Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Is Religion Becoming "In" With Teenagers?

Last night I attended the National Honor Society induction ceremony at Appleton East High School, where a large number of teenagers were being honored as new members of the Society. For each new member, a few lines were read telling something significant about the student: college plans, personal interests, etc. I was surprised at how often I heard references to religion: "volunteers with her church," "active in her church," "interested in religion," "has a strong faith," etc. Some kids that I know to be religious didn't mention religion, but it was surprising how many others did. I'm guessing 25% or more. This just seemed much different than past events of this kind that I have attended over the years. Is interest in religion more socially acceptable than it used to be among teenagers? If this is part of an actual trend, it's a welcome one.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Rights of the Fetus

Ryan Whittaker's blog, Vancouver Barefoot, has a nicely written post on the rights of the fetus. Thanks, Ryan!

I encountered Ryan's blog after his fascinating comments in a recent post of mine (the 7th comment), where he shares a remarkable story of a friend of his. (Her story is consistent with so many stories of people in and out of the Church who engage in family history work - there is something amazing going on.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Is Everybody Nuts?

The news is in: this will be a great year for retailers. Credit card use is up about 14% over last year, if I recall the news correctly. Spend, spend, spend, getting heavier into debt - is everybody nuts? With Iraq, Katrina, Rita, massive spending on all fronts, national and private debt out of control - the last thing we should be doing is spending like crazy. If ever there was a time to save and prepare for the future, this is it. But almost nobody is saving. This is a good time to listen to the prophets, live within your means, save aggressively, and prepare for the future. It doesn't take a prophet to see that rough times are ahead - now that we're so close.

So, have a merry but low-cost Christmas! And get out of debt.

Inside Fox Valley Lutheran High School, a Great Spiritual Thought

Over the main exit of Fox Valley Lutheran High School in my town of Appleton, Wisconsin, students get a daily reminder of what Christ asks us to do: become more like him, even "imitators" or followers of God. Great idea! Who does your local school hold up as the role model for your kids? I see pop stars and other unsavory figures glorified in these parts. Sorry, I think Fox Valley Lutheran has the better idea.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Mick Jagger on the Impact of Modern Music

Elder Gene R. Cook reports that he once had the experience of talking with Mick Jagger on a flight. One source providing his story is "A Conversation With Mick Jagger" based on a talk Elder Cook gave in 1988. One portion of this story was repeated to us in a recent Stake Conference:
After we visited back and forth a minute or two about what we were doing and all, I finally said something like, "You know, Mick, I have a question for you that I'd like you to answer for me." He said, "Well, I'll be glad to try." Then I said to him, "I have opportunity to be with young people in many different places around the world, and some of them have told me that the kind of music you and others like you sing has no effect on them, that it's okay, and that it doesn't affect them adversely in any way. Then other young people have told me very honestly that your kind of music has a real effect on them for evil and that it affects them in a very bad way. You've been in this business a long time, Mick. I'd like to know your opinion. What do you think is the impact of your music on the young people?"

This is a direct quote, brothers and sisters. He said, "Our music is calculated to drive the kids to sex." I'm sure I had a real look of shock on my face in receiving such a bold response. He quickly added, "Well, it's not my fault what they do. That's up to them. I'm just making a lot of money."
I knew there was something about him that wasn't quite up to Gospel standards.

I ran into this story shortly after pondering the shocking state of the media these days, and the craftiness of the Hollywood gang in glorifying immorality and teaching young people that anything goes. I think there is far more involved than just finding that sex sells. I would not be surprised to learn that they, like Mick, are pursuing an agenda of changing the morals of our youth, and of driving them to sexual activity. That agenda brings rich rewards, of course, if having had a pile of cash in your bank account for a few years is some kind of comfort as you enter into eternity.

2009 Update: There are some legitimate questions about details of this event, so I'm not sure what to make of it at the moment. Until we know more, I guess all I can say is rock on!

LDS Talent Show: Hmong Youth Dancing

During a talent show our ward held, some of the youth from the local Hmong branch (the Fox Cities Hmong Branch) performed some dances in their traditional Hmong attire. Very enjoyable! Having many Hmong members in Appleton adds a lot to the flavor and diversity of the Church here. Some of my best church-related experiences have been with the Hmong people. (Also some painful ones as well.)

More photographs of local Hmong people (including many LDS friends) are available on my photoalbum of the Hmong people in Wisconsin at Sanity Defense.

What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of having separate non-English speaking branches for immigrant groups in the US? They are often aimed at the adults, I should note, since the kids usually speak English well.  Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Temple and the Bible

"We have thought of thy loving-kindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple." (Ps. 48:9)

"One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple." (Ps. 27:4)

You can't read the Bible without repeatedly encountering the Temple as a focal point for worship. Many Christians are taught that it only mattered in Old Testament times and that we don't need it now that Christ has come, but this is surely a nonbiblical doctrine. The Temple was lost was important to Christ and to the early saints long after Christ had ascended to heaven. Consider these passages:

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Matt. 21:12-13)

"And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein." (Matt. 23:21)

"And they [the early Christians], continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, . . ." (Acts 2:46)

"And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. " (Acts 5:42)

"Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them." (Acts. 21:20-26)
Further, prophecies in the Bible show that the Temple would play an important role art of the Lord's work in the "last days" before the Second Coming of the Lord and would still be important after His return during the great Millennium:
"And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." (Isaiah 2:2)

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap. . . ." (Malachi 3:1-2)

"Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Ezek. 37:26-27)

"Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them." (Rev. 7:15 - a description of the Millennium)
After the loss of prophetic leadership and the loss of many covenants and sacred teachings in the Church through the process that we call the Apostasy, the mainstream Christian world found themselves without a temple and without a knowledge of the "mysteries" and sacred covenants and rituals from earliest Christianity whose details were not written down for the consumption of non-believers. Many have sought to justify the loss of a temple or to make it a metaphorical or spiritual entity, but the scriptures seem to call for the real thing in the last days. The covenant people will have the house of covenants, the Temple, and it will serve as a focal point for the gathering of people around the world, a source of wisdom and learning, a place to which the Messiah will return, and a place where the saints will serve God night and day in the Millennium. Where is the Temple of God? It has been restored through divine revelation and the ministry of angels through the prophet Joseph Smith. To those of you outside the Church, I hope you will recognize the significance of the ancient Temple concept that has been restored in these latter days: you are seeing Biblical prophecy fulfilled as part of God's great and marvelous work in these last days, when He is bringing about the promised "restitution of all things" (Acts 3:21). Where else can you find the Lord's Temple?

(I provide some additional information and answer some common anti-Mormon allegations about the Temple on my Mormon Answers (LDSFAQ) page about the LDS Temple and Masonry.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Practical Applications of Evolution

In my recent post on butterflies and intelligent design, one commenter questioned how one might apply the principles of evolution in one's life. While evolution might not be helpful for some aspects of modern life, it may have many practical and even profound implications for the economy. For example, if random mutations and natural selection actually were sufficient to bring about the many structures and systems that appear to be the result of brilliant engineering, then we should not be surprised to find major industries applying these same principles. For example, have you noticed how many defects crop up in many American-made automobiles and other products? I suspect that they are there on purpose, giving you a chance to approve or reject a mutation that is just part of a grand scheme leading toward ever better performance. This also explains why so many manufacturers prefer to lay-off skilled workers and replace them with the uneducated: this means more mutations introduced into products, allowing more opportunities for major advances.

Software manufacturers are perhaps the best examples of evolution at work. For example, would you be surprised to learn that Microsoft actually doesn't use any programmers at all, but simple uses evolution to produce all of its software? At least that's what one key source has reported. Rather than hiring expensive and ungrateful programmers, they take basic software and allow it to mutate over and over by copying it back and forth to defective hard disks that cause random bits to be flipped, skipped, or chipped. The mutated software is then automatically tested to eliminate programs that can't run at all, and then the programs that might be functional are given to beta testers to see what they do. Potential winners are then shipped to customers, all of whom are unwitting beta testers. This explains why so many "updates" lack previous features and have new bugs and other fatal flaws. But it's a small price to pay for evolutionary advance that ultimately might just lead to software that actually seems like some kind of intelligence was behind its design.

See? Makes sense to me.

The Loss of Prophetic Gifts and the Closing of the Canon

Chapter 2 of Barry Bickmore's Restoring the Ancient Church has a good discussion about the Apostasy and the dramatic changes in Christianity that occurred after the loss of apostles and prophets. Part of his discussion covers the Montanist controversy. No, this wasn't about one of our least populated states, but about a man named Montanus in the second century who claimed to have prophetic gifts. He and his two prophetess consorts created quite a controversy and gained some notable followers like Tertullian. A key thing was the recognition that prophetic gifts had been lost in the main body of the Church, and this was troubling since they were clearly present in the earlier days of the Church, and the Apostle Paul had written that such gifts and offices were meant to endure (see Ephesians 4:11-14, for example, or other passages on spiritual gifts). Here is a passage from Bickmore on this topic that connects the Montanist controversy with the closing of the canon (I have deleted the many footnotes - please see Bickmore's book for those):
What was the Church to do? The leaders realized that they should have the prophetic gifts, and those of the Montanists were clearly counter to the rule of the Church, but they had nothing to exhibit in their place. It should be noted here that instead of resolving the conflict through revelation, as the Apostolic Church did, the Catholics were forced to hold councils to put down this heresy. Indeed, J.G. Davies reports that the first councils or synods known in Christian history were the result of the Montanist controversy.

By the fourth century, as we saw with the example of Eusebius, the churchmen still realized that the gifts were essential for any claim to spiritual authority, but contented themselves with tracing the gifts as far as they could in the Catholic tradition and then announcing that they were no longer needed.

The Closing of the Canon of Scripture

As a result of the Montanist controversy, the Church was forced to face the fact that the gifts were essentially gone. And in order to deal with that fact they were compelled to do an about-face on the issue of the canon of scripture.

As was mentioned above, modern Christians are adamant that they have a Bible and there can be no more Bible. But was this always the case? Bishop Wand discloses that the canon was not closed by divine decree, but out of the necessity to combat the Montanist heresy. "The best defense set up by the Church against such conversions [as Tertullian's] was to close the canon of scripture, and by so doing to deny any authority to the Montanist prophecies." In this way "the possibility of a new revelation was excluded . . . ."

But it never occurred to anyone to close the canon until nearly the third century! Historian Willem Van Unnik notes that until that time the Christians would have had no objection whatever to "someone . . . add[ing] something to the word of the Gospel." The very existence of a document such as the Shepherd of Hermas shows that the possibility of a new word of revelation was nothing to be wondered at. The Shepherd, which purports to be a series of revelations given to one other than the Apostles or their associates in the first half of the second century, hovered on the edge of the canon for centuries. Indeed, included in the Shepherd is a series of mandates which Hermas was commanded to write for the benefit of all who might read them.

Andrie B. du Toit, Professor of New Testament at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, explains that before the middle of the second century the "oral tradition was used alongside and even preferred to the Gospels." Even in the latter half of the second century, Clement of Alexandria could report that "the first elders . . . preferred to speak the truth rather than write it down."105 Therefore, while there was always a set of authoritative texts, the idea that the canon was forever fixed, or that the prophetic word was only to be found in a certain set of written works, was foreign to the first Christians.

Mainstream Christians, especially Protestants, often counter Mormon arguments on this point by citing a statement near the end of John's Revelation:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)

Since Revelation is placed last in the New Testament, many assume that this is an official proclamation that the canon was to be closed. However, apart from the fact that Revelation may not have been the last New Testament book written by John, it should be pointed out that the New Testament canon was not even established at that time. It would be centuries before a final list of canonical books was agreed upon. Another fact that must be taken into account is that the Lord made an identical proclamation through Moses: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (Deuteronomy 4:2) Were all the prophetic books written after the Law of Moses false? Jesus took away certain commandments of the Law, so was he just another false prophet? The answer, of course is that Jesus was God, and God can add or take away whatever He wants from His word. True prophets and Apostles speak for God, so their writings can be added to God's word, as well.
The canon was never meant to be closed. Mainstream Christianity today is adamant that the canon being closed and that prophets and apostles are no longer being needed. These positions are, sadly, inconsistent with original Christianity and are strong evidence that something vital has been lost from the early Church. While much good has been preserved in mainstream Christianity, we are happy to report that something wonderful has been restored. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have all the answers, but we have some of them that have been given by revelation to modern prophets and apostles having authority from God that was restored through divine action in these last days.

Restoring the Ancient Church: Great Read

I've mentioned this before, but wish to remind you all: Barry Bickmore's excellent book, Restoring the Ancient Church, is available online at FAIRLDS.org. It explores the early Christian connections to LDS teachings, supporting the concept of the Restoration. A rich source of information!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Was It Just a Coincidence, or Design? News from Nature.com

I received news from Nature.com this week that featured two articles side by side using design in the headlines. One article, shown on the right in the image below, criticizes the theory of Intelligent Design. The other article on the left, "Butterflies shine brighter by design," discusses the incredibly sophisticated optics built into butterfly wings. It's hard to read that article and not appreciate the intelligent design (that somehow evolved by chance?) in butterflies. Apparently two different editors were involved for this news release, resulting in an interesting mixed message. Or did this occur by design?

See also Butterfly Wings Share Light Tricks with TV.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Semitic Play on Words in the Book of Mormon: The Rod of Iron as the Word of God

"What Meaneth the Rod of Iron" is a short note on page 2 a 2005 FARMS publication, Insights (Vol. 25, No. 2). Here Matthew Bowen builds upon previous work by John Tvedtnes and Hugh Nibley, who showed how the Book of Mormon's use of the rod as "the word of God" is consistent with evidence from the ancient Near East. Matthew Bowen further shows that consideration of Hebrew and especially the related Egyptian terms points to a clever word play in Nephi's writings, with very similar words probably being used in his Semitic text for both "word" and "rod" in 1 Nephi 11:25 and 1 Nephi 15:23-24. That this relationship between "rod" and "word" might be more than just a lucky accident is strongly suggested in 1 Nephi 17:26 and 29 when Nephi refers to well known events in the Torah dealing with the rod or staff of Moses, but replaces the word "rod" with "word":
26 Now ye know that Moses was commanded of the Lord to do that great work; and ye know that by his word the waters of the Red Sea were divided hither and thither, and they passed through on dry ground. . . .

29 Yea, and ye also know that Moses, by his word according to the power of God which was in him, smote the rock, and there came forth water, that the children of Israel might quench their thirst.
The deliberate word play is also suggested in 1 Nephi 15:24, where Nephi, after mentioning the rod of iron, tells us to "hold fast" to the word of God - something easily done with a rod but not with a word.

Today we can appreciate this wordplay, knowing that a single Egyptian word, mdw, meant both rod and word, and that it was closely related to the Hebrew terms for these concepts. (Recall, of course, that Nephi and other Nephite writers were influenced by both Egyptian and Hebrew - see 1 Nephi 1:2 and Mormon 9:32-33). As Matthew Bowen points out, Joseph Smith in 1829 could not have known any of this. Is the apparent Semitic wordplay with "rod" and "word" just another lucky coincidence for the Book of Mormon, like rich and artistic chiasmus and numerous other Hebraisms?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

James Allen Responds to Grant Palmer

James B. Allen has written an interesting review of Grant Palmer's recent attack on the foundations of the Church. The review, "Asked and Answered: A Response to Grant H. Palmer" is available in the latest FARMS Review of Books. Ooops - did I say attack? Grant Palmer isn't out to attack the Church, just to strengthen our faith and advance our understanding by arguing that Joseph Smith was a fraud, the Book of Mormon is fiction, and the miracles of the Restoration never occurred. Say, did any of you fellow Brighton High graduates know him when he was acting in the capacity of a seemingly faithful employee of the Church before he retired?

Another review of Palmer's work is that of Louis Midgley, "Prying into Palmer: Review of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins." Midgley provides much more detail regarding the outrageous claim that Joseph Smith relied upon E.T.A. Hoffmann's fairy tale, The Golden Pot.

Another review I recommend is "Trustworthy History?" by Steven C. Harper. See, for example, his section on the Restoration. Part of Palmer's spin is his claim that Joseph was silent about the ministry of angels until after 1834, when he came up with the idea as a response to anti-Mormon attacks in order to add more divine trappings to his scheme. To reach this conclusion, Palmer must carefully ignore a number of documents in order to favor a couple documents from bitter men written decades later. However, there is a legitimate question: why was Joseph so bold in sharing his revelations, but often much more quiet about his miraculous and sacred experiences such as seeing the Father and the Son, or having the ministry of angels? Since there is plenty of evidence that such things were shared and known by others well before 1834, an explanation much more reasonable than Palmer's is that of RIchard Bushman. Here is the relevant excerpt from Harper (footnotes omitted - see the article for details):
It is well attested that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery both testified early and often that angels ordained them to the holy priesthood. Why, though, the question remains, did Joseph Smith seem to publicly proclaim his written revelations and safeguard his visions, including details of priesthood restoration?

John Wigger's influential book Taking Heaven by Storm shows how early Methodism gained converts in great numbers by acknowledging popular spiritual experiences and in appealing to the longings of ordinary people. As America and Methodism became more middle class, however, revelatory experiences became suspect. Samuel Goodrich described this process tersely by saying that "orthodoxy was in a considerable degree methodized, and Methodism in due time became orthodoxed."

Informed by this larger history, Richard Bushman argues that perhaps Joseph chose not to trumpet his heavenly visions as he did his printed revelations for fear of being marginalized even more. This view finds support in Joseph's own accounts and other early documents. He reported relating his first vision to an influential minister, following which he was persecuted, "but all this did not destroy the reality of his vision" (Joseph Smith-History 1:24). He explained that he and Cowdery "were forced to keep secret the circumstances of our having been baptized, and having received this priesthood; owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood." In particular, they "had been threatened with being mobbed." Martin Harris said at least one Palmyra man threatened Joseph Smith with violence in 1827 for claiming that "angels appear to men in this enlightened age." Bushman, the most informed scholar on Joseph Smith's world, thus offers an explanation alternative to Palmer for Joseph's apparent reticence to speak casually about ministering angels. This reading of the evidence is far more compelling than Palmer's exaggerated hermeneutic of suspicion.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Whisperings of the Spirit

A friend of mine from India shared with me a spiritual experience similar to one we had this year. It involved a premonition about the need to go visit his ill father in India, followed by making arrangements for his wife to go there on a separate trip. The timing worked out wonderfully, although the trip was planned many months in advance. It allowed him to spend precious time with his father before he died, and then allowed his wife to be there during the funeral in order to provide significant assistance and comfort to his mother. He felt that having these premonitions was evidence of a Supreme Being who cares for us, and I agree.

He then quoted an old sage who wrote in Sanskrit something to the effect that when we become more cunning and devious, we have a harder time hearing and responding to these promptings. And I agree.

We both recognized that while this mortal existence is filled with trouble and pain, beyond it all is a purpose and hope that is brought by a Supreme Being who cares for us and help us through this journey, if we will free ourselves from the deafening cares of the world and listen. People of many faiths have reached this conclusion - a testimony to the universal love of God and the strivings of the Spirit of God to bless our lives, if we will listen.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Beating an Extinct Horse?

In several of my recent posts, references to interesting evidences in favor of Book of Mormon plausibility often elicit questions about horses, among other things. The mention of horses in the Book of Mormon is one of the more challenging issues for the Book of Mormon since scientists generally believe that horses in the Americas were extinct by Book of Mormon times. LDS folks have suggested that pockets of horses as well as mastodons could have been survived into Book of Mormon times, but there is little evidence for this. And I mean that: there may be a little evidence for that, but it's not a solid case. However, it's important to consider what the evidence actually is (yes, there are reports of actual non-fossilized horse remains apparently from pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica and elsewhere, opening the possibility that actual horses were present during Olmec or early Mayan times). We should also consider the possibility that a different species than the modern horse may have been meant. Just as Europeans called the hippo a "river horse" when they saw it, it's possible that Nephites used a Hebrew term for horse to describe a native species that could run and jump. Before you get into mocking mode, please read the interesting and well documented discussion on these issues in a book review by Daniel Peterson and Matthew Roper on Stan Larson's Quest for the Gold Plates. Search for the second occurrence of the word "horse" in that article and begin reading there until the header "Metals." Actually, please read the whole article - a very helpful one in dealing with several objections to the Book of Mormon.

Businesses: Lift Your Stock with Philanthropy?

In a Salt Lake Tribune interview with Paul Godfrey of the BYU Marriott School of Management, Paul stated that companies that actively donate to charitable causes tend to reap benefits in their stock price. Here's an excerpt:
Philanthropy is a way for companies to build goodwill in the community, showing a willingness by a company to become involved in community life and helping the firm build a reputation for doing good things. When bad things happen - accidents, lawsuits, plant closings - philanthropic firms can draw on that goodwill to mitigate the anger and punishment some critics would heap on the firm. Thus, philanthropy is a type of insurance. . . .

I have done a large study of more than 150 companies and found solid evidence that, when bad things happen, firms active in philanthropy experience less damage to their stock price than firms that don't give.
I like the point that Paul Godfrey is making. Maybe Corporate tithes bring some of the blessings that tithe payers experience? Different mechanisms are at play, of course (or so I think).

Thanks to John Tvedtnes for the tip.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Bible, a Bible, an Inerrant Bible - But Which Bible?

Many people who reject the Book of Mormon insist that there is no need for additional scripture or revelation from God, since the modern Bible is perfect, inerrant, and complete. One anti-Mormon ministry mocks the passages in the Book of Mormon where its authors apologize for the possibility of human error in their work, arguing that God doesn't make mistakes (yes, He's perfect, but human authors, scribes, translators, and publishers have not yet reached that level). The Bible, we are told, is absolutely free from error - and nothing more is needed.

To those who fulfill Book of Mormon prophecy by saying that they already have a Bible and need nothing more, I would first like to ask, "Which Bible?" Might it be the Armenian Bible, which includes books such as Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles? Will it be the Catholic Bible with its many apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles? Perhaps we should use one of two versions of the Ethiopic Bible (the narrower or wider canon) with several books not familiar to most Christians?

But even if we agree upon a given collection of books, such as the standard collections in Protestant Bibles, we must then consider the problem of translations and again ask, "Which Bible?"

In a lesson the other night, just for fun, I handed out several Bible translations and asked participants to read 1 Samuel 13:1. Here are some of the results:

1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,

New International Version:
1. Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.

New English Bible:
1. Saul was fifty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.

Contemporary English Version:
1. Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.

The Jerusalem Bible:
1. . . . [yes, the entire verse is missing, with just an ellipsis showing]

New Revised Standard Version (here it is the same as the Revised Standard Version):
1. Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.

Good News Bible:
[The verse is missing: chapter 13 begins with verse 2. Someone has subtracted yet another verse from scripture!]

You can see a few other translations at Bible.cc.

So what's going on? As is explained in a footnote in some editions, the available Hebrew text for this verse is missing a couple words. The first number is missing entirely, and in the second number, it's clear that it ends with a two but the first digit is unknown. I like the way the Revised Standard Version puts it: "Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel." Other translators made guesses, it seems, to fill in the blanks.

What's important here is not the fact that the translations differ and involved some degree of guesswork - but that the available Hebrew text itself clearly has problems. How can anyone maintain that it has been preserved without error, without any loss or corruption, when there are many examples like 1 Samuel 13:1 that clearly show corruption of the text, and even the loss of entire words?

True, this verse is not a heavy one in terms of doctrine. But if your rejection of sacred scripture from God in modern times (like the Book of Mormon) is based on the non-Biblical notion that the Bible is complete and perfect, and that no further guidance from God is needed (nor will it be accepted, thank you), then you really need to reconsider your position.

As wonderful as the Bible is, it is not perfect, it is not free from errors, it is not the final authority on all issues: God is! And when we remember that, we might remember that God has never said that He will quit speaking to us. We might realize that it's possible that God can send prophets and new revelation and new scripture just as He did in the past (like the New Testament - all new scripture to a people who thought they already had the complete word of God). I hope we'll be open-minded enough to read and ponder the message of The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ - a second witness that verifies the most vital truths of the Bible and confirms the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Wine and Honey in Mesoamerica

Tonight while looking through Friar Diego de Landa's writings about his experiences in Mesoamerica during the Conquest, I found an interesting observation:
The Indians are very dissolute in drinking and becoming intoxicated, and many ills follow their excesses this way. . . . Their wine they make of honey and water and the root of a certain tree they grow for the purpose. . . .(
It's just an interesting tidbit given that some anti-Mormons have criticized the Book of Mormon for its references to wine and to honey bees, stating that these things were not known in the Americas before Europeans brought them. While the bees issue is rather silly since the text only mentions them in an Old World context, it is nevertheless interesting to see de Landa providing his first-person observation of a wine made in part from honey as a significant part of Native American culture in Mesoamerica.

The quote comes from page 35 of Friar Diego de Landa, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, translated by William Gates (New York: Dover Books, 1978), originally published as Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566, first published in English in 1937 as Publication No. 20 of the Maya Society, Baltimore.

Nov. 26 update: It's a tangential issue, but one reader sent me a note about the recent excavation of an ancient beer brewery in Peru. Corn and berries were apparently used in the brew. For those of you interested in the role of alcohol in the ancient Americas, this may be quite interesting.

Questions for Fellow Christians to Consider: Why Would God Stop Communicating with Man?

Have you ever wondered why God regularly spoke to prophets in ancient times but (allegedly) has stopped doing so in our day? This question is central to an interesting dialog reported by an LDS Apostle, Hugh B. Brown, in "Profile of a Prophet" from the Oct. 1967 General Conference. The dialog was held with "a very prominent English gentleman, a member of the House of Commons and formerly one of the justices of the supreme court of Britain." The man was puzzled how any intelligent person could believe something so ludicrous as the story of Joseph Smith. Since both had legal backgrounds, they agreed to something of a legal approach to the matter. Here is an excerpt:
Because of time limitations, I can only give a condensed or abbreviated synopsis of the three-hour conversation that followed. I began by asking, "May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?"

"I am."

"I assume that you believe in the Bible -- the Old and New Testaments?"

"I do!"

"Do you believe in prayer?"

"I do!"

"You say that my belief that God spoke to a man in this age is fantastic and absurd?"

"To me it is."

"Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?"

"Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that."

"Did he speak to Adam?"


"To Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, and to others of the prophets?"

"I believe he spoke to each of them."

"Do you believe that contact between God and man ceased when Jesus appeared on the earth?"

"Certainly not. Such communication reached its climax, its apex at that time."

"Do you believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God?"

"He was."

"Do you believe, sir, that after the resurrection of Christ, God ever spoke to any man?"

He thought for a moment and then said, "I remember one Saul of Tarsus who was going down to Damascus to persecute the saints and who had a vision, was stricken blind, in fact, and heard a voice."

"Whose voice did he hear?"

"Well," he said, "the voice said 'I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.'"

"Do you believe that actually took place?"

"I do."

"Then, my Lord" -- that is the way we address judges in the British commonwealth -- "my Lord, I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to men."

"I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era."

"Why do you think it stopped?"

"I can't say."

"You think that God hasn't spoken since then?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"May I suggest some possible reasons why he has not spoken. Perhaps it is because he cannot. He has lost the power."

He said, "Of course that would be blasphemous."

"Well, then, if you don't accept that, perhaps he doesn't speak to men because he doesn't love us anymore. He is no longer interested in the affairs of men."

"No," he said, "God loves all men, and he is no respecter of persons."

"Well, then, if you don't accept that he loves us, then the only other possible answer as I see it is that we don't need him. We have made such rapid strides in education and science that we don't need God any more."

And then he said, and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war, "Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why he doesn't speak."

My answer was, "He does speak, he has spoken; but men need faith to hear him."
The two then discussed the characteristics that one might expect a modern prophet to have, and Elder Brown then explained how those apply to Joseph Smith. Concluding, Elder Brown wrote:
I said to my friend, "My Lord, I cannot understand your saying to me that my claims are fantastic. Nor can I understand why Christians who claim to believe in Christ would persecute and put to death a man whose whole purpose was to prove the truth of the things they themselves were teaching, namely, that Jesus is the Christ. I could understand their persecuting Joseph if he had said, 'I am Christ,' or if he had said, 'There is no Christ,' or if he had said someone else is Christ; then Christians believing in Christ would be justified in opposing him. . . . Joseph said to the Christians of his day, 'You claim to believe in Jesus Christ. I testify that I saw him and I talked with him. He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. Why persecute me for that?'

"When Joseph came out of the woods where he had this vision, he had learned at least four fundamental truths, and he announced them to the world: first, that the Father and the Son are separate and distinct individuals; second, that the canon of scripture is not complete; third, that man was actually created in the image of God; and fourth, that the channel of communication between earth and heaven is open, and revelation is continuous."

The judge sat and listened intently. He asked some very pointed and searching questions, and at the end of the interview he said, "Mr. Brown, I wonder if your people appreciate the import of your message. Do you?" He said, "If what you have told me is true, it is the greatest message that has come to earth since the angels announced the birth of Christ."

This was a learned judge speaking, a great statesman, an intelligent man. He threw out the challenge, "Do you appreciate the import of what you say?" He added: "I wish it were true. I hope it may be true. God knows it ought to be true. I would to God," he said, his voice trembling, "that some man would appear on the earth and authoritatively say, 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
The role of prophets and apostles was clearly meant to endure in the Church of Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 4:11-14), as well as prophetic gifts. When mainstream churches today declare that there is no longer a need for prophets, I can understand their desire to justify themselves, but such a statement flies in the face of the Bible and utterly defies logic. How great is our need to hear the voice of the Lord, to receive divine counsel through His prophets in our day. Prophets have been called, God does speak, but as in days of old, faith is required on our part to hear the word of the Lord. Ignore it if you will, but God's work has not stopped, His means of speaking has not changed, and His words have not ceased. How grateful I am for the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including the ancient offices of prophets and apostles appointed by God and divinely authorized to lead His Church.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Another Scientist Takes on Southerton's Inadequate Science

A new edition of FARMS Review of Books is out. If you are a subscriber, you can read an article of great value in the current DNA debates: "Missing the Boat to Ancient America . . . Just Plain Missing the Boat " by Ryan Parr. This is a review of Simon Southerton's Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church.

Dr. Parr has a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Utah and is currently vice president of Research and Development at Genesis Genomics, a Canadian biotech company exploring the use of mitochondrial DNA for the early detection of prostate and breast cancer. He has authored and coauthored mitochondrial DNA studies of Native Americans, specializing in ancient DNA.

Dr. Parr clearly shows the inadequacy of Southerton's attacks on the Book of Mormon and the scientific likelihood that genetic traces of an individual or small group will be lost in time when there are larger population groups present. See a simulation of the propagation of genes in his Figure 3: "In general, if eighteen unique mtDNA, or Y chromosome 'names' are followed through time, by the twentieth generation, only two names will have survived. John C. Avise, Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution, 2nd ed. (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer, 2004), 144 fig. 4.9." He also discusses some of the scientific evidence of ancient sailing and transoceanic contact that Southerton overlooks in his efforts to assign the origins of all ancient Americans to Bering Strait migrations.

Parr suggests that Southerton would do well to consider Henry Eyring's perspective:
I have trouble understanding why people drift away from the Church. . . . There are all kinds of contradictions that I don't understand, but I find the same kind of contradictions in science, and I haven't decided to apostatize from science.
Here is Parr's conclusion:
Nothing within the Book of Mormon precludes an Asian ancestry for Native Americans, nor is there any reason to believe that these same people, given geographic constraints, were not part of the events described therein. There are no "chapter-and-verse" genetic requirements for any of these groups, nor should we expect any. This does not mean that genetic markers of an ancient Near Eastern origin will never be found in the genetic record of Native Americans; however, there are compelling reasons to accept their absence. There will always be those who must have every detail before them prior to any acceptance of truth. This view always generates a cascade of doubt that ends in an appeal to the secular judge of science; however, in this particular instance, the insistence that the presence of small groups from the ancient Near East must absolutely be present in the current genetic record of Native Americans, as a means of testing the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, is an unrealistic expectation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Drummer for a Christian Rock Band Now Marches to a Different Beat

In our recent Stake Conference, we heard from a local man who used to be a drummer in a Christian rock band, and has long been a big fun of rap and heavy metal. He has made many personal sacrifices to join the Church and live the covenants of the Gospel more fully, including his recent personal efforts to enhance his musical preferences. What caught my ear especially was his story of coming to a family gathering to find the box of an anti-Mormon video on his parent's kitchen table. They and others in his family then confronted him, blasting at Latter-day Saint religion with numerous arguments that he as a fresh new convert was not prepared to rebut. This grilling went on for about six hours, and he was given a choice: he had to choose between his family and Mormonism. Well, he's done his best to accept both, but his experience is too familiar to many LDS converts, especially when friends and relatives are stirred up in a frenzy of anger by the distortions of typical anti-Mormon literature and videos. It's so sad how something so wholesome can be reviled and made to seem so evil.

If people would attend a few LDS meetings, they might be able to see through some of the revolting propaganda that is put out in a number of popular works about the Mormons. They would see that we do believe in Christ as our Savior, teach wholesome values, worship God, and rarely if ever conspire to take over the world (I'd be happy if we could just get New Jersey).

Another friend of mine in this area has received a great deal of grief from her family about joining the Church. One weekend she went to her mother's house to find her mother intently watching General Conference on the local community channel. Her mother, impressed with the speakers but not knowing that she was listening to Mormons, told her LDS daughter that she ought to be listening to preachers like those men on the television instead of the Mormons. When the daughter quietly pointed out that they were Mormons, the mother just turned off the TV and changed the subject. That didn't end the religious misunderstandings, but it does illustrate one important point: before you believe some of the things people say we do and teach, it might be helpful to drop by or tune in and see for yourself. Mormon.org has a feature to help you find LDS meetings in your area. Give it a try!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews: A Source for the Book of Mormon

L. Ara Norwood's book review, " Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon at FARMS (FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1990, pp. 187-204) deals with one of the most significant anti-Mormon efforts to explain the Book of Mormon. His review of David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon discusses both strengths and weaknesses of Persuitte's approach. It also shows that Persuitte's analysis, even if unchallenged, at best accounts for less than 5% of the verses in the Book of Mormon. Further, the scattered parallels Pursuitte points to do nothing to explain away numerous elements pointing to ancient origins (things like chiasmus, Hebraisms, the accurate details from the Arabian peninsula, etc.).

Parallels between unrelated books are easier to find than you might think. I believe that the parallels between the Book of Mormon and Walt Whitmans's The Leaves of Grass are more impressive than anything you'll find by reading View of the Hebrews, but that is due entirely to chance since Whitman's work came long after the Book of Mormon and obviously was not influenced by it (no, don't try to craft an argument that Whitman was secretly collaborating with Mormons to account for these chance parallels!). The finding of parallels by itself means very little. (For additional discussion on proposed origins for the Book of Mormon, see my Mormon Answers page on Joseph Smith and alleged plagiarism.)

Less than 5% of the Book of Mormon "related" to View of the Hebrews? I bet if I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and worked hard enough, I could find 7% to be "related" to Whitman. But that's a 7% solution you don't want to drink.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Hope for Those Demented Mormon Elders

A friend of mine who works with intellectual property called my attention to a Japanese patent application that he felt might be helpful for Mormon missionaries and other Elders in the Church. The patent is an international application listed as WO 2005/049059A1, "Perfume for Improving the Behavior of Demented Elders." Well, if it works, it could come in handy for those occasional problem missionaries. Come to think of it, maybe all elders and high priests should use this concoction -- after all, we're all demented according to some experts.

Here is the abstract from the application:
The present invention provides a technique for enhancing the emotion, consciousness and volition of demented elders more simply and safely and improving their behavior. A perfume for improving the behavior of demented elders is disclosed which contains an essential oil(s) derived from one or more plants selected from the group consisting of cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), jasmine (Jasminum officinale var. grandiflorum) and peppermint (Mentha piperita var. vulgaris).
Well, I'm willing to try this. Many thanks to the fine inventors at Takasago International of Japan. Just one more example of what can be achieved by cultural alliances that transcend religious and national boundaries.

Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

Michael Ash's recent article at FAIRLDS.org, "Archaeological Evidence and the Book of Mormon," provides a healthy perspective on where we stand. He discusses the relative states of archaeological discovery pertinent to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and the unique challenges in understanding the complex ancient world of Mesoamerica. He also briefly mentions some of the interesting recent developments that should be taken into account. And as always, expecting archaeology to eliminate the need faith for either the Bible or the Book of Mormon makes little sense.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Culture War in America: The Need for Cultural Alliances with Those of Other Faiths

"The State of American Culture and What You Can Do About It" is a powerful speech by Judge Justice Robert Bork that has been reprinted in Meridian Magazine. He makes excellent points about the elitist "Olympians" that seek to reshape our society according to their socialistic, atheistic agenda, guided by an almost paranoid fear of religion. I highly recommend reading his essay.

In addressing what can be done, one of his suggestions calls for cultural alliances between religious groups:
It will be important to make cultural alliances across religious lines. Orthodox Mormons, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have more in common on cultural matters than they do with liberal members of their own faiths. Such alliances do not require joining into one organization; they do require close cooperation between cultural conservatives of all faiths and persons of no faith in the battles that lie ahead.
When it comes to defending the Constitution, I dare say that religious bigotry among conservatives will only help our surrender to the revolution of the Left. In one dramatic example, I am aware of one significant organization fighting to support the Constitution that is about to fall about at the seems due to internal religious bigotry. I may have some interesting information to share about the details in the near future.

Our fellow Christians who rage against Mormons sometimes do much more harm than they realize. The spirit behind anti-Mormonism is so clearly not from God. If I knew nothing of the Church, merely observing the antics and hostility of the anti-Mormon crowd might well raise questions in my mind about whose side those people were on - and I'm not just talking about the extreme examples of the street preachers who wave underwear in the faces of people trying to approach Temple Square in Salt Lake.

There is a culture war going on, and all of us who care about it need to work together to oppose the destructive trends that are shaking our society.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Catholic Schoolgirls and Science

"Catholic Schoolgirls Unravel DNA" from Wired.com is a positive story about a group of Catholics doing amazing things to advance scientific education. Though rare, it's always nice to see the media having something positive to say about a religious group.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Myths About Mental Illness

I was impressed with Elder Alexander B. Morrison's article, "Myths about Mental Illness," in the October Ensign. His comments make a lot of sense based on my interactions with some amazing and wonderful Latter-day Saints who have struggled with mental illness caused by a variety of factors. As a Church, we have a lot of progress to make in better ministering to and helping those who struggle with such challenges. Getting rid of some common myths is a first step.

Previously, I have made my own suggestions for Church leaders regarding mental illness. I welcome further suggestions and ideas.

The most important thing here is working better to help our brothers and sisters in the Church who suffer with illnesses and disabilities of all kinds. Very few of us are completely whole - in fact, we may all need some compassion and help as we face illnesses of various kinds in our lives. Let's be better prepared to help.

As a secondary issue and in all seriousness - I don't mean this as a jab at anybody - I think we also need to recognize signs of mental illness in some (a minority!) of the self-proclaimed enemies we may deal with. When we understand that someone's extreme hostility may be an expression of a deeper issue, such as past child abuse or a chemical imbalance, rather than merely a theological disagreement or a logical response to concerns about Mormonism, then we may realize that engaging in debate is futile, and may be able to reach out to the person or help them in other ways. (For example, I for one have been too quick to engage in debate with others when it was the wrong thing or wrong time for that person. Sometimes silence, a change of topic, compassion, or even a good meal are much better alternatives.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Challenge of Being Modest in an Immodest Culture

Sometimes Mormon parents and youth feel rather alone when dealing with the immodest standards of the world, but this is an illusion. There are many parents and many young people of other faiths who are disturbed by the trends in our culture and who are looking for ways to maintain high standards. I think many of them also feel rather alone. We ought to get together and collaborate a little more. Here's an article from Rebecca Hagelin about her quest to help her daughter be modest. She was surprised to learn how many others share her views.