religion

The Book of Abraham: Sacred Translation?

 

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In 1835, a man by the name of Michael H. Chandler would have a chance meeting with the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. Little did Mr Chandler know that the meeting would play a large part in altering the course of Mormon theology forever.

Chandler, the owner of some Egyptian artifacts, was touring the American frontier, showcasing his ancient treasures to curious spectators. The artifacts contained writing that Mr Chandler could not decipher. At some point in time, it was suggested to him that Joseph Smith had the ability to translate the mysterious writing on the Egyptian artifacts. Such an ability was absolutely remarkable in mid-19th century America.

Today, translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seems like a relatively menial task – surely any academic who studies such things could provide a translation. However, in the 1830s such a task would have been considered absolutely remarkable.

Why? Because the key that unlocked the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone, had only been discovered about 36 years prior, and an English translation of the demotic (Egyptian) text from the Rosetta Stone in the United States was not published until 1858, twenty-three years after Smith’s acquisition of the artifacts from Chandler (and fourteen years after Smith’s death).

Despite this, Smith began his miraculous translation process sometime after the purchase of the artifacts. It wasn’t long before he discovered, “much to [his] joy” that “one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.”[1]

By some happy coincidence, Joseph Smith happened upon ancient Egyptian writings of Hebrew patriarchs in the frontier lands of North America and was able to translate them twenty-three years before their language was deciphered into English.

The result? The Book of Abraham (Abr), now part of the Mormon scripture Pearl of Great Price. In it, among many things, Latter-day Saints (LDS) are given a parallel narrative to Genesis that introduces new theology such as polytheism and the location of Heavenly Father’s throne, which is nearest to the star of Kolob (Abr 3:3).

Such a coincidence is entirely miraculous or doubtful. Lately, the LDS Church has given reason to suspect the latter.

TRANSLATION, TRANSCRIPTION, OR SIMPLY IMAGINATION?

The LDS Church has recently published an essay officially distancing itself from Smith’s incredible, eyebrow-raising tale of the Book of Abraham’s origins. Formerly, the LDS Church officially promoted the view that the Book of Abraham was “translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith.”[2] However, after years of scholarly scrutiny, it has been adequately demonstrated enough for the LDS Church to admit that Joseph Smith’s supposed translation of the papyrus has nothing to do with it.

The ancient text is not an account of Abraham’s life as Smith taught. Instead, it contains religious ritual instructions belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings, which dates back to the Ptolemaic Era (305–30BCE) well after Abraham’s time.

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A facsimile of what Joseph Smith purported to be an attempted sacrifice of Abraham by an idolatrous priest of Elkenah. In actuality, it is a deceased Egyptian citizen being mummified. His soul is seen leaving his body in the form of a bird.

 

Yet, as the article reminds us, the LDS Church firmly holds the Book of Abraham as scripture. It is scripture regardless of evidence that the original text has nothing to do with the end result.

(Imagine, for a moment, if we discovered that the Gospel of Matthew was not an account of Jesus’ life, but was actually a collection of Roman tax documents, and you’ll quickly realize the issue at hand.)

So, what does the LDS Church do with evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated a faulty translation to produce a text that radically departs from the Bible? One sentence from the article encapsulates their action well.

“The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Abraham based on papyrus belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings. What matters at the end of the day is whether or not it lines up with saving truths.

The Book of Abraham is no longer a sacred translation, but questionable interpretation. 

This, of course, begs the question – what are “saving truths”? It is more than safe to assume that these “saving truths” are found exclusively within Mormon theology. So, ultimately, as long as the fabricated “translation” of the Book of Abraham aligns with Mormon theology it is considered Mormon scripture.

This means that, so far as the method of creation is concerned, there is no difference between the Book of Abraham and Doctrine & Covenants, Mormon scripture consisting mainly of spiritual revelation purportedly given to Smith. In both instances, the Mormon prophet simply declared his words as scripture, which made it so.

The question becomes, why not do the same with the Book of Abraham? Clearly, Smith was comfortable creating scripture. Why go to great lengths in “translating” some papyrus to create the Book of Abraham?

SAVING TRUTHS

For whatever reason, Smith decided to create the Book of Abraham in a unique fashion unlike Doctrine & Covenants. (Not so unique when you consider his previous venture in creating the Book of Mormon). Fast-forward to today and the LDS Church is placed in the awkward position of explaining why their founding prophet did not actually do what he said he did.

The solution is just as dubious as the claim Smith made – officially, the Book of Abraham is  scripture based on a text that has nothing to do with the scripture itself, because it aligns with “saving truths.”

Essentially, the LDS Church is saying, “Our prophet Joseph Smith translated the German phrase ‘Ich liebe dich’ as ‘The train station is blue,’ even though the actual translation of that German phrase should read ‘I love you.‘ But, that doesn’t really matter because the point of the translation is to inform us that the train station is blue.”

The LDS Church’s defense of Smith’s fabrication is, frankly, absurd.

Frankly, this is absurd. No one would allow such a low standard of translation (if the term translation can even be used here) to apply to the Bible. Again, if the Gospel of Matthew was actually Roman tax documents and a pastor told you that what really matters is whether or not the fabricated information in the Gospel dealt correctly with salvation, how would you react? Hopefully, your reaction would be to reject both the pastor’s authority and the defunct text.

BOOK OF ABRAHAM VS. THE BIBLE

Regardless, I think it’s important to look past the obvious (that Smith fabricated his “translation”) and examine the LDS Church’s essential claim about the message of the Book of Abraham – does the Book of Abraham align with “saving truths” found in the entirety of the Mormon scriptural corpus? Unfortunately, for the LDS Church, it quickly becomes apparent that the answer is ‘no.’

First, there are a few internal issues that must be dealt with, aside from the apparent showcasing of Smith’s newly learned Hebrew language skills.[3] For example, the Bible informs us that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gn 12:4). The Book of Abraham, however, disagrees. It states that Abraham was only 62 years old when he departed Haran (Abr 2:14). This is a striking oversight on Smith’s part. Failing at something as small as getting Abraham’s age correct should immediately raise a red flag.

Additionally, the Bible teaches us the folly of Abraham’s decision of identifying his wife, Sarah, as his sister for fear that the Egyptians would kill him to wed her. If you recall, Abraham convinced Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was Abraham’s sister, not his wife. Eventually, it ends up going badly for Abraham since Pharaoh figures out what was going on and kicks them out of Egypt (Gn 12:17–20).

The Book of Abraham does not clarify Abraham’s life, it contradicts it.

The Book of Abraham, however, actually attributes that folly to God himself, changing the story to God forcing Abraham’s hand in the decision (Abr 2:22–25). In my opinion, in stark disagreement with the recently published article defending the spiritual value of the Book of Abraham, such a flaw does not “support” nor “clarify” the biblical account of Abraham’s life. It contradicts the account, making God out to be the cause of sin in Abraham’s life.

Simply brushing off the historical translation difficulties of the Book of Abraham does nothing in addressing the theological inconsistency between it and the Bible. Of course, the article does not address theological issues within the Book of Abraham; however, any attempt at defending its historicity should be coupled with its veracity. It is not enough to simply defend its legitimacy – the greater question is whether or not it is true, whether or not it coalesces with the Bible.

At the end of the day, there is very little difference between ancient pseudepigraphic or Gnostic writings and the Book of Abraham. Both came well after canonization and were formed for the specific purpose of forcing the biblical message and narrative into a system of theology far from what the original Bible authors attested to.

 CLARIFYING THEOLOGY?

In the article, the LDS Church adamantly contends that, despite contradictions like the two examples above, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible.” It has been briefly demonstrated that the Book of Abraham does not clarify teachings in the Bible, but contradicts them. Yet, the LDS Church must have taken this stance for a reason. What reason would lead them to hold fast to such a stance?

I believe the LDS Church needs the Book of Abraham in its current form not because it clarifies the Bible, but because it clarifies Mormonism. In that way, the sentence above should read, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that were made obscure in the Bible by Mormon theology.”

What leads me to believe that?

The Book of Abraham came at a convenient point in Mormon history. Early in the Church’s history, we see Mormonism (especially the Book of Mormon) teaching a type of modalism, the belief that the Father and the Son are literally the same god. So, for example, the Book of Mosiah (within the Book of Mormon) declares that the messiah was prophesied to be called “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth (Mosiah 3:8).”

However, by 1833 Joseph Smith no longer held to this early modalistic view. Smith came to believe in two distinct gods (or personages), the Father and the Son, through his studies of the Hebrew language. He made a distinction between two Hebrew words for God – elohim and Yahweh – by assigning them to the Father and Son respectively.[4] By the mid-1830s, Mormonism shifted from modalism to binitarianism, the belief that two Gods, Elohim and Yahweh, were to be worshipped.

Without the Book of Abraham, the doctrine of eternal progression is in jeopardy.

Yet, the theological evolution of God was not complete in Mormon thought. When the Book of Abraham was published in 1842, the LDS Church had made the transition from binitarianism to henotheism, the belief that although many gods exist only one should be worshipped. Not only this, but faithful Mormons may actually join the ranks of these other gods in a process called apotheosis, which is known by Latter-day Saints as the doctrine of eternal progression. This is the position the Church holds today.

It would be extremely difficult for the LDS Church to support polytheism without the Book of Abraham. Even Joseph Smith himself presented a very weak argument for polytheism by appealing to the Bible alone in his famous King Follett Discourse. Without the Book of Abraham, there is no definitive polytheism.

Without a definitive polytheism, there is no apotheosis. Without apotheosis, Smith’s words from the King Follett Discourse turn from revelation to heresy. “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves,” Smith declared, “to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done.”[5]

Without the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

This is ultimately what is at stake – whether or not Joseph Smith was speaking God’s truth when he declared, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[6]

If that’s not true, then not only is Joseph Smith a false prophet but the religious system he left behind is preaching a gospel contrary to the one preached by the apostles of Jesus Christ. So, the question deserves to be asked – do you believe the Book of Abraham is scripture? Much is resting on your answer.

—–

[1] History of the Church 2:236

[2] Introduction to the Book of Abraham, Pearl of Great Price

[3] It is widely known that Joseph Smith received Hebrew language training at Kirkland, Ohio in the School of the Prophets in the mid-1830s near the time when the Book of Abraham artifacts were acquired. Evidence of his training is clearly seen in the finished work. For example, Smith borrows from the Hebrew kowkab (star) for “Kolob” and translates the Hebrew word for ‘eternity’ as “gnolaum,” which is apparently an old transliteration of the Hebrew owlam. Another example is Smith’s “Kokaubeam” for ‘star,’ which is actually the Hebrew kowkab.

[4] Boyd Kirkland, “Jehovah as the Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine” (Sunstone Magazine), 37.

[5] King Follett Discourse

[6] Ibid

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“I Share Your Faith”: Glenn Beck at Liberty University

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Last month, evangelical mega-college Liberty University made a splash in the news by inviting, yet again, Glenn Beck to speak at its final convocation.

The reasons that Liberty’s president, Dr Jerry Falwell Jr., gave for Mr Beck’s invitation to the university are hardly objectionable, especially considering the university’s history with American conservatism. Dr Falwell introduced Mr Beck as a “patriot, one of America’s leading multimedia personalities” whose radio and television programs have “ordained him as an iconic figure in American culture.”

With this introduction, any conservative-leaning institution could have such a speaker. But there’s one crucial aspect that Dr Falwell left out – Mr Beck’s faith. As a Mormon, or Latter-day Saint (LDS), Glenn Beck is at stark odds with much of what is taught at Liberty.

Luckily, Mr Beck did not neglect to touch on his faith.

“I share your faith,” Mr Beck claimed in his speech-turned-sermon. “I am from a different denomination. And a denomination, quite honestly, that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty uncomfortable. I’m a Mormon. But I share your faith in the atonement of the savior Jesus Christ.”

A Latter-day Saint, speaking at an evangelical university, stated that not only is the Mormon faith simply a denomination of Christianity, but that he shares in the same “faith in the atonement of the savior Jesus Christ.”

And with one sweeping statement, the problem of inviting a Mormon to speak at an evangelical university was made painfully apparent.

POLITICAL GAIN > THEOLOGICAL CLARITY

As you could imagine, the blogosphere has exploded over this speech (of which, admittedly, I am now adding a few more powder grains). Some have sharply criticized Liberty while others have jumped to her defense. Many have discussed the most glaring issue of inviting a Mormon to speak (or, rather, preach) at an evangelical university, but few have identified this event as one more step in a continuing development of Liberty bending her theological identity to accommodate for political gain.

The problem isn’t that Glenn Beck spoke at Liberty; the problem is that Liberty has, intentionally or not, made concessions to allow for Glenn Beck to speak. And this is not the first time.

“Beck is best known for his message, not his medium,” Dr Falwell clarified. That message, of course, is patriotic conservatism. Again, a conservative political pundit speaking at a conservative university is nothing to be surprised about. The issue comes when one considers that Mr Beck is not simply a conservative, but a conservative Mormon, and Liberty is not just a conservative university, but a conservative evangelical university.

And the one who bent their identity to allow for the other’s company wasn’t the conservative Mormon, but the conservative evangelical.

I say this not as an apathetic observer, but as someone with a Liberty degree hanging on his wall. I don’t hate Mormons, neither am I angry with Liberty, but I am concerned that Liberty is exhibiting a continual pattern of blurring important theological lines in exchange for a temporary political alliance.

The one who bent their identity wasn’t the conservative Mormon, but the conservative evangelical.

To demonstrate what I mean, consider that this is not the first time Liberty has invited Mr Beck to speak, nor is it the first time they have invited a Mormon. Previously, Mr Beck spoke at the 2010 commencement when he received an honorary doctorate from the university. During the height of the last presidential campaign, Liberty invited Mitt Romney, also a notable Latter-day Saint, to speak at the 2012 commencement.

It struck me as very strange when Mr Beck was first announced as the 2010 commencement speaker. When I first applied to Liberty I was required to fill out a theological questionnaire that was very unfriendly to LDS theology. Most notably, I was expected not to hold the following beliefs:

  • Exaltation (The LDS doctrine that a man can become a god)
  • Satan and Jesus are spirit brothers
  • Satan was born, not created
  • Ancient American tribes are equated with the lost tribes of Israel
  • Book of Mormon is true revelation from God

If I held any one of these beliefs, which are all uniquely Mormon, then I would be denied admission to the university.

Yet, here was Mr Beck speaking in front of many students who testified that Mormonism is untrue through Liberty’s own questionnaire. Not only this, but Mr Beck later received an honorary doctorate from a university that would have otherwise denied him entrance due to his beliefs.

I decided that there must have been some type of mistake. How could anyone receive a doctorate from Liberty University who believes that the Book of Mormon is an inspired work from God? Surely, they would have violated the theological questionnaire that I had signed.

For Liberty, political gain seems more important than theological clarity.

That day, I went to the seminary’s website and retrieved the questionnaire I had filled out just one year earlier.  Much to my surprise, there was an updated version.  However, the new version was different from the first – they had removed many of the unfriendly LDS theological statements. Essentially, they softened their stance on LDS theology, so far as this questionnaire was concerned.

My initial reaction was disappointment. Shouldn’t an evangelical university with a seminary not be more concerned with theology than any other topic? The reason seemed obvious to me – although they disagree with Mormon theology, Liberty University valued mutual ideologies with a Mormon and wanted to honor him with the highest degree the university can confer.

For Liberty, political gain seems more important than theological clarity and distinction. Or, at least, that’s the message that they are sending to the world. Unfortunately, it seems that Liberty has latched on to a policy that mutually agreed upon social values trump theological truths.

 WHAT HAS SALT LAKE TO DO WITH LYNCHBURG?

I must say, though, that I’m not entirely against every aspect of Mr Beck’s speech. He spoke about liberty, specifically religious liberty, which is wonderful because it is such a wonderful gift! Anytime a Mormon and evangelical can publicly support religious liberty, we should celebrate. But the same could be said of a Muslim and evangelical, a Buddhist and evangelical, a Scientologist and evangelical.

Yet, for some reason, Liberty has allowed Mr Beck to take it a step further. By allowing Mr Beck to say what he said, Liberty has communicated to the world that they believe the LDS Church and evangelicals are not merely allies in religious liberty, they are two stripes of faith in the same vein of Christianity. Here, then, is where the issue lies. Not that Liberty sees itself allying with Mormonism politically, nor for championing religious liberty, but for blurring the lines between Joseph Smith and the Apostle Paul.

Let me put it another way. In tear soaked eyes, Mr Beck recounted that he prayed to the Lord that he would pour over his “word” and challenged Liberty’s students to do the same. In a world where politics is valued over theology, so long as that “word” is from the God of Judeo-Christian morality, then it doesn’t really matter what that “word” precisely entails. We can include Christians of every stripe, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even (to a very limited extent) Muslims in the arena of pouring over God’s “word.”

Nonetheless, in a world where theology is valued over politics, we cannot seriously respond to Mr Beck’s challenge for Liberty’s students to pour over the “word” knowing full well that Mr Beck’s definition of the “word” goes beyond the Bible and into the realm of unique LDS works such as Doctrine & CovenantsPearl of Great Price, and Book of Mormon.

If Liberty invites Mormons to speak on religious liberty, would they extend that same invitation to Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims?

Do you suppose Liberty would invite a Jehovah’s Witness to speak at convocation? A Muslim at commencement, even if they were running for president on a conservative platform? Perhaps a Christian Scientist during chapel? These all seem highly unlikely. So, here’s the question – why this exception?

What has Salt Lake to do with Lynchburg? Political similarities: sure. Religious liberty issues: yes. Interfaith dialogue: absolutely. Preaching to evangelical students about matters with deep, theological meaning: no.

If a Jehovah’s Witness challenged Liberty’s students to study the Bible, would we agree knowing that the official New World Translation of the Watchtower Society intentionally strips Jesus of his divinity? If a Christian Scientist implored Liberty’s students to study the scriptures, would we agree if we knew she included the writings of Mary Baker Eddy in her idea of “scriptures”?

So why, when a Mormon implores the students of Liberty to read the “scriptures,” are we not shocked to realize that he includes Pearl of Great PriceDoctrine & Covenants, and Book of Mormon, whose collective teachings alone count for many of the differences between Christianity and Mormonism – differences that Mr Beck himself identified as “uncomfortable”?

There is no difference between Glenn Beck challenging Liberty’s students to read the “scriptures” as there would be if a 3rd century Gnostic were to do the same. Both Mr Beck and the Gnostic seem like Christians, but they cherish different scripture that teach a different gospel.

And this here is my concern – the gospel.

Each time Liberty bends her theological identity to accommodate social conservatism, I believe she is leaning further away from theological clarity in the public eye. Sure, Liberty gains a louder voice in American conservatism, but the university also gives credence to the Mormon couplet “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.” True, Liberty may pull more sway with the political right, but the university also nods to the Book of Mormon’s idea that salvation comes only “after all we can do.”

Liberty University is doing these things – unintentionally, I’m sure – whether her leaders know it or not and whether they like it or not. If a university claims to train champions for Christ, then it needs to do so. Part of what it means to champion Christ is to champion his gospel, something that is difficult to find within the pages of the Book of Mormon.

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religion

The Lost Mormon Language

welcome_utah Mormon history is the fascinating story of America’s most successful modern indigenous religion. It is filled with 19th century frontier religion, angelic visitations, the notorious golden plates, and rugged pioneers. But there is one small part to this story that many people are unaware of – the Deseret Alphabet.

The Deseret Alphabet was an alternate to the Latin alphabet of English that was formed by the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) under the direction of Brigham Young. Theoretically, it would have replaced Latin character in English in favor of the phonetically uniformed characters of Deseret.

If that sounds strange, it really shouldn’t. Forming a phonetic alphabet was not an uncommon endeavor in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, Benjamin Franklin proposed an alphabet to alleviate mispronunciation and standardize an American version of English. (Which, in my opinion, would have been pretty awesome.)

The reasons why early Mormons devised the alphabet remain speculative. Some argue that they desired a phonetic alphabet to unify the English language, especially for immigrants moving into the Utah territory who struggled to learn the language. Others speculate that the alphabet was created in an attempt to uniquely distinguish the Mormon community from the United States during their bid to become an autonomous State of Deseret.

Whatever they reason, it is fascinating nonetheless! Here are some examples of the lost Mormon language. For you glossophiliacs, add Deseret to your collection!

THE DESERET ALPHABET

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____

____

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FIVE DOLLAR COIN FROM UTAH (1860)

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 ____

____

____

MY HUMBLE ATTEMPT AT THE LORENZO SNOW COUPLET

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 As man now is, God once was; as God now is man may become.

____

____

____

TITLE PAGE TO THE BOOK OF MORMON

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Will We Become Gods? A Look at Mormon Exaltation

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  • Mormonism teaches that some humans have the potential to become gods
  • LDS employ biblical texts and authoritative quotes out of context as evidence
  • According to the Bible and orthodox Christianity there is the only one God

Among the many unique theological differences between Mormonism and Christian orthodoxy, one stands out among the rest – the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.

According to this doctrine, part of our salvation process is the potential of evolving past a limited existence as a created human in order to become a creator god. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon apostle, recounts this ‘revelation’ in Doctrine & Covenants.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” – D&C 132:20

In this instance, the term gods is meant to be understood literally. Human beings will one day literally become gods like God is now. A number of past Latter-day Saint (LDS) apostles have clarified this uniquely Mormon concept.

  • “Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights.” – Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Apostle (1895–1985)
  • “Mortality is the testing or proving ground for exaltation to find out who among the children of God are worthy to become Gods themselves.” – Joseph F. Smith, LDS Apostle (1838–1918)
  • “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.” – Lorenzo Snow, LDS Apostle (1814–1901)

While this is, indeed, a unique idea to Christians, many LDS hotly contest its uniqueness, arguing instead that the idea of exaltation (humans becoming gods) is not a new one. (Of course, it must be said, not all LDS believe in exaltation; however, the idea is still prevalent within Mormon thought.)

In fact, one can find evidence of exaltation in the Bible in addition to the writings of many of the early church fathers and famed Christian thinker C. S. Lewis.

So, is there any truth to these points? Does the Bible teach exaltation? Did the early church fathers and C. S. Lewis hold to the view?

CONSIDERING THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

First, we must notice one important thing – the biblical passages typically employed for support of ‘exaltation’ are usually taken out of context. Within context, the Bible is emphatically clear that there is no God aside from God.

Here are just a few verses to this effect: Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5,14,18,21,22; 46:9; 47:8; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; Gal. 4:8-9.

Within the framework that the Bible give us, there is no room for polytheism (the existence of many gods). This is a problem for Mormonism. If human beings are destined to become gods one day, then there is more than one god. Thus, Mormon theology is necessarily polytheistic.

So, while a LDS would most certainly affirm the biblical passages mentioned, the problem of polytheism exists nonetheless.

A potential LDS response is that Heavenly Father is a higher god than we’ll ever be, which is why the Bible seems to teach that there is only one God. We are only to worship him even if we are destined to become gods one day. God, Heavenly Father, is our god.

Unfortunately, this explanation does not do away with polytheism. Whether or not the other gods receive our worship is moot – they exist nonetheless. This is why God says in Isa 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

Yet even a verse like Isa 44:6 can be taken out of context by simply adding “…of this planet” to the end of the verse. Still, one must contest, unless the term god means something other than an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being, the doctrine of eternal progress necessarily teaches polytheism.

The biblical evidence for exaltation, and by extension polytheism, is simply not there.

“YOU ARE ‘GODS'” – MISQUOTING JESUS

From the New Testament, a common verse used in defense of exaltation is Jhn 10:4. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?'”

Here, we see a clear instance in which Jesus is rhetorically asking whether or not we believe we are called gods. On face value, it does seem like Jesus would agree with this unique Mormon doctrine.

However, on face value, Jesus also calls himself a door (Jhn 10:7), to which I do not believe he meant to say that he may be purchased at Home Depot for a reasonable price. There must be something more to the text.

A closer look at Jesus’ quotation in Jhn 10:4 gives us a hint at what the Bible means here. Notice Jesus does not say, “you are becoming gods.” Instead, he says, “you are [present tense] gods.”

Certainly, a LDS would agree that they are not currently gods (although they may believe they are in an ’embryonic’ state). If Jesus meant to support exaltation in this one instance, why did he use the present tense?

The answer lies in the original source of what Jesus is quoting. Psa 82:6 states, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”

Instead of affirming exaltation, it is much more likely that Jesus meant the term gods in the same way the original psalmist did – to describe earthly beings (“gods”) who are being judged for failing in their duties of properly administering justice.

Thus, verses like Jhn 10:4 can be inappropriately taken out of context to support the idea that humans are literally destined to become gods.

“WE MAY BECOME GOD” – THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

At the outset it must be said that any evidence for the early church father’s support of the doctrine of eternal progression is shaky and scant at best. The idea seems wholly foreign in their writings.

So, how could they be used in support of exaltation? Simply put, we misunderstand what the fathers meant by the word god.

It was very common for the early church fathers to describe us as “gods” in glorification because we do, in fact, become like (but not ontologically like) God.

There’s a million dollar word – ontological. It simply means “the metaphysical being or reality of something.” So, to be ontologically like God means to be made of the exact same stuff as God.

This, however, is not what the early church fathers had in mind when they referred to us as gods. While we may become like God (free from sin, eternal, etc) we will never be ontologically like God (e.g., omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc).

Take, for example, a widely quoted line from Athanasius, “He became man that men might be made gods (emphasis added).” On face value, we can be lead to believe that he would support exaltation. However, within context, we quickly see that he would not.

First, this is most likely a mistranslation. This quote should actually read, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B, emphasis added).”

With this in mind, note Athanasius does not say ‘become gods’ but ‘become God’. Obviously, he is speaking of our glorification to become like/with God in heaven. No LDS would agree that Athanasius means to say that we will become Heavenly Father. Neither, then, does he mean to say we will become gods.

Another popular quote to utilize is from Augustine, “If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods (Exposition on the Psalms, 50.2)”

As before, face value agrees. Like usual, context doesn’t.

Just a few sentences later he writes, “For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favour they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. (Ibid).”

Here, Augustine clearly teaches what orthodox Christianity teaches – that we will be perfect like God, but not literally (ontologically, by nature) a god. Unfortunately, for our LDS friends, using this quote from Augustine to support exaltation is unfounded.

(As an aside, it is ironic that this passage would be utilized to support a Mormon doctrine in the first place. Note that it clearly affirms Augustine’s view of the Trinity, an idea that Mormonism rejects.)

“WE WERE ‘GODS'” – C. S. LEWIS

Employing C. S. Lewis to support the doctrine of eternal progression is a very popular move among the doctrine’s proponents. Perhaps this is due to the authority and weight commanded by the theological giant. Nevertheless, were Lewis alive today he would surly disagree with exaltation.

LDS have claimed that Lewis held to exaltation based on a quote from Mere Christianity, “He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words.”

Again, at face value this does seem to indicate Lewis’s support. However, as with the examples before, we must keep in mind what the author means by the term gods.

Note that Lewis was careful to place quotation marks around the word ‘gods.’ Like the early church fathers, Lewis meant that we will be like gods in that we will no longer suffer sin and death, not that we will be literally gods who are omnipresent, -potent, -scient.

We can be sure of this by placing the quote within its proper context. Lewis goes on to write, “If we let Him. . .He will make us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature. . .which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.”

Here, Lewis is clearly explaining the process of sanctification and the culmination of our salvation through glorification. We will, one day, become the perfect creatures who perfectly worship the Creator.

If this were not enough context for clarification, Lewis reveals his position perfectly well in the beginning of the chapter when he says, “He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture.”

From this, ontologically speaking, are we to presume Lewis imagines a time in which the machine becomes an inventor or a picture becomes a painter? Obviously, we are not.

Lewis clearly defines the orthodox lines between Creator and creation – an impassible chasm not crossed by any manner of exaltation.

EXALTATION IS IDOLATRY

In conclusion, when it comes to the Mormon doctrine of exaltation context is key. Most support for the doctrine comes from a line or two lifted out of context and distorted to mean what the original author never intended.

But, the issue of exaltation goes deeper than simply misquotations and unorthodox ideas.

The deeper issue begins in a misunderstanding of glorification. According to the Bible, our salvation consists of three stages (or aspects): justification, sanctification, and glorification.

  • Justification is instant, the moment we are declared righteous before God by his grace through faith alone (Rom 3:24-25;5:1, Eph 2:8-9).
  • Sanctification is a continual process of becoming more and more Christlike through the Holy Spirit (2Th 2:13, 1Pe 1:2).
  • Glorification is when we die and enter into God’s presence in a perfected state free from sin for all eternity (Phi 3:21).

Mormonism, unfortunately, blends sanctification and glorification into the same process. If sanctification and glorification can be blended together, it only follows that we work towards salvation (something the Bible fiercely rejects, Eph 2:8-9). Add the doctrine of exaltation to this and we come to something even more dangerous – idolatry.

At the end of the day, to be frank, the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is idolatry. It necessarily takes away the function of our very being (namely the worship of God) and replaces it with a slightly cheaper, albeit tempting, giving of and reception of worship to ourselves.

According to eternal progression, one day we will have people of our own who will worship us. Herein lies the danger – Isa 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Eternal progression necessarily states that we share in God’s glory of worship, which is idolatry.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER FOR LDS READERS

If you are a LDS reader and would like to further consider the doctrine from a critical angle, here are some questions to ponder.

  1. If exaltation is such an important doctrine of salvation, why is there such scant evidence for it in the Bible and historical Christian writings?
  2. Given exaltation’s importance, why did it take Joseph Smith so many years to teach it?
  3. Why does the Book of Mormon remain relatively silent on the doctrine of eternal progression?
  4. Is it not strange that the LDS Church, which has historically criticized orthodox forms of Christianity for “adopting” pagan concepts into biblical theology, would adopt such a pagan idea as exaltation?
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Mormon Church Explains Past Racism, But Neglects an Important Part

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An article was recently published by the Huffington Post drawing attention to the Mormon (LDS) Church’s explanation for why the organization banned African American males from obtaining the priesthood until 1978. Citing a newly released article titled Race and the Priesthood, columnist Brady McCombs explains how the LDS Church has finally offered the most “comprehensive explanation of why the church previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy, and for the first time disavows the ban.”

McComb does a wonderful job explaining the background and importance of such an admission by the LDS Church. He rightly heralds this as a major step forward, something many within the LDS community have undoubtedly already held true. However, the Huffington Post, perhaps unknowingly and to no fault of McComb, neglects to mention an issue that the LDS Church has left out of Race and the Priesthood.

What has not been addressed is an explanation for the Book of Mormon as the potential source of that racism. Maybe the LDS Church feels that discussion of potential racism in the Book of Mormon against Native Americans is inappropriate under an article which deals with race and, specifically, the priesthood.

Nonetheless, it is curious that the LDS Church feels it necessary to address issues related to racism in the church’s past without mentioning racism found within the pages of the “cornerstone” of their religion, the Book of Mormon.

Instead, the LDS Church focuses on racism against African Americans, maintaining that it was a direct result of the cultural context that any majority white American church found itself in the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. No mention, not a single word, is lent towards the racism Native Americans met by past LDS members.

This is not to fault LDS members, but to note that something potentially pushed early Mormons towards holding racists views against Native Americans. That something, of course, is the Book of Mormon.

CURSED WITH A “SKIN OF BLACKNESS”

According to the Book of Mormon, many (if not most) Native Americans, or Lamanites, are descendants of a man named Lehi. Lehi, whose family originated from Jerusalem and fled to Mesoamerica prior to the Babylonian captivity (ca 600BC), had a few sons, most notably Laman and Nephi. In short, Nephi was a righteous man who experienced continual indignation from his brothers.

Eventually, they went their separate ways and formed two tribes of people in modern-day Mexico, as speculated by some LDS scholars. The two tribes became known as the Nephites, those who followed Nephi, and the Lamanites, those who followed Laman.

It is at this point when racism enters the picture. As a result of Laman’s continual indignation towards Nephi and God, his family was cursed with “skin of blackness”; a crude explanation, I suppose, as to why Native Americans have more melanin than Europeans. From the Book of Mormon:

Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me [Nephi], saying that: Inasmuch as they [Lamanites] will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” – 2Ne 5:21

To add insult to this injury, Nephi goes on to warn his people not to “mix seed” with the now-cursed black Lamanites as they were to become an “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

Now, do LDS members today believe this means that Native Americans are an intrinsically inferior race of people? No, of course not. Could this have been used to insight past racism in the early Mormon church? Quite possibly, but this is purely speculative.

Regardless of whether or not this passage was a primer behind racist motivations at any time in the LDS Church’s history, be it towards Native Americans or African Americans, these verses’ unfortunate existence alone stands as a testament towards either a racist God or, more likely, a racist author.

POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS (OR, BETTER, EXCUSES) FALL SHORT

Let’s come to the potential defense from a Mormon perspective for the moment. Can this be spiritualized? Could, perhaps, the “blackness” refer to the Lamanites’ (and by extension Native Americans’) internal character and not their outward appearance? This may be a tempting route to travel, but I see two problems with “spiritualizing” these verses.

First, the Book of Mormon holds human agency in very high esteem (2Ne 16, also Moses 4:3). For God to cause a people group to be spiritually “blackened” would be out of character.

Secondly, the Book of Mormon clearly states that this “sore cursing” is a “skin of blackness.” It is difficult to spiritualize something so plainly written, especially since the author (Nephi) makes it clear later on that he has, “spoken plainly that ye cannot err (2Ne 25:20).”

Of course, Nephi could have simply recorded what happened. This was simply “historical fact” that, when placed within its proper context, tells things in the way that they happened.

Yet again, this leaves us with one chilling conclusion – God uses race to delineate between the value of people. He sees one group as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome (2Ne 5:21)” whereas he curses another group with a “skin of blackness” who were “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

We know, however, that this is not the case. God does not use race to delineate the value of people. This is a fact that the LDS Church would agree with and even claims that the Book of Mormon teaches.

After all, 2 Nephi 26:33 states, “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (A striking, albeit anachronistic, foreshadowing of Galatians 3:28).

Nonetheless, while the LDS Church certainly abandons racism as nothing short of condemnable, and while some aspects of the Book of Mormon do indeed promote equality, there is racist residue leftover from an author(s) who sought to answer why Native Americans have “skin of blackness.” The answer is profoundly unchristian, which should give us pause concerning the trustworthiness of the Book of Mormon.

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1Ne – 1 Nephi, Book of Mormon

2Ne – 2 Nephi, Book of Mormon

Moses – Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price

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4 Major Differences Between the Book of Mormon and the Bible

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The Book of Mormon, long a lynchpin of the Mormon faith, has both captivated and perplexed people all over the world. Many Latter-day Saints hold this work as the keystone to their entire worldview. In fact, former LDS President Ezra Taft Benson once said, “Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”

One of the central claims to the Book of Mormon’s authority is that the work completes (rather than compliments) the doctrines of salvation as found in the Bible. The two are seen as separate works, but working in tandem to provide the gospel message to the world. If this is the case, if coherent truth about salvation may be found in both works, then we should expect to see many similarities between the two.

There are, however, substantial differences between the two which deserve our attention.

The Bible Is Translated While the Book of Mormon Was Transcribed

Differences begin in the very formation of the two works. In 1830, the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith Jr., published the first edition of the Book of Mormon. After weeks of work, the book quietly stepped onto the stage of religious literature. The process of getter there, however, is quite extraodrinary.

Smith claimed to have a series of visions which revealed the location of golden plates. These plates, said to be ancient accounts of Native American–Jewish origin, were buried in a hill near to Smith’s home. Having discovered them, he then began a process that many LDS scholars describe as translation.

While competing accounts of how Smith accomplished the task, they all stay within the same basic structure: using two seer stones, Smith watched as “reformed Egyptian” – a language yet to be discovered outside of this area – illuminated into English. Despite LDS scholars arguing for translation, this processes is more aptly described as transcription. Smith had no formal language training, but simply transcribed the miraculously illuminated English into English.

This process is substantially different from the process of Bible translation. Written in three (widely known) ancient languages, men and women who are formally trained painstakingly convert word after word from one language into English.

The Bible has undergone many translations by thousands of translators. The Book of Mormon has, ostensibly, undergone one transcription by one transcriber.

The Book of Mormon “Reintroduces” The Gospel to the World

The entire raison d’être of the Book of Mormon is the restoration of lost aspects of the gospel. From beginning to end, the work makes no sense if the gospel message of Jesus needs no reintroduction. In fact, the very origin of the Book of Mormon is surrounded by the urgency to restore the gospel.

In History of the Church Vol. I, after receiving a vision from two personages (we are meant to understand them as the Father and Son without their names being listed) Smith is visited by an angelic being by the name of Moroni. The angel informs Smith that the “fulness of the Gospel” was contained in the golden plates he was soon to discover.

The Bible, however, vehemently warns against such an angelic messenger. Paul warned that if, “we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:8.

Paul warns that even if he preaches a gospel contrary to the one he himself preached, we should ignore it. Not to mention, Paul practically identifies Moroni by name when he says “we or an angel.”

The Bible claims that the gospel preached by the apostles is the one and only gospel message to ever be preached. However, fundamental to the Book of Mormon’s existence, Smith claims a “restored” gospel is found in a book made known to him by an angelic being.

The Book of Mormon Asks Its Reader to Pray About Its Truthfulness

If you’ve ever been visited by LDS missionaries, then you may have been asked to prayerfully consider whether the Book of Mormon was true. This invitation is usually drawn from the Book of Mormon itself.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” – Moroni 10:4–5

The Bible, however, makes no such claim. It does not feel the need to invoke a religious experience in order to persuade the reader of its authority or trustworthiness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Bible clearly indicates that the heart is not to be trusted in such matters.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9

The Bible never challenges the reader to invoke religious experience to verify its trustworthiness. The Book of Mormon, however, clearly feels an additional witness is required aside from its own message.

Salvation Comes “After All We Can Do”

In Mormon thought, justification comes primarily by faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, there is an additional element to our justification – works. 2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon) sucinctly presents this idea, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Were in not for the phrase after all we can do there would be no contention between the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

However, adding works to our justification is a wholly foreign concept to the Bible. Most notably, Paul adamantly argues, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8–9

As far as justification is concerned, the Bible sees no room for the Book of Mormon’s addition of after all we can do. We are saved by faith alone through grace alone – nothing more, nothing less.

Of course, one could argue that this is entirely up to one’s personal interpretation, that religious experience can draw us to a truthful understanding of this verse. It should also be known that 2 Nephi was supposedly written 600BC, when the relationship between law and grace were still a mystery. Regardless, it seems the author’s original intent was a radical departure from grace-based justification in order to introduce a form of obedience into salvation.

The Bible contends for justification by faith and grace alone. The Book of Mormon, however, seems to indicate an additional requirement for works to one’s faith.

Why Theses Differences Matter

The differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible are significant. The Book of Mormon neither compliments nor completes the Bible since the two do not cohere to a unified message, especially of the doctrine of salvation. For this reason, we must either reject the Bible as incomplete or the Book of Mormon as false.

This is why such differences matter. If the Book of Mormon is not a restoration of the gospel, then we must conclude that its message does damage to the gospel and must be rejected.

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Robot Jesus: A New Book

Wondering how to talk to your Mormon friend about the gospel?

Need to know what to say when Jehovah’s Witnesses coming knocking at your door?

Want to know how Muslims view Jesus?

Curious about Tom Cruises’ faith in Scientology?

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Well, good.  I wrote a book about all that.  Go check it out.

Download a free chapter or grab a paperback copy.

Too cool for hard copies?  Get the eBook version.

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