The Mormon Church—A Restoration of All Things?
THE Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, is, for the LDS (Latter-day Saints), a proud symbol of their faith. Diligence, family values, and financial self-sufficiency are Mormon watchwords. Mormon missionaries, with their lapel name badges, are a familiar sight around the world. But some inner affairs sacred to the Mormons are hidden from outsiders. So the church remains a target of sensational rumors. A fair evaluation, however, should be based, not on scurrilous tales, but on facts. What can we learn about this much-maligned faith?
Joseph Smith’s Church Today
The Mormons believe that their religion is the restoration of the true church with its priesthood and ordinances. Hence, its official name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the Mormon Church, no division exists between clergy and laity. Rather, beginning at the age of 12, every worthy male member may become involved with various duties of the church, achieving priesthood by the age of 16.
The majority of church positions are unsalaried, and LDS families join in the many programs sponsored by their local congregation, or ward. On a congregational level, elders, bishops, and stake (district) presidents oversee the well-organized affairs of the church. A council of 12 apostles in Salt Lake City has worldwide jurisdiction. Ultimately, the president of the church—revered as prophet, seer, and revelator—and two counselors form the church’s presiding authority, called the Quorum of the Presidency, or the First Presidency.
Several ordinances affect the lives of devout Mormons. Baptism, signifying repentance and obedience, may take place upon reaching eight years of age. Washing and anointing purify and consecrate the believer. The temple endowment ceremony involves a series of covenants, or promises, and a special temple undergarment to be worn ever after, as a protection from evil and as a reminder of the vows of secrecy taken. Also, a Mormon couple may seal their marriage in a temple “for time and eternity” so that their family can remain intact in heaven, where the couple may continue to bear children.
The Mormon Church has won acclaim for its welfare program, established so that “the curse of idleness would be done away with.” It is financed by local members who give up two meals a month and donate the value of them to the church. In addition, strict tithing of their income is required. Family and friends supply the funds to support Mormon missionaries. These are generally young men and women, who spend about two years in the service.
Self-sacrifice, close families, and civic responsibility are features of Mormon life. But what of Mormon beliefs?
The Mormons and the Bible
“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly,” states the eighth article of the Mormon Articles of Faith. But it adds: “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.” Many wonder, though, why the need for other scriptures?
Elder Bruce R. McConkie asserted: “There are no people on earth who hold the Bible in such high esteem as [Mormons] do. . . . But we do not believe . . . the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation.” President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote in the pamphlet What of the Mormons? that the numerous different sects and churches “bear witness to the inadequacy of the Bible.”
LDS writers express profound misgivings about the Bible’s reliability because of alleged deletions and translation errors. Mormon apostle James E. Talmage, in his book A Study of the Articles of Faith, urges: “Let the Bible then be read reverently and with prayerful care, the reader ever seeking the light of the Spirit that he may discern between truth and the errors of men.” Orson Pratt, an early Mormon apostle, went further: “Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution?”
On this issue, though, the Mormons do not appear to be aware of all the facts. True, the Bible text has been copied and translated repeatedly over the years. Yet, the evidence of its essential purity is overwhelming. Thousands of early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts have been scrutinized alongside more recent copies of the Bible. For example, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, dated from the second century B.C.E., was compared with a manuscript dated over a thousand years later. Had serious corruptions crept in? On the contrary, one scholar’s analysis stated that the few discrepancies found “consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling.”a
After a lifetime of intense study, former British Museum director Sir Frederic Kenyon testified: “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.” Thus, the psalmist’s words are still true today: “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6, King James Version) Do we really need more?
“Thou fool,” reproaches The Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 29:6, “that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible.” Many Mormons, however, have pondered the apostle Paul’s stern words in the Bible at Galatians 1:8 (KJ): “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.”
LDS scholars explain that the new scripture is not beyond what is declared in the Bible but is only a clarification and complement thereof. “There is no tension between the two,” writes Rex E. Lee, president of Brigham Young University. “Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach the same plan of salvation.” Is there agreement between these books? Consider the Mormon plan of salvation.
“As God Now Is, Man May Become”
“Though we do not remember it,” explains Lee, “we existed as spirits before this life.” According to this LDS belief of eternal progression, by strict obedience a man may become a god—a creator like God. “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens,” stated Joseph Smith. “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, . . . the same as all Gods have done before you.” Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow said: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”
Is such a future presented in the pages of the Bible? The only offer of godhood ever recorded there was the empty promise by Satan the Devil in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 3:5) The Bible shows that God created Adam and Eve to live on earth and instructed them to produce a perfect human family that would live here in happiness eternally. (Genesis 1:28; 3:22; Psalm 37:29; Isaiah 65:21-25) Adam’s willful disobedience brought sin and death into the world.—Romans 5:12.
The Book of Mormon says that had the former spirits Adam and Eve remained sinless, they would have been childless and joyless, alone in Paradise. So its version of the sin of the first married couple involved sexual intercourse and childbearing. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:22, 23, 25) Spirits in heaven are thus said to await a chance to live on a sinful earth—a necessary step toward perfection and godhood. Says the LDS magazine Ensign: “We look upon what Adam and Eve did with great appreciation rather than with disdain.”
“This doctrine [that man existed in the spirit creation],” says Joseph Fielding Smith, great-nephew of Joseph Smith, “in the Bible is only discerned through a mist or fog . . . because many plain and precious things have been taken out of the Bible.” Further he states: “This belief is based upon a revelation given to the Church, May 6, 1833.” Therefore, while accepting the Bible’s authority, in case of disagreement LDS doctrine necessarily assigns greater weight to the words of their prophets.
The Book of Mormon—Keystone of the Faith
Joseph Smith lauded The Book of Mormon as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” One set of golden plates was said to have been the source for his writings. Eleven Mormons testified that they saw the plates. Upon completion of the document, though, Smith said the plates were taken to heaven. Thus, they are not available for textual analysis.
The Pearl of Great Price (see box, page 20) tells of a Professor Charles Anthon who was shown a copy of some of the inscriptions and declared them to be authentic and the translation accurate. But upon being told of the plates’ origin, the account says he retracted his verdict. This story appears to be inconsistent, however, with Smith’s claim that he alone had the gift to translate the language of the plates, “the knowledge of which was lost to the world.” Could Professor Anthon verify as correct a text he could not read and therefore could not translate?
The Book of Mormon quotes extensively from the King James Version of the Bible, with its Shakespearean English, which was already considered archaic in Joseph Smith’s day. It has troubled some readers that The Book of Mormon, this “most correct” of books, lifts at least 27,000 words directly from the Bible version that is purportedly full of errors and that Smith later undertook to revise.—See box, page 20.
A comparison of the first edition of The Book of Mormon with current editions reveals to many Mormons a surprising fact—that the book said to be “translated . . . by the gift and power of God” has itself undergone numerous changes in grammar, spelling, and substance. For instance, there is apparent confusion over the identity of “the Eternal Father.” According to the first edition at 1 Nephi 13:40, “the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father.” But later editions say that “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father.” (Italics ours.) The two original 1830 manuscripts of The Book of Mormon still exist. One of the two originals, held by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has the words “the Son” added between the lines.
As for the Mormon scripture Doctrine and Covenants, the book The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, by LDS scholar Lyndon W. Cook, explains in the preface: “Inasmuch as some revelations have been revised by those committees appointed to arrange them for publication, significant textual additions and deletions have been noted.” One such alteration is found at Book of Commandments 4:2, which said of Smith: “He has a gift to translate the book . . . I will grant him no other gift.” But when the revelation was reprinted in 1835 in Doctrine and Covenants, it read: “For I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.”—5:4.
Some find it difficult to reconcile that about 20 Jews were said to have left Jerusalem for America in 600 B.C.E. but that in less than 30 years, they had multiplied and split into two nations! (2 Nephi 5:28) Within 19 years of their arrival, this small band supposedly built a temple “after the manner of the temple of Solomon . . . , and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine”—a formidable task, indeed! The seven-year construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem occupied nearly 200,000 laborers, craftsmen, and overseers.—2 Nephi 5:16; compare 1 Kings 5, 6.
Careful readers of the Book of Mormon have puzzled over certain events that seem out of proper chronological sequence. For example, Acts 11:26 says: “The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (KJ) But Alma 46:15, purportedly describing events in 73 B.C.E., has Christians in America before Christ ever came to earth.
The Book of Mormon presents itself more as a historical narrative than as a doctrinal treatise. The phrase “and it came to pass” occurs about 1,200 times in the current edition—about 2,000 times in the 1830 edition. Many places mentioned in the Bible still exist, yet the locations of virtually all sites named in The Book of Mormon, such as Gimgimno and Zeezrom, are unknown.
The Mormon story tells of vast settlements across the North American continent. Helaman 3:8 reads: “And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread . . . to cover the face of the whole earth.” According to Mormon 1:7, the land “had become covered with buildings.” Many people wonder where the remains of these sprawling civilizations are. Where are the Nephite artifacts, such as gold coins, swords, shields, or breastplates?—Alma 11:4; 43:18-20.
Considering such questions, members of the Mormon faith do well to reflect seriously on the words of Mormon Rex E. Lee: “The authenticity of Mormonism stands or falls with the book from which the Church derives its nickname.” A faith based upon solid Scriptural knowledge, rather than just on an emotional prayer experience, presents a challenge to sincere Mormons—as well as to all claiming to be Christians.
The Basis for Restoration
It was the spiritual chaos around him that caused Joseph Smith to spurn the warring sects of his day. Other reverent men before, during, and since his time have sought to return to the true faith.
What is the pattern for true Christianity? Is it not Christ who set “an example, that ye should follow his steps”? (1 Peter 2:21, KJ) The life of Jesus Christ stands in stark contrast with LDS theology. While Jesus was no ascetic, his simple life was devoid of any ambition to amass wealth, glory, or political power. He was persecuted because he was “not of the world.” (John 17:16, KJ) The foremost aim of Christ’s ministry was to glorify his Father, Jehovah, and to sanctify His name. The same is true of Jesus’ true disciples. They view their own salvation as of secondary importance.
Jesus taught the Word of God, freely quoted from it, and lived it. Brigham Young said of the Bible: “We take this book for our guide, for our rule of action; we take it as the foundation of our faith. It points the way to salvation.” (Journal of Discourses, Volume XIII, page 236) So he urged: “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.” (Discourses of Brigham Young) Not only the Mormon faith but all religions claiming to be Christian must submit to this test, for Jesus said: “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:23, KJ.
a For further information see The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Box on page 20]
Mormon Holy Writings
IN ADDITION to the Bible and The Book of Mormon, the Latter-day Saints recognize a number of other writings.
Doctrine and Covenants: This is primarily a collection of what Joseph Smith called revelations from God. These have been revised at times as doctrinal and historical developments dictated.
The Pearl of Great Price: This book contains Joseph Smith’s revisions of the Bible book of Genesis, the 24th chapter of Matthew, and Smith’s personal history. It also has Smith’s translation of a papyrus he purchased in 1835. He declared it to be Abraham’s own writing that told how an angel saved him when a priest tried to sacrifice him on an altar. The papyrus was relocated in 1967 and examined by a number of Egyptologists. They found, said one report, that “not a single word of Joseph Smith’s alleged translation bore any resemblance to the contents of this document.” It turned out to be the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian funeral document buried with the dead. Smith’s original manuscript shows that he used 136 English words to translate the Egyptian hieroglyph for “lake.”
Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible: In 1830, Smith began a revision of the King James Version of the Bible, which he never completed. He revised some 3,400 verses and added much material, including a prophecy at the end of Genesis about his own coming as “a choice seer.” Since the manuscript remained with Smith’s widow, who did not follow Brigham Young, the Salt Lake church seldom quotes from it, though it is accepted as correct.
Further “inspired” doctrines: These may be handed down by the church’s living prophet at any time and are equal in authority to the Holy Bible. The King Follett discourse presented in 1844 is one example. Smith gave this funeral sermon for Elder King Follett in which he explained the doctrine of deified man and humanized God. It appears in the Journal of Discourses, a collection of lectures by Smith, Young, and other 19th-century Mormon authorities.
[Box on page 21]
The Mormon Family of Gods
God: Father of all Gods, he has a flesh-and-bone body.—Doctrine and Covenants 130:22.
Elohim: Sometimes referred to as an individual. Also described as a council of Gods who organized the earth.—Doctrine and Covenants 121:32; The Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4:1; Journal of Discourses, Volume I, page 51.
Jesus: God and Creator of the whole earth, the Savior.—3 Nephi 9:15; 11:14.
Jehovah: The Old Testament name for Jesus.—Compare Mormon 3:22; Moroni 10:34; and Book of Mormon index.
Trinity: The Godhead of three separate, distinct spirit personages, Father and Son, of flesh and bone, and Holy Ghost.—Alma 11:44; 3 Nephi 11:27.
Adam: Jesus’ helper in the creation. Brigham Young stated: “Our father Adam came into the garden of Eden . . . and brought Eve, one of his wives. . . . He is our Father and our God.” (Journal of Discourses, Volume I, page 50, 1854 Edition) After his sin, Adam became earth’s first Christian. (The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 6:64-66; Ensign, January 1994, page 11) He is “the Ancient of days” (Doctrine and Covenants 116) and is the literal physical Father of Jesus.—Journal of Discourses, Volume I, page 51.
Michael: Another name for Adam, the archangel.—Doctrine and Covenants 107:54.
[Box on page 23]
The Mormons, Nationalism, and Politics
JOSEPH SMITH—prophet, seer, revelator, according to Mormon belief—was also mayor, treasurer, lieutenant-general, and U.S. presidential candidate. Following his lead, many Mormons are energetic political activists. The church is proud of its American heritage and asserts that God directed the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Brigham Young said: “When . . . the Kingdom of God will bear rule, the flag of the United States will proudly flutter unsullied on the flagstaff of Liberty and equal rights, without a spot.”
Article 12 of the Articles of Faith states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” How far does their subjection go? When the United States entered World War I, Elder Stephen L. Richards affirmed: “There is no more loyal people to the government of the United States than the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.” “When we fight we will conquer by the power of God,” said another elder.
Article 12 applied on the other side of the battlefield as well. Professor Christine E. King of Staffordshire University wrote: “German Mormons were encouraged to bear arms for their country and to pray for her victory.” The church said they were fighting, not British and American Mormon brethren, but government representatives. “Such a distinction, although transparent, served to salve the moral and religious doubts of German Mormons.”
When Hitler seized power, the Mormon policy of wholehearted support continued. “The Nazis met no resistance or evidence of criticism from the Mormon church,” wrote Dr. King. Mormon stress on racial purity and patriotism served the church well, and to many Mormons, “the links between their faith and the politics of the Third Reich were clear.” When several Mormons dared to defy Hitler, they received no backing from Mormon officials. “The church was patriotic and loyal and decried any attack on the Nazi government.” The church even excommunicated one dissident posthumously after the Nazis had executed him.b
How different from those lauded in The Book of Mormon at Alma 26:32: “They had rather sacrifice their lives than even to take the life of their enemy; and they have buried their weapons of war deep in the earth, because of their love towards their brethren.”
Jesus reasoned with Pilate: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews.” (John 18:36, King James Version) His disciples were not to take up arms in defense of God’s own Son, let alone in a war between governments. They were even to love their enemies.—Matthew 5:44; 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4.
There are true Christians today who have kept strict neutrality individually and as a group. Said the book Mothers in the Fatherland: “Jehovah’s Witnesses had since their foundation stood resolutely apart from any state.” Therefore, during Hitler’s reign of terror, they, “practically to a person, unequivocally refused to render any form of obedience to the Nazi state.”
Though thousands of them were martyred, Jehovah’s Witnesses took to heart the words of Jesus: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”—John 13:35, KJ.
b Helmut Hübener was reinstated in 1948.
[Box on page 24]
The Bible and Mormon Writings—A Study in Contrasts
Bible: Although the exact site is unknown, the garden of Eden was probably in the Mesopotamian region by the Euphrates River.—Genesis 2:11-14.
Doctrine and Covenants: Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri, U.S.A.—Doctrine and Covenants 57, as explained by President J. F. Smith.
Bible: The soul dies.—Ezekiel 18:4; Acts 3:23.
The Book of Mormon: “The soul could never die.”—Alma 42:9.
Bible: Jesus was born in Bethlehem.—Matthew 2:1-6.
The Book of Mormon: Jesus was to be born in Jerusalem.—Alma 7:10.
Bible: Jesus was begotten by holy spirit.—Matthew 1:20.
Journal of Discourses: Jesus was not begotten by holy spirit. He was begotten in the flesh by Adam’s having intercourse with Mary.—Journal of Discourses, Volume I, pages 50-1.
Bible: New Jerusalem to be in heaven.—Revelation 21:2.
The Book of Mormon: New Jerusalem, earthly, to be built by men in Missouri, U.S.A.—3 Nephi 21:23, 24; Doctrine and Covenants 84:3, 4.
Bible: Writers of the Bible were inspired to write God’s thoughts.—2 Peter 1:20, 21.
The Book of Mormon: Its prophets are said to have written according to their own knowledge.—1 Nephi 1:2, 3; Jacob 7:26.
Bible: Mosaic Law, including tithing, terminated by the death of Jesus. Contributions are to be voluntary, not under compulsion.—2 Corinthians 9:7; Galatians 3:10-13, 24, 25; Ephesians 2:15.
Doctrine and Covenants: “Verily it is . . . a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned (at his [the Lord’s] coming).”—Doctrine and Covenants 64:23.
[Picture on page 25]
Statue of Moroni atop the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City