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

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Mormons and Fear: Introducing One of Our Favorite Fearmongers

In the comments on a recent post here at Mormanity, one of our critics stated that the Mormon concept of accessing the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship that involves seeking to follow Christ and keep His commandments causes us to live a life of fear. It's a common objection from some Protestants who may see things quite differently than we do, but I think it is based on possible misunderstanding. My semi-serious offering here won't solve the perpetual gap between widely divergent approaches to interpreting the scriptures, but might at least offer another perspective for those interested in understanding the LDS faith.

For those who have heard that Mormons live in fear, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian fearmongers, in fact, an early Christian fearmonger whose words rightly caused the great Apostle Peter to feel concerned. Indeed, Peter warned that this particular man wrote things that confused many people about the Gospel, for his writings contained "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). So with that caveat, recognizing that there may be risk in relying too heavily on his sometimes confusing words, allow me to introduce you to the fearmonger named Paul.

Here is some of his fearsome preaching in Hebrews 4:
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it....

9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.

10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.

11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
In other words, "Folks, be afraid, be very afraid, for you can fall and depart from the promised rest God offers to his people. So don't slack off, but labor diligently to enter into that rest, lest you fall."

Paul was big on fear. In Acts 13:26, he told his audience that "whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." And after his conversion, when he joined up with the Christians in Judea and neighboring regions, they were soon "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31). I bet it was his fault.

But plain old fear was not enough for Paul. He wanted something more dramatic, namely, fear and trembling. Wow. Thus, in Phil. 2:12, we have this extreme example of fear-based emphasis on obedience: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Read the words in bold out loud, slowly, and then ask yourself if this man could possibly be a Christian? It was no mistake--he used that same phrase in Eph. 6:5 and 2 Cor. 7:15. I know, I know, with all that talk of works, obedience, and fear, he has no more right to be called Christian than any Mormon does.

Naturally, I recognize such doctrine is a horrible departure from historic Christianity (here I use the generally accepted definition of "historic Christianity," namely, "that particular branch of Christianity that developed in a portion of northern Europe about 600 years ago"). But frankly, I still rather like the man. Guess it's my life of fear as a Mormon that helps me appreciate Paul's words.

So when Paul tells us to cleanse ourselves and seek "holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1), when he praises those who respond to his preaching with repentance and fear (2 Cor. 7:11), when he tells us to submit "in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21), when he encourages Church leaders to rebuke sinners so "that others also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:20), when he warns that willful sin will bring "a certain fearful looking" for the judgment of God (Heb. 10:27), and even says that it is a "fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:27), I'm willing to take his words with a grain of salt and, frankly, am still willing to accept him as a fellow Christian, in spite of Peter's warning about his words.

Peter, like many authentic early Christians, apparently had his own Mormonesque fear-based issues, as we see in 1 Peter 1:17: "And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear". Wow, Peter was also into that whole "fear God and obey him" Mormon-like thing. In fact, after warning his readers about Paul and the destruction that came upon some who misapplied Paul's words, he then tells them to "therefore ... beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:17). Beware, be afraid, lest ye fall and face destruction. Yep, Peter was something of a fearmonger himself.

But in the end, I know that both Peter and Paul also understood the love and grace of God. They both realized that we can fall from grace and depart from the living God (1 Cor. 10:12), and that we needed to endure to the end to receive the full blessings of grace (1 Peter 1:3-10, though Peter sounds way too Mormon there, so, uh, beware). So telling us to not slack off, to "fear" or respect God, and to have some healthy fear about the grim alternatives if we depart from Christ, all was actually intended as a kind, loving thing to help us.  I think their heart was in the right place, so I'm willing to give both of them a pass on this. Hope the rest of you will soften your hearts and give them a break as well.


Anonymous said...

Aw shucks....you wrote all of this because of me!? I feel honored.

Anonymous said...

But joking aside, you missed the point of my original criticism. Actually I don't think you did, because you are a smart guy, and I respect the lengths you go to research issues, etc. But I think you conveniently decided to ignore the point I have been trying to make about fear.

As Pierce and others know, I love Paul. But I don't think Paul is talking about the same kind of fear in the quotes you provided as the kind of fear I am talking about. Paul also talks about another kind of fear, and this is the fear of which I speak, and of which I claim Mormons suffer under.

In Romans 8:15, Paul says, "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons...."

And in I John 4:18, John says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

The kind of slavery Paul is talking about is the slavery to the demands of an impossible law. Striving to live what is impossible to live, knowing that your family ties into the eternities is dependent upon your keeping your covenants (covenants to live laws). This creates an atmosphere of crippling fear. You might not realize it, because your general authorities keep telling you to be happy! Why in the world do your religious leaders have to tell you to be happy? Isn't your gospel a happy thing?

I saw it in my own life as a Mormon, I felt this fear, and I see it in the lives of Mormons I love. Even Eyring said that families can be together, but this is depended upon the choices that each family member makes. Yikes! Is that a veiled threat, Henry?

Mormons have, by way of very solemn covenant, promised to live a law. They didn't promise to just TRY to do it. Spencer Kimball makes it clear in Miracle of Forgiveness that trying isn't enough. You promised to DO it. You have placed yourself under bondage to a law. Just like the Jews. James says you have to live it perfectly if you are going live it at all, or else you are damned by the law you have accepted.

I do not know how Mormons can experience hope and rest. I simply don't. Pierce can't even tell me at what point he will receive the promised grace he is looking for! But we do know Moroni has told him that he won't receive any grace until he has denied himself of all ungodliness.

So, Jeff, I know you have no ill intent, and I am not bothered or hurt by your slightly mocking tone, but I think you should know that you ARE mocking.

And what you are mocking is this: Jesus Christ died on a cross as a last blood sacrifice so that you do not have to live chasing a carrot on a stick. The cross took the stick and crushed it. And Christ is handing you the carrot right now. He is telling you that the Old Covenant is obsolete. He is your High Priest now. Not some mortal man in a business suit behind a desk.

The cross is foolishness and a stumblingblock indeed.

Anonymous said...

Flying fig, every thing before us, orboting kolob, give it a rest already.

There is a crisis going on in the world, humans flering war, and you critics keep on with the same old thing over and over ad nauseum.
And any one who claims to have been LDS and can't even relay correct LDS beliefs correctly is very suspect.

You people just want a fight all the time. No intent of any respectful dialogue, then accuse Jeff of mocking. Yeah right. You critics can sure dish it out but can't take it.

Why Jeff allows people like this to continually be rude and a host of other negative things too long to list, is puzzling. And Jeff was not mocking, just having a little fun. You critics have a huge chip on your shoulder. It shows because you can't tell mocking, which is what you do, from someone having a little fun to lighten things up.
How sad to have no sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

Well, if the crisis is really that bad right now that I can't make a comment on a website, maybe all the Mormon apologists should shut down their websites.

You want me, Flying Fig, and Orbiting to give it a rest because refugees are flooding into Europe. And when we are silent, what are you, Jeff, and Pierce going to do in the face of this global crisis? Continue to talk about Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon.

Come on! You know you need us to keep this place exciting.

Brian said...

Do not engage with fools. Fools have no interest in advancing knowledge or resolving anything. Fools pound away at their own preferred version of reality and ignore or disdain anything that contradicts this. Fools enjoy inciting dissension and contention and no amount of reason or appeals to decency will avail against them. Fools should be ignored.

Ardis said...

I suppose those of us living as active, believing Mormons are batter judges than outsiders, even those outsiders who claim to have tried and failed to live a Mormon life, of whether or not we live in fear.

We don't.

Next question?

Anonymous said...

Brian, I love coming here and debating doctrine. I do it probably more than is good for me. I do have a life outside of the blog, and I could be spending more time with this other life. But I don't, because I love having debate. And I love Christianity, and I love pulling and stretching doctrines with other people.

But when someone comes along and, without even trying to deal with my ideas, decides to call me a fool, I realize I indeed would be foolish to continue to waste my time.

Anonymous said...


Oh goody, the old "you fell away because you couldn't hack it" argument. Love it. I agree with you. I did fall away because I couldn't hack it. And I had a temple recommend at the time, and according to Mormon rules, I was in every way worthy of it. Having declared myself worthy by putting that piece of paper in my pocket, I had declared myself a liar. It is the one who stands before God in open admission of his guilt that is ushered into Heaven, not the one who says, "I am worthy in every way to enter the House of the Lord."

God alone is righteous, which is why need is the only one who could live that "unhackable" law. I depend upon his righteousness. So, I praise God that I can't live it. If I continued to try (there's that word again that Kimball said is insufficient) I would end up damned in the end. The law is a schoolmaster. It shuts us all up in guilt, and, ideally, it brings us to Christ.

Anonymous said...

Well, you could behaviorally hack it, everything, but your personality apparently couldn't. And the the fact that the Book of Mormon must have come from Christ, that it contains his words, overwhelms all your objections, and all the objections you can conceive of in the future.

Anonymous said...

"Well, you could behaviorally hack it, everything, but your personality apparently couldn't. And the fact that the Book of Mormon must have come from Christ, that it contains his words, overwhelms all your objections, and all the objections you can conceive of in the future."

I guess God only wants a certain personality-type in the Kingdom of Heaven then. When I was a Mormon, I kept getting an uncomfortable feeling that this was the case.

It's great that it is working so well for you, Anon 1:14. If the day comes that it no longer works for you, please find this post again, click on my username, and contact me. I'm serious. Judging from the certainty you now have, you are going to need someone to talk to.

Unknown said...

How did I get dragged into this? For the record, I don't think (and have never said) that Mormons live in fear. And I couldn't care less about the intra-Christian theological debate that's recently been occupying the blog.

James Anglin said...

I would hardly say, Jeff, that works, obedience and fear are a horrible departure from historic Christianity since the Reformation. On the contrary, if I read just about any sermons or prayer books or other religious documents, from up to the early 20th century, I'm rather shocked by how grim it all seems, and how much emphasis there is on sin and penitence.

Things have eased up in recent decades. Maybe we're more enlightened now, or maybe we've backslid terribly. Maybe we need a lot more fear. Or maybe we used to be afraid of the wrong things, and what we need now is better fear. Not all fears are the same. If the good news starts seeming too much like bad news, I think that must be the wrong kind of fear.

I have no idea how common it is for Mormons to feel burdened by fear, but it seems to be a common report among ex-Mormons. I also have no idea how big a problem member retention really is for the LDS church, but fear seems to be a significant part of whatever problem there is. So if there's a concern for lost sheep, fear might be a good thing to address. I'd be interested in a more detailed Mormon take on fear, because it's been a major Christian issue for two millennia and it's certainly not clear for me yet.

Anonymous said...

Gregory Prince, David O McKay's biographer, recently was interviewed by Doug Fabrizio of RadioWest. Mr. Prince hobnobs with a lot of General Authorities, so the information is only anecdotally reliable, but he reported that he has been told that 80 to 90% of new converts will not remain in the church. 13% of missionaries are not serving their full mission. And of all missionaries who serve, 50% are no longer going to church within 5 years of returning home.

Those are about the only numbers you are going to hear, since the church is very reluctant to say anything about these kinds of statistics in an official way. The 15 million members the Church likes to brag about is terribly bloated. There may be 15 million members on the record book, but there are not 15 million members attending and identifying as Mormon. Based upon all the wards I have lived in, the activity rate is between 30 and 40%. I would estimate that there are about 6 million active members.

Even if 15 million is the right number, it is a drop in the bucket. Tokyo alone has about 38 million citizens. 15 million spread across the globe is nothing. Of course, that number has nothing to do with truth, and if it is true with 300 million it is true with 1, but I do believe the Church should be a little less boastful.

Anonymous said...

Hi Everingthingbeforeus,

Some of your numbers ring true. My information is strictly anecdotal as well. 13% of missionaries not finishing seems about right. 50% not attending church within 5 years doesn't ring true with the wards that I have been in. That number seems to be closer to around 10% - 20% (again, personal, local experience). Also, around 30% - 40% activity rate seems about right. That was true on my mission (closer to the 30% mark) and true in my home wards (closer to 40% - 45%).

But, calling the church boastful about a "drop in the bucket" doesn't make sense. In fact, I think using the term boastful even gives the impression that you have an ax to grind since boast means "talk with excessive pride and self-satisfaction about one's achievements, possessions, or abilities." I don't see that the accusation of the Church boasting is true. When I hear these types of statistics from the Church, they come across to me as being matter of fact. I hear more talks about pride, loving your neighbors, etc then I do about how many Mormons there are so using boastful seems to be not the right word here.

But, if you wanted to call a church boastful for claiming 1.1 billion members when less than 10% regularly attend then that would make sense, although that is not my stance because I generally don't hear churches in general over emphasize the sizes of their congregations. Even if the Church has an activity rate of 30% - 40% (pretty high for religion in general), stating how many members based off of baptisms is the most accurate way to report it. How else would you report it? I think that the nuances and caveats of members attending is best left to the local level where the people know them best.

On a personal level, I am more concerned about building the appropriate relationships with my home teaching families so that I can help them in times of their needs. I have two active families and one inactive family. The inactive family has asked me not to come. Guess what? I don't visit them. I'll probably stop by at Christmas time to drop off cookies but that'll be all. No fear and loathing messages from me, no guilt ridden innuendos about Church activity.


James Anglin said...

Why is someone like me at all interested in a movement with a mere 15 million adherents (or less)? One reason is something Steve has just mentioned in passing — he's doing home teaching with two other families. Mormonism is a demanding faith; the upbeat way to say that, though, is that active Mormons are really active.

People with the level of religious commitment typical of an active Mormon, in all religions put together, are a rather small fraction of the human population. In this sense Mormonism punches above its weight, so to speak. That's interesting.

That's also why I'm particularly interested in Mormon fear. The relationship between fear and commitment is important in all religions. On the one hand, I agree with Jeff and many commenters that some kind of fear really has been a big part of most of Christianity. And as a standard for high religious commitment, it's hard to beat crucifixion. On the other hand, we should all know that high commitment driven by fear is a typical feature of the worst kind of cult. That point should be faced squarely, I think, by anyone who feels highly motivated by their religious faith. Fear and high commitment may perhaps not necessarily be bad; but they're certainly not always good.

Anonymous said...

I would challenge any Mormon to tell me truthfully that they are not afraid of losing a child to sin, and thus not having that child with them for eternity. Tell me honestly, if you are a parent, that you do not fear this.

Now, you may say that what is the difference between that scenario and the average Christian scenario. Here is the difference:

As a Mormon, in order to be with your loved ones, you must do the following (all required to receive the temple recommend, without which you cannot enter the temple and receive the necessary ordinances):

1. Pay 10% of your income annually.
2. Wear the sacred undergarment at all times as directed.
3. Abstain completely from coffee, tea, tobacco, and alcohol.
4. Maintain no association with groups whose teachings and practices are contrary to the Gospel (whatever that means.)
5. Attend all your church meetings.
6. Sustain (support) the General Authorities of the Church and all local leaders.

Now...that is only an abbreviated list. But that is the requirement to enter into exaltation to live forever in the family unit. If you reject this lifestyle, you may still be saved, but you will not be together with your family.

As a Christian, I believe with my heart and profess with my mouth that Jesus is the Christ. We argue about the necessity of good works, but you cannot tell me that anything in that list above really has anything to do with basic Christian good works.

So, again, when your family is under threat of dissolution should you or another family member fail to live up to those requirements, tell me, please, how performing those requirements is done out of love and not fear?

You are fooling yourselves if you think otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I thought, surely, based on your title, you were going to do an entry on Julie Rowe.

I'm so disappointed. I thought I'd find out why, once again, all the information was coming from people other than the prophets, seers and revelators.

Anonymous said...

Hi Everythingbeforeus,

You make the list as if it were scandalous. I know that the is scandalous for evangelicals but that is their theology. The above list pales in comparison to what an orthodox Jew observes and certain types of practicing Catholics.

As a Christian, I believe with my heart and profess with my mouth that Jesus is the Christ. We argue about the necessity of good works, and items in that list above facilitate basic Christian good works. ;)

Without going into details, my family has dissolved. Some are of age to make their decisions and they have. My 'eternal companion' kicked me to the curb two years ago and now gets a nice alimony check every month. Does this mean I jettison the gospel too? Nope.


James Anglin said...

There are monastic orders that follow really hard rules, but I don't know of any church that insists on that level of commitment as normal for all members. The Mormon list does seem unusually heavy to me, as concrete requirements for everyone.

And it looks like a rather ritualistic list. The listed acts don't seem directly to involve anything like comforting the afflicted or helping other people, nor do they directly involve training one's own self in virtues like compassion or patience. Or does much of the 10% tithing go to helping the poor and the sick?

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

I'd have to say that the time consuming one is attending church meetings. But, this is mainly limited to the Sunday services. Everything else ends up being more a way of life. When sustaining local leaders, this is very broad and vague. The list of 'stuff' that the local leaders would need help with is varied:
- home teaching
- helping out on the church farm assignments
- helping out with youth activities
- various needs of ward members (moving in, moving out)
- making meals for families in the case of sickness or what not
- etc

Here is a summary for the tithing funds:


Jeff Lindsay said...

Everything, do you have kids? Is there something odd about wanting the best for them? Something odd about worrying that they might die early, might not get a good job, might not have a happy marriage, or might not have the blessings of eternal life? I have family members whom I love deeply walk away from their faith. I still love them and am proud of what they are doing and the good that they do. I hope things will work out for the best in the end and am hopeful, but realize that God won't force anyone into his kingdom. I will love them and rejoice in all the good that they do and the good people that they are nonetheless, and hope that there will be pleasant surprises for all of us in the end.

The gloomy image of fear that you are painting is distorted, monochromatic, and an ugly way to characterize a vibrant and fun faith. There is a yoke to carry, there are burdens to bear, there is sacrifice and denial involved in taking up the cross and striving to follow Christ. Call that fearing God if you will, but it's not a religion of fear.

Sorry if you thought I was mocking you. Your comments reflect the views of many outsiders and merit some treatment. My tongue-in-cheek treatment was not intended as mocking. You make valuable comments, though I often disagree, and they deserve attention. Hope you'll see my light-hearted treatment of Paul as a fearmonger as an attempt at showing another perspective on fear -- healthy fear. Yes, I agree, there are different kinds of fear. But the "fear" of our faith is, in my opinion, the healthy fear Paul encouraged.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Brian, I'm troubled by the "do not engage fools" comment. How do you decide whom to engage? We are all fools before God, and each of us is a fool compared to most people in some area. Some of our commenters are experts in physics, making the rest of us fools in that area, or experts on scriptural exegesis, interpretive literature, American history, etc., etc. We are all fools in many topics, and some of us manage to be fools in general. But just about everyone who has commented on this blog is worth engaging, though some can be rather irritating or occasionally offensive.

Anonymous said...

"A vibrant and fun faith."

In that sentence, you perfectly describe the religion of my youth. I have nothing but the fondest of memories growing up in the church. I was born in 1975. I lived in a small community in the hills of western Maryland. I remember the camaraderie shared by everyone in the ward. I remember the entire ward pitching together to build sandwiches to sell for a fund raiser. I remember each Ward in the entire Stake each spending weeks rehearsing rather complex skits, putting together elaborate stage sets, perfecting songs and music, and then coming together on a single night (and that meant for many units traveling well over an hour to arrive at the Stake Center) and then performing. And we did this on a regular basis!

Now, all that local flavor is being drained out of the church by excessive centralization of power. Now, you can go to a morning PEC meeting and have the counselor in the Bishopric set up a laptop and tap into the Mothership to receive a generic message from Salt Lake City (Yes...I've been to several of these meetings). Now, you have tithing slips that tell you that it doesn't matter what you want your money used for, but the church will decide. And all the money is shipped off to Salt Lake and then redistributed. And local units have to buy back the manuals which all this money was supposed to have funded! Now, we have LDS Living (a subsidiary of Deseret Book) that runs articles about the 5 things we never knew about Elder Uchtdorf. As if all eyes should forever be on the top brass. We even have a member of the 70 writing in the Ensign telling us that we should follow Thomas Monson, because Monson exemplifies the Christian life.

I see a great decline in the life of the church. I have watched it over the past twenty years. It parallels a general decline in the life of all communities in this country, so this is probably more of a general shift in American culture than it is purely a Church issue. But it is sad to watch.

From what I have been told, the stakes have cut back on the combined youth dances/activities. Growing up, we held a dance once a month. These were my lifeline as a teenager in a region where I was a minority. I was one of about 3 or 4 members in my somewhat large high school. The activities committees were disbanded, and that responsibility was consolidated into the Ward Councils, full of members who are usually too stretched thin as it is.

So, setting the truth claims aside, the culture of the church which was once full of life and energy is sadly in a very deplorable state. I guess this is happening in churches (not just LDS) all across the land. It saddens me greatly.

Well, Jeff, I do appreciate the liberality with which you operate your blog. Heaven knows I have taken great advantage of this. I feel very strongly that the message of Christ is a message of liberty. I walked home from church today (Episcopal) telling myself that if my Mormon family is feeling the same feelings of peace and joy from their worship that I come away feeling in mine, then who am I to denigrate that. If, however, they are feeling the same suffocating feeling that I was in my final years as a member, then I would wish that they, too, could give themselves the freedom to consider the possibility that there is another perfectly acceptable alternative. I do not feel like the church makes allowances for any other alternative. I know they do not. At the end of the day, it is the Restored Gospel or it is nothing. That is not a message that promotes health and life.

James Anglin said...

Three hours of church each weeks seems like a lot in one go. Most churches I know get you out in a little more than an hour; even if you stay to close the bar at coffee fellowship you'd probably still have a hard time spending two hours in the building.

A fair number of people will participate in some other church activity, like a Bible study or a prayer group or a youth group, during the week. That may well take another hour or so of study and discussion, and maybe a second hour of chatting. This is pretty informal time, though. You're normally in a small group sitting in somebody's living room. The real keeners in larger congregations may find several opportunities like this, adding up to quite a lot of weekly religious time, but you'd normally be considered a healthily active member if you just hit the main Sunday service and a Bible study.

Individual believers often spend up to half an hour each day in prayer or Bible study, and of course if you're religious at all you may have frequent thoughts about God throughout your waking hours, or do all kinds of little things that are motivated by your faith. So I wouldn't necessarily say that non-Mormons have less time for God, overall. The distinction that's easier to draw is between regimented time, in which you have to show up and follow the rules of behavior for a large group meeting, and time when you can more freely express your own self. The typical Bible study as I know it is only about as regimented as having friends over for dinner, so the typical church I know has only about one hour per week of regimented behavior.

How many other kinds of church meeting are there for Mormons?

I wonder a bit how the role of paid clergy fits into this. Many Christian churches do ask members to give away about 10% of their income, but this isn't generally enforced or even monitored in any way, and the usual guideline is that half of this money should go to charities other than the church itself. Most of the 5%-ish that goes to the church is used to pay clergy salaries and maintain buildings. Full-time professional clergy do a lot of jobs that I think Mormon congregations have to spread among their members.

Why aren't there any LDS paid clergy, below the General Authorities?

Anonymous said...

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Anonymous said...

ebu: "Now, we have LDS Living (a subsidiary of Deseret Book) that runs articles about the 5 things we never knew about Elder Uchtdorf. As if all eyes should forever be on the top brass."

This is an example of a problem that you seem to have, ebu. You strike many of us here as a too heavily negative personality. I wish you the best, and hope you can overcome, to a healthy degree, your negatively oriented focus on less-than-important things.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:25. I don't consider it a less-than-important thing. The leader-worship in the LDS Church is a real problem. You guys focus your attention on 15 men to a much greater degree than any other Christian group I know, with the exception perhaps of the Catholic Church.

Pierce said...

Says the guy who bases his whole philosophy around a handful of Paul's writings and refused to have a discussion based out of the gospels. I consider that leader worship to at least the same degree. Or book worship. Same difference.

Anonymous said...


I don't base my philosophy around a handful of Paul's writings. I base it around a spiritual experience that opened my eyes. What I learned, I learned in a spiritual way. It was after this experience that I decided to read the Bible. And it was then that the Bible finally began to make sense to me. But I do not worship the Bible. I worship Jesus Christ. I recognize the limitations of any written text. And the flaws. I am not a Bible-thumper, Pierce. You do not know me.

Again, Pierce, you are being disingenuous. You want me to stick ONLY with the Gospels to prove my theology. But if I were to ask you to stick only with the Gospels, almost all that separates Mormonism from the rest of Christianity would be thrown out. You cannot prove your religion with only the Gospels. So you have no leg to stand on. It's almost laughable the position you are in. I am not going to play your game according to your rules, because you can't even make it within ten miles of the ballpark by your own rules. You're sunk, Pierce.

I am actually cutting you a break. I could say, "Okay, Pierce...I'll use only the Gospels to prove my beliefs, but I want you to do the same. Tell me all about eternal families and endowments and eternal progression and how God was once a man. Tell me all about it, but you can only use the Gospels." I am up for that challenge. Are you? If not, go home. Leave me alone. It's pathetic.

Accusing me of basing my whole philosophy on Paul...you don't know what you are talking about. You wouldn't be a Mormon at all if it weren't for ONE MAN. And this ONE MAN dabbled in the occult, had an affair with his maid, lied to his wife, defrauded people out of money and property, raised up his own private army, married over 30 women, including a pair of sisters and a mother/daughter duo, and revamped Masonic rituals so that for over 100 years, men and women were entering "sacred temples" and pretending to slit their throats and gut themselves.


Pierce said...

Indeed, we are honest enough to acknowledge the role of prophets in our devotion, which you blasted us for--of which you do the same thing. When your tiresome evangelical talking points get reversed on you, you just dish out more ad hominem and give us all the 'insider's look' at all the terrible things in Mormonism. Yawn. You assume that I can't talk about salvation in terms of the Gospels. First this isn't about me. You came here and criticized, I challenged you, and you refused to play by some really simple criteria: what dId Jesus say? You're so offended that I would suggest that your core philosophy is based on *some of Paul's letters, but you had a fair opportunity to show me otherwise. Second, I believe the general principles of salvation, which demonstrate Christ's expectations, rewards, judgements, warnings, and love for His followers are all there in a tidy package in the Gospels. Part of my confidence in Mormonism is seeing this harmony.

I mean, who chickens out of a challenge and then smack talk recycles the same challenge with a "pathetic" tracked on the end.

Anonymous said...


I do not acknowledge the role of prophets in my devotion. Paul was not a prophet. Peter was not a prophet. I reject the notion of prophets "like unto Moses" after the death of Christ.

You seem confused. Again and for the last time, I don't feel the need to prove my theology using only the Gospels to a man who believes in modern-day prophets, continuing revelation, and "further light and knowledge." I wish you could understand this. You cannot make a challenge like this. By such a challenge, your entire religion fails. And you have no ground to stand on. By issuing me such a challenge, you are already conceding defeat. Why would I waste my energy fighting a warrior who died getting off his horse?

But just to assure you, to me, the entire New Testament harmonizes. You are making a false claim when you state that I base my entire doctrine on Paul's writings. I do not. I have already shown you how John also agrees. John wrote one of those Gospels. You keep hitting hard on the Gospels as Jesus's words. Jesus DIDN'T write the Gospels. Men, like John, did. According to your beliefs, "prophets, seers, and revelators" wrote those books. Yet, you are holding the Gospels up as being words direct from the mouth of Christ; whereas, Paul's words are somehow tainted because they are his own words. But if they are all prophets (and you would believe they are) they are all on equal footing.

Your logic and approach to this discussion have been without integrity. You call me an evangelical. I am not. You insinuate that I am devoted to a Bible that I believe is a flawless book. I am not, nor do I believe this. You claim I focus unduly on the words of Paul. I do not. You have crafted your argument around assumptions about me which are wrong. You have exerted control over the conversation as if you were my Priesthood authority. James Anglin, who is probably the most reasonable guy here has addressed this with you. I am not the only who sees it. I don't have anymore time to waste with this.

Anonymous said...

You do know, ebu, that God could have decided to work through another man. Why don't you craft a slam paragraph on Paul/Saul? I'd like to see it. Some might say that overseeing killing disqualified him permanently from having anything to say about Godly things that we should heed. You're being hypercritical, which appears to be your nature (but I'm confident that you could overcome it, if you chose to). After-the-fact human failings do not nullify prior revelation. Nor do, apparently, before-the-fact human failings -- namely Saul => Paul. God uses imperfect human instruments to bring about his divine purposes. The Book of Mormon stands strongly as Christ's words to the wise. "Fools mock, but they shall mourn."

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:36

Please clarify. Are you admitting that Joseph Smith had "human failings" of the sort I listed? You aren't refuting that he did. In fact, you seem to be allowing for the fact that he did.

Tell me then, would you continue to follow a modern-day prophet if it was found out that he was taking plural wives, but telling his wife and the entire church that he wasn't? Is that the kind of man you would follow?


Pierce said...


"I do not acknowledge the role of prophets in my devotion..."
Suit yourself. I'm not interested in mincing words. 'He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists...' Peter and others saw the risen Christ, received revelation, and taught His gospel. That's all I'm talking about. You may not acknowledge prophets, but you sure do depend on them for your religion, whatever it is. You certainly use them to disparage me in my religion.

"By issuing me such a challenge, you are already conceding defeat."
Instead of focusing on how you assume I can't answer the challenge, you could just do meet it yourself. I'll leave it alone. But you really should consider ditching your air of superiority in criticizing LDS for clearly teaching the harmony that you avoid.

"You are making a false claim when you state that I base my entire doctrine on Paul's writings. I do not"
Your talking points are completely Epistle-driven, and you rejected an opportunity to show otherwise. If this is a false claim on my part, who's fault is that really? BTW, I have no problem with Paul's words. I just want to see our critics step out their narrow interpretation of *some of Paul's writings. I find it ironic that they never quote Jesus when talking about rewards, punishment, and grace--as though the New Covenant is one-sided. 'Cause Jesus had a lot to say about our part, and it wasn't just a confession or metaphorical surrendering

" You call me an evangelical. I am not"
Yet you parrot all of their talking points and criticisms, even down to how we live in "fear" while you have been "freed." You have an aversion to lables, but this is how you present yourself on here, especially when you're patting the back of folks like Fig for letting us Mormons get a big dose of evangelical rhetoric.

"You insinuate that I am devoted to a Bible that I believe is a flawless book."
Never said you believed it to be flawless. If you have no devotion to the Bible, and you don't believe in modern prophets/apostles, then I am puzzled at where your doctrine comes from. Perhaps Paul himself taught you, but you haven't said as much.

"You claim I focus unduly on the words of Paul. I do not."
When you say things like: "If you think you can show God you have surrendered by doing the right works, or that God requires this of you for salvation, then you are back under law," you are not conveying ideas that Christ taught. You are conveying ideas that come from a portion of Paul's writings to a certain group of people. Christ taught faith and surrender. He also taught about the rewards and punishments in the next world, and was explicit in many of His requirements. Failing to mention that in a discussion on salvation, or teaching the opposite of that, means you focus unduly on *some of the words of Paul. I say some, because as Jeff has demonstrated in this post, it definitely wasn't *all Paul had to say about it.

"You have exerted control over the conversation"
Boo hoo. Your feathers are ruffled because you wanted to make the typical move of boxing the conversation in the Roman 6 framework, and I wanted to expand it outside of that and into the Gospels. Your framework for this discussion is tiring and limited and is brought up ad nauseum. Thought you might like a challenge. Oh well, I tried.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Everything, a sincere thank you for your comments on the "fun and vibrant faith" issue. Fellow LDS defenders, hold on for a second while I explain, but I felt this was a valuable and well-intentioned comment that we can learn from, even though we may strongly disagree with EBU. But Everything, what you said helped me to better understand and appreciate you. It revealed some of the real person behind the mere text we get in blog comments, and I felt that I saw the kind of person I can respect and like, in spite of disagreements. Your comment resonated with me in several ways. In the Church, as we try to decrease pressure on people and focus on what is essential and vital, as we try to distribute the work more reasonably and tap the power of ward councils, and as we try to do many other things with good logic and intentions behind them, we run into the inevitable clash that can occur between an Organization and the needs of individuals. We run into the problem that the best activities and initiatives often reflect the PASSION of a few individuals, not the official duties of a formal organization. Allowing individual passion to be tapped and nurtured requires vision and attention from leaders, who may miss and bungle the opportunity while acting in good faith.

This was a lesson I learned when I took on the scary but wonderful calling of Bishop. You mentioned ward dances, so here's a case study. The brilliant and delightfully proactive girl in my ward that I chose to be my daughter-in-law--that's my side of the story; my son and daughter-in-law think they did all the work of choosing each other! ;)--came to me complaining that we didn't have enough dances in the Stake, and wanted to do our own ward dance. She had a plan, she gave good reasons and pointed out how much good it could do, she had passion for the event, and I liked the idea. So I let her run it, with adult support, and soon we were having great ward dances at very low cost, but with fun decorations and great music. Other wards started attending, and it was a lot of fun. But a Stake leader felt that this needed to go through more orderly channels since it had become a Stake event now that multiple wards were coming to our event (showing an unmet need, of course). So suddenly the responsibility for dances was taken from us and given to the Stake--all very logical--where there was no one with the passion of my future daughter-in-law to make it happen. So they rarely happened. Fizzle. A fun and vibrant part of our ward experienced was lost. A similar thing happened with the annual Christmas musical devotional that a highly talented, passionate man in our ward ran. It became so big, with over 300 people coming, many from other wards, that the Stake naturally needed to take it over and hand it to the Stake music committee. All very logical. All perfectly sensible based on org charts and rule books. But innovation doesn't happen through org charts. Passion often isn't released from a committee. Passionate, innovative individuals need to be empowered, encouraged, nurtured, and given support, and this takes special awareness in leaders. Ward Councils need to look for and assist those people, and be flexible, innovative, and open. That's my two cents.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Of course, when I became bishop, I stopped some things that really bothered others. I was down on paintball, for example, since it seemed like an inappropriate enactment of violence and also had liability and insurance issues at the time, so I banned it. Splat --a fun and vibrant faith was under attack! I was down in eating contests as a violation of the Word and Wisdom and basic health factors, and was down on water balloon fights as a forum for bad behavior and bullying, and more elements of some people's fun and vibrant faith were suddenly burst. And some things I did were genuine mistakes that offended people. Yes, regrets! But in that process, I learned that the people who wanted to scream at me and sometimes did were the best ones to listen to. They were passionate, and they were the ones who could give me frank advice and also the ones who could make things happen. The first woman who wanted to scream at me when I mistakenly cancelled part of a musical event became the key to our success with Scouting and I learned to respect her passion, to give her almost free reign, and to always trust and value her frank advice. I also chose counselors who were not at all shy about disagreeing with me, and I cherished the frank and often blunt advice they gave me. They had passion and were outspoken, and it was so helpful to me.

Everything, I see you as one of those people. A former passionate, outspoken Mormon. I am quite sad your energy is not among us now, but am also glad that you have found joy where you are serving. There have been many times I wanted to just delete some of your jabs, but what you offer and teach is valuable and I think it has helped many of us appreciate the thinking and faith that is behind some of the Protestant positions that we disagree with, but need to better understand respect.

We'll jab at each other again soon, but I'm grateful to better understand a little more about the interesting person behind the posts. Thank you, and may you have joy and peace in your path forward in your faith. And we'll leave a light on here for you, just in case!

Anonymous said...

You and Motel 6. Thank you, Jeff. Just to let you know, when I was a believer, I visited your site, but for different reasons than I do know. I was ever seeking rational and logical reasons to believe, and your site provided me with those. Forgive me if I ever come across as arrogant or vindictive. I am passionate, and sometimes that can derail my best intentions.

Pierce said...

And it is clear that I am tapped-out when my comments become less than charitable and good-natured. Thanks for the break Jeff and my apologies for focusing too intensely on the superfluous.

Musicnut said...

While I enjoy Jeff's articles, I usually avoid the comments because of the antagonistic tone on both sides. This comment section is a good case in point.

That said, I did notice EBU's comment that spurred this post and wanted to throw out a couple ideas that I haven't yet seen expressed. The word "fear" appears a lot in Paul's writings. Using the Strong's concordance we see that every one uses the same root phobos which means alarm or fright: - be afraid + exceedingly fear terror. So the meaning appears pretty straight forward; not a lot lost in the translation. I did find that 2 Tim 1:7 (For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.) uses the word deilia which implies timidity. I know that's not really relevant to the question at hand, but thought it interesting.

What I get from all these usages of fear/phobos is that we are supposed to be scared of something, but, as EBU points out, there is also something we are not supposed to be scared of. The real question at hand is what those "somethings" are, even though they all seem to refer to God. It's worth looking at every instance to see what it's saying about fear and try to reconcile them. Until such a time that they can be reconciled, I'm content in embracing the apparent Mormon cognitive dissonance of both being fearful and confident before God.

Here is where I find the Book of Mormon to be invaluable. Alma 5 gets at the heart of what (I think) true Christian fear should look like. We should imagine ourselves before the bar of God and ask "Am I converted? Do I have clean hands and a pure heart? Am I stripped of pride and envy? Have I washed my garments in the blood of the Lamb?" At the same time, he offers a picture of true Christian confidence, "And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me."

Shifting gears a bit now...

Checking Strong's again, the Greek word for "slave" is doulos and is used 120 times throughout the NT. However, the KVJ never renders it as "slave", but as "servant" or "bond". There is another word oiketes that means a domestic or household servant. Onesimus is oiketes, and all the apostles refer to themselves as doulos of Christ. Incidentally, the word "bondage" used by Paul in Rom 8:15 is douleia, and in other instances it's only used in a negative connotation (see the 6 instances in Galatians for instance). So it's clear that the apostles want us to be free from sin and to be children of God, yet servitude (or slavery, depending on how you want to render it) towards Christ is also expected. Christ himself invited us to take his yoke upon us, while Paul instructs to not be ensnared by the yoke of bondage. If that makes me a slave, then I'm fine with that. I'll be in good company with Peter, Paul, and James.

Anonymous said...


You make good points, and I appreciate the Greek analysis. And I do appreciate the Book of Mormon additions because I think the doctrine of the Book of Mormon is what Mormonism was originally supposed to look like. However, Mormonism is a two-layer cake now. It became a two-layer cake before 1844, even.

There is a layer of Mormonism which is intensely and devotedly Christian. But there is a second layer also, and sometimes the division between the two layers is vague and not very distinct. This second layer is a side of Mormonism that most Mormons are generally aware of, and which they fully embrace, but they may not be aware of all the implications of it.

Peter, Paul, and James speak of slavery or servitude to Christ. You pointed that out. It is poetic and beautiful. It is a very Christian idea. But Paul also speaks of another kind of slavery. And in the context of his message, he is NOT referring to slavery to sin. He is referring to slavery to law.

The crowning experience of Mormonism is the endowment. And in that experience, you place yourself under covenant to live laws. And even more than that, you place yourself under covenant to give all you have (a basic "selling of the soul" bargain) to an organization (the Church) for the building up of the Kingdom of God on EARTH.

You do not covenant all you have to God or Christ. You covenant all you have to the church. That is most definitely NOT a Christian thing to do. There is not a Christian denomination on the planet (not even the Catholics) that would support such a notion. You become slaves officially to the church.

If this is NOT what is happening, then the LDS Church needs to change the language of the covenant.

This is the second layer of Mormonism in all its glory. It is not Christian. It is something else altogether. This is a different Kingdom of God. Or maybe it is the kingdom of a different god. I guess you could word it either way. Jesus made it clear that his Kingdom is NOT of this world. We don't build up his kingdom here. It is within us. And we await the day of redemption when all other kingdoms are destroyed.

Pierce said...


Have you noticed yet that we don't find rhetoric and word-mincing very convincing? I mean, this happens over and over again. For example, you rightly say that His kingdom is not of this world, but then say there is no building to be done. Obviously, you get a sense of metaphor as far as the Kingdom goes, since it is "within us." So it's not buildings we're talking about. What is within us? The Spirit? Salvation? Grace? Whatever it is, by laboring to ignite that in other people, the Kingdom is spreading, or being built. Seems like a pretty simple figure of speech.

Same thing with the church. Paul says that "Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." We believe similarly. Thus, if a person pledges themselves to the Church, they are pledging themselves to Christ, because he presides over the Church. It is the covenant relationship between Christ and His people. Without Him, there is no church--just like a body without a head is dead. The neat thing about recognizing the Church in this way is that we are honoring not just one great commandment, but both: 1. Love God and 2. Love our neighbor as ourselves. Giving ourselves over to both of these aspects, therefore, is not an "unchristian" thing to do.

The point is, you are coming in hot with rhetoric that doesn't mean the same thing to us-- like you did with "fear". Quite frankly, participants here have done a pretty good job with dealing with this rhetoric every time, and you have not done well with responding to it (Your response to this post didn't deal any of the quoted scriptures or ideas, instead you tried to drill your original point even harder). Maybe it's time to change tactics or tone? Or...maybe Mormonism isn't what you're trying to make it out to be?

Anonymous said...

Wrong Pierce, you don't come unto Christ by pledging yourself to the Church. You come into the Church by pledging yourself to Christ. To Christians, the Church isn't a denomination. It is the body of all believers, regardless of denomination.

flying fig said...

Peirce, how about this as a change of tone, stop labeling your own view as metaphor and figure of speech, and every differing view as rhetoric and word mincing. Makes for a more positive atmosphere for discussion

Anonymous said...

I think when the Mormon church asks you to give all your time, talents, possession, and money to building the Kingdom of God on earth, they aren't speaking metaphorically about the Spirit and grace, Pierce. That sounds like a rather literal kind of building to me.

Anonymous said...

This is simple doctrine that everythingbeforeus is either missing or ignoring. What is the Kingdom of God? It is, in fact, a political organization with God as the King. Judging from history; God employs helpers, whether it be angels or prophets or apostles or whatever.

Now: when Christ was on the earth, He said that His kingdom was not of this World. And that's true: Christ did not take the reigns of government. This was the main reason the Jews rejected Him; they were looking for the promised King. They thought it meant political.

And they were right. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the Messiah reigning in a very literal sense, not just in heaven.

Thus comes the answer that Christ will reign personally on the earth, and He will come in power and great glory to do so. Standard Second Coming theology.

When Christ comes, will He have to set everything up from scratch? Not at all. He will use His Church; the organization He gave power to, as the base.

When Moses was on the earth, was not that the Kingdom of God at the time? We find that it was, else the Lord would not have told Samuel to give Israel a human king for they were rejecting Him. Ergo, God was the King of the Israelites until Saul.

We Mormons teach that Christ has given power and authority to the Church. It is the prototype for the Kingdom of God; when it is fully restored to the Earth.

As such, why wouldn't we swear loyalty to it? Why shouldn't we covenant to build the Kingdom of God? If you believe, then if you refuse to swear to build it up, are you not in effect becoming a traitor to God's political kingdom? If you grant that the LDS church is the only authorized and official organization of Christ, then why on earth would you decline to covenant to support it?

The LDS church has in fact functioned as a political entity for a brief time; and in fact it does have within it designed features for legislative, executive, and judicial powers. When Christ reigns on the Earth, no doubt He will be the President in the First Presidency. But the apostles and councils and so forth will still require humans.

EverythingBeforeUs talks about this "power structure" laid atop of pure Christianity. Well, if the LDS church is going to in some fashion assume civic governmental responsibility after Christ comes, it is no surprise that there is an order and structure. Moses had an extensive hierarchy as well. We LDS hold we are just as much the Kingdom of God as Moses had; so it's not surprising that we have an extensive structure too.

Pierce said...

EBU: We've already pledged ourselves to Christ through baptism and we rededicate ourselves personally to Him through the sacrament weekly. How is it that you miss things like this?

To what end do we covenant to fully dedicate ourselves? The end game is not to have a million buildings. It is to help people come to Christ. That stuff you listed is the "how" behind it, and people like me need concrete terms to help guide my discipleship and something to hold me to it. All of these principles and examples of dedication are found in the NT and Paul chastised the Saints when they turned away from it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:57.

Yikes! Well, Joseph Smith was hard at work while alive to fulfill this vision of the church taking political control. He had established a Council of 50 just for this purpose and he was running for president. He failed, clearly.

You know, Mormons worked hard when Romney was running to assure the nation that a Mormon in office wouldn't mean that SLC is calling the political shots in this country, but with posts like yours here, it just proves that there is a least a segment of Mormondom that is anticipating this.

The Jews didn't recognize Christ precisely because they were looking for a political leader. And here you are, not a Jew, but still waiting.

Anonymous said...


You pledge yourself to Christ through baptism, but this also turns you into a member of a very specific church. This is not the case with baptism in the Christian world. You are baptized into the universal church, the body of ALL believers. This is why the different Christian churches all honor each others' baptisms.

But anyway, why, after pledging yourself to Christ at baptism, would you then turn around and redirect that promise to something else? This is what I mean when I say Mormonism is a two-layer cake. The Church uses Christ to get you to come unto the Church. Christ is used as bait. And then, when someone enters in, the second layer really starts to get placed on top. And if all goes as planned, within a year, the loyalties are redirected to the organization.

Mormonism uses Christianity to dupe people into giving themselves over to an occultic organization. The obsession with the dead: occultic. The male/female counterparts in deity: occultic. Secret rituals, formerly with blood oaths: occultic. Lucifer's prominent role in plan of salvation: occultic. New names: occultic. Eternal progression to godhood: occultic. Supposedly ancient books rediscovered: occultic. (Google Corpus Hermeticum).

Joseph Smith's occultic connections have been well-established, and those who want to know can easily access the information.

Anonymous said...

FYI - A list of practices that are generally considered to be occultic:



Anonymous said...


This site is poor. It has Kabalah on the list three times, Cabalistic Knowledge, Qabalah, and Kabalah. Those are all the same thing.

Speaking of Cabalah, though, Joseph Smith was studying Hebrew in his final months with a Jewish convert named Andrew Neibaur. Neibaur possessed a copy of the Zohar, a Cabalistic text. It's possible Joseph Smith was exposed to Cabalistic ideas through his association with Niebaur. Joseph Smith gave a talk very close to his death in which he discussed the proper translation of the first lines of Genesis. His proposed translation is a Cabalistic interpretation of those verses. It is close to what can be found in the Zohar. In the Zohar, the word Elohim is translated in plural form, whereas, it is normally translated in the singular. Joseph Smith may have found his inspiration for the King Follet Discourse in the Zohar.

The concept that God is both male and female can be traced back to Cabalah. Adam-God theory can be traced back to Cabalah. Influential Freemasons have stated that there is close association between Cabalah and Freemasonry.

If any of you think I am nuts, I highly recommend you do a little research. Lance S. Owens wrote a paper about Joseph Smith's occultic connection, especially his connection with Cabalah. The entire essay is online. I know Jeff doesn't want links here, but google it. Lance S. Owens. Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection.

Anonymous said...

EBU, you are nuts. I have researched and there is no cultic connection.

People have said it before.......if a person wants to find something that is not there or negative they will find a way to to do so.

The critics come to LDS sites and say anything. The critics fail to mention all the deception and lying by critics. Like the Tanners, Brodie, Martin, and the list is long of deceptive LDS critics.

Hypocrites and very un Christian.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:56

Did you even read the essay?

How are you defining "occult?" People dressed in black standing around a stone altar on the English moors invoking the name of Beelzebub?

If so, sure...no connections.

But that is the popular image of the occult. It isn't what the occult really is. The temple endowment is occultic. "Occult" means hidden. What is "hidden?" Knowledge. Hidden knowledge. The endowment is a spiritually educational experience in which sacred information is relayed to those who are deemed worthy to receive it. By definition, this is the occult.

There are all kinds of occultic spiritual traditions that don't involve Satan worship at all. Hermeticism - the belief in an ancient wisdom that had been passed down from the beginning of time until today. Sound familiar?

Gnosticism - gnosis means "knowledge." This is occultic, too. Because the knowledge is secret until revealed to those who are ready to receive it. The goal of this life is to be prepared to receive this knowledge, for this is what saves us.

Kabalah - the belief that humankind progresses through various stages of development, ultimately becoming at one once again with its origin and source.

Freemasonry - I don't even need to bring this one up, surely. Five Points of Fellowship anyone? Signs, tokens, penalties?

These are all occultic traditions. If you see no connection between these and what you believe as a Mormon, you are either not being honest with yourself, or you don't know Mormonism as well as you should.

Anonymous said...

And by the way...if people want to believe, they will find a way to do so.

Anonymous said...


I like your vague and general term use of occult rather than the popular and derisive meaning that most people associate with it. Unfortunately, when you use occult, people imagine the derisive definition than the actual etymology that you brought up.

The list I posted does have Kabbalah three times. Oh well. Not sure that that fact makes it a bad list though. Since it was on the top 10 of a Google search, it looks like it is a popular list of occultic practices. It does list items that people associate with the occult in the negative sense like alchemy, soothsaying, etc. I have no problem with the term occult in the Latin root of the definition. So to mention occult without the caveats (it really means hidden knowledge) gives the impression that you are going for the shock and awe.

You bring up a Mother in Heaven figure. 1 billion Catholics will say that it is Mary. Monks in monasteries often go through rituals that aren't publicized. I would have to guess that being part of a religion that is 'occultic' (vaguest, broadest sense of the term) is probably not so weird. So, I guess I don't know what you are driving at. Are Mormons occultic in the negative sense (akin to Satan worship) or in the broader sense shared by a number of mainstream religions?


Anonymous said...

I wasn't trying for shock and awe, just accuracy and precision. I think you need to acquaint yourself with what the occult really is. I was using the term properly. If you have an erroneous understanding of a term, you can always look it up. It isn't my responsibility to include a definition of every word I use.

Steve, by asking me if Mormons are occultic in the negative sense, you reveal that you are not understanding the issue. The occult is the occult. It isn't like there is a negative side and a positive side. Think of it like a deep hole. If you are in the hole, but hanging on near the top, it ain't so bad. Not nearly as bad as if you are at the very bottom. That is the occult. It is a hole with different levels. You can go in quite deep if you want. But if it is your opinion that it is better not to be in the hole at all, I guess it would be better to be as close to the top as possible.

The top is where you'll find things like the Order of the Arrow and Freemasonry and Mormonism as understood by your average temple-attending member. It is like "occult-light." But it is still occultic. The deeper you get in, the darker the hole becomes. The darker the beliefs become.

Jesus said that everything he taught, he did so in the open, in the public. Nothing was hidden. We should not do things in the dark (in secret.) The darkness does not comprehend the light.

You are trying to make it sound like every religion has a little "occult" in it. Maybe so, but I would disagree. But regardless, true Christianity should have nothing "hidden." Christianity as I embrace it is fully in the light of day. No secrets.

I think you are not aware of what the occult actually is and how deeply embedded it is within Mormonism, and therefore you are having some real trouble understanding what I am talking about.

You need to do the research. Start with Lance S. Owens' article I mentioned above. I think you'll be surprised.

Anonymous said...


If you use words that go contrary to the popular understanding of them, people will misunderstand you regardless of the etymology. If I told you that I enjoy reading romances, what might come to your mind "oh no, his wife got to him and he is a devoted Twilight fan." But, I might fancy myself as a word smith and be thinking of verse narrative dealing with a knight or hero. Every month, my salary gets decimated. "Why yes, Brother Steve, tithing will do that to your salary."

And now you offer up an analogy of occult being like a deep hole and it is better to be out of the hole than deep inside the hole which implies that you are talking about the negative understanding of occult and the original list that I posted holds.

You are combining two different meanings of dark. One is secret and the other is wickedness. Wickedness does not understand righteousness, this is true. Doing things in secret does not equate to performing wickedness. Moses sent spies to Canaan. Imagine if the spies revealed themselves to the Canaanites and told them what they were up to and what was eventually going to happen. It probably wouldn't bode well for the Israelites.

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” 11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. (Matthew 13:10-13)

Don't worry about me, I am well read and understand what you are talking about.


Anonymous said...


In the Christian world, there is nothing but a negative view of the occult. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about all-out witchcraft or Boy Scouts exchanging secret handshakes and passwords in the middle of the woods surrounded by torches at night (Order of the Arrow). I don't know of any "positive" view of the occult by Christians. Nor did Bruce R. McConkie who warned the LDS members of getting involved in it.

And we are discussing religion, Steve. Not military tactics. Give me a break. Context, Steve. Context.

Jesus spoke words hard to understand. But he spoke them openly. He didn't speak them in the "secret chambers." He said that if anyone comes to you saying Christ is in the secret chambers, beware.

I know it can be hard as a Mormon to process this information: that Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Mormon using a stone and NOT the plates (scrying), that Joseph Smith was in frequent conversation with the dead (necromancy), and that many of his advanced doctrines can be found in Kabalah. But this is the reality. If you don't like it, fine. Then do something about it. Don't hang around here trying to defend it. Come to some conclusions, and be done with it. It is a lot easier that way.

Hiser said...

Well, ebu, you're a negative spinmaster when it comes to things Mormon. I'd get away from that futile pursuit if I were you and move on to something else that would be more edifying to your soul.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I better clarify before you jump on this: A lot of Christians participate in occultic activities like Freemasonry or Order of the Arrow. This is because they do not consider them occultic. I think if these individuals saw the connections that many others see and acknowledge, they, too, would re-evaluate their participation.

And by the way, if you told me you read 'romances,' I have a fair enough education to know that you are not talking about Twilight or Harlequin novels.

I think most people who come to read Jeff's blog are generally well-educated. He doesn't publish the kind of stuff that attracts the average Mormon.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of context...

Matthew 24:
21 For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

22 And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.

23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

25 Behold, I have told you before.

26 Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not.

27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Based on the context, it looks like your reference was to the second coming of Jesus.

I really don't mind if Heavenly Father chooses to reveal his word through scrying, open vision, or that still small voice. If Heavenly Father tells his prophets to perform some secret act (militarily or imparting knowledge of the mysteries of heaven), who am I to say that he cannot do it in that way? Whether Christmas and Easter has its roots in pagan worship, I don't mind. Christians can hijack those days and celebrate our Lord.


Anonymous said...


I also like this necromancy that happens:

Matthew 17:
1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;

2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.

3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Oh, and no kudos for me for using decimate with tithing? I thought that was pretty clever :P


Anonymous said...


Oh, I like that, too. Income decimation. One of the true and holy practices of the Kingdom of God.

I've enjoyed chatting Steve. We won't see eye-to-eye, but I bet we are both nice guys who could sit down and have a great chat apart from religion if we wanted to. Have a great day. I've like to hear more about those romances. I spent my adolescence working my way through a lot of 19th Century literature. Mostly Dickens, the Brontes and Hugo.

James Anglin said...

The problem I have with the seer stone in the hat bit is not that it's tarred with the same brush as witchcraft because it's occult, but that it makes the golden plates irrelevant to the Book of Mormon.

There's a lot we don't know about the ancient world of our ancestors just 50 generations ago, but there's a lot we do know, thanks to inscriptions and tablets and ancient scrolls and what not, that have survived through the ages and can still be examined today. All of these artifacts are in ancient scripts and languages, but with the physical artifacts in hand, we've been able to decipher an awful lot, by comparison to later texts.

And on the other hand there is precedent among world religions for revelations that come by purely supernatural means, where some chosen prophet is granted dreams or visions or ecstatic speech, and declares words from on high. Sometimes these purported revelations purport to mention information about ancient times.

Both of those kinds of cases make sense to me, in principle. About any particular ancient artifact, I'll be as skeptical as anyone. Maybe it's a fake, or maybe it was a fluke and not representative of the culture of its time. And about any particular revelation I'll be skeptical, too. At least in English translation, most of the Qu'ran seems pretty dull to me, and I have a hard time seeing that God almighty really went to a lot of trouble to tell us that. But still I can accept that in principle we could learn about our ancient ancestors in both of these ways.

The Book of Mormon could in principle have come to us in either of these ways. But the Mormon tradition about how it actually did come is a mixture of both. There were these plates, carefully made, carefully preserved, miraculously recovered, and miraculously translated.

But then there's the rock in the hat thing. The plates themselves were completely irrelevant. So why even bother with them?

The story just becomes incoherent. If Joseph Smith did not actually have to read the plates in any sense, in order to obtain their miraculous translation, then why not simply have him dream a dream, or hear a voice in his ear — or see words on a stone in his hat? Why bother with the golden plates at all? It just makes no sense. And yet the golden plates are this big piece of the story.

It's an awkward story. It just doesn't sound like divine revelation. It sounds instead like a scam where the trick got changed part way through, and the con artists brazenly stuck to their story until their followers blinked and said Amen.

The reason that 19th century New England cultural context about seer stones and treasure seekers and a magical world view is important, is that all that cultural baggage, foreign as it is to us now, is a fits-like-a-glove explanation for why some 19th century New England con artists would have stuck to such an awkward story without blinking. To them it didn't seem as ridiculous as it seems to us now. They thought they could pull it off, because it fit with enough of their audience's preconceptions. And they did pull it off.

That's the problem with the seer stone. Not the fact that it was occult.

Tom said...

Well, James, your musings might work except for the text. The original text is too complex and well-formed for JS or any other proposed author to have composed it. Also, one cannot conclusively say that the plates were irrelevant. We don't know that for sure, and chances are we won't know much about it in this life. How about the speculation that the plates needed to be physically close to the "translator" for the transmission of the divinely translated words to occur. An equally valid and unprovable hypothesis. Cheers.

Anonymous said...


The original text is too complex and well-formed for Joseph Smith to have done it.

Who says?

Seriously...I don't understand this reasoning. The cave paintings were first thought to be too good to have been created by Paleolithic artists. The consensus at first was that they were a hoax. Until more and more started turning up all over the place. It forced everyone to reconsider what they thought Paleolithic artists capable of.

Tom, Just because some people believe Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, nor Sidney Rigdon couldn't have possibly written this book doesn't therefore mean that it was transmitted by the power of God. It is an embarrassing conclusion to jump to. It would be like saying that sense there was no way a deaf Beethoven could've written the 9th Symphony, God must have done it.

Tom, this "we'll learn it all in the next life" bit is really, for lack of a better word, stupid. What if you wait and wait until you get to the next life and then you find out that the reason why it didn't make any sense in this life was because it was all a big fat lie? You were deceived the entire time. Is it really worth waiting to find out that you were duped your whole life by something which was, to many people, so obviously an elaborate 19th Century hoax that only lasted the ages because a tyrant decided to take all the believers and go hide out in the Rocky Mountains, isolated from the rest of the world, for quite a few decades?

Use those critical thinking skills. Re-read your paragraph, and ask yourself what you would think if a Muslim used the same kind of logic to argue that the Koran is a divine book.

Tom said...

Your last entry, ebu, is vituperative, as others have been of late. Why don't you unload your Mormon hate? It would do you good.

Why don't you give us your take on who wrote the Book of Mormon. Stephen Prothero of Boston University wrote that it "was born in an age of newspapers and before a cloud of witnesses. ... So we probably know more about the production of the Book of Mormon, which is holy writ to the world's 14 million Mormons, than we do about any other scripture."

James Anglin said...

What's so hard to fake about the Book of Mormon? It doesn't seem so well-formed or complex to me at all.

Judgements like that are subjective, at least for all but the most extreme cases. So am I just too biased against Joseph Smith to see the obvious greatness of the Book of Mormon?

I don't think so. My bias against Joseph Smith is that I think he was dishonest, not that I think he was dumb. I'd have been perfectly willing to assess him as a genius. So my bias would still easily have let me recognize the Book of Mormon as an extremely impressive text. I'd have been perfectly willing to say to Mormons what I say to Muslims: I see why you might find your Scripture to be so amazing that it can only have come from God; but I'm afraid I still think a human genius could have done the job.

As it is, though, I just honestly can't say that about the Book of Mormon. I don't think it even took genius to just make it up. I admit that's a subjective judgement. But I really don't see that it's just shaped by bias. The biases I have would not have stopped me from calling the Book a work of genius. I honestly don't see that it is. It seems simplistic and repetitive.

If I admit that this kind of judgement is subjective and subject to bias, will Mormons admit that, too?

Don't Mormons grow up from childhood hearing how great the Book of Mormon is? Could this have something to do with their perception that the Book of Mormon is complex and well-formed?

Perhaps we could try to get past subjective claims. I'm afraid I feel entitled to claim a certain default advantage for my own side, because human writers of genius have produced some extremely complex documents. Dante Alighieri wrote a long poem in a strict rhyme scheme. James Joyce packed his books full of abstruse allusions. So it seems to me that if somebody throws a book on the table, the default proposition that it was written by a human does not need to be supported by evidence. It's the alternative view, that it could only have come by miracle, which needs to be argued.

So is there any objective basis for the claim that the Book could not have been faked because it's just too complex?

James Anglin said...

About Prothero's statement: I guess it's probably true that we know far more about how the Book of Mormon was produced than we do about most other scriptures. For most other scriptures, we know virtually nothing about how they were produced.

But I wouldn't say that this clearer knowledge of how the Book of Mormon came about does anything to rule out fraud.

Anonymous said...

When people mention that the Book of Mormon is complex, they are not necessarily talking about scintillating prose or poetry, which is subjective, but could actually be referring to the content of the book. Here are some bullet items from an article that Daniel Peterson wrote:

- Keeping track of hundreds of characters with unique names, belonging to all sorts of various groups
- 3 distinct dating systems are used
- 3 migration accounts to the Book of Mormon lands and various migration accounts internal to the book
- Geographically consistent in movements of people
- Book of Mormon prophets quoting earlier Book of Mormon prophets
- Many portions of the book preface what is going to happen and then summarize what has happened
- This means that the book is internally consistent
- Joseph Smith dictated the book at a rate of about 9 - 11 pages per day
- Since he didn't need the plates to dictate the work, in other words, Joseph couldn't go back and reread the content to make sure everything was consistent
- All of this from staring in a hat that contained his seer stone

Yes, others have produced literary works of similar complexity but they have not produced it under the same conditions that Joseph did.

Here is the article:



Unknown said...

A quick question, Steve, about one of the items you listed above:

-- Since he didn't need the plates to dictate the work, in other words, Joseph couldn't go back and reread the content to make sure everything was consistent.

I don't understand why this is supposed to be meaningful. Couldn't Joseph at any point simply go back and review the transcript of what he'd dictated so far? It's not as if the transcript would have been unavailable to him.

Like James, I think that writing the Book of Mormon was an impressive accomplishment, but not beyond the ability of someone like Joseph Smith.

James Anglin said...

I agree that these are not just subjective criteria; but I'm afraid they don't all tend to relieve my suspicions of fraud.

Proliferation of characters and names is only impressive if they all interact over an extended period, like in War and Peace or A Game of Thrones. When they mostly just crop up for an episode and then exit, then this actually sounds to me like something easier to make up than a long novel with only a few characters, whose personalities have to be consistent and well-rounded.

Multiple dating systems is a trick I might like to use myself in the sci-fi novel I'm slowly writing in my spare time. If the systems are separate then I don't have to worry so much about getting my timelines consistent, because the readers won't be able to tell whether they're in conflict or not!

Multiple migration accounts just sounds repetitive to me. It's telling a very similar story several times, no?

Geographically consistent? I'm afraid my impression is that interpretations of Book of Mormon geography are all over the map.

Quoting earlier prophets is a nice touch, but not really so tricky. A fraudster wouldn't have to remember all of his previously made-up prophets, after all. He can simply quote those bits that come clearly to mind.

Prefacing and summarizing is good style for didactic writing, but it strikes me as a modern style that is uncommon in those ancient texts I know. Such repetition seems especially unlikely for a writer carving text onto golden plates, with space at a premium. Above all, though: it's an easy way to pad out a made-up text, to say things multiple times.

Internal consistency is, I grant, not always so easy. In my novel at one point I had a guy drive a team of horses through a gateway and jump over the lintel while still holding the reins, and it was months before I noticed that this was topologically impossible. Here's where I have to admit that whoever composed the Book of Mormon has to have been fairly sharp, just to have avoided catastrophic contradictions within a text of this length.

But then again, the stories in the Book of Mormon are mostly rather simple. There are lots of words, but the actual plots seem pretty straightforward. So what kinds of inconsistencies would really have been hard to avoid, in stories like these? And even at that, are all inconsistencies really avoided? There are a few episodes at which critics do like to point.

In short, the supposed complexity of the Book of Mormon seems to me to amount mainly just to length: it's a long series of rather simple, repetitive stories. My impression is that a county's best storyteller could probably have done it.

James Anglin said...

The accounts we have of how Smith dictated the Book of Mormon are hard for Mormons to disavow, I think, because these accounts were given by some of the same people whose witness statements support the authenticity of the Book. But skeptics don't necessarily have to buy everything about these statements: the people who made them might have been in on the scam. How do we really know that Smith and a couple of collaborators didn't prepare the text secretly over many months, and then just claim that it was revealed in a short space of time?

I can imagine that there may be zero evidence for such months of secret preparation. If it was secret, there wouldn't be. Yeah, it kind of goes against the grain to accept an alleged scenario for which there's no evidence, to explain the existence of the Book of Mormon.

But land sakes: which alleged scenario without evidence is more plausible here? A couple of guys whom nobody considered important at the time managed to sneak away and write a book without anyone noticing? Or the golden plates?

Anonymous said...

OK and James,

Good counter points.

- The transcript is available so Joseph could have reviewed the transcript

- yes, I have to agree that the characters don't extend over the entire book but that is the nature of the book. It isn't supposed to be a novel like War and Peace but a book of scripture like the Bible

- The multiple migration accounts might be repetitive if we focus only on the Old World to New World migration. But, there are groups of people in the Book of Mormon that make migrations only to have those groups show up much later in the book in a location consistent to what was described earlier

- I think that you aren't giving the geographical consistency its due in this case. Whatever the lands were, they remained internally consistent. The land northward never popped up in the south, for example. Reading about the wars in the book of Alma left me confused as to when and where everyone was going but everything remains consistent. I agree that when writing a book it is easy to have a map hanging up so that you can refer to it when writing your novel but this was not the case during the dictation. "geographically consistent is all over the map" -- I like that :D

- Your scenario of a couple of guys sneaking away to compose this book is plausible as well. Except that there is zero evidence of this happening. No one from Joseph's time even alluded that this was the case.

- I hear quite often that a sharp, intelligent individual could have come up with this book. I guess that the challenge is on. Bring in a bright teen - twenty something, have him isolated with a couple of other people, produce a book similar to the Book of Mormon. We don't have to have them make any supernatural claims, just make a book with similar qualities that the Book of Mormon leaving out all of the subjective judgement.

- I am curious about your Sci Fi novel though. Let us know when you publish it and I will be one of your first customers :D


Anonymous said...

There is no evidence that the text was written over a long period of time. But Smith's mother said that when Joseph was young, he loved to entertain his family members with made-up stories of the ancient inhabitants, and he described their ways and lifestyles with so much detail as if he had known them himself. So, making up descriptive stories about the ancient Americans was something he apparently was doing for a very long time before any golden plates.

Here is the quote from her auto-biography, "During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelings, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life among them.

Anonymous said...


Talking about context...

Your quote comes after Joseph received instruction from Moroni about the plates, not prior.



Unknown said...

From Steve's Fairmormon link: it is known that Moroni showed Joseph visions and gave him information regarding the people whose stories were found on the Nephite record....

Well, okay. But it seems to me that one of the most basic bits of information Moroni would have given Joseph is the area in which the BoM people lived. Were "the plains of the Nephites" in Illinois? The Great Lakes region? Guatemala? This would be a good thing to know, especially given the current mishegoss between the Heartlanders and Mesoamericanists, not to mention the stillborn status of the discipline of Ancient Book of Mormon Studies itself.

But apparently, either Moroni neglected to relate these basic facts to Joseph, or Joseph neglected to record them or even to tell others about them. Both of which strike me as pretty unlikely. Can you blame me if I still find the whole thing fishy?

Anonymous said...

I can't blame you about the chasm that can exist between the secular and the religious. It can drive us all a bit mishuguna.


flying fig said...

I'm religious and still can't buy Smith's tale.
Ultimately it's character that counts. I can accept that we're all human with our many faults and failures. The difference between the biblical apostles and Joseph Smith is the apostles realized their multiple mistakes and repented. Smith not only never admit guilt for his treasure hunting scam, infidelity, bank scheme, etc... he defended his actions and defied anyone to challenge his right to do so to the unbelievable point of threatening to destroy Emma with God's wrath and literally burning an opposing newspaper house to the ground.
Can you honestly tell me if I were to present a character like this to you as one who's claimed authority to speak for God you'd believe me and trust your soul to him?

James Anglin said...

As a test of whether some kid could write an epic like the Book of Mormon, what about Christopher Paolini? He wrote Eragon as a teenager. It's not a great work of literature, but in some ways it's much more polished than the Book of Mormon. It's less repetitive, and it has a lot more dialog — which is much harder to write convincingly than It Came To Pass.

Paolini took a few years to finish his first book, but we really don't know how long Smith actually had to work on his. I managed a full (though bad) draft of mine in one year, working only in an amount of spare time that I think I could have managed to conceal if I had wanted. And the form of the Book of Mormon, as a series of very loosely connected chronicles, is much easier to write than a novel.

So I feel I do have good empirical evidence that the Book of Mormon could have been accomplished by Joseph Smith, perhaps with some help. I may not have reproduced an exactly parallel scenario, but I've got examples that seem to me to prove clearly that the task of composing the Book of Mormon would not have been flatly impossible. People have done stuff in that ballpark. If the exact task of composing the Book is really impossible, it can only be a close-but-not-quite situation where the hitch is some modest but stubborn detail. We are not talking at all about jumping to the moon.

Why should any skeptic try to go further than this, and make a really rigorous test of the possibility of making a Book of Mormon? Nobody is saying it's easy. It would be a lot of work. The chance that I'd surprise myself, by learning that a Book of Mormon is beyond mortal means, seems so low to me, that I just can't justify that much effort for that low a chance of learning anything new. I doubt that any experiment of mine would convince many Mormons. And I'm on no mission to convert Mormons, anyway. I feel no such calling.

But Mormon evangelists often seem to make a big point of how Joseph Smith could not possibly have written the Book. This claim can only be falling flat much of the time, because it just isn't inherently convincing to non-Mormons. A serious empirical trial by the LDS church might strengthen this claim a lot. Why not try it? The church has the money.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal, James. There are at least 30 possibly obsolete vocabulary items in the text. Take 15 of those at p=0.5. There are hundreds of grammatical things that match earlier English, not 19c. Take 50 of those at p=0.5. Those are the conservative odds of someone, not a philologist, fashioning the form of the text.

Anonymous said...

(left out) ... not 19c, not in the KJV.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear...here comes the Early Modern English again. Looks like it's check mate for the critics again. We never see this coming, do we?

James Anglin said...

If that's the deal, the Book of Mormon has a losing hand. The argument from archaic grammar and vocabulary is such a poor one that it seems like clutching at straws.

What does it mean for a vocabulary item to be 'obsolete'? We don't have millions of time-machine drones zipping back to the 19th century, hovering invisibly over every English speaker in the world to scan their brains remotely and confirm that these people had no understanding of the obsolete term. All it means when a word is identified as 'obsolete' is that certain usually accurate samples of surviving copies of books and pamphlets and newspapers, from a certain period, don't show that word. In no way does that imply that nobody in that time frame had ever heard of the word or knew how to use it.

"Thou sayest sooth" is an obsolete phrase today, and a random sample of internet phrases would probably not show it. But I'm hardly the only person in the world who knows enough to use it if I want to sound old-fashioned.

Whoever wrote the Book of Mormon was obviously trying hard to sound archaic. The text is not in the ordinary vernacular of Joseph Smith's day. It's not in the specially constructed language of the King James Bible (which was kind of an 'easy reading' text for its day, with a deliberately small lexicon). And it's certainly not in pure Early Modern English. The English of the Book of Mormon is from several times — and no time.

That's not evidence that the Book of Mormon was not faked. On the contrary, it's suggestive that it was faked, because a clumsy attempt to sound archaic, made in the early 19th century, would produce exactly the sort of anachronistic mish-mash that is the Book of Mormon's English.

Anonymous said...

You guys don't know what you're talking about. And ebu, your tactic is lame and expected from an anti: "here we go again." Anglin: "it's certainly not in pure Early Modern English." You don't know that. You're a physicist who hasn't read the 2009 Yale ed. It's almost all that. Some of the lexical items, according to the OED, were obsolete before Amer. colonization. That means many of the others were also likely obsolete for JS. And because there are many of them, they support each other, and the syntax supports the lexical. The hand is strong.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out to those who are neutral or positive on the issue. What you see here is the reaction of the biased anti, when confronted with strong evidence of divine origins. They become irrational and reject lexical and syntactic obsolescence, which all linguists admit is part of language. Interesting and revealing.

Anonymous said...

"strong evidence of divine origins?" Because as we all know, nothing says "divine" quite like a good helping of antiquated English.

You call me irrational? It is irrational to even propose such nonsense! Even if Joseph Smith clearly couldn't have written it because of the antiquated language, it still does not obviously follow that God did it!

(Aside: Why can't they see this?)

James Anglin said...

The Book of Mormon is no more written in Early Modern English than it is written in Dutch, and it doesn't take an expert linguist to tell that. This is Early Modern English.

I didn't say that lexical and syntactic obsolescence aren't part of language. I just explained what these concepts actually mean — and why they don't offer the support for the Book of Mormon that a Mormon might want. If you can point out a mistake in my explanation, by all means do it. Please point out carefully, though. Fine distinctions like the one between 'reject' and 'explain' may turn out to be important.

It's reasonable enough to doubt my credentials or my judgement on these matters. By all means consult an actual linguist, either about the concept of lexical obsolescence, or about the language of the Book of Mormon in general.

If widely respected linguists were really willing to support Mormon claims about the Book, though, I would think that the Church would have a webpage full of their endorsing statements by now. If it's just a clear-cut technical verdict about dialect, after all, I'm sure they'd be happy to offer their opinions. At most they'd ask for a fee for the professional service of examining the evidence — which the Church could easily pay, in such an important cause.

Pierce said...

Flying Fig,

Not that there is anything that we might say to change your mind about Joseph Smith, but I question why your skepticism of character doesn't extend to people in the Bible.

Abraham: When he couldn't have children with Sarai he went in unto Hagar. Adultery.
Balaam: Cruel to animals. Led people astray (2 Peter 2:15)
Jacob: Also had multiple wives and concubines. Adultery
Jonah: Ignored the Lord and tried to set aside his mantel. Was disappointed when Ninevah wasn't destroyed.
Noah: Apparently drank so much that he would pass out
Moses: Killed an Egyptian
Aaron: Built a gold idol
Joshua: Committed genocide
Mathew: Tax collector, a profession looked down on at Jesus' time
Simon the Zealot: Political rebel
David: Adultery and murder
Solomon: Married many foreign women and turned to idol worshiping
Peter: Vehemently denied Christ. Also refused to take the Gospel to the Gentiles
Paul: Supported the stoning of Stephen the prophet and persecuted the Church

It's a short list and there could be much more. Let's just say that God has always used imperfect men with even questionable character to do His work. Given the balance of questionable things that Joseph Smith did compared to the great things that he did, I'd say his legitimacy is on par with the rest of the people from this list.

Anonymous said...

I think Pierce is trying to make that case that Joseph Smith's questionable character is actually evidence that he was a prophet of God. If he didn't have this list of flaws balancing out all his greatness, and if he was actually what most members think he is, we'd have to start questioning his authority.

Pierce said...

Negative. Read Fig's comment. He said that character counts when it comes to a prophetic mantle. The Bible shows that is not the case. While character is important and gives us great examples to live by, what counted in the Bible was that He called them to a work regardless of their character and decisions. Also, to say that this list of people all repented of their specific actions isn't as clear as he wants it to be. Hagar was chased out and then told to go back into that situation. To say that Joseph Smith never repented of anything is a statement that Fig isn't qualified to make. My point is (and I'll restate it) that Joseph did questionable things, but also produced great things. Prophets and apostles also did questionable things and produced great things. You can't criticize Joseph and tout the Bible based on the same criteria.
But you can say "I just don't like Joseph Smith and don't accept him." Can't argue with that.

James Anglin said...

The problem isn't that Joseph Smith was imperfect.

The problem for me at least is that Joseph Smith used his status as prophet to pressure multiple teenage girls and married women into marrying him polygamously. I'm sorry to raise this allegation here, but I mean to allege no more than what the church's own website essays forthrightly admit.

As a point of cold logic, I suppose I'll admit that in principle Smith could have been commanded to do all that by an angel with a burning sword. But to me this means, I'm afraid, that Joseph Smith was either truly commanded by God to marry multiple underage girls and currently married women; or else he was an unrepentant serial sexual predator. I just don't see much middle ground between those extremes, given what I understand to be the facts of his life as acknowledged by all.

If Smith was a good man who only obeyed God's inscrutable command to wholesale polygamy from pure faith, and who maybe never had sex with anyone but Emma, then there's no problem of his being imperfect. Stand up for him as a good man, who was fully good enough to be a prophet.

In the worse case for Smith, though, he would be a whole lot more than just imperfect. He'd be the sort of man whose word no-one could trust about anything, let alone about new truths from God.

I don't see any other options than these two, in Smith's case. So I don't see how the defense that he could be used by God without being perfect makes any sense for him. Either he doesn't need that defense; or it doesn't help him.

James Anglin said...

Pierce, you're painting with too broad a brush. There are more than two categories of things, 'questionable' and 'great'.

The particular great thing that Joseph Smith is supposed to have done is to reveal God's message. The particular questionable thing of which he is suspected of doing is not just questionable, but really despicable — and it particularly strikes at the credibility of his revelation claims.

Under these circumstances of his particular case, the general fact that 'questionable' deeds can coexist with 'great' ones is irrelevant.

Pierce said...


Without diving too far down the rabbit hole, I'll just throw this your way. Trying to limit things to two extremes is certainly an option but it's not a productive one when it comes to something as complicated as polygamy. For example, many LDS believe that it is possible that Joseph was commanded (or even just permitted) to be sealed to multiple women, yet HOW he carried it out was his own doing, and HOW is successors did it was their own doing. Another idea is that the sealing meant something a little different to them than what marriage--with all its bells and whistles--means to us today. Evidence shows that sealing had more to do with binding the human race together than it did to shacking up, especially in the case of Helen Kimball.

Point is, almost every issue is multi-faceted, and much, much effort has gone into understanding it and warrants more than a black and white dichotomy. It would be easier for Mormons to just say "Yeah, Joseph never did anything questionable!" But that ignores a lot of stuff. As such, maybe we need to start with our expectations of what prophets and apostles have been in the past, and whether or not God still decides to work with them--and then go from there in prayer. My two cents.

Pierce said...


"Despicable" seems to be pretty suggestive. For someone like Flying Fig, he might look at the deeds of all of those previous prophets and explain them away as indiscretions, while still upholding the validity of the Bible and its message. On the other hand, atheists would quite disagree with him. Joseph Smith is a bigger target because he is a more recent historical figure, but the little insights into the Bible we have at least indicate the same issue occurring. Being a man of faith, I don't personally believe that I can base my discipleship completely on whether or not something makes me uncomfortable. And whether or not other Christians want to admit it--they feel the same way too. The Biblical pattern actually does demonstrate that in most cases, character is indeed irrelevant to the Gospel being brought forth. The Gospel is ALWAYS bigger than the people delivering it.
Now, if you're on the fence about things, or don't believe in Christ, then this will make little sense, since in the modern world we are taught to believe in ourselves.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems for Mormons is that they only have one definition of a prophet. It is a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who has been led by God to teach God's truth as a church leader. This means Thomas Monson is the same basic kind of prophet as Peter (they need Peter to be a prophet, although find me any evidence than anyone other than Mormons consider him to be one), or as Isaiah, or as Moses, or as Abraham.

Abraham was your basic Mesopotamian nomadic tribal warlord. Moses was the same. These men weren't prophets in the sense that Isaiah or Jeremiah are prophets. Isaiah and Jeremiah were more closely related to the street-corner preachers we find occasionally in today's cities, especially the more zealous, fire/brimstone variety. They were NOT church leaders like Elder Ballard.

Peter and Paul were not prophets at all. Not in any Biblical sense, other than that they preached their testimony of Jesus Christ.

But Mormons cannot make these distinctions. Because today's prophets are said to follow in the same tradition as the Biblical prophets, so therefore, the Biblical prophets have to be redesigned to closely match what the church has leading it today.

I just love it that Mormons like Pierce now no longer defend Joseph Smith against accusations like Mormons used to do. I guess the truth has become to obvious a burden, and now, instead of pretending like you aren't carrying that 2000 lb weight on your shoulders, you say, "Oh sure! It's heavy, but it's all good."

This is a transitional state. It isn't sustainable. It will only succeed in keeping about one generation in the church. The fall-out is going to continue, and even quicken its pace.

Anonymous said...

In fact, Glenn Beck is more of a Jeremiah-style prophet than Thomas Monson.

Pierce said...


Actually, I personally do believe that there are different levels of prophets. I even differentiate between the President of the church and a prophet like Joseph Smith. I believe Joseph Smith when he said "a prophet is only a prophet when acting as such." However, I believe they have the keys for receiving prophesy for the Church if the Lord chooses. But ultimately, I'm not even really interested in the semantics of what a prophet is, although I can tell it fascinates you.

You really are entertaining to read. Does it really get SO under your skin that Mormons like Pierce can take an intelligent approach to their faith and make it so much harder for you to try to tear down? Seriously, every criticism you have had, we have responded well to. And now you are essentially complaining that we are able to respond well to it. This is all coming on the heels of you changing the subject once again when it didn't work out for you. Thanks for the laugh.

flying fig said...

The difference between the men of the Bible and Smith is all the biblical mistakes, indiscretions, and questionable deeds were at the very least recognized as such!
The things Joseph Smith did (including his treasure digging scam, infidelity and bank scheme) were not only every repented for, they were never even labeled as indiscretions to begin with! In fact Smith proudly defended his deeds as righteous. FAIR still claims "village treasure hunter" as a legitimate trade.
The same can be said about Brigham Young. How many years did it take the church to finally disavow the racist teachings of Young? He never repented for his racist views, instead he made them official doctrine.
Big difference

Unknown said...

Speaking of prophets, the extremely strong linguistic evidence against the ancientness of the BoM continues to pile up -- as, for example, in this devastating analysis of Joseph's misreading of Isaiah.

Pierce said...


And when did the people of the Old Testament repent of their racist views? The whole Jewish race were isolationists and nationalists, to the point of alleged genocide, and Jehovah is attributed to being the propagator. The priesthood belonged with one class of people. At what point was Abraham's concubine or Joseph's wives and concubines recognized as sinful?
It didn't happen in every instance, as you suggest. Nor are there many instances of said prophets abasing themselves in the scriptures.
Again, you don't know what Joseph Smith repented of and what he did not. There are a few instances where he was called out for things he was doing, and you can even find them in D&C.
I predicted to James that you would simply sweep every instance under the carpet in one swoop, and you didn't fail to deliver. Again, you don't have to like Joseph, but your criticism cuts both ways.

flying fig said...

Pierce, your list is invalid as these are all matters of warfare, acts punished or uncondoned by God or repentant sins.

When Smith is brought to trial for being a charlatan treasure digger, does he show any remorse? Nope, he continues using the same magic right for the rest off his life.
When Smith's bank scheme fails does he show any remorse for losing all those people's money? Nope, he skips town in the middle of the night, blaming others.
When opposition arises against Smith over polygamy, how is his character revealed? He burns the press to the ground

There is one act not on your list. In being caught in an adulterous affair does Smith acknowledged his sin? No, he simply creates a "revelation" threatening his poor wife to go along or be destroyed D&C 53-64

Anonymous said...

RE: devastating analysis of Joseph's misreading of Isaiah.

Who wrote the piece of information, what are the credentials of the person who wrote it, what education does this person have, what field of study does this person have a degree in, has this person been peer reviewed, has this person ever been published anywhere, etc etc etc.

If these questions can't be answered then it is all hogwash and personal opinion of the person who wrote the piece

James Anglin said...

Pierce, I'm not really trying to make out that Joseph Smith was obviously a monster. I can accept that a lot of the details of his life seem unclear, and there may be room for interpretation. Maybe the view of Smith's character is like one of those ambiguous images, that's either one vase or two faces. I see the image one way, and I just can't shake that perception. No doubt Mormons see it differently.

I'm just trying to point out that general imperfection is really not the issue here. Yes, God can use weak human beings to do great things; but the concerns that skeptics have about Joseph Smith's character are not about mere human weakness. The accusation may be false, but what it accuses is that Smith deliberately lied and deceived, not just one time in fear of his life, but often, without repenting, and just to get things he wanted to have, at others' grievous expense.

I can accept that a faithful Mormon might say No, Joseph Smith was not a monster like that; when you really understand all his acts and motives you see that he was guilty of nothing worse than common weaknesses; so he is credible as a prophet of God. But what I just couldn't buy would be for a Mormon to say, Sure, yeah, Joseph Smith may have been a persistent wicked liar and a moral monster, but hey, that's just human imperfection, so we can still trust his word about revelations from God. When I think I may be hearing that bizarre line of argument, I just go, Wait, what?

James Anglin said...

The link from Orbiting Kolob, about Isaiah's famous 'voice crying in the wilderness' (and how the voice was not actually in the wilderness) is very interesting. It's pretty convincing. I don't know who the author is, but I think it's true that all modern translations of Isaiah render that passage the way he says, so the main point has clearly already been endorsed by lots of top scholars. Biblical Hebrew is not a small field and the passage is a famous one. There should be no trouble confirming his point about the right translation of that verse by just checking out any modern commentary on Isaiah.

I suppose that Nephi might just have messed up Isaiah the same way John the Baptist himself (or whoever wrote John 1:23) later did. The image of a prophet as a lonely figure crying out, unheard, in the wilderness has been a strong meme for a long time. Its connection to this passage probably did start as a mere copying error, but maybe it took on a life of its own quite soon — and maybe it had already done that in Nephi's time.

On the other hand ... John the Baptist himself may simply have been 'speaking as a man' when he described himself as 'a voice crying in the wilderness'. Nephi, though, would have to have been divinely inspired to prophesy the coming of John. Would God inspire Nephi to prophesy with a misquotation of the prophet Isaiah?

Anonymous said...

anon 7:26

Pick up an NIV or an NASB. Read Isaiah 40:3 in these translation. The NASB is considered the most literal translation available. See for yourself before you question credentials.

Anonymous said...

The matter is inconclusive, certainly not "devastating" or "extremely strong". Sounds like certain people are getting carried away here. Don't become overzealous apologists for the anti side.

The person who wrote this is a fine philologist, BYU undergrad in classics. Don't know where he is now. Raised a member, was an atheist by the time he attended BYU. Consciously broke the honor code. Had he had integrity, he would not have attended BYU. Became a firm anti-Mormon at some point.

Anonymous said...

Please...let's stop using the expression "anti-Mormon" until we have agreed upon a definition of it. By the same definition some of you throw around for anti-Mormon, the Book of Mormon has passages in it which would be considered "anti-Semitic." Are Mormons "anti-Semitic?" Of course not.

To be critical is not "anti."

Anonymous said...

"You really are entertaining to read. Does it really get SO under your skin that Mormons like Pierce can take an intelligent approach to their faith and make it so much harder for you to try to tear down? Seriously, every criticism you have had, we have responded well to."

I am glad you enjoy my writing so much. But don't flatter yourself. You may think you have responded well, but I don't think you have. Not at all. And you don't understand that the faith has already fallen down in my opinion. It's already been torn down. As far as I am concerned, there isn't anything standing. Remember that last battle scene in Saving Private Ryan? That burned out French town? That's Mormon doctrine.

So, if it appears to you that you have defended the city well, great. To me, the city you have defended is a heap of smoking ruins. You just don't see it that way.

Joseph Smith tore it all down himself in 1844. ""We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea..."

Well, excuse everyone for having such silly suppositions, Joe! Because in 1829, you happened to have published a book that said, ""For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity."

You can say, "Well, the King Follet Discourse was just Smith speaking his own ideas." Okay, but why do you go to the temple then? To learn what you need to learn to become a god like your Father before you.

If the KFD is wrong, the temple is wrong and the entire religion fails. If the KFD is right, the Book of Mormon is wrong, and thus the entire religion fails.

You are all sunk. In 1844, Joseph Smith sunk the boat that Ballard told us all to stay on.

He was running for President at the time. In March, Orson Hyde had set out to Washington with a petition to have Joseph Smith installed as an official member of the U. S. Army. He wanted to create a private army of over 100,000 volunteers to oversee the expansion of the West. He already had his own private army of over 1000 men in Nauvoo. The guy was a lunatic! And at a certain point, you can hide behind ignorance as your excuse for continuing to follow the movement that this man started. But, ignorance is only cute for a short while. I would say it's beginning to wear off.

I've decided that I am wasting my life away engaging in online conversations. Seriously. I've been mulling this over for several days. I think the time has come for me to greatly decrease my online presence. It's been wonderful chatting with you all.

I invite you to read anything I've written on my blog (click my username above). I have an entire tab devoted entirely to Mormon Issues. Some of the stuff you've probably already heard me talk about here.

Over and out

Pierce said...


I thought pretty highly of your analyses in discussions before engaging you. In the end though, you're like every other critic; throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. If we were so sunk, you would have done a much better job at actually demonstrating that through a quality dialogue that stayed on point, rather than trying to flood it with everything negative you've ever read on the internet. This post was about Christian fear, a criticism you leveled. Did you ever engage the scriptures quoted and show that they actually mean "hey I'm saved, it's all good!?" Let's see how many times you changed the subject before you got down to King Follet. I'll take my leave from our pointless dialogue as well.

Anonymous said...

The NIV or NASB reading for Isaiah 40:3 makes more sense, clear a path in the wilderness, make a road in the desert. Both flow, there is that chiastic ring to it ;-)

What does this mean about the Book of Mormon? That it is different, quite possibly wrong at that point.... phew.... I just admitted that Joseph Smith was fallible... and I am still good with being a Mormon.


Pierce said...

"Pierce, your list is invalid as these are all matters of warfare, acts punished or uncondoned by God or repentant sins."

I don't know why I expected a more cogent response. The Lord told Hagar to return to her abusive, 'adulterous' relationship. Where was the repentance in that example? Joshua allegedly committed genocide against children, claiming revelation from Jehovah. If you can excuse the most heinous act imaginable with "well the Bible said that God said it was ok," then why can't you cut Joseph a break for trashing a libelous press or polygamy? But if none of these things raise your eyebrow, then there's not much to discuss since it appears that your bias doesn't allow you to evaluate valid comparisons reasonably.

Oh well.

Anonymous said...

"Please...let's stop using the expression "anti-Mormon" until we have agreed upon a definition of it."

Well, I think that fits you, ebu. That's based on your writings here, which are at times filled with contumely. Look, if we have trouble with labels and demand meanings for certain terms at every turn, we could hardly write anything of substance. We'd be bogged down in semantics all day long.

I do hope you can abandon your vain pursuit. It would do your soul some good. Wishing you all the best.

flying fig said...

"why can't you cut Joseph a break for trashing a libelous press or polygamy?"

You see Pierce, this is what you'll never get. These two examples are just the tip of a massive iceberg. From early Smith history as a con artist, BOM anachronisms, Historical, geographical, archaeological issues. BOM/D&C contradictions, illegitimate priesthood lineage, disavowed theology, polygamy, polyandry, anti-Jesus legalism, changing nature of God, Egyptian papyrus facsimiles. This list goes on and on and on.

I don't know of any other religion that claims to have "modern prophets", to have finally "settled all confusion", to be the "one true church" and yet have so many gaping holes in it.

How many questions, doubts, issues are you encouraged to "put on the shelf"? What's your count up to? The church itself won't take a position on so many of these things, it's no wonder their members are left without answers

I'll leave you with this and I'm done. You've been quite forward to contradict the Holy Spirit inspired, BIBLICAL Paul. He may have been on to something when he said;
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. Gal1:8

Please be careful.
Over and out

James Anglin said...

I at least don't excuse the heinous acts of Biblical figures. I think Moses, for example, was a monster. He instigated a massacre of thousands of people, just because they made a golden calf. I wouldn't accept that it was ethical to be nice to kittens just because Moses told me so; he has no moral authority whatever, given his grossly evil acts. As it happens, though, some of the commandments that are traditionally said to have come through Moses strike me, just on their face, as morally compelling. I accept them for that, not because they came from Moses. Anyway, I'm by no means sure that Moses really existed.

The sins of people like Peter and Paul are indeed different. Peter denied his lord in a moment of weakness, at an extremely difficult time. That doesn't make me inclined to doubt the sincerity of the carefully considered witness for which he ultimately did become a martyr. And I might be seriously worried about Paul if he should happen to decide that I was a heretic, but his crimes of zealotry only tend to make me more sure of his sincerity.

There are some things in Mormonism that seem compelling on their face; but for me, these are almost all things that are generically Christian rather than specifically Mormon. There are a number of specifically Mormon things, on the other hand, that seem onerous and arbitrary, or even distasteful; and they rest entirely, as far as I can see, on the authority of Joseph Smith as a prophet.

The problem with Joseph Smith as a prophet is not just that he was bad, but that — if he was bad — the specific form of badness he had was being a liar for personal gain. That particular heinous characteristic — if indeed he had it — destroys his moral authority as a prophet, and so undermines much of specifically Mormon belief. The fact that lots of Biblical figures did bad things does not get Smith off the hook, as far as I'm concerned.

James Anglin said...

And in postscript, I'm really dismayed by 'Moses was bad, too' as a Mormon defense line. The second millennium BC just called for you, Pierce. It wants its moral standards back.

Anonymous said...

What personal gain did Joseph Smith obtain from lying? Polygamy? Polygamy was a headache so I fail to see any real personal gain.

Joseph Smith did not become rich, and neither did his widow after his death. So please enlighten on the personal gain from lying. I truly am at a loss as to what the personal gain was.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The term anti Mormon came from the very people who fought against the Mormons every way conceivable during Joseph Smith's lifetime and even afterwards. Being called anti Mormon was a badge of honor. The enemies of the LDS religion used anti Mormon to describe and identify themselves.

Anti means against. Those people that come on sites such as this one who do nothing but mock, use inflammatory language, use caricatures to describe certain aspects of beliefs, use personal attacks, and so forth are against Mormons = Anti Mormons.

Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy of the critics is astounding.

They attack LDS scholars credentials and work with glee, and even get personal, but someone questions the credentials of an anonymous person whom no one knows anything about and whoo boy, the critics get testy. Someone said this before.......the critics can dish it out but can't take it.

Anonymous said...

Too bad ebu left at this moment; would like his take on what alternative he had in mind here: "Even if Joseph Smith [or proposed author] clearly couldn't have written it because of the antiquated language, it still does not obviously follow that God did it!"

So please tell us which Oxbridge polymath/philologist wrote it, and how Smith and company managed to fool all the various witnesses about how the dictation was actually proceeding.

Pierce said...


From the very beginning, I have contradicted YOUR limited version of Paul. It does not harmonize with the rest of the Bible, and you failed to make a case for it. I happen to believe all of Paul's words, so thanks for the warning but I won't be joining you in limiting the teachings of Jesus and Paul to what a Reformer taught. This post was just one of many arguments that you couldn't satisfactorily respond to, and one that you spent little time on--and it was all Paul! You guys have done a splendid job ignoring weighty counterpoints, and fallen back on the "big list" criticism approach when the going gets tough. Hopefully we wont subjected to evangelical rhetoric unless it's an actual topic, because it took us all nowhere.

Pierce said...

James: From what I gather, you seem to be more on the fence about all of this stuff, or religion in general. So I would not have approached you this way. Flying Fig, on the other hand, is a very strong believer in the Bible. So he and I can test his claim against the prophets and apostles of the Bible.
I'm afraid you missed the point of why I used Biblical figures in this way. It wasn't to justify Joseph Smith, the way you would justify someone's actions by saying "well so-and-so did it, so it's ok for blah-blah to do it." The point was to show that if character is the defining characteristic of a prophet, the way that Fig proclaimed, then the Bible is rubbish.
Once that has been established, you can have a separate conversation on the strengths and weaknesses of Joseph's claim to prophethood.

Anonymous said...

Isaiah 40:3 intrigued me a bit more so I've been doing some reading. I realized that the original rendering of Isaiah would not have the canticles. In fact, not only would it not have canticles but it wouldn't have had vowels either. The argument for the "devastating analysis" of Joseph's Book of Mormon rendering was because of the canticles. Vowels are an after thought in written Hebrew which follows that canticles are definitely the after thought after vowels. The canticles are used by the cantor to aid in orally delivering the written word.

Here is an interesting article that makes the argument in favor of the "devastating analysis" but for different reasons:


The reasons he makes are strictly for poetry, which makes more sense. He also opines that both readings are accurate from a Christian perspective and it isn't just KJV that got it "wrong," (translated differently is more accurate since all we can do at this point is make a reasonable guess as to the correct translation) a lot of translations chose the Greek version (which is what KJV did) of translation.


James Anglin said...

Pierce, what I meant by 'gain' was really more general than money. I'm afraid the gain I mainly suspect that Smith sought from polygamy was just sex. If it also brought him trouble, well: it's not uncommon for men to get into trouble, in pursuit of sex.

About your reasoning in your latest argument with EBU, about the virtue of Biblical figures: I see your logic now; thanks.

I do still wonder whether you and EBU may have been talking at cross purposes, though. He may have meant the character issue in the narrower way that I see it, as being about honesty in particular, and not about all-round virtue in general. And he may then have interpreted your responses as a some kind of defense of Smith's honesty, specifically. Perhaps, by each mistaking what the other was really driving at, you may both have been fighting straw men. That would explain the mutual frustration with an opponent who was getting his stuffing knocked out, yet refused to go down.

Or maybe you guys' problem was something else. I do think that the straw man duel I've described is something that often happens in religious arguments, because each side is so eager to fit the other into a Wrong box as quickly as possible that they don't always take the time to get the Wrong box right.

Or another thing that often goes wrong: people switch horses, to a different argument, without explaining clearly enough that they are doing so. They're just eager to ride back into battle, and don't take the time to explain the change of horse. This can reasonably give their opponent the impression that all their arguments are interchangeable, and equally flimsy.

But often it's not really that, I think. People often have just one or two big and basic reasons for their position, which are their real reasons; but these reasons are hard to articulate clearly. Big ideas are often like that. Somebody whose main reasons are hard to explain will often advance another argument as a short cut, because it seems easier to make, even though it's not as important a point. If the short cut argument doesn't work out, they'll fall back on their main point. The confusing thing is when they don't explain clearly that this is what they're doing.

It seems to me that short cut arguments are just a mistake, in fact. Skirmishes over side issues are a waste of time. Tempting as it is to try to knock Goliath down from a safe distance with one little stone, we aren't David. It never works. I feel it's better to let the side issues go, and struggle away at making the major issues clearer.

Side issues may be useful as test cases, to help figure out how the other side thinks — and maybe not even with the goal of defeating them, but just of understanding them. But I think that works better if the side issues are treated as questions, rather than arguments.

James Anglin said...

Steve, if you read carefully through that guy's post about the Isaiah text, you see that he is taking for granted the knowledge that the canitllation marks are only in the so-called Masoretic text of the Torah. He explicitly acknowledges that the Masoretic text is rather late, but he defends it as probably accurate for the traditional reading of the verses.

And from the beginning of his post, he says that the poetic parallelism of the verses is another reason to prefer the reading he advocates.

And I think this Symmachus guy also has a point when he tries to explain the two versions in terms of likely copyist errors. Given the two versions, it must be that mistakes were made. The mistakes that would produce 'crying in the wilderness' out of a 'road in the wilderness' original seem more plausible than the mistakes that would be needed for the other way around.

Plus, as one of the later posters after Symmachus mentioned, it never really made so much sense for a prophet to be calling for a road to be made, while addressing an audience of cactus. Especially when the context of the verses is about speaking to Jerusalem.

If you want a Mormon rebuttal to the criticism of Nephi, though, I think this is a good one: whatever Isaiah really said, John the Baptist did call himself 'a voice crying in the wilderness' (according to the gospels of Mark and John). So maybe Nephi was just prophesying John the Baptist, without bothering to correct John's mistaken reading of Isaiah.

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

I did miss those points that Symmachus made. As a point of clarification, one translation leans on the Septuagint for understanding and there doesn't appear to be any copying mistake, just a difference in how the verse was translated. If I were to guess, the original Septuagint did not the canticles to rely on. This is more the point that Dr Sargent makes with this same verse. The stronger argument is in favor of the poetic nature of the verses as the "voice" is seen in verse 6 as well.

What is interesting from a Christian perspective is that both translations are accurate. The Book of Mormon does not preserve the poetic nature of the verse but it is not an inaccurate translation.


James Anglin said...

Mmm, not quite. The Septuagint apparently omits the 'in the desert' of the second verse, which is really there in the consonantal Hebrew text. So even if the 'in the wilderness' could grammatically go either way (without cantillation marks), any translation that has only wilderness and not also desert has omitted an original word.

As Symmachus argues, I think persuasively, leaving out the "desert" was probably the original error. FIrst of all, it's an easy error to make in copying. If you've just written 'wilderness' you might not notice that you failed to write the synonym 'desert'. And then secondly, the omission of desert would naturally explain the displacement of 'wilderness', because giving the wilderness to the voice, instead of the way of the Lord, would seem to keep better parallelism between 'prepare the way' and 'make the path straight'.

I think the best explanation for a Mormon would be to rely on the fact that Nephi's text agrees with the gospels' versions. So you could argue, I think, that either John the Baptist himself messed up on Isaiah, or else he deliberately skewed Isaiah a bit in his answer, maybe even as a joke, and the gospel writers missed the word play, maybe because it matched the Septuagint translation that they knew best. Then Nephi just prophesied John the Baptist, in John's own words, regardless of Isaiah.

I'm not saying I buy that myself, just that it's argument that doesn't seem to really take much in the way of mental gymnastics.

What I don't think anyone can get away from is that these texts show the New Testament playing loose with the Old Testament. But that happens in lots of places. The relatively recent fundamentalist Christian insistence on the literal inerrancy of Scripture is contradicted by Scripture itself.

Unknown said...

This is kind of an aside -- just a bit of riffing rather than an argument -- but the discussion of mistakes in Isaiah 40:3 raises what seems to me to be an interesting logical problem involving a certain strand of apologetics and the 8th Article of Faith, the one that says this:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

A distinction is made here between an imperfectly translated Bible, and a perfectly translated BoM. (If the BoM shared the same imperfection as the Bible, the 8th AoF would presumably read, We believe the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the word of God as far as they are translated correctly.)

So, what happens if portions of an imperfect Bible are quoted at length in a perfect BoM? Apologists have offered some rather unconvincing arguments about how those 1769 KJV errors might have shown up in the BoM -- for example, it is suggested that when Joseph Smith recognized a passage on the plates as coming from Isaiah, he set the plates aside and for the sake of convenience just copied out the passage from his Bible. This has been contested in several ways: it's "loose control"; you can't know whether the symbols on the plates match a passage in the KJV until after you finish translating the symbols, at which point there's no time-savings in copying from the KJV; and JS wasn't using the plates anyway, he was using the seer stone.

To those objections we can now add this more general one: how can anyone argue that the Bible is imperfect and the BoM perfect, when the BoM so extensively quotes the Bible?

This is not a trivial question. The LDS insistence on the possibility of errors in the Bible is a very handy theological tool, since (among other things) it allows the Church to resolve conflicts between the two books, to demonstrate its own superiority to other Christian sects (the LDS Church has the perfect book, the other churches only have the imperfect one), etc.

So, how might the Church address the logical problem of a perfect book that draws extensively on an imperfect book? I mean, in a logical rather than a faith-based way? There seem to me to be two options (maybe I'm missing others):

(1) The KJV Bible passages quoted in the BoM are error-free. The BoM never quotes any of the mistranslated passages of the KJV. But of course most Bible scholars today would dispute this.

(2) The KJV Bible passages quoted in the BoM do contain errors, but the importation of those errors was Joseph's -- the imperfection was not in the original text of the plates but in Joseph's decision to switch from plates to Bible. But this amounts to saying that "The Book of Mormon is the Word of God insofar as it was translated correctly by JS, and unfortumately it appears not to have been translated correctly by JS, and this, of course, contradicts the 8th AoF.

To me, though, the 8th AoF is already compromised by the BoM itself, which tells us that "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men." So, on the one hand the AoF tells us that we may read the BoM without worrying about the possibility of mistranslation. On the other hand, the BoM's title page tells us that the perfectly-translated BoM might well contain "the mistakes of men."

The Bible, marred by imperfect translation.

The BoM, marred in its original composition by the mistakes of men.

Shouldn't the 8th AoF say something lke this? -- We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God except where it contains the mistakes of men.

And doesn't all of this mean that Bible is superior to the BoM? I mean, the upshot seems to be that the original text of the Bible was perfect, whereas the original text of the BoM might contain mistakes.

James Anglin said...

To count all that as a rigorous argument would probably be to build too much upon the absence of a second 'insofar' clause from the Article of Faith. Yeah, a really carefully corporate-lawyer-ish set of Articles would no doubt have added such a clause if it meant it, but Articles of Faith aren't usually that kind of document. I don't think it's overly pedantic to just say that the 8th Mormon Article of Faith is non-commital about translation issues in the Book of Mormon.

But as a riff, it's an interesting riff. Translation issues have been a huge deal for the Christian Bible from the very beginning, since the original text was in a crude Greek that was everybody's second language. Nobody preserved Jesus's original Aramaic words — and apparently nobody even thought of this as an issue.

One of the biggest themes of the New Testament is the expression of Jesus's gospel, which expressly began as an exclusively Jewish sect, as a trans-cultural message that could be preached to Romans and Greeks and Ethiopians as well as Jews. Writing everything in common Greek was part of that. Different versions proliferated, and nobody seemed to mind this until much later. I'm actually impressed with this attitude, because to me it indicates a confidence that the essential message was robust.

The Christian gospel was digitally mastered, so to speak. The basic gist of the gospel was the gospel. The goal of lossless transmission could therefore be achieved, not by perfect reproduction, but by not fussing over details. So go right ahead and put your bad Greek words into the mouth of God Incarnate; go and preach to all nations.

The Book of Mormon's supposed 'tight control' origin, with every English word revealed on the seer stone, is certainly different from that.

Unknown said...

Says Anon 12:47, Polygamy was a headache so I fail to see any real personal gain. Joseph Smith did not become rich, and neither did his widow after his death. So please enlighten on the personal gain from lying. I truly am at a loss as to what the personal gain was.

I am truly at a loss as to how anyone can have such a narrow understanding of human motivations. As everyone knows, "personal gain" can take many forms. We aren't motivated solely by the promise of wealth; we are motivated also by the promise of prestige, status, and so on. Think of the blowhard down at the local VFW who brags about his exploits in combat when in fact he did his military service behind a desk. Is he lying for money? No, he's lying to elevate his social status.

Joseph Smith might well have done the same. Religious figures in his day enjoyed tremendous prestige.

Also, of course, people can lie in the hope of getting rich without ever actually succeeding in getting rich. So the fact that "Joseph Smith did not become rich" is entirely beside the point.

The same argument applies to polygamy. JS might have thought that polygamy would be a lot of fun, and this thought alone might have motivated him to lie about it. Later, when polygamy turned out to be a headache, he could hardly admit that D&C 132 was a lie; the most human thing to do would be to double down on the original lie. Far better to suffer the unexpected headaches of the situation he got himself into than suffer the ignonimy of publicly exposing himself as a liar.

Isn't all of this pretty obvious -- at least to those whose thinking is not occluded by cheap apologetics?

Unknown said...

James, you raise some very interesting points. I actually think that LDS apologists do read LDS texts, including the AofF, just as carefully as any lawyer, at least when it's faith-affirming to do so, but on your other points I totally agree. I would maybe go a bit further and suggest another reason why there was no initial concern about accurately transcribing the words of Jesus: the apocalyptic context in which he uttered them.

Remember that the end was to come "before this generation passeth away." If so, then there would be no reason for the original followers of Jesus to write down his words and carefully preserve them for posterity. There wasn't going to be any posterity.

All of the problems that bedevil people today re translating and transmitting the words of Jesus arose only because Jesus was not, in fact, what his original followers thought he was.

James Anglin said...

Well, does posterity matter, though? I think the whole idea of preserving information just for the sake of preserving information probably comes from times when preserving information was easy enough to do for slight cause. But either the exact words of Jesus were vitally important, for more than just idle curiosity; or they weren't. If they were important, then they were important for all the people who would be left until the end of the world — whenever that would be. If they weren't, then they weren't — no matter how long the world might still last.

If the reason not to bother with exact words was the idea that all saved Christians wouold soon get to hear his original voice anyway, in at most a few decades ... well, Christians still have that idea today, even if the expectation is simply that of meeting Jesus in the next life, after individual death.

Glenn Thigpen said...

@Orbitting Kolob,
I think that you are misreading, taking that verse about "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" in Matthew 24 out of context. If you put it back into the context of Jesus' prophecy concerning the last day, the signs of the times, just prior to His Second Coming, it is pretty evident that Jesus was talking about the generation that was seeing those signs, a generation some time in the future.


Unknown said...

Well, maybe the exact words of Jesus didn't matter early on because his followers all agreed on the basic ideas. Maybe it's only when the believers start to disagree with one another that it becomes handy to have an official text to point to in supporting one's own position. And, of course, if the text that one cites demolishes the opponent's argument, the opponent will be tempted to argue that (a) the text is being misinterpreted, or (b) the text has been corrupted (in the course of copying, translating, whatever).

So maybe the controversies over translation, transmission, and interpretation that seem so natural to us today are rooted in that moment when the original ecclesial unity started to fall apart. In the early Christian movement, that moment might well have occurred when "this generation" began passing away without seeing their prophet return as promised on clouds of glory. Surely there would have been a lot of internal dissension about the meaning of the failed parousia.

This has parallels in one of my favorite readings of the Garden of Eden myth. This brilliant story* is a mythic account of the emergence of humanity and of what it means to be human. As the story progresses, Adam learns he is not like the other animals but is like his fellow proto-human, Eve. Then the two proto-humans acquire such distinctively human traits as being ashamed of nakedness, wearing clothing, and using technology (e.g., sewing fig leaves together). This transition to a fully recognizable humanity is precipitated when the serpent arrives and presents Eve with an alternative viewpoint to God's. God says it would be bad to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, for such-and-such reasons; the serpent, adducing other reasons, says it would be good. Eve is confronted with two competing arguments, and in the course of thinking them through and making her choice, she (and then Adam) basically emerge as Homo rhetoricus.

It's all right there in the story.

Before this key moment, when dissension first enters Eden, Adam and Eve do not have a canonical text stating "Thou shalt not eat from the tree," but they don't really need one. It's only when presented with a dissenting opinion that they would have benefited from a reliable text. (Note how, when Eve says she's not allowed even to touch the forbidden fruit, she misstates God's original stated command.)

Perhaps we can think of the earliest church as prelapsarian, and of the rise of textualism as the consequence of a kind of ecclesial fallenness. The more dissension, the more textualism. To resolve disputes over what Jesus meant, people write more texts, and we get the New Testament. Centuries later, to resolve a whole new set of disputes, we get yet more texts -- the BoM, the Book of Abraham, the Docrine and Covenants -- as well as the (rather refreshingly honest) prediction that there will be yet more "revelation" (that is, canonical text) to come.

To me, this all seems to be leading us deeper and deeper into our own fallenness, in a direction opposite to that of a "restoration" of the original church and a recovery of "the plain and simple truths" of the original gospel. But who am I? I'm no prophet, just a guy who likes to think about stuff.

* Why anyone would read this as anything other than a story is beyond me. I mean, really: it's got a talking serpent in it, and it's history?

Unknown said...

Quite the contrary, Glenn. It is you who misunderstands the context.

Here's the context: When Jesus makes his "this generation" prediction, he is speaking directly to the disciples: When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" In what follows in Matt. 23 and 24, when Jesus uses the word you, he is referring specifically to the disciples. So when, after listing all the signs of his return, he says this:

when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place

he clearly means this:

when you, the disciples, personally see all these things, you, the disciples, know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

So the signs of the parousia are to be seen by the disciples themselves. At some point when the disciples themselves are still alive, the returning savior will be "at the very gates." At the very gates! Just outside the city!

How is this even remotely compatible with the idea that the return, in fact the signs of the return, will still be 2,000+ years in the future? It isn't. Yours is an interpretation that only makes sense to those whose faith demands some way around the failed parousia.

James Anglin said...

I think you're onto something about how the version control problem suddenly began to bite Christianity after a couple of generations. I'm fuzzy on details, but I remember reading some collection of early church documents, and really getting the impression that it was the Wild West there for a while. The Christian brand was becoming popular ... and suddenly every huckster or enthusiast in the ancient world seemed to notice that. Who was really entitled to speak for Jesus Christ?

The improvised rule became that everything had to be traceable to an apostle. The efforts toward version control ultimately grew into ecumenical creeds, a canon of Scripture, and ecclesiastical hierarchies. I'm not sure, but I think a lot of this formal structure was well underway before Constantine, and I wonder whether Christianity emerged as a state religion in large part because it was already organized enough to take on the job. Since this eventually led to torturing and burning heretics, it definitely became a Fall at some point. I'm not sure whether version control was really innately evil from the beginning, though.

It's an interesting thought that Genesis presents Eve as making the first important decision. Adam had previously named the beasts, but I always thought the point of that was that names weren't really important. God made reality, but names are human conventions.

Being a physicist, I'm embarrassed to have to say that I sometimes take the Fall story half seriously — as an allegory of entropy. I certainly don't take it seriously as history. It has a talking snake.

James Anglin said...

About Matthew 24: there is a long tradition of interpreting Jesus's words here as a prophecy of the siege and fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Insofar as some details do seem to fit with this, there is also reason to suspect that the passage was written after AD 70, with details of Titus's siege deliberately written in from hindsight.

I'm pretty sure that the oldest firm evidence we have for this text already dates from long after the literal generation of original hearers had indeed passed away. I guess it's conceivable that the words were first preserved by a much earlier generation, which really did expect the world to end soon, and that by the time those guys were all dead, the passage had already achieved too much authority to be suppressed or altered. But I'd be surprised if we had any actual evidence for that scenario.

My feeling is that, if the obviously failed prophecy were really the only interpretation of this text that seemed natural to people near its original time, then they would just not have preserved it. They didn't have to exercise mental gymnastics to excuse an overdue parousia, after all. They could just stop copying those lines.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lot of interesting discussion that I cruised over in favor of the Isaiah 40:3. The phrase "in the desert" was not omitted. Here are a handful of different readings (KJV and NIV included)


Hebrew / English side by side for those so inclined:


1 Nephi 10:8:


Unless I am not referencing the same verses, "in the desert" is present in all translations. I had a year of Hebrew at university which is enough for me to recognize some words and butcher all the vowels (we didn't learn vowels - my Israeli teacher thought that they were a waste of time). Dr Sargent was mentioning that the Septuagint does a direct word for word translation of Isaiah 40:3. Here is the Hebrew Romanized:

Kol kora bimidbar pnu derech yahvey

No punctuation nor canticles. "Hark, one cries in the desert, let us clear a path for the Lord"


"hark, one cries, let us clear a path for the Lord in the desert."

bimidbar is the prepositional phrase in question which means "in the desert."

What is also interesting is that 1 Nephi 10:8 is paraphrasing and not a direct reading of one translation or another although it is paraphrasing the "wrong" translation. Again, from a Christian perspective, both readings are accurate if we submit that they refer to John the Baptist as the one crying (yelling, shouting, declaring...)

The "corruption" that Symmachus alludes to is the misplaced prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase as it was translated into Greek gives a reading similar to what is in the KJV. Dr Sargent mentioned that the Septuagint does a direct word for word translation. In my opinion, Dr Sargent does a better job at explaining Isaiah 40:3 than does Symmachus (although Symmachus is eloquent as well).


Unknown said...

James, it seems to me that the idea of an imminent parousia is in keeping with the admonition to sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, to give no thought to the morrow, etc. One possibility is that the phrase originated very early and was retained later out of respect for its earliness, even though doing so had become rather inconvenient. If we can trust scholars like Richard Friedman (Who Wrote the Bible?), redactors tend to be very reluctant about omitting old stuff, even when keeping it results in contradictions -- as happened, e.g., when the J and P sources were interwoven to produce the flood story we have today. The combination produced contradictions that would have been obvious to the redactors, but they had too much respect for their sources to simply leave stuff out. Maybe consistency was just not the highest priority back then.

Steve, my initial reaction re Isaiah 40:3 was to favor the reading that produces what seems to be a very typical parallelism. But now I'm wondering about a possibility I haven't seen mentioned anywhere, namely, that what we're seeing is a deliberate structural ambiguity. Maybe it's something like Last night I shot an elephant in my pajamas, though presumably written not for comic effect but for some other effect. Though it would be pretty funny if everyone were trying to resolve an ambiguity that was intended not to be resolved, just as it would be funny to imagine a bunch of scholars trying to figure out just who was "really" wearing Groucho Marx's pajamas that night....

James Anglin said...

Re: desert voices

I have no expertise on these translation issues myself; I'm just interpreting Symmachus, and it seems there is a trivial ambiguity that confuses what I wrote about his post, namely that 'desert' isn't necessarily 'desert'.

What Symmachus seems to say is that in the Hebrew original of this two-verse parallel couplet, desert or wilderness is mentioned twice, once in each half of the couplet. In Symmachus's post, the word that occurs in the first half (prepare a road in the wilderness) is referred to as 'wilderness', while the word that occurs in the second half (make a straight path in the desert) is denoted as 'desert'. Symmachus's point (as I understand it) is that the Septuagint (and the KJV) omit the wilderness/desert word from the second half of the couplet (make the way straight).

So as Symmachus put it (I believe), these mistaken translations omit the 'desert'. But in fact 'wilderness' and 'desert' are probably interchangeable as English renderings of both Hebrew desert/wilderness terms. So one could just as easily (and some translations may well) mention 'desert' in the first half of the couplet (prepare a road in the desert, or a voice crying in the desert). This has no effect at all on Symmachus's point, which is that the mistaken translations have neither 'wilderness' nor 'desert' in the second half of the couplet.

That's the omission that Symmachus is talking about, as I understand him.

Since the NT and Nephi only quote the first half of the Isaiah couplet anyway, the relevance of an omission in the second half is only indirect. But the second half omission of desert/wilderness is relevant, because it indicates a plausible explanation for how the grammatical structure of the first half could have gotten messed up: the otherwise obvious two-verse parallelism had been destroyed by omitting a key word in the second half. This makes it seem much less likely that the Septuagint version was really an equally valid alternative to the Masoretic version, and more likely that the Masoretic version correctly reflects the original and the Septuagint is just wrong.

Again, that's just my take on Symmachus. It is not based on expertise of my own, and it might not accurately represent him, either.

James Anglin said...

Re: parousia

The idea that you should radically change how you live, because you suddenly appreciate the nearness of God's kingdom, has certainly always been a major Christian theme. In cases where this became a brief but concrete mass movement, the nearness of the kingdom was indeed usually understood as the end of the whole world happening soon. But there have always been more pietistic interpretations, by which people converted and reformed their lives, without any particular conviction that the grand end was nigh.

One interpretation of the nearness of the kingdom has always been geographical (metaphorically) rather than temporal: the kingdom already exists, and it lies within reach — turn and see! I can pull a few proof-texts for this view, but the more convincing major pattern I think is that Jesus's parables all begin with 'the kingdom is like ...'. They describe it as an existing thing, not a coming state or event.

If you take every exhortation to change one's mind or one's life as an implicit warning that the end of the world would be soon, then Jesus's message was pretty thoroughly apocalyptic. But this seems arbitrary to me. If every urging to change is apocalyptic, then pretty much all of every religion is apocalyptic. This seems overdone. And if you don't assume an imminent-end-of-the-world context for all of Jesus's teachings, then he actually didn't talk explicitly about the world ending soon very much at all.

Jeff Lindsay said...

James, once again thank you for contributing so much here. Appreciate your thoughtful tone and willingness to discuss as well as point out flaws and questions that we need to consider. I also like the scientific angles you take in some of your responses. Thanks for being patient with us Mormons and for giving us food for thought. Similar kudos go to nearly all the participants here. I think we Mormons are all better for learning from those who may sharply disagree with us but are willing to discuss and engage, and I hope you also gain something from interacting with us.