protestant reaction to this supposed Roman apostasy, however, was to reject authoritarian church structures in general, as corrupt. Sometimes this only went as far as subordinating church government to local authority; in other cases the anti-authoritarian impulse went further. Hardly anybody, however, was looking for a new large-scale structure of church authority that would be like the Roman catholic church, only different. Apostasy and Restoration in the Mormon sense have not been prominent concepts, as far as I can tell, except for Mormons. Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses have a similar kind of concept. Maybe I'm missing someone else who believed in a restored church hierarchy, but no-one springs to my mind.

As to the supposed Catholic prelate: if it wasn't important who said that stuff, why even mention that it was said by a Catholic prelate? In fact it makes a big difference. A Catholic bishop saying that stuff about Joseph Smith would be quite the story. Would anyone have bothered to write — or read — the same statements if they were only attributed to "this Catholic guy I once met"?

Steven said...

I have to agree with James. I understand one declaring an interpretation of scripture as valid and supporting a position/belief with it from a position of claimed authority, which then only becomes efficacious as a public standard for those who believe in that claim of authority. Outside of that, appeals to the bible to settle a dispute over what is truth, aren't very effective or useful in my opinion. I think it is also useful to present one's private interpretation and to explain why you believe it to be so, in helping one another understand each other's view and perhaps aid in advancing and expanding one another's views. But proving a particular truth, and more so a full system of belief, by appealing to text, I don't see it happening.

It seems as true today as it was in Joseph Smith's, and in the same way I don't see any other solution than personal revelation. From Joseph Smith History 1 (starts by speaking about reading James 1:5, italics mine):
"12 Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture."

Everything Before Us said...

It would be more acceptable, I think, if you were to explain how and why you think your path is the correct one rather than tell us why ours is the wrong one.

At some point in any discussion like this, you have to get down to the brass tacks. When I was a LDS missionary back in the mid-90s, we were told to "build on common beliefs." We were never told what to do when we ran out of common beliefs to build upon. At that point, it all turned into a very awkward moment when a 20 year old foreigner had to start telling a 55-year old wise Japanese man that he is wrong. And he had to do it in very poor Japanese no less.

The Mormon church has been very crafty in using all the same Christian jargon, but redefining it in such subtle ways that when a LDS person hears the Christian message from his Protestant friend, he thinks they basically share the same core beliefs.

So, I could share with you my "path," and you'll think we are spiritual cousins. But we are not. You have a different concept of God's nature. A different concept of Christ's identity. And you have a different doctrine of salvation. You use all the same words, so when I say "we are saved by grace," you'll say, "Amen." But no...we don't agree. You have different definitions. I must first make sure you understand my definitions. That means I need to point out where we differ. Which means I need to talk about Mormonism to even explain to you my own beliefs.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, I like the analogy to a ventriloquist dummy. Interesting! At the same time, I like the way ancient Jews (and Nephi) would use bits and pieces of the text to add new meanings and insights. It can look like abuse, but at times it can be very appropriate and strengthen an inspired message. I think we see this a lot in the New Testament.

James Anglin said...

Quoting Scripture out of context, or giving it undue weight, can still be fine, if you're not quoting the Scripture for its authority.

If all you want is a nice turn of phrase to express an idea that stands on its own, then I don't think where you got the phrase matters. You can mine the King James Bible for phrases the same way you can mine Shakespeare.

And it even seems all right to me to play on the fact that your words came from the Bible specifically, if you're just coloring your idea with an allusion to the immediate or broader Scriptural context of the text you cite. You can be pointing out, in effect, that your idea fits into words that Isaiah might have used — because he did use them, just not quite in the way that you now mean them. That association of words doesn't necessarily mean much, but it does mean something, and it seems fine to me to make that small point.

The New Testament writers do actually seem to have gone well beyond those uses. They sometimes claimed authority, even fulfillment of prophecy, based on garbled or misinterpreted or mistranslated passages from the Old Testament. My feeling about this is that it's like the way that New Testament writers think of God as dwelling in the sky. Today we know otherwise: above the atmosphere is outer space, not Heaven; and the Old Testament is not a magic almanac. But people thought differently in the past, and they expressed themselves in the ways they knew. We can take that into account and cut them some slack. We shouldn't repeat their mistakes, though, now that we know better.

bearyb said...

At some point in any discussion like this, you have to get down to the brass tacks.

So, assuming you are Christian, let's start by why you feel Christianity is the correct path, and not any of the other great (or small) world religions. And why does the Bible mean more to you than any of the texts they might use (assuming that is the case)?

bearyb said...

As to the supposed Catholic prelate: if it wasn't important who said that stuff, why even mention that it was said by a Catholic prelate? In fact it makes a big difference. A Catholic bishop saying that stuff about Joseph Smith would be quite the story..

Maybe, but what difference would it really make - to you?

I recognize that credentials have their place, of course. They can and are used to great effect in matters of persuasion.

But if something is actually true (or false), does it really matter who says it?

As far as that goes, what credentials could a 20-year-old foreigner offer to a wise 55-year-old Japanese man that could persuade him? Nothing very concrete at all. And often, it doesn't happen.

But it happens often enough - around the entire world. And it happens most effectively when investigators (as we call them) rely more on their own searching than on the words, (or credentials), of the missionaries.

bearyb said...

On proof-texting:

If I understand what you are saying, I suppose one LDS example you might suggest is the doctrine of baptisms for the dead, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:29.

If that biblical verse were all we had to go on, our practice of it would rightly be suspect as having been taken out of context or being a gross misinterpretation of Paul's mention of it.

But taken together with our understanding of the necessity of baptism for all who wish to follow Christ and the account of Christ's visiting the spirits of the dead during the time His body was in the tomb (also biblical, and for what purpose I wonder, if not to declare unto them the same Good News and possibility of salvation), and not least the further clarification and understanding of the practice as described in D&C 128 (and elsewhere) provided through the prophet Joseph Smith, we have solid reasons for doing what we do.

Of course, many disagree that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and could have received such information, and if he wasn't that would surely be grounds for rejecting our understanding and practices.

Is this the kind of thing you meant?

James Anglin said...

If a Mormon were to say, "We baptize the dead by proxy on the clear Scriptural authority of 1 Corinthians 15:29", then that would be proof-texting of the kind to which I object.

But I have no problem with Mormons saying, "We baptize the dead by proxy because the practice was revealed to Joseph Smith, and we believe the practice was also followed in the early church, as suggested by 1 Corinthians 15:29." I don't accept Smith as a prophet, but I consider this kind of explanation to be a consistent and responsible way to use Scripture.

I think that the second explanation is the true one. As far as I know, it is indeed one possible interpretation of Paul's remark in 1 Corinthians, to deduce that proxy baptism for the dead was a customary practice. On the other hand, Paul doesn't actually discuss baptism for the dead at all, but merely mentions it in as a rhetorical argument about something else (the resurrection of the dead). If baptism for the dead were an important rite, one would think that it would have been mentioned more often and more explicitly. Paul pronounced elsewhere, after all, even on quite minor details of Christian practice. He even gave his opinions on hairstyles.

I don't think anybody would ever set up a major ritual practice based solely on 1 Cor. 15:29. I don't see how Mormons could be doing baptism for the dead mainly for the sake of this text. So if a Mormon apologist were to offer Paul's brief mention as the authority for proxy baptism — as might be tempting, perhaps in a discussion with conservative Christians — then this would be to defend Mormon doctrine by misrepresenting it. Mentioning 1 Cor. 15:29 as a bit of frosting on the main reason's cake, however, would be fine.

James Anglin said...

About who said that stuff about Mormonism and Catholicism:
There are three things at issue here, and the content of what Prof. Reiner said is just one of them. Up to a point and in a sense, the content of the remarks is possibly true. The Mormon and Catholic churches may well share some concepts of what the Church is supposed to be, and how it is supposed to work. And of course, "If you are right, then you are right" is true no matter who says it.

I've mostly been trying to get at the second issue, which is one of authority. It's an issue a bit like the one about proof-texting, because it's about whether a certain statement is to be interpreted as a minor side-remark with little weight, or as a cornerstone text in whose light other texts are to be read.

A Roman Catholic bishop speaks for the Roman Catholic church. So if he were to discuss Joseph Smith as a possible prophet, without mentioning dubious golden plates and polygamous marriage to fourteen-year-old girls, then that would constitute an official concession, by the Catholic church, that Joseph Smith's suspicious dealings and grave moral failings were not in fact immediate deal-breakers that any bishop would have to mention right away, but were second-tier matters at most. In this sense, what the bishop did not say would have been more important than what the bishop said. It's kind of like a reputed mobster shaking hands in public with a sitting judge. The mere fact that the judge will shake the shady guy's hand does things for the guy's reputation which other handshakes don't do.

And if the reputed mobster owns a newspaper, of course it will run a big photo of the judge's handshake on page one. If the judge in question turns out not to be a judge at all, though, but just an out-of-town chiropractor who tried to read a law book once, then one can't help wondering about the editorial ethics of this newspaper. For me this is the third issue here. Did Orson Whitney deliberately misrepresent a lay academic as a Catholic prelate, to fraudulently boost the religious reputation of Mormonism? I hope not, and that the 'prelate' title was an honest mistake, because otherwise this is just an obscure little faith-promoting story, but it's the kind of little lie that people make, who will also make bigger lies.

James Anglin said...

Of course many people today would say that Catholic bishops are the shady characters. My point is not that Catholic prelates really are great moral authorities, but just that, rightly or wrongly, many people in 1977 would have thought a lot more about a bishop saying these things than just a Villanova professor. It's the exaggeration that bothers me, because it's alarmingly ignorant at best, and dishonest at worst.

It's pretty much exactly like some Catholic apologist quoting a language teacher from BYU Idaho who said something in support of the Catholic hierarchy and didn't mention pedophile priests — and misrepresenting that Mormon language teacher as a General Authority. It makes a huge difference whether the guy really was a General Authority or not, and the Catholic apologist who bestows that GA title so carelessly is either outright lying, or else is blithely ignorant about the LDS church, even though they are trying to claim endorsement by an LDS authority. And the second case is only really better than the first in the way that drunk driving is better than murder.

Having looked again at the link bearyb gave above, though, it seems clear that it was not Whitney but Richards who invented Reiner's prelacy. Whitney only called him a "doctor of divinity", which could conceivably have been accurate, could very plausibly have been an honest misunderstanding, and is anyway not such an important title that anyone has to be really careful about it.

So I was going to concede that Whitney, the member of the Quorum of Twelve, was off the hook in this story, and that the only person guilty of faith-promoting embellishment was LeGrand Richards, whom I presumed was just an over-enthusiastic ordinary Mormon with no real understanding of ecclesiastical authority. Alas, Richards was also a member of the Quorum of Twelve, and had been Presiding Bishop of the whole LDS church. He should really have known better.

I'm dismayed by this. No doubt it's just a triviality to most people, but everyone has their own peeves, and this episode bothers me. What kind of special witness to the truth of God could so carelessly embellish a story like this?

Everything Before Us said...

Anyone who reads LeGrand Richard's A Marvelous Work and a Wonder will see Richards for what he really was: an earnest and devoted believer who was unfortunately ignorant of how his blindspot rendered his ability to be objective greatly compromised. He presents the Mormon interpretation of holy writ as if it should be obvious to everyone, and as if there simply could not be any viable and legitimate alternative interpretation. It is actually quite embarrassing.

I hated the book even when I read it in my most faithful days on my mission in 1995. I found his approach to be repetitive, formulaic, and reaching. Back then, I even believed everything he wrote.

Now, I realize my dislike for it was probably due to the fact that on a subconscious level, I was picking up on his pathetic lack of persuasion.

bearyb said...

For my part, I have never really appreciated what the word "prelate" might mean, nor consequently how much weight it should be given.

I have always considered the story food for thought and have agreed to its logical procession. Keep in mind that the words ascribed to "the prelate" weren't about Joseph Smith at all, per se, but rather about the LDS position of the necessity of a restoration. All he said was that if we are right "then such a man as Joseph Smith is necessary."

So all that can really be attributed to the "prelate" is the point of view that either the Catholics are correct and they rightfully retain the authoritative keys, or that some other arrangement needed to have happened to restore them.

It so happens that the LDS Church is the only one (that I know of) that maintains that position, hence "the strength" mentioned.

If it is correct, it is correct, no matter who says it.

bearyb said...

If a Mormon were to say, "We baptize the dead by proxy on the clear Scriptural authority of 1 Corinthians 15:29", then that would be proof-texting of the kind to which I object.

That is why I have a problem with being accused of proof-texting Biblical scripture in the first place. The LDS Church does not appeal to the Bible for any of its authority. It claims all authority directly from Jesus Christ and others who were given special dispensation to transfer keys to effect the Restoration.

Any mention of Biblical scripture - or even Book of Mormon scripture - is used as an example to teach, inspire, and motivate. We lean most heavily on the Doctrine and Covenants (and ongoing guidance from living prophets) for the governing of the Church today, as that is the reason it was given. Even the sacramental prayers in Moroni are not technically the most correct version we are to use.

When Jeff mentions some newly discovered tidbit of archaeology or word construction or ancient practice that seems to correlate with what we do or believe, it is of interest not because any of these things would or should convince anyone one way or the other, but they simply enrich our beliefs and faith.

It has been said that the LDS Church would exist whether the Bible did or not. That is false in one sense, as it is the Bible that led Joseph Smith to ask for wisdom from God (not to mention all the Biblically inspired work done by the Reformers to create fertile ground for the Restoration in the first place).

All I think that means is that we would still have all the doctrine and beliefs and authority we do even if we had no Bible to appeal to.

That being said, of course we value and revere the Bible as the Word of God, as it is a powerful witness of the divinity of Christ.

Yes, we do emphasize certain Biblical passages over others - all Christian churches do. But is there a more complete, coherent picture offered by any of them than the LDS Church offers?

bearyb said...

I have a question, EBU:

In Japan, or in any other (usually Eastern) culture where the Bible doesn't enjoy the tradition of being the ancient Word of God looked to by generation upon generation, did the Church have you (as missionaries) first introduce the Bible to the people, or did you start with some other gospel principle?

James Anglin said...

I don't see why anyone would bother writing or repeating a story about a Catholic prelate, just to make the tautologies that Mormons believe what Mormons believe, and are right if they are right. No, Richards was squeezing some kind of rhetorical juice out of the implication that the Catholic analog to a General Authority had endorsed some important principles of Mormonism. This was, however, a misrepresentation.

I'm pretty sure that to Catholics, "keys" are a particular metaphor, used once by Jesus, for an authority he conferred once and for all upon his Church that would never fail. So keys do not exist, for Catholics, apart from their church. It makes no more sense for a Catholic to say, "If the Church became corrupt then the keys would need to be restored through a new prophet," than to say, "If Bill did not exist, then someone else would have to grow Bill's mustache."

No-one else even has concepts like Mormon keys and restoration. So the only "strength" to the Mormon "position" on keys and restoration is that only Mormons even have a position on issues that are uniquely Mormon.

Other religions are strong in the same way, because every religion tends to have different issues. If you accept that the issues of any particular religion are the important ones, then that religion becomes pretty compelling. I think we have to realize and appreciate this, though, and not assume that the issues that we feel we have settled nicely are the issues about which everyone else also cares. Otherwise one can end up smiling superiorly at that silly other team that doesn't know enough to punt on fourth down — when the other team is playing hockey.

James Anglin said...

@bearyb:
I wasn't accusing the LDS church of prooftexting, as the basis for its doctrines. I was accusing you of prooftexting, when you replied with a handful of verses to one of my posts above. The point I was making there was the same one I've just repeated now, about how other denominations disagree with Mormons about what the basic issues are, and in particular aren't looking for any kind of Mormon-style "restoration". In response you cited a few NT verses that mention keys and offices and ordination.

When I said that was prooftexting, I didn't mean that you only believed in the restoration because of those few isolated verses. I meant that you were urging me to believe in the restoration, by arguing from those few isolated verses. But this is the problem with prooftexting: those verses only mean what you want them to mean, if you read them through Mormon lenses. Non-Mormons like me just don't read them that way.

Of course you don't have many other options for arguing this point with me, besides relying on the Bible, since I don't believe in Joseph Smith's revelations. If you want to convince Christians by arguing from the Bible, though, you have to argue from the main themes of the Bible; from the ideas that are dyed into its whole fabric. Trying to stand on just a few isolated verses just doesn't work. It's just prooftexting.

Everything Before Us said...

In Japan, or in any other (usually Eastern) culture where the Bible doesn't enjoy the tradition of being the ancient Word of God looked to by generation upon generation, did the Church have you (as missionaries) first introduce the Bible to the people, or did you start with some other gospel principle?

This was the 90's, before Preach My Gospel, so we used the old pamphlets. We followed that prescribed plan. We didn't do much to adapt it to our audience. At least not in an official way. We did receive training about how to make the message relevant to the Japanese. But this was at the Zone Conference level. It wasn't regional training.

bearyb said...

@James:

On the statement by the "prelate," you make more of the claim of who said the statement than the statement itself.

I do agree with the statement, but I have never - nor ever heard anyone else - say how thankful they were that a Catholic prelate made such a statement because it added such faith promoting strength to their testimony. I accept it as I think it was intended: A point of view offered by someone, of some learning, of another faith about our claims of the necessity of the restoration. No more, no less.

Besides, I can't agree that a General Authority of the Church would offer such a statment by anyone who obviously doesn't believe the restoration was necessary as any kind of convincing argument in favor of the Church. It would have made no more difference to me if it had been said by the Pope himself.

***
Keys do not exist for us apart from the Church, as far as I know. They are variously referred to as Keys of the Kingdom, Keys of the Priesthood, Keys of Authority, etc. With out the Church, or "Kingdom," what would be the point of their existence? More important questions are: What are they? Who has them? and How are they to be used? Could it be possible they have something to do with "binding on earth and in heaven" and "loosing on earth and in heaven?" Or would that just be proof-texting again?

Everything Before Us said...

Could it be possible they have something to do with "binding on earth and in heaven" and "loosing on earth and in heaven?" Or would that just be proof-texting again?

It would be another great example of proof-texting, because if you are suggesting that this binding and loosing refers to sealing authority as understood by Mormons, you are simply wrong. From Wikipedia: "Binding and loosing is originally a Jewish phrase appearing in the New Testament, as well as in the Targum. In usage, to bind and to loose simply means to forbid by an indisputable authority, and to permit by an indisputable authority."

Jesus was giving the authority for the apostles to create rules and regulations within the body of followers. It has absolutely nothing to do with the concept of binding families together, sealing power, or anything of that nature. Binding and loosing was common to Jewish legal jargon, and they meant "declaring something forbidden or to declare something allowed." You see this at work throughout the New Testament as the apostles decide what will or will not be required of the Gentile converts.

Interestingly, there is not one example of anyone sealing anyone to anyone else in the New Testament, or even in the Book of Mormon.

James Anglin said...

@bearyb:

Maybe this is too fine a philosophical point for a message board, but it seems clear to me that Mormon "keys" exist much more independently of the church than any comparable concept recognized by other faiths. Mormon keys may be powers that necessarily pertain to A church, but if the possibility exists that they could be withdrawn from a church which had them, and then conferred again in a restoration, then this implies a greater degree of independent existence, on the part of the keys, than Catholics (for example) would allow for the papal authority.

In fact this is something about which I'm curious. From what I've read, it seems to me that Mormon doctrine implies a certain body of spiritual powers and rules which exists as a sort of universal and eternal constitutional law for all of reality. Even God is not the author or creator of these rules and powers — am I right, here? — but rather a sort of duly appointed administrator, perhaps only for a certain number of planets. God became God, having once been mortal, by following these rules and so acquiring divine powers. At least, that's how I understand the famous "couplet" of Lorenzo Snow.

If that's an accurate picture of Mormon doctrine, then it seems to me that the Mormon "keys" exist even independently of God.

Anyway, it seems to me that the whole Mormon story of restoring church, gospel, priesthood and keys is anything but a universal question to which the Mormon church has the best answer. Instead it is a uniquely Mormon question, that doesn't even make sense to anyone else, and so of course the Mormon church answers the question best, and fits the story better than other churches. It's a Mormon story, tailor-made for the Mormon church.

Mormonism is fully entitled to define itself with its own story, just like any other religion. In providing a neat answer to its own favorite question, though, Mormonism is just like other religions. It's not distinctive in providing a better answer to the question that everyone is asking. That's only an illusion that one might have, if one only looked at other religions through Mormon lenses.

Steven said...

James,

I think you are pretty correct in your assessment of LDS theology, at least Joseph Smith's theology nearing the end of his life.

Joseph taught on Aug. 27, 1843, "“‘Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like unto the Son of God, abideth a priest continually.’ [Hebrews 7:3.] The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life."

and again, "In fact, that priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam."

I wouldn't go so far as calling a need for a restoration of Christ's church a uniquely Mormon question. Although phrasing it as you did does narrow it a bit. At the same time, I think the question becomes far more universal, at least for those who believe in God, if the question is asked, "Who, if anyone, is authorized to speak for God?" I think that's ultimately the question that a restoration/keys, etc. comes to answer.

James Anglin said...

Yes, I guess I was oversimplifying a lot by making out that each religion has its own unique question. There are broad and narrow questions, after all. At a broad enough level, maybe everyone is indeed asking the same question — something like, "What is good?" or "What is right?", maybe.

But at some point narrower questions become important. And one of the easiest ways to be fooled — perhaps by oneself — about how different religions compare with each other is to misread general statements as if they were more specific than they really are; or misread specific ones as if they were broad and vague.

So, if by "restoration" one only means some degree of improvement in a church, by returning to original ideals, then of course most religions acknowledge that practices can sometimes be improved by recovering some original inspiration. But the Mormon concept of restoration seems to me to be much more specific than that. And once you start getting into more detail about what "restoration" precisely means, then it seems to me that Mormon restoration really is a uniquely Mormon concept. Other faiths don't simply disagree about whether Mormon claims are true; they don't really even recognize that Mormon claims make sense.

I don't think it's just a fluke that important Mormon expressions like "restoration", "priesthood keys", or even "the church is true" are never used in other churches. And on the other hand it seems to me that when Mormons and other Christians use the same words, they mean very different things. Muslims, Jews, and mainstream Christians all consider that when they all say "God", they are all referring to the same being, though they disagree about what that being is like. I'm honestly not at all sure, though, that the Mormon God is even supposed to be the same being as the one I have in mind when I say "God".

The Mormon God was once mortal, and acquired deity by exaltation after having followed spiritual rules that are more eternal than any God. As soon as I hear that I can't help thinking, "Then that's just not God." And when I read 3 Nephi 11, I think, "This really isn't Jesus." I mean, Donald Trump's supporters and opponents may disagree strongly on what the man is like. They might even disagree about the size of his hands. In this sense they have different things in mind when they say the name "Trump"; and yet in another sense they do mean the same guy. But if someone says, "Donald Trump is a kid in fourth grade," then they are just not talking about the same individual, even though they are using the same name.

Mormons have a right to use whatever names and terms they want in their faith, but apparent similarities with concepts in other religions can be misleading.

Steven said...

Yes, I agree with pretty much everything your saying about the use of "restoration", "priesthood keys", etc. I agree that it is a unique view and solution. I suppose my overall point was while I agree it is a unique solution, I don't think it's one to a Mormon specific or newly-made question, rather it is proposed to solve a largely universal question - "Who, if anyone, has authority to speak for God?"

As for the Mormon concepts of God, I really think most religions throughout the world are generally on the same page - that God for most people is the representation and/or embodiment of all goodness. I don't think I understand your concerns well enough to share my take on those same questions. I suppose I can see that when we look at the Great Pyramids and don't understand how they were made, there is a sort of excitement that attends such a mystery that is lost once we finally discover how they were made. At the same time I think there is a new excitement and even greater appreciation that attends finally understanding the natural process by which they got there. I don't think that understanding takes away from their inherent greatness, they are what they are.

My guess is there is also something of a disconnect in how you think someone like me as a Mormon understands God, and how I really do. (and then there will be variation even among Mormons when getting into the finer details.) For example, "after having followed spiritual rules that are more eternal than any God" isn't something I believe or would say, and I think is a misunderstanding of what Joseph Smith was trying to get across. Instead the mind of God, the mind of man, the elements of the universe, the more refined spiritual matter of the universe, and the universal law that govern all these things are all co-eternal and exist upon the same self-existing principle. Again, not sure I totally understand what feels disconcerting to you, but those are some initial thoughts I had. My guess is that we are not so far apart as using the same words to describe two different things entirely.

James Anglin said...

Maybe "How can God speak to us?" would be a universal question, but I wouldn't say that "Who, if anyone, has authority to speak for God?" is universal. "Authority to speak for God" sounds almost oxymoronic, to me. God might sometimes speak through a mortal being, but I wouldn't say that any mortal ever could possess an authority to speak for God. My cell phone sometimes conveys my messages, but it couldn't possibly hold authority to speak for me.

I suppose you might say that I am just taking the "no-one" option to your question's "if anyone" clause; but if so I would call that a quibble. "What kind of motorcycle (if any) do you like to repair?" does not become a universal question just because the parenthetical "if any" technically allows it to be answered by people who never even think of repairing motorcycles.

I think your example of the pyramids shows well the difference in our theologies. You're quite right that a pyramid remains the impressive thing it is, even if it started from a single brick. But it's an absolutely basic item in my theology, that God is incomparably greater than any pyramid — in particular, greater in such a way that God could never have started out small the way the pyramid did. The God in whom I believe created time itself. Reality is like a book of which God is the author. Mortal beings are creations of God, not co-eternal spirits.

I think that's the standard belief of all the major monotheisms. My own particular beliefs may be even sharper than usual, because I'm a materialist. That is, I am not a "substance dualist". Spirit to me is a kind of story, not a kind of ink.

Steven said...

I agree taking it one step back like that makes it a more universal question. As I think of the many religions ancient and present who believe in deity, the question of who speaks for God is still a near universal question in my mind. For example, all religious texts that claim to be the word of God are written by humans, therefore with the underlying claim that such mortals are in someway to be trusted as speakers for God. Or believing Jesus that He was sent to speak for His Father, for example. Or take most ancient cultures, people looked to authority figures to whom they could access God's (or the gods') truth/words. The idea and the caveat I gave that there may not be someone with authority to speak for God at all, seems to me to be mostly a modern phenomenon.

"God is incomparably greater than any pyramid". We're definitely in agreement on that. I'm trying to wrap my head around what you're trying to say though. On one hand you agree with the logic "that a pyramid remains the impressive thing it is, even if it started from a single brick", yet at the same time say "God is... greater in such a way that God could never have started out small". I wouldn't personally characterize it like that (I personally wouldn't say God ever "started out" much less "small" although that may be a fair characterization of the way many Mormons might understand this concept), but even so in an attempt to understand what you are saying, I'm wondering why? Is there something about God's present greatness that makes it impossible to have "started out small"? Would that in some way reduce present greatness, power, glory, perfection, etc.?

I don't mean to put you on the spot if you're not comfortable sharing, I'm just trying to understand your thought better. I do think you're right that it's the pretty standard belief of God. I can't quite wrap my mind around it though. With no intended disrespect for your's and many others' beliefs on the subject (I still think we are in agreement on the parts that matter most)), the idea that a being can exist outside of time and space seems illogical. That time/space/energy have a beginning, or that something can be created out of nothing, is nonsensical to my mind. I am open to trying to understand what I may be missing in such a proposal though.

James Anglin said...

Like most mainstream Christian theology, mine is not really based directly on the Old Testament, but on the Bible interpreted in the light of later philosophy. Within the Bible itself I think one really only sees this influence in the Gospel of John, which introduces this "Word" which is with God and is God.

The Old Testament is a record of very primitive times, when "mine are the cattle of a thousand hills" seemed like an impressive statement of God's awesomeness. Today we know that if the whole earth were a pinprick, the sun would be a dot about a foot away, the nearest other star would be three miles away, and the Milky Way galaxy would stretch over sixty thousand miles — at which point analogy fails to help us imagine things, because pinpricks are as small as we can see, and yet nothing on earth is sixty thousand miles big. And we also know that if you hold up against the sky a grain of salt at arm's length again, and zoom in closely on that tiny patch of sky, it will be filled as densely with distant galaxies as the visible night sky is filled with nearby stars.

There is also a staggering convergence of data which all lines up with the astounding hypothesis that this entire vast universe has not always existed, but that time itself began only about 14 billions years ago. Stars are "born" from clouds of cool gas, "live" for billions of years, and then "die" in various ways; the whole universe is only just beginning to see the third generation of stars.

Moreover, as Pascal said, we face not one infinity, but two. The further inward we look into the details of things, the more intricate and surprising structure we discover. Just to tell our human stories, an adequate infrastructure would probably have been provided by the ancient theory of four elements. Instead we have quantum fields.

And so I leave the cattle on the hills, and the pyramids, and try to think more basically. I don't believe that Anselm's "ontological proof" for the existence of God really proves that God exists, but I do try to think about what it might mean for a being to exist necessarily, rather than contingently. I recall Thomas Aquinas's argument that if one believes in causality then one has to imagine a first cause, "and this all men call God." I sometimes try to get what Paul Tillich meant by calling God "the ground of being". In some ways, reality itself is like a story that God has written.

There could be cosmic beings very much greater than humans. Perhaps they can trace their origins back to small things, long ago, but today they rule galaxies, and create species of intelligent creatures. Still even these beings would be nothing but characters invented by the author of reality. They might be gods, and greater as gods than anyone in Moses's time could ever have imagined; but they would not be God.

James Anglin said...

As to the creation of space and time and energy out of nothing: this is not even theology, but physics. This year is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Einstein's general theory of relativity, which explains gravity in terms of curved spacetime. Whether Big Bang cosmology is actually true may still be open to debate, though it is the standard theory, but the picture of everything beginning from nothing fourteen billion years ago certainly isn't absurd. It's just hard to imagine. It's also hard to imagine that the air is really a swarm of bazillions of molecules zipping through vacuum at the speed of sound. The world is weird, but that's how it is. We are primitive creatures who have to use lumps of meat in order to think. It's hardly surprising that we should find reality a bit hard to grasp. Our brains evolved to run away from tigers, not imagine the universe.

James Anglin said...

Finally, there's the question of authority in speaking for God. What does authority even mean? Are we to believe something just because of where we read it? That would be weird. I might believe that a good friend would not deliberately lie to me, but my friends aren't infallible, so I don't just believe all they say. Why on earth would I ever decide that a certain book, or a certain person, was sure to be right in whatever it said?

That doesn't mean there's no such thing as revelation. Suppose I'm freezing in the dark, and I hear a voice say, "Bang those rocks together over those bits of bark, then feed in small sticks." I do it, and discover fire. I only discovered it because I listened to the voice, and so I'm going to be very grateful to that voice, and even more inclined to obey it the next time I hear it — though it might not be sure that the next voice was really the same voice, or was just as right the second time as it was the first. But anyway the fire is real. What role does authority play in this story? For a voice that reveals how to make fire, authority is the last thing it needs.

James Anglin said...

To put it most bluntly: not believing in a being who exists outside of space and time is what Jews, mainstream Christians, and Muslims call atheism. Believing in superhuman aliens is reasonable enough, but it is not theism.

Steven said...

Thank you for your thoughts. I really enjoyed your recent comments. I have a great love for physics, there is so much beauty in the things you wrote. I think my gut was right, we seem to be very similar in our beliefs. I think the biggest differentiator would probably be our view of spirit, where I see it as material such that a person exists pre-embodiment here on earth, and post death as a living, thinking, experiencing personage. Am I right to understand that as you view spirit as "a kind of story", that you wouldn't see a person's spirit as being able to exist independent of the body?

I'm on board with and believe the Big Bang cosmology to be correct. Now that I'm speaking to a physicist, I hope you'll be forgiving if I'm not totally accurate in my terminology. I do believe our infinite universe started, and also that it will end, which creates a sort of hiccup I suppose in the space and time portion of our particular system. I do believe God then existed outside of this system previous to the big bang (and perhaps still does), but I believe wherever that is, it is in a place of spacetime, and that His personage alone occupies space.

So perhaps in its most elemental state, we can call all of it energy. I do not believe that energy originated with the big bang, nor do I believe that energy will cease to exist when the universe dies. I believe it simply continues to cycle infinitely in one form or another.

"Thomas Aquinas's argument that if one believes in causality then one has to imagine a first cause". I do believe in causality, and I believe there is another option, in my mind a true belief in causality actually necessitates the exact opposite - there can be no first cause as the question could always legitimately be asked, "Then what caused that"? I do not believe there ever was a "beginning".

Yes, I'm in total agreement with you on your example of revelation. For me personal revelation or direct communication from God trumps outside authority. The freedom of the individual to choose is to me the very foundation of God's plan of all righteousness. I certainly do not advocate following authority independent of individual consideration and choice. "Because an authority told me so" could never be an adequate excuse, for example. And neither do I believe in infallibility of one who possess authority, again making individual revelation and responsibility so important. And as it should be, otherwise how could there be individual learning and growth? I ask these rhetorically, I believe we are on the same page here. I suppose you could still term this authority, the authority God grants to each individual to make decisions for himself/herself.

At the same time, I think collective or community progression is also very important in our well being and progression and God's plans in whole. Which is why I believe we see Jesus giving keys/authority to His Apostles to govern the Church for example. I see this as very important. Or why God calls prophets (allowing us to have a Bible at all), as another example. Whether it has been in a tribe, or a larger community, it seems spiritual authority and government have almost always been important to the religious whole of whatever group that may be. (claims to such authority ranging from a personal feeling or call to the ministry, familial inheritance, community vote, laying on of hands, etc.)

Everything Before Us said...

Is there something about God's present greatness that makes it impossible to have "started out small"? Would that in some way reduce present greatness, power, glory, perfection, etc.?

Yes. God's present greatness, according to Mormons, is relative. He is greater than anything for those who are below him on the family tree. Above God, however, there are other beings who are even further along the path. This is the logic of the doctrine. If someday I will be a God with children on a planet who will worship me, and if I will never approach the glory of my own God, then my God will be greater than me, but my children will not worship my God, they will worship me as God. Mormonism is a hierarchy of Gods.

So, yes, if God started out small, his present greatness is reduced greatly from the vantage of the God who came before Him even as his greatness will always be far beyond my greatness.

The Christian God's greatness is not relative at all, but absolute. He eternal nature is truly eternal. His divinity is eternal. His being is eternal. There is no development or evolution within his being. He is constant, eternally constant, unchanging, perfect. The Mormon idea of "God possibly ceasing to be God" is a totally moot point in Christianity. That is because God has not aligned himself with eternal principles: he is those eternal principles.

It is the gods of the occultic traditions that have developed from comparatively small to the relatively great. And the secrets that will enable us to walk the same path are handed down in secret rituals to those deemed worthy of initiation. These are two entirely different concepts we are dealing with here. The Christian God and the Occultic God. Entirely different.

James's Donald-Trump-as-a-4-year-old analogy is perfectly fitting here. These two Gods are so entirely different in a fundamental way that it is a real stretch to say that Christians and Mormons are worshiping the same deity.

The early Mormon leaders KNEW this! That is why they spoke so vociferously against traditional Christianity. They believed that the Jesus the Christians worshiped was a mythical being. Mormons don't talk like this anymore.

Everything Before Us said...

I think my gut was right, we seem to be very similar in our beliefs.

James is telling you in his very polite respectful fashion that you shouldn't be trusting your gut on this one. When you come to understand the Christian God, you'll realize just how unsimilar the beliefs are.

Mormon God: Became God because he obeyed eternal law which existed before him.

Christian God: Has always been God and IS the eternal laws. He doesn't obey them. He didn't "invent" them. The eternal laws simply are, because God simply is.

Read C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. You'll see what I am talking about. If God obeyed eternal laws, then the eternal laws existed before him, which means some other being has to be God (the one who wrote the laws), or the eternal laws themselves are God.

If you deny that a being invented the laws which govern all things including God, then you have to believe the laws themselves are the highest authority in all of reality and existence, which is a way of saying you don't believe in God at all. You only believe in a race of superhumans that rule the galaxy like a sorceror who can command earth, air, water and fire.

You've got a magical god from a Disney movie.



Steven said...

EBU,

As far as I can tell, I understand exactly what you mean when you define the "Christian God". (Although it seems you contradicted yourself when you said, "If you deny that a being invented the laws which govern all things including God, then you have to believe the laws themselves are the highest authority in all of reality and existence, which is a way of saying you don't believe in God at all." And right above that in defining the "Christian God" you said "He didn't 'invent' them [eternal laws]". I'm assuming your not saying that you don't believe in God at all.)

To me your are mischaracterizing the "Mormon God". While I understand how your coming to that conclusion, I don't agree with it. Eternal law did not exist before God according to my belief and Joseph Smith's teaching on the matter, so I find myself instead agreeing with your "Christian God" definition taken at face value (although I understand we would interpret the implications of those facts differently).

I think James is fine speaking for himself. For me, these distant and far less immediately applicable details of who God is, don't put us as far apart as you seem to feel they do. I would not go so far as to call them different Gods, I think most of the religious world is worshipping the same being even with the various differences in understanding. (Although I do think these added details can be very meaningful, in my view making God more personal and approachable recognizing Him as not only God, but as a true parent and Father.)

It seems to me you are stuck in an antagonistic "we versus them" mentality. I don't share that, I really feel we're on the same side. There's also a kind of hostility or resentment and need to prove wrong type vibe that seems to be coming through your words. I find that if I'm having such feelings, it is usually because of an insecurity within me over something that I'm not willing to deal with in myself. I get the sense that this could be the case for you. At any rate, whatever the case really is, I'm happy to explore our various viewpoints but 'm not really interested in that type of conversation.

everything before us said...

No contradiction. God didn't invent laws. If he did, it would suggest he had other options on the table and he picked the laws that he did, as opposed to the other options. That is the wrong way of looking at it.

God is law. Or, it is more correct to say that the laws that are reflect the nature of the God who is. God. God is. Thus, law reflects his nature. But he didn't "invent" the law.

Eternal law did not exist before God according to my belief How did God become God, according to Joseph Smith, who said we must learn to become gods just as all Gods before us have done? If he became God by obedience to eternal laws, then then laws existed before he was God.

Steven, I get the feeling you are engaging in the typical Mormon doublespeak. "God is eternal, but God became God."

You tell me that I have misrepresented your belief in God by saying that Mormons believe the law existed prior to their God. But you failed to show me how exactly this is a misrepresentation.

Was God God before he became God? If so, then I guess you can say 'God is eternal.' But by that logic, you would also have to claim that you, too, are a God. You are the God that will be the eternal God to your spirit offspring that will worship you someday.

You need to really clarify what you believe about God. Was he a worship-worthy God before he was exalted? Or did he only become deserving of worship after exaltation? If only after, then how exactly do you rightly call him God before exaltation? And what was his relationship in chronological time to the eternal law before and after his exaltation?

In short, please answer these:

1. Is it correct to refer to the pre-exalted man who became Heavenly Father as "God" before his exaltation?

2. If yes..do you currently refer to yourself as God, knowing that someday you'll be an "eternal God" to your spirit offspring?

3. If no...how exactly does law NOT pre-date your God?

Steven said...

I agree with your ideas in your first two paragraphs ("God didn't invent laws." et al). However, you also said, "If you deny that a being invented the laws... is a way of saying you don't believe in God at all." I'll just assume you didn't mean to say that.

I see what you're getting at. I think one of the major issues here is that I believe what Joseph Smith was getting at has not fully been understood, nor have all of the pieces been fully revealed. I believe there have been attempts to fill in the gaps that I believe are incorrect. For example, the introduction of the idea of viviparous spirit birth during the early Utah era when trying to understand Joseph Smith's Nauvoo teachings, yet it simply pushed the traditional view of a starting/creation point one step back by separating the terms Intelligence and Spirit as if they are different. But I believe it to be a misinterpretation, Joseph used Intelligence and Spirit interchangeably, I don't believe it is true, I don't believe in viviparous spirit birth. When Joseph taught that the spirit is eternal, that there is no creation about it, that the mind of man is coeternal and coequal with God's, I think he meant just that, and I feel it is true. I feel there is more to be revealed on the subject to really fully answer your questions, and I'm not sure I'm open to going there at this point.

At the same time, maybe you can appreciate the problem that it solves. If God created us, at any point in eternity, God either had control of and is therefore responsible for our natures - for our evil as well as the good - or our natures are the product of randomness, which ultimately doesn't leave us accountable for who we are either. And this is going a bit deeper philosophically, you may or may not interested in going down that road, but of anything I have seen, no other model that I am aware of has been satisfactorily able to reconcile the existence of true free will and accountability. The idea that we with God are all eternal and uncreated, solves this. I find it beautiful, I believe it to be true.

Everything Before Us said...

If God created us, at any point in eternity, God either had control of and is therefore responsible for our natures - for our evil as well as the good - or our natures are the product of randomness, which ultimately doesn't leave us accountable for who we are either. And this is going a bit deeper philosophically, you may or may not interested in going down that road, but of anything I have seen, no other model that I am aware of has been satisfactorily able to reconcile the existence of true free will and accountability. The idea that we with God are all eternal and uncreated, solves this. I find it beautiful, I believe it to be true.

Your problem is not solved. You say that if we believe we are created, then God is either responsible for our evil, or our natures are the result of randomness. Your solution rules out the first possibility, but leaves wild open the door for the latter. If we are eternal, not created, and God is therefore not responsible for our evil nature, who is? We are.

But are we? We are eternally existing, as you say. We never came into being at any point. I didn't create myself as a wicked person. I just have to be what I apparently am. We just are what we are. How can I be responsible for that? I didn't create myself as a being inclined to good or more inclined to evil. I just have the potential for evil or goodness eternally existing in my nature. That sounds rather random to me.

You are trying to skirt the Christian conundrum of accountability/free will, but by doing so, you only open up a new host of problems. You have now to account for the eternal existence of evil in the universe. And again, you therefore do not have the Christian God. If your God exists eternally alongside matter/spirit (they're the same, remember) some of which is fundamentally evil and some of which is fundamentally good, you are a Dualist. A Manichaean. A Gnostic. A Luciferian. In short...you are an occultist.

James Anglin said...

@Steven:

Cosmology is based on a large body of evidence, but the evidence is observational rather than experimental; we can't try to rule out alternative explanations by altering the conditions of the universe and running it again to see what changes. So it's reasonable to take cosmology with a grain of salt — as most physicists do. The idea of an eternal cycle of universes, with the Big Bang being replaced with a sort of commercial break between universe episodes, is a common alternative model to the standard one. Many cosmologists just like that picture more. More objectively, the Big Bang is a singularity, and a singularity in a model is a mathematical problem. Other things being equal, a model with no singularity would probably be preferred.

On the other hand the Big Bang is a simple picture that fits all the available observational data better, so far, than the much more complicated alternatives. (Cosmological models aren't just cartoon pictures — even the relatively simple Big Bang model is a detailed set of mathematical equations with a lot of quantitative implications, and the fact that they fit our observations, without fudging, is substantial evidence.)

Anyway, my point was just that the real Big Bang, with a true beginning of time itself, is not actually absurd at all, as far as we know. It makes sense within General Relativity, which changes the previously familiar meanings of the concepts of energy, space, and time. We don't really know what happened fourteen billions years ago, and so physics doesn't necessarily trump theology. But by the same token, I think it would be a mistake to base important theological premises on assumptions about reality that are really just outdated physics. Science has come a long way since Joseph Smith.

About materialism: Can a person's spirit exist apart from the body? I would say that it depends on what you mean by "exist". Can a story exist apart from the book? In one way, No: not in the same way that the book's cover can exist apart from its pages. In another way, though, Yes: if the book is burned, the story can be republished. The new edition will be a different book from the first one, perhaps with better paper and cover art, but the story will truly be the same story as before, "living" again. Indeed the story might still truly be the same story, even if it were changed. Sometimes a good author can revise a previously published story, or expand or continue it, and readers will feel that the new version is actually more truly itself than it was before.

This is where it makes a difference whether God is a transcendent being outside space and time, or is another material being like us, only greater. To be remembered by a transcendent God is to live, no matter what has happened to one's body. The author can create new heavens and new earths to be the settings for new stories, in which the adventures of beloved characters can be continued without end. This idea raises problems, of course. What really defines a character? What changes make a character grow or change, and what changes turn them into a knock-off fake who isn't really the same character at all? These are the kind of questions that I have in mind, when I think about souls. To me, the questions seem hard, but deep.

If spirit is really a subtle form of matter or energy or something, though, then it seems to me that it isn't metaphysics, but physics. There may well be forms of matter or energy that we don't yet know, but if they interact at all with the things that we do know, then we must be able to get a handle on them somehow. Detect spirits, weigh souls; explain how my spirit (whatever it is) can make my hand move. But when I try to take material spirit seriously in this way, I seem to run quickly into questions that seem not deep, but silly.

James Anglin said...

Eternal pre-existence of human spirits does seem to offer some explanation of evil. If I understand this rightly, then the Mormon idea of pre-existence agency would seem to be a bit like the Hindu or Buddhist concepts of karma, whereby all the good or bad things in everyone's current lives are actually the just rewards or punishments for their deeds in past lives.

That kind of concept doesn't fit well with my materialistic understanding of souls. To me, it would be like saying that it's only fair and right for Quasimodo to be born with a hunched back, because Quasimodo used to be Snow White's wicked stepmother. But there's just no sense I can see in which Quasimodo and the Wicked Queen can possibly be the same character, just set in different circumstances. Quasimodo has not even the faintest memory of ever talking with a magic mirror. And, similarly, nobody seems to remember their crimes or glories from the pre-existence, so I don't see how their can really be a continuity of souls.

Even if I suppose that I am somehow wrong about spirit, the idea of pre-existence as a justification of evil still seems problematic for me. If someone suffers today, because they were wicked in the pre-existence, then to me it's a big problem for justice, that the person who is currently suffering has no memory of their pre-existent sins. Whatever the metaphysics of souls may be, to me it just seems very wrong to punish someone for something that happened in a life of which they can remember nothing. It would be like punishing a different person.

The notion of eternal agency may seem in principle to offer a solution to the problem of evil, but on closer examination, it seems to me that it is really no help at all. People suffer now. If there was a previous reason why they suffer, no-one here can remember it. So assuming that they must nonetheless somehow have deserved their suffering is just blaming the victim — and with no evidence at all for the blame.

Everything Before Us said...

James, as usual, brings up great points. And he does so in a way that reveals just how immature and half-hearted Mormon doctrine is. It always stops short. It finds a comfortable place that seems deep and profound, and then sits down on the road and refuses to go any further. It seems to take a few steps beyond traditional Christianity, and thus appears to answer questions that it assumes Christians keep stumbling over, but refusing to walk further, it hides itself from the contradictions that it would find in itself if it did walk further.

For many years, I felt empowered by all the answers Mormonism seemed to provide by preaching a pre-existence and eternal progression. It seemed to make so much sense. But when you begin to really think about it, you realize it is all an illusion. It doesn't make sense. It can't make sense. It only makes sense if you have a God that collaborates with evil. Evil, or as Oaks so recently put it, opposition, is essential to provide the necessary friction against which we work out our exaltation. Therefore, God, who is all-powerful and doesn't suffer the least degree of disobedience, suffers evil to exist eternally in this universe so that his children can be exalted. And he, himself, worked against this evil to work out his own exaltation.

Evil, along with goodness, exists necessarily in the universe.

Oaks actually said that perhaps as the faith and obedience of the Saints increases, Satan increases the strength of his opposition so that there will always be opposition in all things.

This is just about the most shocking thing I've ever heard in GC. Why doesn't Satan just increase the strength of his opposition to exceed the faith of the Saints then? Or...if opposition is so necessary to God's plan, why doesn't Satan just give up, cutting off the supply of opposition so we'd all stagnate? Satan could easily win this thing, but Satan apparently doesn't want to win. Apparently he only increases his opposition in proportion to the increased faith and obedience of the Saints. Satan is collaborating with God in the Plan of Salvation. Or if God is keeping Satan in check, but still allowing him to have the right amount of power to bring about God's purposes, then God, who hates evil, is keeping evil on a leash, extending or shortening it as needed. God has hired Satan as a mercenary.

For a man as intelligent as Oaks to say something so riddled with horrendous theological implications in Conference is simply astonishing. This man clearly doesn't understand. A perfect example of profundity that only goes a few inches deep.

Steven said...

James,

Yes, that's a very interesting take on what spirit is, and what death is and I assume alluding to resurrection when you say "story can be republished". Have you done any investigation in the body of research surrounding NDEs (Near Death Experiences)? It's not the major reason I believe in a material spirit that can exist apart from the mortal body, but I do find the experiences and evidence pretty convincing. Alternate skeptic theories have been proposed as well of course, to account for that evidence, but if you haven't looked closely at it, it may interest you.

As for the problem of evil, I do think LDS theology has a very satisfying answer to it, related to but not entirely due to the eternal nature of spirits (I'll get to that shortly). The problem I was saying that the idea of eternal uncreated spirits answers well, is rather the Free Will / Accountability conundrum that arises if our natures are created.

I agree with the problems you have outlined with the karma-like idea you've outlined, it's not a Mormon idea though. That evil or hardship is somehow just as punishment for past evil behaviors previous to this life, is not something we believe in, and of course doesn't align with Christ's teachings as outlined when he was asked why a man was born blind (his sins or his parents', etc.).

Rather, the LDS teaching is that all children are born innocent, and are alive in Christ, so much so that all who die before they reach the age of accountability are saved and fully clean without need of repentance, baptism, etc.

Let me attempt a very brief overview of our theology as it relates to the problem of evil:

Steven said...

continued...

All people are children of God and existed as living spirits before entering a mortal body. Lucifer rebelled against the plan of God seeking His honor and glory, and a third part of the spirit children of God (or host of heaven) followed. They were expelled from the presence of God and became Satan and his angels, and they reside here on earth without bodies and are permitted to tempt and to try those other spirit children who did not rebel. Everyone here on earth who receives a body followed God, and therefore kept their "first estate". This earth life is our "second estate".

Those who keep their second estate will increase in love and joy and return to God with added glory. This added love and joy could not come by way of theoretical teaching alone, but through actually experiencing love first hand. But what is right if there is also no such thing as wrong? How can I choose right, if there is not an opposite choice that can be made? And if there is no right or wrong, there could be no choices made of love, neither hate. And if acts of love cannot exist, there could be no joy. Everything would be stagnate, no good, no evil, no meaning. God grants us "agency" or the ability to choose between good and evil in this world. This is necessary if we are to grow and find greater joy and happiness, the kind of happiness that God enjoys.

Because freedom of choice is the very foundation of Gods plan, it follows that some in their spiritual immaturity choose evil. This evil outside of the one committing the evil can effect both the just and the unjust alike, and the one who chooses evil experiences the additional natural misery that follows evil/hateful choices. Additionally, because this world is in a fallen state, many ills/sicknesses/etc exist simply because nature is nature, and just as the rain and sun fall upon the just and unjust, so also many of these negative aspects of nature do likewise. Yet in all this opposition, we are afforded the great opportunity to grow and learn by choosing good in the face of evil or unfair circumstances, ultimately providing us a means of learning and obtaining greater love, joy, and happiness, both in this life and the life to come. Christ's grace is made available to help all of us through this mortal experience and learning process.

When we die, we again live as spirit beings, in the same place Christ when to teach the dead between His death and resurrection. It will be a place of happiness or misery depending on our choices here, and we stay there until all are resurrected with immortal bodies, at which point we will abide in a Kingdom of Glory or heaven according to the love we have obtained. The greater love and higher law we are able to live by given what we have learned with the help of God, the higher plane or heaven we can live in. Judgement is about God helping His children obtain the greatest happiness they can, and giving them a place and life where they can live and experience that happiness. This entire plan is enabled by Christ as the great mediator of all mankind.

I'll try to provide some references later if you'd like. Here are a couple off the top of my head: Abraham 3:22-28 (from the Pearl of Great Price), and 2 Nephi 2:10-13 (from the Book of Mormon, I'd recommend the whole chapter if you have time)

Everything Before Us said...

Those who keep their second estate will increase in love and joy and return to God with added glory. This added love and joy could not come by way of theoretical teaching alone, but through actually experiencing love first hand. But what is right if there is also no such thing as wrong? How can I choose right, if there is not an opposite choice that can be made? And if there is no right or wrong, there could be no choices made of love, neither hate. And if acts of love cannot exist, there could be no joy. Everything would be stagnate, no good, no evil, no meaning. God grants us "agency" or the ability to choose between good and evil in this world. This is necessary if we are to grow and find greater joy and happiness, the kind of happiness that God enjoys.

So, what would've happened to God's plan if Satan decided not to oppose it? What if Satan were obedient. How would we be exalted without opposition?

Also, how exactly is Jesus God? He is just another one of God's spirit children. Just like you and me. He was the first of all of us, but other than that, he is just like us. Why is he so perfect and we not? What if Jesus weren't? What laws of the universe were in effect to produce at least one perfect spirit child that could undertake the atonement? Especially in consideration of the issue of free will. Jesus is perfect, but he couldn't have been coerced to be so, for that would be a violation of his agency. So, why is he so perfect? And why, exactly is he God?

Doesn't it seem like a rather risky roll of the dice to hinge all humankind's exaltation on the chance that one God would produce one perfect spirit child and one spirit child that rises up in rebellion? Was there really no other option? Is this how all worlds are created and all families of spirit children are exalted? By having spirit kids over and over again until you get the right combination?

James Anglin said...

@Steven:
I'm pleased to hear that Mormons don't really believe in karma, since I feel that this doctrine would be unChristian in the way that it comforts the comfortable while for the afflicted it adds insult to injury. It is also clearly counter, as you say, to what Jesus said about the man born blind — and although that is only one passage, it's a prominent and important one which resonates strongly with much of Jesus's other teaching. It's not being taken out of context, either, since the story is explicitly about Jesus's answer to the problem of evil. I wouldn't call it prooftexting to cite this text.

James Anglin said...

I haven't read all that much about near-death or other out-of-body experiences, but my understanding is that all the reported experiences are subjective. I don't believe there has ever been a confirmed case of someone seeing anything, while "out of the body", which was not then or previously visible to their bodily eyes. So to me these experiences may have quite interesting things to tell us about how the brain constructs subjective experiences out of sensory data. In particular, it can evidently sometimes present a visual scene from a viewpoint other than the standard "behind the eyes" position.

The brain does a lot of processing of visual data, after all. The eyes are not just windows. We all have physical blind spots on our retinas, for example, but the brain just photoshops stuff over them, so that we are not aware of them.

Even more dramatic is the way the brain edits out our own eye movements, and presents a steady visual scene even though our gaze is constantly darting around. The coolest way to see this is to look at one's own eyes in a mirror. Look first at one, then the other, back and forth. A friend standing beside you will be able to see clearly that your eyes are turning constantly back and forth as you shift your focus; but you will be looking at your own eyes in the mirror all the time, and you will never see your eyes move. You will simply see one motionless eye staring back at you, then the other, then the first again, and so on. The switch will be abrupt.

You cannot see the motion of your own eyes. The reason is that visual perception is simply not a live stream of retinal data. It's heavily post-processed, and in particular it's automatically stabilized. Changes in retinal data that are due to your own eye motion are automatically recognized and suppressed. And there are a wealth of other experiments to show that seeing is really a heavily filtered experience, and not at all a direct perception of how things are. All perception is partly hallucination, all the time.

I don't know exactly how any of that may account in detail for near-death or out-of-body experiences. My point is just that subjective experience is known to be an unreliable guide to what's really happening. Since there are also great and basic difficulties in any substance-dualistic theory of spirit — how does spirit move my body or perceive material things? — I don't think that any subjective NDE reports are likely to provide strong enough evidence to convince me that spirit is substance as opposed to a form or pattern.

James Anglin said...

As to the emphasis on free will: the mainstream Christian understanding of evil also relies on this kind of issue. I don't see exactly where the eternal pre-existence of human souls makes a difference, here, though. The mainstream premise is that humans do have free will, even though we are not eternal like God, because God created us with free will. What am I missing, about the implications for free will of eternal pre-existence?

The idea that earthly suffering is all a big game, between God and Satan, is one that I don't think mainstream Christians have ever really taken seriously. The beginning and end of the Book of Job present this picture explicitly, but I think the orthodox attitude is more, "Sometimes it seems this way," than, "This is the big explanation of how things really are."

The Book of Job falls pretty sharply into separate pieces, stylistically, and just reading it convinces me that the critics are right when they conclude that the frame story, about the bet between God and Satan, is a later addition. So to me, the real answer to evil that is presented in the Book of Job is the answer God gives "from the whirlwind". It's just the question, "When did you command the morning?"

What I take that to mean is that running a universe is just a lot harder than we think it is. We have no real idea why God made the universe, after all. So our complaints are off base, because we simply don't know what we're really asking.

That's not exactly a satisfying answer. But it's an answer that I find more credible, from a transcendent God to a bunch of meat-brained creatures, than any neat theological excuse.

Steven said...

Thanks James, nice thoughts as usual. I've enjoyed learning more about your perspective.

Here are a couple of NDE links that might interest you in light of the above: Analysis of Near-Death Experiences of Atheists, and People See Verified Events While Out-Of-Body

The free will / accountability issue is that if we are created, either God is ultimately responsible for our evil and good as our choices are the byproduct of our created nature, or our natures a randomly created, both of which put ultimate accountability on the creation act leaving us not ultimately accountable for our choices or who we are. Alternatively, our choices may not be deterministic based on our given nature at creation, and are random and unconnected. This leaves us without accountability either. A creation point cannot allow for both freedom of will and moral accountability. If our natures are uncreated and eternal existing, determinism and moral accountability can co-exist with the freedom of will. See this basic discussion on a Christian blog, or the subsection "With Free Will" halfway down the page here for more on the subject. (or just search free will and determinism)

Everything Before Us said...

The free will / accountability issue is that if we are created, either God is ultimately responsible for our evil and good as our choices are the byproduct of our created nature, or our natures a randomly created, both of which put ultimate accountability on the creation act leaving us not ultimately accountable for our choices or who we are.

Steven, the Mormon solution to this is no solution. If I am an eternal being, nothing created me. And my nature is therefore randomly determined. I just am what I am. I didn't do it. God didn't do it. It's random!

And then, you have to consider that at some point, God took that eternal "intelligence" and turned it into a spirit being that can choose between right and wrong. And in that act, God did create me, and therefore he is accountable as Creator.

You didn't solve the problem. You just put a blanket over it and said, "Look! Problem solved."

James Anglin said...

@Steven:
Thanks for the link on OBEs and NDEs. I've read a bit about them, and what I've read so far has instead tended to discount claims like Moody's. I don't know exactly what experimental errors might be involved on each side, but it's not often that enthusiastic amateur psychologists collecting anecdotes are careful enough to rule out prosaic explanations.

It's not a level playing field where the spiritualistic explanation is a priori just as plausible as the material one, so you have to let yourself swayed by eyewitness accounts. The surprisingly grave fallibility of subjective recollections is well established, even on very simple things. (Try the subjective attention test, if you haven't seen it.) And the difficulties inherent in any theory of spirit-as-substance are really huge. If you're really serious at getting the truth, you have to be awfully darned hard-nosed about OBEs and NDEs.

About free will, I'm afraid I have to agree with Everything Before Us. You're right that free will is kind of paradoxical, but I don't see how eternal pre-existence helps with this. Either I'm free, or I'm not; either I'm eternal, or I'm not. I don't see how either issue prejudices the other. I can imagine an eternal slave.

I can also imagine an eternal universe in which a free-willed being exists throughout endless time. I can then imagine a copy of that universe in which that particular free-willed being is cut out of the universe after a certain time, so that the being had no beginning, but at some point dies. Or I can imagine cutting that being out before a certain time, so that the being is created at that time, and then lives forever afterwards, with free will. So the condition of being free does not seem to me to be dependent upon eternal existence.

Steven said...

James,
Yes, I familiar with the skeptic interpretations of these phenomenon as well. I don't think NDEs/OBEs are some sort of full-proof evidence, and like I said not the main reason I believe in material living spirits. I personally find the evidence compelling though. Why atheists have these experiences just as frequently, being brought into the presence of a head being of light and love, when they do not believe in such things. I find the skeptic interpretations of the evidence to be a greater stretch than testimonies of countless individuals time and again who experience these and say they know they are real, and often say where they went actually feels even more real than life here. I suppose we could likewise discount our own experience that we are currently real, and that "life" and everything we think is real is just an illusion. But deep down we know that's not true, so when people say that their experiences felt even more real than this reality, that to me is compelling. But I concede it is not proof. And I'm fine that we interpret the evidence differently, I think both sides are rational with intellectually honest arguments.

As for your mental experiment, I believe there is a flaw in it. It is true that you could imagine an eternal being with free-will and then cut off his past at a particular point and he would be free. And that might apply to reality if likewise a being was eternal and then actually had his past cut off. But if his past never existed first, and he was then created, this is a different story. Then there is a "cause" of his nature that is not his own. However, this idea that he can be cut out and put back in (my understanding of your idea of death and resurrection) in an endless chain (at least backwards) satisfies the "eternal" solution in my mind. Otherwise the problem of freewill & determinism remains as far as I have understood it. I am open to learning and acknowledge that some other solution might exist out there.

Steven said...

EBU,
I agree that the situation you describe does not solve the problem. I think you've posed many good questions, I actually agree with most of your implications, this is where I fall outside of mainstream thought (but I think more inline with Joseph Smith's original teachings). Maybe you forgot or didn't understand when I said it, but I reject the intelligence/spirit dichotomy, I reject spirit birth, or the idea that there was ever a time when a being's mind first came into consciousness. I have to say, I am quite turned off from speaking with you though when you have gone so far as to call me a "Luciferian". Even if I am totally wrong, I am sharing my honest sincere beliefs, and I think my intention for good is evident. I don't feel you've offered me the respect I deserve, and the same level of respect I've shown you.

I feel a lot of anxiety in you, and I've only seen little of you, but it seems part of it may root in a sort of entitlement to be given all answers. Perhaps you feel Mormonism claiming to be the true church, owed you answers to all your questions, that there wasn't supposed to be contradictions and/or falsehoods taught/believed. I think if you honestly study your heart you'll recognize this is a very entitled position full of many unfounded assumptions. And I do not doubt you've also been genuinely hurt by the church and/or its members along the way. I do not excuse that, or say that the church and/or its people are not accountable for their part. At the same time, we all hurt one another as we are fallen and in a mortal world. The only way past it that I see, is owning our part, and then forgiving others when we are the victim. And if in the integrity of your heart you disbelieve the truth claims of the LDS Church, then allow yourself to leave it behind, knowing even if you are wrong you are being true to yourself and therefore justified before God. But this seeming need to hate, put down, and prove it wrong tells me there is something that your not being willing to deal with in yourself. I don't know you, I could be completely wrong in what I'm seeing or wrong about somethings and right about others. But this is what seems to be coming through from my vantage point, and I'm sharing it with you in my best effort to be helpful.

everything before us said...

Do you know what Luciferianism is? It is not Satanism. It is the belief that by experiencing the dualistic world of good/evil, we can become gods. That is Luciferianism. Lucifer is the light-bringer, the one who opened up the world of experience to Adam, Eve, and their posterity. He saved Adam and Eve from a controlled environment in which they could not think for themselves, lacking the necessary knowledge required for free-thinking and progression...the awareness of good and evil. See some similarities there?

From Wikipedia: Although sometimes mistakenly associated with Satanism due to the Christian interpretation of the fallen angel, Luciferianism is a wholly different belief system[1] and does not revere the devil figure or most characteristics typically affixed to Satan. Rather, Lucifer in this context is seen as one of many morning stars, a symbol of enlightenment,[2] independence and human progression, and is often used interchangeably with similar figures from a range of ancient beliefs, such as the Greek titan Prometheus or the Jewish talmudic figure Lilith.

They support the protection of the natural world. Both the arts and sciences are crucial to human development, and thus both are cherished. Luciferians think that humans should be focused on this life and how to make the most of it every single day. The ability to recognize both good and evil, to accept that all actions have consequences, both positive and negative, and to actively influence one's environment, is a key factor.

For Luciferians, enlightenment is the ultimate goal. The basic Luciferian principles highlight truth and freedom of will, worshipping the inner self and one’s ultimate potential. Traditional dogma is shunned as a basis for morality on the grounds that humans should not need deities or fear of eternal punishment to distinguish right from wrong and to do good. All ideas should be tested before being accepted, and even then one should remain skeptical because knowledge and understanding are fluid. Regardless of whether Lucifer is conceived of as a deity or as a mere archetype, he is a representation of ultimate knowledge and exploration: humanity’s savior and a champion for continuing personal growth.

Steven said...

What do you think your motive was for applying those labels to me?

James Anglin said...

Steven, if you're interested in NDEs I can recommend a work of fiction you might like: Passage, by Connie Willis. It won prizes as science fiction, but the only way in which that category really fits is that the book presumes some plausible but speculative mechanisms in NDEs. It's smart enough not to pretend it's really settling anything, but it's thought-provoking.

I guess I'm just not seeing the link you see between freedom and eternity. It's a subtle issue. To me, the case in which human souls are co-eternal with God is one in which, however this somehow works, God's causal power is limited in order to leave room for human agency. Okay. But I don't see why God can't just voluntarily step back, at some point in time, and create this free agency at that point.

Having said that, I'm actually not at all sure that I even know what free will means. If I try to be really specific, then perhaps my thoughts are closer to yours after all, because it seems to me that if nothing outside me determines what I choose, then my choices are still determined by my own nature. If that nature was itself determined by God, in creating me, then in effect we have Calvin's predestination. I can listen for a while to arguments that predestination isn't really as bad as it sounds, but in the end I still don't like it.

But I still don't see how eternal pre-existence really helps with this. It may get God off the hook, but it still seems to leave the me of my current life as the helpless puppet of an eternal being, namely my own eternally pre-existing self. I have no memory of that pre-existing self, who has shaped my life beyond any power of mine to resist. This supposed eternal self might as well be an entirely separate being from me; saying that they are actually me seems to be just an arbitrary convention of terminology. In no practical way do I sense or feel that my own nature is my own pre-existent choice.

Perhaps this all just seems different if you grow up with it. To me the Mormon theory would seem to mean that, instead of being (in the most ultimate sense) a child of God, I'm the puppet of a much lesser (though still eternal) god, who is perversely called "pre-existent me" even though I have no memory at all of ever being that "me". In effect this gets God off the hook for evil, but just in the polytheistic way, of saying that the good God is the chief god, but the chief god cannot fully control all the lesser gods, and they make mischief.

I think that if I were ever convinced in this direction, I might prefer to go right back to paganism, and let my fate be decided by Apollo or Loki. Pre-existent James Anglin is just another shmoe among zillions. Apollo and Loki are on the lesser god A-list.

Steven said...

Haha, totally laughed. I can see how repulsive this whole idea is to you. Especially with our differing viewpoints on pre-mortal spirits, etc. I can see why this would feel so foreign. I'm going to give a shot at an explanation in an attempt to naturalize this concept a little more for you (not that I think it will get us on the same page, but maybe help you understand a little better where I am coming from on this).

Let's take freedom of will in this life for a moment (under the assumption we have it). I think when getting into the details of the deterministic nature of choices, people often start wanting a sort of freedom from will, instead of freedom of will. They suddenly feel like the claim is that they are a slave to themselves. While I suppose that's one way to look at it, I don't it's an accurate portrayal of the reality of free will. If you find yourself thinking along these lines, I think the question you should ask yourself is - do I really want to be free from my own wants and desires? Do I really want my choices to be governed by something other than what I want? I think if you honestly reflect on that question, the answer for most people is no. I do want what I want, and to be free to make choices according the whims or desires of my heart, not some other arbitrary force. We don't really want freedom from self, that we have desires and wants is the very thing that makes us a self in the first place. What we really want is freedom to be what we want to be, or that our will has freedom to express itself and choose, i.e. free will. Which is to say that our will, that roots in our nature, is free to determine our choices.

Now to the idea of a pre-mortal you. I think I can appreciate how this idea could be very foreign to someone, after all we do not remember such a life if we did live it. I can see how you might say that person (your pre-mortal self) "might as well be an entirely separate being from me". But I think the reality will feel quite different once we come into remembrance of our pre-mortal lives. Because your deepest inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations all root in your spirit, there is nothing more "you" than your spirit. I think some of the greatest joy in this life can be felt when one really comes to discover oneself, how much more when unencumbered by these corruptible bodies will our joy be when we can truly see ourselves in completeness. The idea of an eternal spirit is that this is in fact the real you. That you have temporarily forgotten, but will once again see what it is that makes you tick. And just as in this life we wouldn't really want to be detached from our own wants and desires, I believe the same principle holds true. You are not a puppet or slave to yourself anymore than you feel like a slave now choosing to take a vacation and relax on the beach. Instead, you get to be you, and that is the ultimate freedom (at least in my mind).

Ryan said...

My two cents (if it is even worth that)
I don't see eternal free will as making me a slave to some forgotten past self precisely because of what agency is. We are dynamic beings. One of the wonderful truths of the Gospel is that we can change. Whatever effect my premarital decisions may have had on my circumstances in this life (which I do not believe to be a simple matter) I can dictate what sort of person I am in this life. I may have brought some personality traits with me, but I get to choose what I do with them. Who I was yesterday need not determine who I am tomorrow.

Ryan said...

*premortal, not premarital. Heh.

James Anglin said...

I'm not sure I agree with either of you, Ryan and Steven; but I'm not sure I can do any better. I don't feel I have a clear logical picture of what "free will" even means. On the one hand I want to say, with Ryan, that freedom means not being constrained by the past. Yet at the same time I agree with Steven, that it's not about being unaffected by my own desires, but rather about being able to enact them.

My real point in this discussion is not that I understand free will, but that I don't see the connection between free will and eternal pre-existence, because if I accept eternal pre-existence, then all the problems of free will seem to remain — possibly with a few changes of terminology, but with the same pattern of issues still there beneath the new names. And conversely, anything I can say about eternal souls, to make free will sound both real and good, seems to be just as possible to say about created souls — again possibly with some changes in terminology, but with no real difference in the pattern of ideas.

So as far as free will is concerned, we may all be in the same boat. What I'm saying more confidently is that it doesn't seem to me to be a major advantage of the doctrine of eternal pre-existence, that it does a better job of explaining free will.

If I come to my senses in the afterlife and realize that pre-existent James Anglin really was the real me, then of course that might change my mind. For me, for now, that's just a speculation. It's not unlike the Buddhist notion of enlightenment including the remembering of all past lives. Now we see as in a glass, darkly; but then, face to face.

There is a mainstream Christian notion that even if God created me at a particular moment in time, within the material universe, still the idea of who I would be was an idea of God's, and as such, eternal — whatever unimaginable thing that really means, when we are speaking of a transcendent God beyond all time and space. I think most theologians would still consider that this kind of potential pre-existence, as an idea of God's, is somehow not quite enough of an existence to count as pre-existence in the Mormon sense.

I'm interested in these issues, but my strategy for investigating them is to do it professionally, as a physicist, in simpler cases. I work on the foundations of quantum and statistical mechanics, and so I am interested in the fuzzy fringes of determinism. I don't expect that anything I find will say anything directly about souls or free will, but I am hoping to get better logical clarity on what freedom might even mean, by finding analogies in the behavior of simple systems of particles.

In some ways my attitude is optimistic, but in others pessimistic. I am hoping at some point to really learn something, but I am expecting the problem of free will to be at least as difficult and mind-bending as quantum mechanics.

Everything Before Us said...

If free will isn't given to us, but is an eternal aspect of our eternal existence, then we can't have free will at all. An eternal being can't be in possession of free will. To have no beginning and no end, but yet to have all that "time" available to make "good" and/or "bad" choices? Such a being isn't eternal at all. An eternal being couldn't act contrary to his nature and still be eternal. His very eternity makes it so that he simply is what he is. And what he is is good, but not good in relation to badness. Good, absolutely. And that is God.

We can only have free will if we have a beginning, and in this beginning, free will is given to us by an eternal being.

Ryan said...

I simply reject your premise that eternity and free will are mutually exclusive. I reject the notion that God does not have free will. Although the scriptures refer to God variously as "an unchangeable being," "the same yesterday, today, and forever," etc, we know that can not mean He is an entirely static being. We know, for example, that He was able, in some sense, to change His nature. He came to earth as a mortal, capable of dying. Whatever He was before that, it was something other than that. Therefore, He changed. And He must have chosen to do so. No one made Him do it. He could have chosen not to. While in mortality, He made lots of choices. He chose to stay at the temple after Mary and Joseph left. He chose to heal various people (and presumably, not to heal others, since not everyone in the area was healed of all affliction). He chose to allow Himself to be crucified, and to rise again. We agree that He has always existed, and it is clear that He made choices. He must therefore be an eternal being with free will.

Everything Before Us said...

Ryan...

When you say God changed and became mortal, are you talking about the Father or the Son? From your context, you seem to be talking about the Son. But then you say that "we agree that He has always existed..."

The Son has always existed? Really? I thought you, as a Mormon, would believe that he was the first born of all the Father's spirit offspring.

Ryan said...

Given that I believe I always existed, yes, I believe Jesus always existed. The question is, do you believe Jesus is eternal? If so, did He/does He have free will?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Ryan, well said. Eternal nature and free will are obviously not exclusive, and it's valuable to affirm that. The free agency of Christ, indeed, His _independent_ free agency, also should be considered. When He prayed unto the Father and said, "Not my will but thine be done," in the moment of choosing to take on the greatest, most dread burden of all, we see Christ making a personal and selfless choice, on which our fate hinged, a choice to surrender His own will to the will of the Father. Here we see choice, agency, and a unique identify, a distinct Being, working to become more fully One with the Father, as He began the infinite Atonement that changed everything for all of us.

Paul tells us more about this moment in Hebrews 5:8-9:
8 Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;

9 And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him....

Christ's free agency was expressed by choosing to obey the Father. In his mortal journey, culminating with the Atonement, Christ learned obedience, full and perfect obedience, enabling Him to truly be the author of our salvation.

Jeff Lindsay said...

"An eternal being can't be in possession of free will." Everything, are you saying that God cannot choose? That he cannot choose to say, change a commandment or a promised happening, or create His own plans? Do you not consider Christ to be eternal? Was His life free of choice? If He had no choice and no will, was His obedience no more meaningful than the obedience of a rock to gravity when I drop it?

In my view, Ultimate Good is not a single needle to be threaded with only one color of thread, but a tapestry that can be woven with endless hues and unlimited design. It is a work of infinite art and joyous Creation, not a monotonic act of robotic optimization.

Everything Before Us said...

Given that I believe I always existed, yes, I believe Jesus always existed.

In what way was Jesus God in the pre-existence and in mortality? And why are you not a God yet, if Jesus, who was just eternal as you are, has been God all along? This is what I can't understand about Mormon doctrine. Jesus is eternal, but he was also created by the Father at a certain point in time. Jesus is God even in the pre-existence, even when he doesn't have a body, nor a wife, but I can only become a God by getting a body and a wife.

In what way do you, as a Mormon, believe Jesus is God, the YHWH of the Old Testament?

(Sidenote: Actually, in the early days of the church the Father was YHWH, not Jesus. The Father was Jehovah, Jesus was the Son of Jehovah. Talmage is the one who finally formulated the current Mormon doctrine that Jesus is Jehovah. But this isn't what the early Mormons taught and believed.)




Ryan said...

I will answer your question when you answer mine. Is Jesus eternal? Does He have free will? If He does not have free will, how did He make choices? How could He have been tempted if it was impossible for Him to even go there? How could He and His father have different wills if there was no free will for at least one of them?

Everything Before Us said...

Jesus is eternal because Jesus is God. You and I are not God. We are not going to become Gods. God is fundamentally a being of a different type than you and I are. And God has always been of a different type than you and I. We are not of the same species.

Only when you understand this does it even make any sense to talk about the incarnation, God becoming flesh. In Mormonism, God the Father was already flesh. He was ALREADY an incarnated being. But God the Son wasn't flesh. But in Christian doctrine. God is Spirit, just like Jesus says, so the incarnation really means something. It is the act in which God himself saves us. It is true condescension, because God did it for no other reason other than to save us. In Mormonism, Jesus became flesh, as Holland said, also to work out HIS salvation! It is not a truly condescending act, because Jesus God HAD to do it for his own salvation!

God became flesh. That incarnated God is Jesus Christ, who is the Word, (which in Greek is Logos, and it means something very unique to the Greeks. Look it up.) Jesus Christ, as a human, had all the facilities and capabilities of human beings, including free will. If it were otherwise, God would not have become fully human. It would not have been a true incarnation. Jesus, as man, did make choices. He did exercise obedience. He was truly tempted in every sense of the word.

I would encourage you to really spend some quality time studying Christian theology.

Now...in what was is Jesus God before he has a body and before he has a wife? And...is it possible for you to be a God in that same sense? If not why not?

Ryan said...

So you concede that an eternal being can have free will. The fact that I have free will, then, does not preclude me from being eternal, as you previously suggested.

In what sense was premortal Jesus God? In the sense that He had all power, wisdom, knowledge, etc. I am not, as you say, a God yet, because I am not any of those things.

I agree that you and I differ in our beliefs on the nature of God. I believe He and I are the same species. When Paul says "For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring," I believe he is speaking literally. I don't believe he is speaking only of adoption, since his audience was not Christians. They could not have been included in "we" if adoption were meant, because they had not received Christ.

Because I am the same sort of being as God, albeit nowhere near the same level, I believe that I can progress to become like God. I therefore also believe that progression is possible even for a God. Because of that, Jesus could be God, and also could progress. If having a body were not progress, I have to wonder why He even bothered to resurrect, or why that would be such an important part of the testimony of the Apostles. If flesh is such a bad thing, why take it up again? He could have manifested Himself to them as a spirit, and they could have still testified that death did not vanquish Him. Even though He too needed a body, I still see His incarnation as a condescension. He could have received a body in a royal court, with all His needs/wants met, living like a God. Instead, He came in the humblest of circumstances, was despised and rejected of men, etc. He condescended to take upon Himself a punishment that He did not deserve, so we wouldn't have to.

Would it be possible for me to be a God in the same sense? You should be familiar enough with Mormon theology to know the answer to that. We believe there was more than one individual involved in the creation. This idea of multiple individuals is even hinted at in Genesis: "And God said, Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness (emphasis mine)..." This idea is reinforced heavily in Abraham when it says things like "they, the gods..." and then explains whatever it was they did. So would it be possible for me to be a god in the same sense? Sure. Of course I was/am nowhere near the same level as Jesus, but He certainly could have made me a full participant with Him. He is all-powerful, after all.

Everything Before Us said...


Pre-mortal Jesus couldn't have all power, as you said. How would he have created and populated his own world without his eternal mate, which he didn't have yet? He was limited. He couldn't have been fully God in the Mormon sense. Just saying it doesn't make it so. Prove it with the rest of your theology. The rest of your theology screams, "Jesus wasn't God!"

Would it be possible for me to be a God in the same sense? ...Of course I was/am nowhere near the same level as Jesus, but He certainly could have made me a full participant with Him. He is all-powerful, after all.

You need to know that you cannot expect Christians to be okay with you calling yourself a Christian when you say things like that. Christians have real reasons for being hesitant to call Mormons Christian. It is because of stuff like this. Jesus created all things, both things in heaven and things on earth. He is the creator of all. He is the source of all things. He is the end of all things. Again...research what the Greeks meant when they said, "logos." It means a heck of a lot more than just "word." Jesus is that Logos...he is that aspect of God that makes sense and gives meaning to all things. He is the source of all things. The creator of all things. You could've been a full participant in that? Really?




Ryan said...

Maybe it's just a semantic issue, but I feel like Jesus did a pretty good job creating and populating this world. However, while we're ranking "God-ness" so to speak, I will agree that Mormons view the premortal Jesus as subordinate to or less than the Father. I guess if that makes Him less "God," so be it. I don't see it that way, but I understand if you do. However, the idea of Jesus being less than the Father is biblical. He said as much Himself. So I'm not too worried about that.

If other Christians don't want to include me in their ranks, that's okay with me. I'm not too concerned what they think of me, I'm much more interested in what Christ thinks of me. If He thinks I'm a Christian, that's good enough for me.

I really do think I could have been a full participant in the creation, not on my own merit, but on God's. Being all powerful, He certainly could have made it possible for me to be a part of that. To say otherwise is to deny God's omnipotence.

I am still curious as to your thoughts regarding the resurrection. If having a body wasn't a step forward- if flesh is a bad thing- why did the Savior take it again?

Everything Before Us said...

Jesus didn't populate this world. We are not Jesus's spirit children. We are his spirit siblings. So you are wrong there. The spirits populating this earth our Heavenly Father's children. Jesus couldn't have populated a planet with his own children in the pre-existence because he didn't have a wife. Therefore, by Mormon standards he couldn't have been God.

Jesus did say he is subordinate. But that was while he was incarnated in the flesh. In the intercessory prayer, he said something to the effect of, "Now glorify me with that glory I had with you in the beginning." Paul says that the fulness of the divine nature is in Christ Jesus bodily. The fulness of divine nature. Not just a portion of it. Again,... I don't think you understand the concept of incarnation.

If Jesus is Yahweh, and the Father is somebody else altogether, then what in the world do you make of Yahweh, through Isaiah, telling the Hebrew people that there are no other Gods in Heaven and Earth besides him, that he alone is God? Is Jesus denying the existence of the Father Elohim?

(By the way,...Elohim is not a name. It is the generic Hebrew word for "god." It is used to refer to God and it is also used to refer to false gods. It means "god." It is NOT the name of the Father.)

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Perhaps he took his body again to remain the image of the invisible God. He shows us what we as humans need to be in order to become children of God.

You don't believe God is invisible, despite the Bible making it very clear in several places that God is invisible, that no man has or can see God. You reject this notion because you accept Joseph Smith's 1836 version of the First Vision. In his first written version of this event he wrote in 1832, he never claimed to see two personages. He only saw "the Lord." In other versions, he saw "angels." Brigham Young even preached that God sent an angel to Smith to tell him that all churches were false.