Why Should I Believe Joseph?

Why Should I Believe Joseph?

Testing the unique Latter-Day Saints scriptures

This paper was originally presented during the PhD seminar “Philosophical Hermeneutics” (2023) at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

 

Introduction

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints[1] is a restoration movement within Christianity, seeking to correct a perceived apostasy within the larger Christian Church. It began in the early nineteenth century, when the teenage Joseph Smith Jr claimed to have been visited by God the Father and God the Son; however, its scriptures claim objective historical facts that date back to the time of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The LDS church accepts the Bible as a scripture alongside three additional texts which stand over it: Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. In addition to their President, who serves as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, these three additional books — which come from the experiences of Joseph Smith Jr[2] — function as sources of revelation. Hermeneutically, the LDS church interprets these texts by what is called a Testimony. However, this is an unreliable test for supposedly historical events.

This paper will critique both the unique LDS texts and their method of testing these scriptures. And because the LDS church also claims to accept the Bible as God’s Word (so far as it has been correctly translated) this paper will examine select biblical passages to show how the LDS church uses their additional scriptures as a lens to interpret the Bible. In conclusion, this paper will show that the LDS hermeneutic is viciously circular.

 

The Official LDS Process of Knowing Truth

The desire to search for truth seems to be universal among people. What often varies is how a person or community finds and assesses truth. Questions like What counts as truth? and What methods are acceptable to assess truth? are often what divides different groups. In the traditional church,[3] namely Protestantism, the Bible is the Church’s sole set of Scriptures. It is the Bible the Church looks to to define what God has and has not revealed about himself.[4]

The LDS church believes the Christian Church became corrupt sometime after the New Testament was written, and it is their work to restore the Church to God’s intended purpose and practice.[5] As such, while they consider themselves “Christian,” going so far as to accept the Bible as an authority, they have additional authorities that “stand over” the Bible. The following two sections will walk through the authorities the LDS church uses to know truth, as well as their processes for assessing that truth.

 

LDS Authorities and Processes

Joseph Smith Jr (1805–1844), often simply referred to as Joseph, was the founder of the LDS church. In 1820, after crying out to God asking him to show him which was the true Christian denomination (Methodists, Baptist, etc.), he then claimed, shortly after, to have received an in-person visit from both God the Father and God the Son (Joseph Smith–History 11–17). Over the period of 1823–1829 Joseph claimed to receive over a dozen visits from the angel Moroni.[6] At one point, as Joseph told the story, the angel gave him golden plates, with a message written in a modified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics (what Joseph called “reformed Egyptian,” Mormon 9:3233). It was from these golden plates that he was to “translate” the new revelation from God. This resulted in the Book of Mormon (BofM). The BofM recounts select history and prophecies ranging from 2200 B.C. to several hundred years after Jesus. It includes the stories of the “Jaredites,” who left the Tower of Babel to travel to the Americas (Ether 1:33; cf Gen. 11); the “Nephites,” who lived in Jerusalem around the time of Isaiah but shortly after also migrated to the Americas (Alma 22:31–34); various New World prophets such as “Misaih,” “Zeniff,” and “Alma;” and the recounting of post-resurrection Jesus appearing and working in the Americas in A.D. 34.[7] Prior to Joseph publishing it, the history and content of the Book of Mormon was unknown to anyone else.

Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) is a collection of revelations received from God. Joseph wrote most of these, but other early leaders added a few chapters after Joseph’s death.[8] The D&C “teaches us that God knows each of us by name, that He hears our prayers and answers our questions, and that God still speaks today. It also teaches valuable doctrine about the plan of salvation and gives us additional insight into Jesus Christ’s Atonement.”[9] Pearl of Great Price (PGP), was written by Joseph but was not published until several years after his death. It is a supplementary book which includes portions of the Bible, new scriptures, and LDS history. These three books taken together create the unique LDS scriptures.[10] Along with the Bible, these four make up the official “Standard Works” of the LDS church.[11]Though, it should be noted, while the Bible is included in the Standard Works, any biblical interpretation should be consistent with Mormon scriptures, and, if necessary, interpreted in light of Mormon scriptures: “Modern scriptures often give keys that unlock the meaning of difficult biblical passages. . . [which is how] latter-day scriptures expand our understand of various biblical scriptures.”[12]

There have been two additional “Declarations” which have since been assimilated into D&C: Official Declaration 1 and 2. The first, issued by then LDS President Wilford Woodruff, became official church doctrine in 1890. It banned polygamy.[13] The second, coming almost a century later in 1978 (via President Spencer W. Kimball), opened church membership to those of other races, namely those of African descent. Mormon professor of church history, E. Dale LeBaron, comments on Declaration 2: “As far as we know, this was the first time since Cain and Abel that all the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ were made available to all people of all races living upon this earth.”[14] Both of these Declarations are significant. Joseph himself practiced and taught the virtues of polygamy, and the Church even indicates that polygamy played a role in sanctification and salvation.[15] It was not until some forty years after Joseph’s death that Official Declaration 1 denounced this.[16] Brigham Young, the second President of the Church, discussed those of African descent as being under the “curse” of Cain, and that they “cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood,” which is to say, they cannot become proper members of the Church.[17] This Declaration (1976) came almost one-hundred and twenty years after Young’s statements.

After the Standard Works and the two Declarations, there are two further levels of authority in the LDS church.[18] Below the Declarations are the official teachings from the twice-annual General Conference. This is an opportunity for the President/prophet (currently Russell M. Nelson), the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy, and other select leaders to give direction to the larger body of the church.[19] Some of this instruction has the potential to become official doctrine of the church, such as when the President individually receives a revelation from God for the larger body. When this happens, it must be “sustained by the united voice” of the other senior leaders to become official church doctrine.[20]The lowest rung of authority are the official LDS publications. Elder Dallin H. Oaks notes that while these “do not have the same standing as the scriptures, they do represent the most current interpretations. . . of the Church’s highest authorities.”[21] Examples of this category include the handbooks and magazines, such as The Improvement Era (1897–1970), The Ensign (1971–2020), and Liahona (1977–present) among others.[22] Collectively, these four categories comprise the authority sources of the LDS church.

Understanding the process of canonizing scripture is fundamentally different in the LDS church from traditional Christianity. The latter adheres to a closed canon of Scripture.[23] So, while there may be (and often are) disagreements about application — even about doctrinal issues — the church at large anchors itself to the Bible as their sole written authority. This means that, while contexts may change, the Bible is always correct and accurate in what it says.[24] On the other hand, the LDS church does not believe in a closed cannon: “True prophets and apostles will continue to receive newrevelation, and from time to time the legal authorities of the Church will see fit to formally add to the collection of scripture.”[25] This is the LDS doctrine of Continuing Revelation.[26] This doctrines goes back to the very beginning of Mormonism; of the thirteen “articles of faith” Joseph wrote in 1842, article nine states: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”[27] In other words, while the Bible is a word from God, it is not the last word from God. This doctrine is what gives the LDS President and leaders the authority to add to and update Scripture.[28]

How LDS Members Assess Truth: The Role of Testimony

The above section outlined the official authorities of the LDS church. But how does a member of the LDS church interpret those authorities? More directly to the point of this paper: What assurance can a member of the LDS church have that the claims of Joseph (and the rest of the church’s leadership) are true? A person who is a new member or is considering membership can ask an LDS Missionary. The Church’s website makes this very accessible. But how does a member who has been involved in the Church for some time mature in their interpretation? What process of validation or confirmation does this person have? The church’s answer to this is found in the core doctrine of “Testimony,” which every member is called to “obtain” and “nurture.”[29] Having a strong Testimony is fundamental to being a well-adjusted member of the church. “Your happiness in this life and throughout eternity depends largely on whether you are ‘valiant in the testimony of Jesus’.”[30] D&C 76:101 goes so far as to equate not having a Testimony with not having the gospel, or the “everlasting covenant,” which President Russell M. Nelson identifies as salvation itself.[31]

Once baptized into the Church, gaining a Testimony begins simply with a desire to believe — even, presumably, if actual belief is not present yet. Alma 32:27 illustrates this:

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

As further noted in the book of Alma (cf. Alma 32:28–43), this is an action one needs to initiate; and following this, one’s Testimony will appear “as a quiet assurance.” However, obtaining a Testimony is a gradual process. “It will expand as you show your willingness to serve in the Church…It will increase as you make decisions to keep the commandments.”[32]Likewise, sharing your Testimony with others helps it to grow.[33] One may compare this to the role of the Holy Spirit in traditional Christianity, where the Spirit confirms or corrects a believer through a similar process. However, one major difference in this comparison is found within the content the Spirit brings. In traditional Christianity, the Spirit does not reveal new revelation beyond what he has already revealed in the Bible.[34] In Mormonism, though, a church member can receive new revelation from God.[35] However, while a Testimony may include new revelation, it is not required. At its most basic level, a Testimony is the process of the Holy Ghost[36] giving an individual confidence “that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true.”[37] In asking the question, “how can we know?” Elder Dallin Oaks explains that while this is not a scientific or externally verifiable process, one’s conclusion can be “just as sure” as these other methods.[38]

A Basic Hermeneutical Framework

So, where does this fit into a Mormon hermeneutic? For the everyday Church member, there are three basic categories or stages for interpreting the Standard Works: (1) to understand what has been revealed, that is, the official church teaching of the LDS church; (2) to believe what has been revealed; and (3) to fit any new private revelation to what has already been revealed to the larger church.

Regarding the first interpretive category above (understanding the Standard Works) Jeffrey S. Krohn (a non-Mormon) noted that there is no official LDS hermeneutic,[39] which various Mormon scholars have likewise admitted.[40] This lack of official method(s) could be, as he believes, due to the “pragmatic, experientially driven ethos” of the church.[41] Krohn has outlined five interpretive practices he has observed.[42] The purpose of this paper is not to categorize or systematize these interpretive methods, as Krohn has done, but to examine whether a Mormon is justified in believing the claims presented in the unique LDS scriptures. More on this below.

The second interpretive category (believing what has been revealed) centers on using one’s Testimony. To deepen belief, Elder Richard G. Scott says, one needs to “practice the truth or principle you have faith in.”[43] Putting a special emphasis on the need to practice and live out one’s faith, he notes, is what will ultimately result in “the sustaining power of a successful life.”[44] In other words, understanding one’s faith cannot only be an intellectual exercise, but requires members to practice it in life. So far, this sounds similar to the book of James’ description of the Christian life, where followers of Jesus are commanded to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” (James 1:22ff). However, a divergence from traditional Christianity shows here, not in what is said so much as what is left unsaid. The LDS church does not directly speak against using hermeneutical methods for interpreting the Standard Words; instead, they put a heavy emphasis on the lived-out experience of a member’s Testimony, as if, with one’s Testimony, applying a hermeneutical method becomes largely unnecessary.[45]

Of the three, the third category is most alien to traditional Christians: Individual members will receive newrevelation from God. However, this new revelation should be understood as supplemental and supportive to the revelation already given to the whole Church. Elder James E. Faust said, “Individual members, parents, and leaders have the right to receive revelation for their own responsibility but have no duty nor right to declare the word of God beyond the limits of their own responsibility.”[46] While all members of the Church receive new revelation from God, there is a clear distinction between new revelation given to ordinary members and that given to the President/prophet.[47] This point is very important for this paper. Regarding interpretation, any new revelation given to a member is simply to help them process and confirm what has already been given. As such, a regular member of the church does not have the right to change the official teachings of the church or even to instruct others in a way different from the church’s official teaching. In other words, while private revelation can theoretically be anything, its purpose is simply to confirm the Standard Works and Presidency, not to add to them.[48]

As shown above, the primary confirmation given to members of the LDS church is a feeling or confidence (called a “Testimony”) that cannot be verified by any external means. It is, by definition, subjective. As the Bible is considered one of the Standard Works, and since the these four scriptures play a vital role in the Mormon faith, the next section of this paper will look at a few examples of how the BofM uses and changes biblical passages, as well as several historical claims it makes. As will be shown, the way the BofM changes the Bible is ad hoc, and the unique historical facts mentioned are dubious and unfounded.

 

Assessing LDS Texts and Their Hermeneutical Method

There is no textual evidence to warrant the changes between the BofM and the KJV.[49] And Joseph never really implies there is. Instead, he focuses on the uniqueness of the delivery method while requiring his followers to take his word for it. Furthermore, of the many historical claims the BofM makes, archaeologists have yet to find evidence for its vast civilizations in the Americas. LDS historian and elder, B. H. Roberts, who wrote in defense of the BofM’s historicity,[50] emphasizes that that best proof is simply one’s Testimony from the Holy Ghost.[51] The following sections will look at select examples of how the BofM uses and modifies the KJV; the BofM’s difficult historical claims; and finally the problematic nature of leaning on Testimony the validate the BofM’s claims.

 

A Sample of the Book of Mormon’s Usage of Biblical Texts

The analysis below is far from exhaustive. Rather, the goal is to look at a few biblical passages that the BofM has used and to show how the core meaning of the original passage has been changed. Three passages will be examined: First Nephi 20 (from Isaiah 48), 3 Nephi 12 (from Matthew 5), and two verses from 2 Nephi (from Isaiah 2:16 and 5:2). In 1 Nephi 20’s use of Isaiah 48 the concept of “likening” and its role is introduced. Nephi was allegedly a prophet who lived around the same time as Isaiah and sailed to the Americas with his family. The message from Isaiah and the message from 1 Nephi tell a fundamentally different story about God’s redemptive plan. In the second selection, 3 Nephi 12 and Matthew 5 are both passages that claim to record Jesus’ words. And just as with 1 Nephi 20 and Isaiah 48, there is a deep similarity in structure and wording. Yet, again, what stands out are the different meanings between the two texts. The underlying idea from the message Jesus gives in Matthew 5 is critically different, even contradictory, as the message given in 3 Nephi 12 — so much so, that the burden of proof is on the BofM to justify how Jesus could have said the same things. These first two subsections look at larger chunks of Scripture, each of which the BofM clearly claims to be using (and “likening”) biblical passages as sources.

This brief survey will show how the BofM’s ad hoc usage of the Bible is a result of LDS church’s unique theology, not a justification for it.

The third subsection looks at two verses from 2 Nephi, each within much larger quotations from Isaiah. These particular verses are selected because each contains a translation error present in the KJV. These same translation errors made their way into the BofM version, as well. While Joseph readily acknowledged the passages from 2 Nephi were the same as those found in Isaiah, he maintains that his source was not Isaiah but the plates from the angel Moroni (cf. Introduction xii and 2 Nephi 1:1). This subsection bridges into the following section which questions the historical reliability of some BofM claims, ultimately providing a cumulative case that the unique LDS scriptures are not trustworthy.

 

Isaiah 48 as Used in 1 Nephi 20

Several chunks of the BofM pull directly from the Bible. First Nephi 20 is an example of this. Critically, though, the text as it appears in the BofM is almost never unaltered. This is what the LDS church refers to as “likening.” Likening is the common process in LDS thought where Mormon scripture modifies a biblical passage to give it a new meaning. First Nephi 19:23 says:

And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.

BYU assistant professor of ancient scripture, Joseph Spencer, comments that likening is “a matter of taking prophetic words addressed to the whole of Israel and applying or adapting them quite specifically just to a remnant or a branch of Israel.”[52]

Thematically, Isaiah 48 is a warning to the people of God, to follow God with all of their lives and not to simply give him lip service. Isaiah reminds them that this is not the first time they’ve rebelled or that God’s called them back to himself. In the middle of the chapter, God declares that he will save Israel, even though they are faithless, and he will do it “for [his] own sake” (Isaiah 48:11). God calls them to put away their idols and tells them the nations judging them are doing so by his own will. The 1 Nephi 20 version uses many of the same words but creates quite a different meaning. Below is a side-by-side comparisons of select verses where the meaning has been substantially changed from the Isaiah 48[53] to 1 Nephi 20 (see table 1).[54] Following table 1 is a brief analysis at the changes.[55]

Table 1.

Isaiah 48 (KJV)1 Nephi 20 (BofM)
3Long ago I told you what was going to happen. Then suddenly I took action, and all my predictions came true.Behold, I have declared the former things from the beginning; and they went forth out of my mouth, and I showed them. I did show them suddenly.
4For I know how stubborn and obstinate you are. Your necks are as unbending as iron. Your heads are as hard as bronze.And I did it because I knew that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass;
14Have any of your idols ever told you this? Come, all of you, and listen: The Lord has chosen Cyrus as his ally. He will use him to put an end to the empire of Babylon and to destroy the Babylonian armies.All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him; yea, and he will fulfil his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans.
17This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.And thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I have sent him, the Lord thy God who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way thou shouldst go, hath done it.

In the comparison between Isaiah 48 and 1 Nephi 20, the first significant change happens in verse 3, where the emphasis switches from God acting in history (Isaiah), to God simply declaring what will later happen (1 Nephi). A defining characteristic of God we see in Isaiah — and all the Bible, for that matter — is one of patience. Time and again, God does miraculous signs and saves his people. But repeatedly they continue to turn away from him, breaking their covenant with him, yet, in his mercy and grace, he often redeems them. In 1 Nephi 20:3, however, the emphasis is changed. In 1 Nephi, God no longer appears to be as concerned with reminding Israel of their destructive cycle of behavior and his mercy, but to forecast some coming revelation (which fits well with LDS doctrine of continuing revelation). As Spencer comments: “There’s a larger, richer story about declaration in the Book of Mormon text of Isa. 48, a story about what the Lord declares to Israel when, and about whether and how Israel goes on to declare such things to others. It seems the Book of Mormon version of Isaiah is more closely attuned to this theme than the biblical version.”[56]

Verse 4 is a seemingly insignificant change, swapping “bronze” for “brass.” Throughout the writings of Nephi, there are regular and curious references to the “plates of brass” (e.g., 1 Nephi 21:1, etc.) that held the prophecy Nephi received from God. While brass was discovered several hundred years before Nephi’s time, it was more an accidental discovery. It was not used in metalwork until about 600 years after Nephi, and mostly then, it was for smaller items like coins. It was not until the fourth century A.D. (approximately a millennium after Nephi was said to live) that brass would become a common material in metalworking.[57] So, how is it that Nephi has plates of brass? LDS scholar William J. Hamblin posits that “brass in the Book of Mormon most likely was reference to various forms of the copper and tin alloy that we currently call bronze.”[58] However, given its use in weaponry and other robust pieces, bronze would have been the mostly likely fit for the time of Nephi.[59] So, there is a curious lingering question, given that “It is often very difficult to distinguish between bronze and brass merely by their appearance”[60]: When likening 1 Nephi 20 from Isaiah 48, why change “bronze” to “brass”?

Skipping down to verse 14, the changes are more thematically aligned with verse 3 above. Here the language switches away from God’s warning to quit listening to idols for guidance, to Nephi’s focus on listening to “them.” The them here is likely a reference to false prophets. This, in itself, is not at all bad advice. But compared with the changes in verse 17, we see a more specific meaning. Verse 17 switches from God being the teacher to God’s messenger being the teacher. In the biblical version, Isaiah’s quotation begins with God saying, “I am the Lord your God,” while the Nephi version begins with “I have sent him.” The following wording is a bit mangled in the Nephi version, but the rest of the verse is essentially saying the same thing as the Isaiah version. The key difference between the two is the actor God is referring to: Is it himself (Isaiah), or is it his representative (Nephi)? 

Considering these changes, the process of likening is not merely finding a new application from an existing message or applying a broader message to a narrower audience (as Spencer suggests above). Rather, as 1 Nephi 20 has shown, likening can include a wholesale changing of the text.

 

Matthew 5 as used in 3 Nephi 12

Third Nephi is an amalgamation of history, connecting Nephi’s supposed departure from Jerusalem to the Americas, with various accounts of post-resurrection-Jesus appearing to his first century New World followers. Many of these stories closely parallel New Testament accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. For example, 3 Nephi 11 has the Father speaking as a bodiless voice to the Nephites in the Americas, reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism by John (cf. Matt. 3). Third Nephi 12–14 reproduces Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (SotM) from Matthew 5–7, or “Sermon at the Temple” or SatT. [61]

The majority of the below discussion will center around 3 Nephi 12’s usage of Matthew 5.[62] Most of the following points made about 3 Nephi 12 are similar enough to 3 Nephi 13 as to not need an additional analysis. Moreover, small inconsequential rewordings aside, 3 Nephi 13 is almost the same as Matthew 7.[63] As with above, what follows is a selection of verses, focusing on major doctrinal changes and other inconsistencies (see table 2 below for a side-by-side comparison).

Table 2.

Matthew 5 (KJV)3 Nephi 12 (BofM)
1And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
20For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
22But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
25Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou art in the way with him, lest at any time he shall get thee, and thou shalt be cast into prison.
26Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.
46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.
47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?Old things are done away, and all things have become new.

The BofM introductory paragraph for 3 Nephi 12 notes that, just with the SotM, this (“similar”) version is also given by Jesus, and it occurred around the year A.D. 34 to the New World Nephite community, just after his resurrection, and either just before his ascension or sometime shortly after.[64] Verse 1 is the first significant departure from the SotM for four reasons. First, as already noted, the SatT has Jesus addressing the Nephites in the New World. Second, Jesus notes that there are twelve Nephite apostles “called” out to “received power and authority to baptize,” where he is apparently instituting a kind of hierarchy not present in the SotM. Third, the blessing from Jesus to the crowd is contingent upon giving “heed unto the words of these twelve,” further dividing his selected twelve from the crowd. And fourth, Jesus goes on to make the above implications concrete by connecting the power given to these twelve to salvation. The changes in the SatT are a dramatic departure from the SotM. In consequence, the Jesus of the SatT is setting up a group of men to serve as mediators between him and the people. In direct contradiction to this idea, the Apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the only “mediator between God and men” (1 Tim. 2:5). Earlier in Galatians, while discussing the role of the law, Paul rules out any additional parties in this mix, noting that “an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (Gal 3:20). Just as disturbing, there is a subtle allusion to works, by making salvation contingent upon “heeding the words” of the twelve. Verse 20 builds upon the allusion to salvation-by-works started in verse 1, by changing the entrance requirement of the kingdom from being righteous to obeying commands. James 2 rightly discusses the necessity of good works in the Christian life (cf. James 2:14–26). But as Paul writes in Philippians, the works in question are not a vehicle that leads to salvation but works that come from salvation (Phil 2:12). The body of Christ is made righteous through grace (Romans 5:1), and it is on this merit that we “enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Verses 22 and 26 are curious details that do not directly apply to doctrine, but nevertheless cast a shadow on the validity of 3 Nephi usage of Matthew 5. In verse 22, Jesus uses the word Raca. This is a Greek work (Ῥακά) which was left untranslated in the KJV, likely because they did not know exactly how to translate it. This was clearly a human problem of translation. Never did the KJV translators claim divine inspiration for leaving it untranslated; they were simply doing the best they could. However, this was not the case with Joseph, who claimed to receive this “translation” directly from Moroni (Joseph Smith—History 1). Verse 26 opens prompting a similarly curious question, but for different reasons. Here the word “farthing” (KJV) has been changed to “senine.” Senine is a unit of measure used by the Nephites and only found in the BofM (see also Alma 11:3, 5, 7, 8 and 30:33). What was the purpose of making the change from farthing to senine? It could be contextual, so that the Nephites would have an accurate understanding. But would they have understood raca? Furthermore, why not change “bushel” (μόδιον) in verse 15? This seems to simply be an ad hoc change.[65]

The last two significant changes in this chapter are in verses 25 and 46–47. In verse 25, the instruction from Jesus changes from the Matthean version: “lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge,” to the Mormon version: “lest at any time he shall get thee,” removing any reference to the judge as a third part. Effectively, Jesus is no longer warning his listeners to prudently avoid the wrath of a presiding judge, but to fear the one you are crosswise with less they“get thee.” This plays into a core bit of LDS theology that President Lorenzo Snow articulated before his presidency and shortly after he was baptized into the Church:

As man now is, God once was:

As God now is, man may be.[66]

As one article puts it: “Each possesses seeds of divinity and must choose whether to live in harmony or tension with that divinity. . . [and] Just as a child can develop the attributes of his or her parents over time, the divine nature that humans inherit can be developed to become like their Heavenly Father’s.”[67] The idea here is that any member of the church, in good standing, has the potential to be like divine like God. With this in mind, it is the job of each member to imitate God. Speaking of our heavenly parents, a common Mormon description of God, President Dallin H. Oaks says that “our highest aspiration is to be like them.”[68] The change in verse 25 makes way for each person to potentially step into the position of judge, or God.

The changes in verses 46–47 underline perhaps the most common tenet of Mormonism, which is the restoration of the since-corrupted church. The original verses 46–47 from Matthew have been completely removed and in their place are a note about Jesus being the fulfillment of the law (verse 46) which then it concludes with: “Old things are done away, and all things have become new” (emphasis added). These last words highlight the primary message of Joseph and the latter-day mantle. Taken from the LDS study guide, True to the Faith, this idea is expanded:

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you can receive blessings that were absent from the earth for almost 2,000 years. Through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, you can receive the remission of your sins and enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. You can live the gospel in its fulness and simplicity. You can gain an understanding of the nature of the Godhead, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the purpose of life on earth, and the reality of life after death. You have the privilege of being guided by living prophets, who teach God’s will in our day. Temple ordinances enable you to receive guidance and peace, prepare for eternal life, be sealed to your family for eternity, and provide saving ordinances for your deceased ancestors.[69]

This stands in direct contradiction not only to a larger theme of the SotM, but many other passages in the Bible, such as God is without a creator (Rom. 16:29, Isa. 41:4), man was created by God (Gen. 1:27, Eph. 2:10), our purpose and destiny is to worship God (Isa. 43:7), and it is sinful to think of ourselves as equal to God or as gods ourselves (John 10:36, Num. 23:19, Heb. 2:7), to name a few.

 

Variants Copied from the KJV into the BofM

In 2 Nephi, as well as other places in the BofM, Joseph records larges sections of the Bible, in this case Isaiah. If an angel from God did visit him and provide him content that God had already inspired others to write down, then perhaps God chose to create this kind of duplication. However, as shown in the two subsections above, there is significant reason to doubt Joseph’s claims that he received a new revelation from God. This present subsection looks at two verses from 2 Nephi that are also in Isaiah: 2 Nephi 12:16 (Isaiah 2:16) and 2 Nephi 15:2 (Isaiah 5:2).[70] In both verses, the KJV contains a translation error which changes the meaning of the verse. The same errors are found in the BofM counterpart verses. Additionally, modern translations of the Bible have corrected these variants, but the KJV and BofM remain the same.[71]

In the first passage (table 3), the translation in question revolves around שְׂכִיּ֥וֹת:

Table 3.

Isaiah 2:16KJVAnd upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
2 Nephi 12:16BofMAnd upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.
Isaiah 2:16ESVagainst all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft.

The word שְׂכִיּ֥וֹת is found nowhere else in the Old Testament. The KJV translated it as “pictures,” which John Oswalt notes “has been traditionally taken to be from śākâ and having something to do with appearance or display.”[72] Hans Wildberger explains that the source of שְׂכִיּ֥וֹת is likely “the Egyptian word šk.tj, ‘ship,’” noting that “this is even more likely because the same Egyptian word is presumed to be the basis for the Ugaritic tkt.”[73] Oswalt concurs, noting that “the parallelism clearly demands something to with ships.”[74] Mormon Egyptologist John Gee notes that during Joseph’s time, Egyptology and our understanding of hieroglyphics was still in its infancy.[75] It is curious that the word in question takes its roots from an Egyptian word. In 1835, Joseph and his own small team purchased and translated several old Egyptian scrolls,[76] which contained the Book of Abraham (now a part of PGP) and “written by [Abraham’s] own hand” (PGP, introductory paragraph). It seems less likely that God would preserve a human mistake and present it as his own word, but rather, that Joseph simply copied the KJV not realizing there was an error present.

The next passage (table 4) revolves around the translation of וַֽיְעַזְּקֵ֣הוּ:

Table 4.

Isaiah 5:2KJVAnd he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
2 Nephi 15:2BofMAnd he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a wine-press therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
Isaiah 5:2ESVHe dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

This is another one-off instance, found nowhere else in the Old Testament. Both the LXX and Vulgate misunderstood the word, translating it as “put around it a fence” and “enclose,” respectively.[77] Wildberger notes that this is not about the ongoing maintenance of the land, but, much as the context of the verse itself implies, a “deeper digging up of the ground which is necessary to prepare the soil so that it is ready for planting.”[78] This verse, like its above counterpart, is a good example of a non-obvious translation error, further indicating that Joseph likely copied 2 Nephi 15:2 from Isaiah 5:2 (KJV), rather than an angel of God presenting Joseph with a version of God’s mistranslated message.

This section has looked at various sections of the BofM that Joseph took from the Bible. The first dramatically changes the meaning of Isaiah, to contort into a works-based salvation. The second is of similar theology to the first, but rather than a messenger from God (Isaiah), we have Jesus’ own words. Putting aside the historical problems of this scenario, Jesus teaches a remarkably different message than his entire public ministry. These two comparisons illustrate clearly: Even if Joseph’s visions were real, and if they were in fact from God, it was certainly not the God of Christian Scripture. The final sampling of verses shows it most likely that parts of what Joseph claimed to have received from God’s angel were actually copied from the KJV. The following section will examine a few historical claims found in unique LDS scriptures, casting serious doubt on their truth value.

 

A Sample of the LDS Scriptures’ Historical Claims that Lack External Evidence

Of all the miraculous accounts in the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus provides perhaps the greatest strain on credibility. The plain truth is: dead people do not come back to life. Yet, as the Apostle Paul argues, if the resurrection was not a real, historical event, then the Christian faith crumbles (1 Corinthians 15:13–15). And while not everyone believes this to be true, the historicity of the biblical account has been vindicated many times over.[79]

Like the Bible, the BofM introduces various historical details and narratives. But unlike the Bible, many of the unique historical details and narratives — some quite substantial and necessary for the BofM’s overarching narrative and theology — have not been verified by any non-LDS sources. This has the result of seriously undermining the plausibility and reliability of the BofM. Joseph’s First Vision is one such example. This plays an extraordinary role in Mormonism, yet, as Robert Bowman has shown in his comparison to the resurrection, it lacks substantial historical credibility.[80] This present section looks at two smaller, but nevertheless credibility-straining details found in this book of Mormon: The presence of Mormon peoples in the Latin America prior to Joseph, specifically from 2200 BC to AD 200–400; and the presence of elephants and horses among these same people.

 

Large Scale War Between the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World

The first six chapters of Mormon, a book found within the BofM, are largely dedicated to the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites. This was said to happen in the “land of Zarahemla,” with a population “as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea” (Mormon 1:6–7). Mormon 6:14ff recounts how “hundreds of thousands” were killed in a battle between these two peoples. The timeline for when this happened is not explicit in the BofM, but BYU Idaho’s website puts it somewhere around AD 385–421.[81] The BofM recounts that Mormon recorded the first seven chapters, while the last two were completed by his son, Moroni — the same Moroni who was raised back to life and appeared at various points to Joseph directing him where to find the hidden plates.[82] Beyond the western hemisphere, BofM does not specify where exactly Zarahemla was. John Sorenson, emeritus professor of anthropology at BYU, estimates that Zarahemla was in the modern-day Mexican state of Chiapas (which borders Guatemala).[83]

The problem with the above history is that no viable reference to any of these individuals, people groups, or their large-scale wars, has yet been found outside explicitly Mormon documents and sources. Consider the ancient Mayan city of Palenque, located in roughly the same area. At its height of influence, it existed a few hundred years after the BofM history noted above, but some of its large ruins are still extant today.[84] Or, another example, Teotihuacán, which was a city located near modern-day Mexico City and whose timeline overlapped the Lamanites and Nephites. It had a population between one- and two-hundred thousand people.[85] There is copious archaeological evidence for both Palenque and Teotihuacán as well as the lives of their people (they are both UNESCO World Heritage sites), but yet, no such evidence has been found for the nearby Lamanites and Nephites settlements or their massive battles. The LDS Church does not comment on these discrepancies directly, but some Mormon apologists, such as Sorenson in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, have attempted to provide a defense to the Mormon historical account. Ultimately, as he hedges, “we should not go beyond what the text [BofM] declares with measured care,” and the “facts in the Book of Mormon should fit the Mesoamerican scene.”[86] So far however, per the evidence, the facts do appear at all to fit the Mesoamerican scene.

 

Elephants and Horses in the New World

Ether 9:19 refers to “horses” and “elephants” being in the land.[87] Enos 1:21 corroborates the presence of horses among the Nephites.[88] Given the above discussion on New World placement, the most likely area referenced is southern Mexico. However, for the sake of argument, the scope can be extended to the entire Western hemisphere. Interestingly, it is widely reported that both horses and elephants were present on the continents, but it is also known that they died out between ten and thirteen thousand years ago.[89] At the very earliest, the Mormon timeline puts the Jaredites arriving 2200 BC (corresponding with the dispersal of the Tower of Babel)[90] — that is some six-thousand years after horses and nearly nine-thousand years after elephants had died out. Neither Ether not Enos mention bringing these animals with them, and both write as if the animals were common, especially horses. As with the above subsection, this contradicts the archaeological and historical evidence. 

This above subsection is a further indication that the BofM has serious factual problems.[91] Looking forward, the major question of the next section revolves around the epistemic role Testimony plays in helping LDS members trust the unique Mormon scriptures.

 

The Epistemic Role of Testimony in Understanding LDS Teachings

The Bible, one of the LDS church’s Standard Works, warns believers that some ideas and leaders are wrong (Matt. 7:15), that we should “test the spirits” to see if they come from God (1 John 4:1), and that even true believers may be led astray (Matt. 24:24). As shown above, the unique Mormon scriptures include serious theological incompatibility with the Bible; they also make significant historical claims that are inconsistent with wider historical findings. In other words, the textual records Joseph left behind are not consistent with their own claims of being a continuation of God’s revelation (an earlier version of that revelation being the Bible); moreover, they make historical claims that, as best we can tell, are simply false. As such, trusting the BofM and the other unique LDS scriptures simply on their own merits becomes quite difficult. What then is left? This is the critical role Testimony plays in the faith of the Mormon. This section will look at two key questions about Testimony: How reliable does the LDS church consider one’s Testimony to be? And What does a Testimony bring to a member that the unique LDS scriptures do not?

 

A Testimony’s Reliability

Elder Richard G. Scott, in the November 2001 edition of Ensign magazine wrote: “A strong testimony has sustained prophets throughout the ages and fortified them to act with courage and determination in times of difficulty. A powerful Testimony can do the same for you.”[92] The only conditions for this are to believe, even when there is no evidence. [93] At the October 1994 Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales describes a Testimony as what enables each member to “hold a steady course” and to “overcome doubt and fear.”[94] Given scriptural problems addressed in the above sections of this paper, these are not hollow words. Further, he notes, having a Testimony gives one a certain “responsibility,” providing “a guiding light that leads to a commitment which directs our conduct and our way of life,” which, he says, is tantamount to faith itself.[95] What he is saying is that each member’s Testimony is their ultimate guide to how they should live their lives.[96]

But what if a person is wrong about their Testimony? In an article from Liahona magazine, Christian Schmutz, a Mormon psychiatrist writes that the answer to this begins by using your willpower: “Choose to believe anyway and ‘exercise [even] a particle of faith’ [Alma 32:37]”[97] As noted above, the common advice from the LDS church is to begin by believing your Testimony is real, to practice sharing it, and to surround yourself with others who are doing the same.

While it is clear that the church teaches that each member should have their own Testimony, a critical problem soon arises: The only objective way to test one’s Testimony is to compare it to the unique LDS scriptures. However, a principal work of Testimony is meant to confirm those same scriptures, creating a vicious cycle. This reintroduces the question: “But how do I know?”

 

What a Testimony Brings

At the October meeting of the 2017 General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted that no one is perfect in this life.[98] Consider the two Official Declarations that discuss significant doctrinal changes within the church: The first denounces the practice of polygamy (against what Joseph taught), and the second makes way for those of African descent to now become full members (against what the LDS church had previously taught).

The question then arises: How did the church leadership know they should change these two significant doctrines?

They could not have gained this insight from scripture as it was scripture they were changing.[99] As noted above, the LDS church believes that God has instituted the President and leadership to serve in a special capacity not available to the wider membership. And it is through this office that they have the capacity to provide new revelation, through their own Testimony, if needed. In this way, as with the two examples of amending scripture, the Testimony of the leadership is the vehicle with which scripture can be changed. It is thereby testimony of the leadership which stands over scripture.

Members on the other hand do not have the authority to change scripture. But as Elder Hales (noted above) comments, one’s Testimony is still both the very nature of a member’s faith and their “guiding light.” Citing Alama 4:19’s reference to “pure testimony,” the July 2012 issue of the LDS magazine, New Era, describes Testimony as beginning with “pure belief.” Using an example of a jigsaw puzzle, the article goes on to describe that much of gaining a Testimony is the practice of believing everything will “fit together” even before all the pieces are there.[100] But where does this process begin? Not with the evidence, but with a “sincere desire.”[101] In other words, belief begins with desire. This is how the LDS Testimony works. And it is why Elder Hales emphasizes that it is Testimony rather than the scriptures that will help members remove fear and overcome doubt. So, for the individual member of the LDS church, a Testimony cannot go so far as to change scripture, but any deficiencies from or doubts about scripture can be covered and overcome by their Testimony.

Throughout the LDS guides on their official website, when giving advice to members about growing their Testimony, there is almost always a reference to reinforcing it verbally in earshot of others: “Testimony grows as it is shared.”[102] Psychologist and professor of marketing at the University of Arizona, Robert Cialdini,[103] discusses the elements that help move groups to comply, and notes: “Whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person.”[104] Other than reflecting one’s desires and group affinity, a Testimony brings in no external factors into the search for truth or understanding. It is, simply, more of the same. Believing so as to believe.

 

Epistemic Roles: Testimony (LDS Church) versus The Holy Spirit (Traditional Christianity)

As shown above, each Mormon’s Testimony is, by definition, each member’s epistemic grounding for what is truth. It gives them confidence that the words of Joseph’s unique scriptures are the truth. But what is this truth based on? Nothing more than a desire for it to be true.

Two points of contrast, both from traditional Christianity, are relevant here. First, the Holy Spirit, indwells each believer (1 Cor. 3:16) and does not provide continuing revelation (that in, something on the level of scripture) to either its leaders or its members (c.f. Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; and Heb. 1:1–2). If it did, the scriptures of traditional Christianity would grow over time as the LDS church’s have. Rather, the role of the Spirit is to enlighten and strengthen the believer, to call forward and to correct when necessary (John 14:26 and 16:7–8). The Spirit works consistently and in harmony with the word of God, not as a stop gap to cover deficiencies (c.f. John 16:13; Rom. 8:14; and Eph. 1:13). Second, What does faith look like? One example happened shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Thomas, one of the twelve, was struggling with the fantastical reports he had been hearing. Upon meeting Thomas directly, Jesus told him to physically “put your finger here…place it in my side” (John 20:27). That is, he did not tell him to try harder in his belief, but he gave him evidence. From textual critics to historians and other professional fields from biblical studies, theology, and history, proof for the believer that the claims of the Bible are real is not in short supply.[105]

Conclusion: The Vicious Circularity of LDS Hermeneutics

The role Testimony plays in the life of an LDS member is simply to confirm and deepen the member’s faith. For those not in leadership, it (officially) adds nothing new into the equation. Yet, at the same time, any deficiencies or misunderstandings a member may have — be they from the unique LDS scriptures or elsewhere — are not a deterrent to one’s faith due to the role of one’s Testimony.

The LDS church leadership uses (1) its authority (e.g. the office of Prophet/President) and (2) Continuing Revelation to direct both the members and to interpret (and in some cases, edit) the Standard Works. Meanwhile, their authority to do so comes from the Standard Works. The only new data in the circle comes as Continuing Revelation received by the President. The problem becomes: What is the basis for these changes? This is extremely important for the cohesiveness of Mormonism, because what keeps future Presidents from discounting Joseph all together? If such a thing could happen (at least theoretically), then the unique LDS scriptures Joseph presented are not actually a foundation.[106] And if they are not a foundation, then why should anyone pay attention to them? Ultimately, this leaves members of the LDS church without any reasonable faith in Joseph, and it leaves the leadership’s justifications as either viciously circular or ad hoc.

 

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Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.

Barton, John. Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984.

Belnap, Daniel L. “The King James Bible and the Book of Mormon.” Brigham Young University. https://rsc.byu.edu/king-james-bible-restoration/king-james-bible-book-mormon.

Bird, Michael F. Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017.

Bowman Jr., Robert M. Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism. Tampa, FL: DeWard Publishing Company, 2020.

———. “The Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon: A Critical Examination of Its Authenticity through a Comparison with the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.” Ph.D. dissertation, South African Theological Seminary, 2014.

Brinley, Douglas. The Book of Mormon: Helaman Through 3 Nephi 8, According to Thy Word. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 1992.

Brown, Jeannine K. Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988.

———. The New Testament Documents. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1981.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scripture Study—The Power of the Word: Teacher Manual, Religion 115. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2001.

Cialdini, Robert B. Influence. New York: Collins Business, 2007.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Davis, Andrew M. Isaiah. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2017.

Davis, Oliver. “Hermeneutics,” The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, ed. John Webster, Kathryn Tanner, and Iain Torrance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Davis, Stephen T., Daniel Kendall, Gerald O’Collins, eds., The Resurrection. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Dunn, James D. G. Romans 916. Dallas: Word Books, 1988.

Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, Inc. (FAIR), “Question: How do Latter-day Saints understand prophetic revelation?” https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/ Question:_How_do_Mormons_understand_prophetic_revelation%3F.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1975.

Geisler, Norman L., Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

Goldingay, John. The Theology of the Book of Isaiah. Downers Grove: IVP Press, 2014.

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Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012.

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Harper, Steven C. Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973.

Hirsch Jr., E. D. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

Hoskisson, Paul Y., ed. Historicity and the Latter-Day Saint Scripture. Provo: Brigham Young University, 2001.

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Licona, Michael R. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010.

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. The All-Sufficient God: Sermons on Isaiah 40. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009.

McGrath, Alister E. Theology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2018.

Motyer, J. Alec. Isaiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

———. The Prophecy of Isaiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Newsome Jr, James D. The Hebrew Prophets. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984.

Ostler, Blake T. Exploring Mormon Thought: God’s Plan to Heal Evil. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2020.

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———. The Book of Isaiah 40-66. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998.

Parsons, Robert E. “The Prophecies of the Prophets,” First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988.

Reeve Jr., Rex C. “The Book of Mormon Plates,” First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988.

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Thiselton, Anthony C. New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

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———. The Most Correct Book: Insights from a Book of Mormon Scholar. Salt Lake City: Cornerstone Publishing, 1999.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.

Watts, John D. W. Isaiah 133. Waco: Word Books, 1985.

Wildberger, Hans. Isaiah 112. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991.

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Endnotes

[1] Abbreviated to “LDS” or “LDS church.” Throughout the paper, the term “Mormon” will be used interchangeably; however, the term is not used pejoratively.

[2] As noted below, several chapters of Doctrine and Covenants were provided after Joseph’s death by successive Presidents: sections 135, 136, and 138, as well as Official Declaration 1 and 2.

[3] I will use the adjectives “traditional” to separate orthodox Christianity from the LDS church.

[4] There are other factors that help a believer ascertain truth, such as a work of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit works in conjunction with the Bible. If sensing the Spirit’s movement, one may ask, Is this consistent with Scripture? The Catholic Church uses tradition to help establish truth. But in many cases, tradition is an application of Scripture. (Some exceptions would be the doctrine of Purgatory, for example, which is not found in Scripture.)

[5] “Restoration of the Church,” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/restoration-of-the-church, accessed June 8, 2023.

[6] Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions (Tampa, FL: DeWard, 2020), 191.Bowman cites: JS-H 1:30–47, JS-H 1:48–49, JS-H 1:51–53, JS-H 1:53–54, JS-H 1:59, HC 1:21 and D&C 3, HC 1:23 and D&C 10, HC 1:54–56 and D&C 128:20, HC 1:57–58, and JS-H 1:60.

[7] “Book of Mormon Timeline,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2011/ 10/book-of-mormon-time-line, accessed June 2, 2023; John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1996).

[8] D&C 135, 136, and 138, as well as Official Declarations 1 and 2.

[9] “The Doctrine and Covenants: An Overview,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org /study/ftsoy/2021/01/the-doctrine-and-covenants-an-overview, accessed June 2, 2023.

[10] While not considered at the same level as the other three, there is a fourth book called the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of the King James Version of the Bible. This is not actually a translation but Joseph’s commentary and corrections on select passages found in the KJV.

[11] “Standard Works,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/standard-works, accessed June 2, 2023.

[12] “Using Scripture to Understand Scripture,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org /study/manual/scripture-study-the-power-of-the-word-teacher-manual/lesson-9, accessed June 2, 2023, emphasis added.

[13] Woodruff was himself a polygamist; “Wilford Woodruff,” https://site.churchofjesus christ.org/study/history/topics/wilford-woodruff, accessed June 28, 2023.

[14] E. Dale LeBaron, “Official Declaration 2: Revelation on the Priesthood,” Brigham Young University website, https://rsc.byu.edu/sperry-symposium-classics-doctrine-covenants/official-declaration-2, accessed June 2, 2023.

[15] “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ manual/gospel-topics-essays/plural-marriage-in-kirtland-and-nauvoo, accessed June 9, 2023. The LDS church makes a special point to note that not all polygamous marriages were physical/sexual.

[16] Leading up to this Official Declaration 1, two points are worth noting here. First, for several years, the U.S. Government had begun putting heavy pressure on the LDS church by outlawing polygamy (Edmunds Act, 1882) and then later disincorporated the Church and seizing its assets (Edmunds–Tucker Act, 1887). And second, then LDS President Woodruff who issued with Manifesto was himself a polygamist (along with other LDS presidents). This second point may explain why it took so long for the church to change their position.

[17] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, page 290–291, https://contentdm.lib. byu.edu/digital/collection/JournalOfDiscourses3/id/2853, accessed June 7, 2023.

[18] Anthony Sweat, et al, “Doctrine: Models to Evaluate Types and Sources of Latter-day Saint Teachings,” https://rsc.byu.edu/vol-17-no-3-2016/doctrine-models-evaluate-types-sources-latter-day-saint-teachings#_note-28, accessed June 24, 2023.

[19] “General Conference,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/learn/general-conference, June 5, 2023.

[20] “How Is Doctrine Established?” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/ 2013/09/how-is-doctrine-established, accessed June 5, 2023. While the term “voting” is often used, what is actually happening is not a vote, as in, a motion that could pass or fail. The word from the President is being affirmed, even though there are some who do not affirm. The Church sees this more as a participatory activity by the larger body, which helps to deepen their Testimony.

[21] Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Overview of the New Handbooks,” https://www.churchof jesuschrist.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-leadership-training/2010/11/overview-of-the-new-handbooks, accessed June 16, 2023.

[22] “Church Magazines and Newspapers,” https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/training/ library/featured-collections/church-magazines-and-newspapers, accessed June 5, 2023.

[23] F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1981), 18ff.

[24] This leaves room for different interpretations. For instance, two committed Christian can have mutually exclusive views of early chapters of Genesis — one believing in a literal six-day creation and an Earth created within the last few thousand years, while another could believe in a form of theistic evolution following a 4.5-billion-year timeline for the Earth. Both are issues of interpretation that are consistent with the main point of the early chapters of Genesis: God is the sole Creator of the universe and all that is in it.

[25] “Canon,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/canon, accessed June 7, 2023, emphasis added.

[26] Henry B. Eyring, “Continuing Revelation,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ general-conference/2014/10/continuing-revelation, accessed June 7, 2023.

[27] “The Articles of Faith,” Pearl of Great Price.

[28] This is illustrated by in President Lorenzo Snow’s comments (October 6, 1890) recorded in the introduction to Official Declaration 1: “I move that, recognizing Wilford Woodruff as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the only man on the earth at the present time who holds the keys of the sealing ordinances, we consider him fully authorized by virtue of his position to issue the Manifesto which has been read in our hearing, and which is dated September 24th, 1890, and that as a Church in General Conference assembled, we accept his declaration concerning plural marriages as authoritative and binding.”

[29] “Testimony,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/true-to-the-faith/testimony, accessed June 8, 2023.

[30] Ibid., emphasis added.

[31] Russell M. Nelson, “The Everlasting Covenant,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/ study/liahona/2022/10/04-the-everlasting-covenant, accessed June 8, 2023.

[32] “Testimony,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/true-to-the-faith/testimony, accessed June 8, 2023.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Alister E. McGrath, Theology (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2018), 119. Additional to this point, the Spirit often provides enlightenment to help his people understand what has already been revealed, but few evangelicals believe he provides new “puzzle pieces,” as it were.

[35] “Revelation,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/ revelation, accessed June 8, 2023. The article makes a distinction between new revelation received by any member and new revelation received by the President. While the former may be genuinely from God, it is generally meant only for that individual. The latter can likewise be for the individual (the President) but has the potential to also be for the rest of the church.

[36] The LDS church typically uses the term “Holy Ghost” to reference the Holy Spirit. I will use the terms based on who is or what “version” of the Spirit is being referenced (i.e. the LDS version or the Tradition Christianity version). So “Holy Ghost” then is an LDS reference.

[37] Dallin H. Oaks, “Testimony,” General Conference (April, 2008), https://www.church ofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2008/04/testimony, accessed July 19, 2023.

[38] Oaks, “Testimony,” General Conference (April, 2008).

[39] Jeffrey S. Krohn, Mormon Hermeneutics (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2022), 6.

[40] In Mormon Hermeneutics, Krohn cites: Philip Barlow’s book Mormons and the Bible (Oxford, 2013), Julie Smith’s articles in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity (2015) and Times and Seasons (blog, 2004), and Richard Hopkins’ book Biblical Mormonism (Traverse City, MI: Horizon, 1994). This point is also made clear by a search on the LDS website, which houses an extraordinary amount of content. A search for “hermeneutic” returns various articles and speeches making reference to hermeneutics, but none actually outlining a hermeneutical process or theory to be followed by those in the LDS church.

[41] Ibid.; Krohn has outlined five interpretive practices used by the LDS church, which are less a “set of rules” than an “assessment of their hermeneutical activity” (8).

[42] The five hermeneutical methods are: Literalistic, Allegorization, Sociological, Emendatory (Clarification/Restoration), and Re-Authoring (Locutionary Reassignment) (197–200).

[43] Richard G. Scott, “The Power of a Strong Testimony,” General Conference (October 2001), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2001/10/the-power-of-a-strong-testimony, accessed June 14, 2023.

[44] Ibid.

[45] The church does not explicitly deny the value of hermeneutics; however, their posture is to put very little emphasis on it (if any at all), as if a member’s Testimony along with the church’s leadership is sufficient for understanding scripture. The irony, of course, is that this becomes a part of their hermeneutical method.

[46] James E. Faust, “Continuous Revelation,” 1989 General Conference, https://www. churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1989/10/continuous-revelation, accessed June 14, 2023.

[47] Regarding revelation, see discussion above about the additional authority granted to the President/profit’s position.

[48]A related example is the process of voting at General Conferences. As indicated in a footnote above, each member present is allowed to vote on matters presented before the Church. But this process is affirmative by nature, not an actual vote.

[49] Bowman, Robert, “The Sermon at the Temple in the Book of Mormon” Ph.D. dissertation, South African Theological Seminary, 2014.

[50] B. H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon (Univ of Illinois Press, 1985).

[51] Daniel C. Peterson, “Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon,” https://site.church ofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2000/01/mounting-evidence-for-the-book-of-mormon, accessed June 24, 2023.

[52] Joseph M. Spencer, The Vision of All (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2016), 148.

[53] Direct comparisons between the Bible and the BofM will use the KJV translation. This is, in part, because the language and structure of the BofM is clearly based on the KJV. And so the KJV aids side-by-side comparisons.Moreover, the LDS church has a special reverence for the KJV translation. In a 2011 edition of Ensign, Richard N. W. Lambert and Kenneth R. Mays note: “The unique skills possessed by those who translated the King James Bible were at their apex during this time. The translators were all learned biblical scholars and linguists. It would be difficult today to gather 50 scholars with the knowledge of ancient languages possessed by these men” (“400 Years of the King James Bible, Ensign, August 2011, https://www.churchofjesus christ.org/study/ensign/2011/08/400-years-of-the-king-james-bible, accessed June 16, 2023).

[54] Nearly every verse in 1 Nephi 20 has some alteration from the Isaiah 48 version. However, most of the changes are stylistic. For instance, in Isaiah 48:1, it reads: “Listen to me, O family of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel. . .” 1 Nephi 20:1 reads: “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel. . .” Most of the changes have the effect of making the BofM version harder to read than the KJV version. Additionally, there are other verses not included in this comparison that include potentially significant alternations, such as verse 19 changing the focus from Israel’s descendants’ inheritance to simply a single person’s inheritance.

[55] The verse numbers from Isaiah 48 and 1 Nephi 20 line up, so only “verse 3” and so forth will be referenced.

[56] Spencer, The Vision of All, 100, emphasis added.

[57] “Brass,” https://www.encyclopedia.com/earth-and-environment/ minerals-mining-and-metallurgy/metallurgy-and-mining-terms-and-concepts/brass, accessed March 17, 2023.

[58] William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean” (FARMS Review 19/1, 2007), 38.

[59] “Bronze work,” https://www.britannica.com/art/bronze-work, accessed June 17, 2023.

[60] “Bronze and Brass,” https://www.britannica.com/topic/metalwork/Bronze-and-brass, accessed June 17, 2023.

[61] While even in Mormon circles, “Sermon on the Mount” is the more common title, for clarity, the 3 Nephi version of the SotM will be called the “Sermon at the Temple” (SatT) (cf. 3 Nephi 11:1).

[62] Outside of 3 Nephi, the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) offers additional edits to the SotM. The JST is not a full translation of the Bible, but instead gives updates/edits on select verses. Like the BofM, some of these changes are inconsequential, others affect core Christian doctrines.

There are three examples within the SotM which are worth noting. Matthew 5:19 (which is Matthew 5:21 in the JST) changes “whosoever therefore shall break one of the least of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven” (KJV) to “Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so to do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven” (JST). The second change comes in Matthew 6:25, where the JST adds the words “and care not for the world; for the world will hate you, and will persecute you, and will turn you out of their synagogues,” in place of the KJV’s “Take no thought of your life. . .” This is a clear contradiction from other verses, such as John 3:16, John 6:40, Romans 5:8, etc. The final change is from Matthew 7:6, adding a prefix to his instruction to not “give that which is holy unto dogs,” the JST adds: And the mysteries of the kingdom ye shall keep within yourselves; for it is not meet to [give that which is holy unto the dogs]. . .” These are a few of many such examples found throughout the Standard Works and other LDS church publications.

[63] The only two substantive changes in 3 Nephi 14 happen at the very beginning and end. As noted below, the BofM changes Jesus’ address from the multitudes (3 Nephi 12:1) to the twelve in 3 Nephi 13:25. Third Nephi 14:1 begins by changing the audience back to the multitudes. And the final two verses of Matthew 7 are completely left out of 3 Nephi 14.

[64] John A. Tvedtnes, The Most Correct Book (Salt Lake City: Cornerstone Publishing, 1999), 251ff.

[65] A BYU wiki discussing the etymology of “senine” comes up with several options, but the article seems to end as equally mystified as it began, https://onoma.lib.byu.edu/index.php/ SENINE, accessed June 24, 2023.

[66] “The Grand Destiny of the Faithful,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-lorenzo-snow/chapter-5-the-grand-destiny-of-the-faithful, accessed June 24, 2023.

[67] “Becoming Like God,” https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/becoming-like-god, accessed June 28, 2023.

[68] Cited in Dale G. Renlund, “Your Devine Nature and Eternal Destiny,” note 8, https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/36renlund, accessed June 28, 2023.

[69] “Restoration of the Gospel,” https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/true-to-the-faith/restoration-of-the-gospel, accessed June 28, 2023.

[70] For the sake of brevity, only two examples are looked at in detail. However, this happens elsewhere, including 2 Nephi 21:3 (Isaiah 11:3) and 1 Nephi 21:5 (Isaiah 49:5), etc.

[71] For comparison, the English Standard Version (ESV) is used as a representative of how modern Bibles translate these words. However, the other modern translations consulted were: New American Standard Bible (NASB), New Catholic Bible (NCB), New King James Version (NKJV), New International Version (NIV), and New Living Translation (NLT).

[72] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 139 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), 125n2.

[73] Hans Wildberger, Isaiah 112 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1991), 101.

[74] Oswalt, Isaiah 139, 125n2.

[75] John Gee, “Joseph Smith and Ancient Egypt,” BYU Religious Studies Center, https://rsc.byu.edu/approaching-antiquity-joseph-smith-ancient-world/joseph-smith-ancient-egypt, accessed July 21, 2023.

[76] The Joseph Smith Papers, “Introduction to Egyptian Papyri, circa 300–100 BC,” https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/introduction-to-egyptian-papyri-circa-300-100-bc/1, accessed July 21, 2023.

[77] John D. Watts, Isaiah 133 (Waco: Word Books, 1985), 55.

[78] Wildberger, Isaiah 112, 181.

[79] Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus & Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Litttlefield Publishers, 2003); Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford University Press, 2003); Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, Gerald O’Collins, eds., The Resurrection (Oxford University Press, 1997); Michael R. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010).

[80] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions.

[81] “Book of Mormon Timeline,” Brigham Young University – Idaho, https://courses. byui.edu/BOM%20Timeline/html/timeline.html, accessed July 26, 2023; The BofM itself indicates that this timeline is plausible. Mormon seems to follow directly after Fourth Nephi. Fourth Nephi’s introduction indicates 300 had passed since the Nephite and Lamanite conversion. 4 Nephi 1:2 indicates this conversion happened 36 years after Jesus visited them in the New World, which was approximately AD 34 (3 Nephi 10:18). All together, this is AD 370, which is close to the BYU estimates. The BofM does not give a clear timeline, so much of this is pieced together.

[82] “Moroni, Son of Mormon,” Guide to the Scriptures, https://www.churchofjesuschrist .org/study/scriptures/gs/moroni-son-of-mormon, accessed July 27, 2023.

[83] John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, (Salt Lake City: Desert Book Company, 1996), 9–10, 37.

[84] “Palenque,” Britannica website, https://www.britannica.com/place/Palenque-ancient-city-Mexico, accessed July 26, 2023.

[85] “Teotihuacán,” Britannica website, https://www.britannica.com/place/Teotihuacan, accessed June 7, 2023.

[86] Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 320.

[87] Along with other animals, Ether 9:16–19 references two kinds of animals, “cureloms and cumoms,” which are mentioned nowhere outside of the BofM.

[88] The land in question is most certainly the Americas. Esther 6:12 indicates that the Jaredite barge arrives in the “promise land.” The context of the passage indicates a long seaward journey, which would not be necessarily if they were had stayed in the Middle East. Douglas Brinley, who was professor emeritus of Church history and doctrine at BYU, believes the promise land to be the Americas (see Brinley, 39). Joseph also implies the same by connecting “Zion” to “North and South America” (see Joseph Smith, Discourse (8 Apr 1844) in Wilford Woodruff, Journal, 241, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-8-april-1844-as-reported-by-wilford-woodruff, accessed July 27, 2023).

[89] For horses see: Will Sullivan, “New Research Rewrites the History of American Horses,” (Smithsonian Magazine, April 3, 2023), https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/native-americans-spread-horses-through-the-west-earlier-than-thought-180981912/#:~:text=Horses%20evolved%20in%20the%20Americas,on%20the%20continent%20in%20Mexico, accessed July 27, 2023. For elephants, see Melanie Lenart, “Gone But Not Forgotten: Bring Back North American Elephants,” (University of Arizona, June 8, 1999), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990607154315.htm, accessed July 27, 2023.

[90] “Book of Mormon Timeline,” Ensign October 2011, https://www.churchofjesuschrist. org/study/ensign/2011/10/book-of-mormon-time-line, accessed July 27, 2023.

[91] For more issues like the ones in this subsection, see “Science, Ancient History, and the Book of Mormon” on Institute for Religious Research’s website, https://mit.irr.org/category/ book-of-mormon/science-ancient-history-and-book-of-mormon, accessed July 27, 2023.

[92] Richard G. Scott, “Power of a Strong Testimony, Ensign magazine November 2001, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2001/11/the-power-of-a-strong-testimony, accessed July 28, 2023.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Robert D. Hales, “The Importance of Receiving a Personal Testimony,” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1994/10/the-importance-of-receiving-a-personal-testimony, accessed June 9, 2023.

[95] Ibid.

[96] To be clear, he is not saying that a member’s Testimony will go against official church teaching. Rather, one’s Testimony functions to fill in the gaps. This is not a small point, as some gaps (such as unreliable scriptures) could cause a member’s faith to falter or even fracture.

[97] Christian Schmutz, “Faith: The Antidote to Uncertainty,” Liahona magazine, January 2021, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2021/01/young-adults/faith-the-antidote-to-uncertainty, accessed July 28, 2023, emphasis in original.

[98] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect­—Eventually,” https://www.churchof jesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2017/10/be-ye-therefore-perfect-eventually, accessed June 9, 2023.

[99] To note: This point is not to imply that they created Declaration 2 because they wanted to change the BoM, but rather to highlight the tenuousness of adding/removing from scripture.

[100] Elyse Alexandria Holmes, “What is Pure Testimony? New Era magazine July 2012, https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2012/07/what-is-pure-testimony, accessed July 28, 2023.

[101] “Testimony,” https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/testimony, accessed July 28, 2023.

[102] “Testimony,” https://site.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/testimony, accessed July 28, 2023.

[103] Cialdini is not writing as a Mormon. It is unclear what is religious views are.

[104] Robert B. Cialdini, Influence (New York: Collins Business, 2007), 82, emphasis in original.

[105] For a few general examples, see: William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008); Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012); Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013).

[106] This is not so far-fetched. By editing and reinterpreting the Standard Works, the church is doing today what Joseph did 200 years ago to the Bible (before the BofM existed). His conclusion was that the rest of the church is dramatically off-base. Again, what anchors leaders today (or tomorrow) from doing the same thing all over again?

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