Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation

(Note: The following essay will appear as Chapter 1 of a book currently being written by M.S. Brothers entitled Restoration II: Defending the Bible and Book of Mormon Against LDS Theology.)

It might come as a surprise to the average member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to encounter the assertion that the gospel taught by his or her church is in conflict with the gospel taught in the Book of Mormon. That which made the church famous and unique in 1830 when it was founded was the Book of Mormon, and the nickname “Mormon Church” is derived from that same book. Presumably, nothing should be more in line with LDS Church doctrine than the Book of Mormon itself. But in truth, the contrast between the two couldn’t be more pronounced.

Jesus’ biblical message regarding how to attain salvation and inherit eternal life, which he preached to the Jews in Israel, and then to some New World inhabitants whose history is chronicled in the Book of Mormon, bears little resemblance to current LDS teachings on the same subject. This stark doctrinal difference has been chosen as the subject of the first chapter because, of all the conflicts to be discussed in this book between Mormon theology and what Jesus himself taught anciently, this is the most fundamental and important.

Jesus’ message of salvation, as it fell from his own lips to his Jewish audience, was simple and straightforward. After delivering the Sermon on the Mount, in which he preached a new set of moral principles by which his disciples would be measured, Jesus defined who would be saved in the kingdom of heaven. It would be that individual who “doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” the same person who “heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them.” Matthew 7: 21; 24-25. Jesus’s apostles were later commissioned to go into all the world, teaching this same message, announcing that Jesus was the Son of God who had come to earth as a new lawgiver, had been crucified, and had resurrected, and that resurrection and redemption were now available to all mankind through him. Those who believed this message, repented and were baptized for the remission of sins would be saved. Matthew 27: 18-20; Mark 16: 16; Luke 24: 45-49.

The Book of Mormon in many ways is much like the Bible. It’s a record of God’s dealings with peoples living anciently in the Americas during a period which came to an end 421 years after the birth of Christ. Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon narrative was dutifully written by religiously-oriented individuals who recorded general historical developments as well as the preaching of prophets as they attempted to keep their people close to God. As demonstrated below, its version agrees with the biblical version of Christ’s gospel, and appears to define and simplify it even further.

The Book of Mormon’s definitive statement of Christ’s “doctrine”, as Jesus himself calls it, is contained within an account of the resurrected Jesus descending out of heaven and appearing to a multitude of Nephites (a people descended from the house of Israel who left Jerusalem and came to the Western Hemisphere shortly before Judea fell to the Babylonians). On this occasion, some 2,500 men, women and children were gathered at a temple in the land Bountiful, somewhere in the Americas, approximately one year after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The account of Jesus’ visits and teachings, beginning in the 11th chapter of the book of Third Nephi (hereafter “3 Nephi”) constitutes the apex of the Book of Mormon narrative. The prophecies chronologically preceding this apex built up to it, and the teachings in the centuries thereafter referred back to it. It’s the climactic event precisely because while it lasted, it represented the kingdom of God on earth, though it was temporary. Whatever Jesus taught as immutable doctrine on this occasion could not be superseded by prior prophetic teachings, nor by those which would come later, for no teacher or prophet could ever be more authoritative than Jesus, the resurrected Son of God. The Book of Mormon records that Jesus emphasized his preeminence over all other teachers by declaring himself to the people gathered to the temple,

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.
And behold, I am the alight and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning . . .
I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole dearth . . . (3 Nephi 11: 10-11, 14)

After descending out of heaven, in full view of all who were gathered there, Jesus invited the multitude to come forth and thrust their hands into his side, and feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet, thus evidencing his crucifixion and resurrection. What did the “God of the whole earth” teach the gathered Nephites? He defined what he called his “doctrine”, and the process whereby one can “inherit the kingdom of God”. We find Jesus’ words in the following verses of the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi Chapter 11, with emphasis added to key phrases with italics, and in two crucial verses, italics and boldface:

31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.                                                                                 34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned . . .
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
 

Having defined his doctrine, Jesus then proceeded to teach the New World equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount, the same moral code he had given to the Jews in Israel. For the most part, the sermon to the Nephites, found in 3 Nephi chapters 12-14, it is a word-for-word duplication of the one found in the Bible, with two important exceptions.1 When he had finished, Jesus repeated what he had told the Jews regarding who would fare well with God in the hereafter:
“Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father; therefore, whoso remembereth these sayings of mine and doeth them, him will I raise up at the last day.” 3 Nephi 15: 1

On a subsequent occasion, as set forth in the following verses from 3 Nephi 27, Jesus further explained to his twelve disciples, whom he had chosen from among the Nephites, what his “gospel”2 consisted of. I have italicized one verse for emphasis:

13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the ccross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world . . .
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

In addition to Jesus describing precisely what his doctrine and gospel actually consist of in the verses quoted above, his words also display two salient features. First, the doctrine and gospel he announces are remarkably simple. Believe in his atoning sacrifice, repent of your sins, become as a little child, be baptized, and continue humbly as a little child in this mode, repenting when necessary, and you will be saved and inherit the kingdom of God. There are no extra ritual or ceremonial requirements, or “ordinances,” as Mormons call them, included in Jesus’ teachings. Baptism is the first and last physical ritual required.3

Nor does Jesus’ message contemplate any greater reward than to “inherit the kingdom of God.” If a greater reward than this were to be striven for, this occasion, where the Lord taught his doctrine to the Nephites gathered at the temple, would have been the occasion when he would have said so. As it stands, however, not only did Jesus not add extra requirements or rewards to his message of salvation and its corresponding promise of inheriting God’s kingdom, but nowhere in the Book of Mormon is inheriting the kingdom of God described as being more complicated than Jesus described it here.
The second salient feature is Jesus’ warning in 3 Nephi 11: 40, stated with unequivocal plainness, not to add to or subtract from the doctrine he enunciates; doing so “cometh of evil.” The existence of this warning creates a conflict with current Latter-Day Saint (hereafter “LDS” or “Mormon”) doctrine. As we shall see, LDS doctrine embraces a much more elaborate and ritual-heavy gospel than the one Jesus declared to the Jews and Nephites. So much has been added by Mormonism, in fact, that Jesus’ original teachings bear little resemblance to the church’s current theology.

Mormonism’s Departure from Biblical and Book of Mormon Doctrine

In modern Mormonism, baptism is taught as only the first of several ceremonies in which believers are urged to participate. In fact, Mormon theology ignores Jesus’ above-quoted warning to not add to his doctrine, and plainly, if unknowingly, trivializes the mere inheritance of the kingdom of God. The church replaces Jesus’ above-quoted promise of salvation with a far greater reward for which to strive—one never taught by the Lord in the Bible or Book of Mormon—exaltation and godhood. And to achieve exaltation and godhood, the believer must do much more than merely live the gospel Jesus taught the Jews and Nephites. Otherwise, Mormons are taught, mere baptism will only get you salvation—a disappointing consolation prize.
LDS theology teaches that to only be saved in the kingdom of God is to fall short of one’s potential, in much the same way as ending one’s education upon graduation from high school should fail to satisfy an individual bent on becoming an astrophysicist. Instead, Mormons who go on to participate in further ordinances do so to become gods. If they perform these rituals and keep Mormonism’s version of required commandments, they qualify to acquire the same powers as those currently held by God the Father and Jesus, and to perform the same function as gods to the worlds they will someday create.

To achieve this higher reward of exalted godhood, Mormonism adds to the requirement of baptism an elaborate list of ordinances, none of which can be skipped. However, not only are these rituals and ceremonies unmentioned and uncontemplated by the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, as stated above, they are clearly contra-indicated by those books. But Mormons justify adding layers of required ritual because of the faith’s embrace of teachings attributed to Joseph Smith, which Joseph Smith, in turn, claimed he received from God.4 Vague, nondescript references to those rituals are contained within another book Mormons have canonized as scripture, The Doctrine and Covenants. This book contains transcripts of revelations church founder Joseph Smith claimed to receive from God from the 1820s through the early 1840s, as well as a compilation of some of Smith’s personal teachings. As will be demonstrated herein, however, the teachings of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants are worlds apart, and indeed, mutually contradictory.

With respect to exaltation and godhood, Mormon doctrine declares that after we die (“we” meaning every member of the human race), almost all of us wind up in one of three places. After we’re judged by God, we inherit either the Celestial, Terrestrial or Telestial kingdom, depending on how well we performed during our respective earthly sojourns,5 with the Celestial being the highest. Attaining exaltation in the Celestial degree of glory, which is far more glorious than simply being saved in the kingdom of God, involves an individual becoming a god himself. An individual cannot attain this highest realm, where God the Father dwells, without participating in the aforementioned ritual ceremonies.

All but the first of such rituals are performed only in Mormon temples; they cannot be performed in mere meetinghouses. If a person dies without participating in the ceremonies himself, he cannot attain exaltation until and unless the rituals are performed for him by a living proxy, once again in a Mormon temple. These exalting ceremonies or ordinances, which are “higher” and more important than mere baptism, may only be performed by a Mormon holder of the “Melchizedek Priesthood.” They are as follows, in chronological order:

1. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands following baptism.

2. Being ceremonially washed and anointed, and declared clean from the sins of the    outside world.

3. Being given underwear garments to wear throughout one’s life, which the individual then dons in the temple. The garments contain symbols sown into them. The symbols represent reminders of principles of righteous living, which are explained to the individual during the ordinance.

4. Being given a sacred new name by which the individual will be known to God. The individual is admonished to keep the name secret until she repeats it to God during the ceremony described in the following paragraph. Eventually, she is taught, she will repeat her “new name” to God before entering the Celestial Kingdom.

5. Undergoing an elaborate “endowment” ceremony wherein individuals learn sacred signs, tokens and words, which they covenant not to disclose, and which they’re told will also be needed to enter God’s presence. There are four sets of signs, tokens and names, and each represents a separate covenant into which the person enters, promising God to live different aspects of a righteous life. The covenant-making is followed by the person repeating his or her newfound knowledge of the names, signs and tokens, and symbolically enacting entry into God’s presence.

6. Finally, and equally in contrast with the rest of Christianity, Mormons teach that no one can attain the highest realm of heavenly glory with God unless they are married, and such a marriage must be performed in a sacred temple. See Doctrine and Covenants 131: 1-4. The marriage itself is the fifth and crowning ordinance. It doesn’t guarantee exaltation, but without it, exaltation is impossible.6

Consequently, Mormon marriages are frequently not attended by family or friends of the bride or groom who would like to attend, because they’re not Mormons themselves, or if they are, they’ve been deemed unworthy for insufficient compliance with the Mormon version of the commandments. Without a temple recommend, which is a certification issued by an ecclesiastical leader attesting to a Mormon’s righteousness and worthiness, no person can attend a marriage in an LDS temple.

Amazingly, another larger group that’s not allowed to attend, are all persons who aren’t at least 18 years old, unless they’re the ones getting married, regardless of whether they’re the bride’s or groom’s siblings, and regardless of their personal righteousness. So, though someone twelve or older is allowed to perform baptisms for the dead in the temple, the “higher” ordinances mentioned above, including the marriage of a sibling, are considered too sacred for those of such young age, notwithstanding the Mormon emphasis on family togetherness. Such restrictions on attendance are, obviously, unheard of in the Protestant and Catholic worlds. Nor do they find any support in the Bible or Book of Mormon.7

As alluded to above, a further restriction is that these marriages, or “sealings” as Mormons call them, may only be performed by one holding proper Melchizedek priesthood authority. This claimed authority is the same high priesthood possessed anciently by the great high priest Melchizedek and by Jesus Christ himself.8  This authority, Mormons are taught, is today possessed solely by the LDS Church.  Doctrine and Covenants 132: 7 states that exclusive authority was given to LDS founder Joseph Smith to perform religious rites, and that any marriage or ceremony performed today under any religious or civil authority other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is not valid or cognizable before God:

And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

This principle is so crucial to LDS theology that it may fairly be said to be Mormonism’s second most important claim.  The only more important one is the teaching that Joseph Smith was told by the Lord in his 1820 “First Vision” that all existing Christian churches were wrong.9 As such, these two tenets distinguish Mormonism from the rest of Christianity more than any other features, including the Book of Mormon.10

Although most of the rituals performed in Mormon temples are not laid out in LDS scriptures, what purports to be divine revelation on the requirement of Melchizedek Priesthood-performed marriages is contained in the aforementioned Doctrine and Covenants. Set forth below, in Section 132: 15-17, the contrast is made between those who are married by mere civil authority and those who’ve had their marriage sealed by proper priesthood authority. These verses purport to be the actual words of God spoken to, and revealed by, LDS founder Joseph Smith:

15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.
16 Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
17 For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.

[Italics added]

Thus LDS theology relegates those who are merely saved to dramatically reduced status—angelhood— in the kingdom of God, in comparison to those fortunate individuals whose marriage was performed by a Mormon high priest. The improperly married, and those who remained single, on the other hand, are left to minister as servants to their former peers who qualify to achieve godhood.11 Those in the first category are worthy of, and receive, “far more” glory than the those in the latter. Doctrine and Covenants 132: 20 goes on to describe the fate of the properly married:

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

It’s therefore no surprise that Mormon leaders stress, above all other things, the importance of getting married by proper Mormon priesthood authority. Current Mormon church president Thomas S. Monson, who is regarded by the faith as a “prophet, seer and revelator”, reaffirmed in 2004 an oft-quoted LDS maxim taught by apostle Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985): “The most important single thing that any Latter-day Saint ever does in this world is to marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority.”12

The point here is that Mormons teach requirements for living with God which are much more complex and ritual-laden than any taught in the Bible or Book of Mormon.

LDS Justification for Conflict between its Theology and the Bible and Book of Mormon

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are unlikely to encounter, at least from within LDS circles, the allegation that the gospel and doctrine in the Bible and Book of Mormon is at odds with church theology. It’s therefore somewhat, but not entirely, speculative to anticipate how a thoughtful Mormon would respond to the allegation. However, the most likely expected response, based on the author’s personal experience in never having heard any other response, is that Mormons believe in modern revelation, and through such modern revelation, many things are revealed to latter-day prophets which were withheld from ancient Christians in the times of the Bible and Book of Mormon. This response is indeed quite versatile, as it can be used as a convenient catch-all to justify all sorts of beliefs and practices which enjoy no ancient scriptural mention. Temple marriages and all other modern temple rituals, both for the living and the dead; eventual godhood for faithful church members; Melchizedek priesthood-holding apostles and prophets; a Mother in Heaven; polygamy in the next life; the baptism of eight-year-olds—all are modern LDS teaching which fall into this category. None of these, or many other modern Mormon ideas, for that matter, existed when the church was founded in 1830. They were all introduced by Joseph Smith, who purported them to be modern revelation.

However, the “modern revelation” defense becomes patently implausible when used to justify replacing Jesus’s core doctrine and gospel with a new one. Why? Because Jesus pre-empted such modification when he unequivocally said, as quoted herein above in boldface italics, that his doctrine, which he had just defined, could not be added to: Again, from 3 Nephi 11: 40:

And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

[Italics and boldface added for emphasis]

Jesus left no room for adding extra levels of heavenly rewards to his gospel doctrine, and especially not extra prerequisites for living with God in heaven. He didn’t preach inheriting the kingdom of God as a mere consolation prize to be upstaged by more impressive-sounding rewards. In fact, he expressly condemned such theology as ill-inspired and built on a sure-to-be-destroyed foundation. To suggest that Jesus’ definition of his own doctrine and gospel, as set forth in the Book of Mormon, could be contradicted and nullified by modern revelation, is to render meaningless his words. Such an assertion begs the question of why the Lord would say anything on this point in the first place, especially when, as Mormons acknowledge, he went to such great lengths to bring forth the Book of Mormon in the latter days and thus provide the earth with what he called “the fulness” of the gospel. The LDS position would then consist of this non-sequitur: “Jesus defined his simple gospel doctrine to the Nephites, declared it immutable, warned the reader not to add to or subtract anything from it, declared the Book of Mormon to contain “the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah,”13 preserved the book’s writings so they could be read by the latter-day reader, brought forth the book through miraculous means, and then within thirteen years of the Book of Mormon’s publication did exactly what he warned against: He revealed to Joseph Smith a gospel doctrine so altered from the original as to render it unrecognizable. Moreover, the Lord also omitted these extra levels of requirements and rewards from the Bible, knowing most of the future Christian world wouldn’t ever read the Book of Mormon, let alone the Doctrine and Covenants.”14

There are other clear indicators, besides what the author considers logical reasoning, that Jesus didn’t intend to replace what he taught the Jews and Nephites with what Joseph Smith added to Mormon theology after the church’s founding in 1830. For one thing, Jesus made clear to the Nephites that he had fulfilled and was now doing away with the Law of Moses, which had defined the Hebrews’ religion for almost 1,500 years.15 This necessarily meant that he was also doing away with the religion of ordinances in which the Law of Moses found its outward expression. In fact, when he explained his discontinuance of this form of worship, Jesus was standing in the presence of the Nephites’ temple,16 the sanctuary where rituals of the Mosaic Law were practiced. But he made no mention of the temple or the rituals practiced within it, except to say the Law of Moses, which informed all temple ceremonies, was fulfilled and would no longer be practiced. Thereafter, neither the temple nor the ceremonial religion of physical rituals was ever mentioned by Jesus or his successor disciples and prophets through the end of the Book of Mormon. If Jesus considered his gospel to consist of high priests administering a collection of temple ordinances, wouldn’t he have said so to the Nephites as he stood in the presence of their temple, especially since he knew latter-day readers would be scrutinizing his words in the book he himself was calling “the fulness of the gospel”?

In fact, so careful was Jesus to present to the latter-day reader a complete picture of his gospel, he interrupted a sermon to instruct the prophet Nephi to insert into the record a missing account of many other saints rising from the dead, following Jesus’s own resurrection, and appearing unto others.17  This instance is instructive. Clearly, the reality of the resurrection, and the joy associated with it, were indispensable elements of his own gospel. The reader needed to know exactly what the resurrection of Christ meant to ordinary people contemplating their own death or having lost love ones. If anything were left out of the Book of Mormon, it couldn’t be something this central and important. Everything true and important had to be set forth lest the reader misunderstand what mattered.

In this context, the absence of Joseph Smith’s priesthood ordinance theology in the Bible and Book of Mormon speaks volumes. The reader should judge for himself or herself the significance of the Lord omitting it from the fulness of the gospel.

 

FOOTNOTES

  1. The notable exceptions come in 3 Nephi 12: 18-19 and 46-47, where the verses differ from their counterparts in Matthew 5 of the Bible. By the time his sermon was delivered to the Nephites, Jesus had already been crucified and resurrected, and thus had fulfilled the law of Moses, but this was not yet accomplished when he spoke to the Jews. His sermon to the Nephites therefore emphasized in the above-cited verses that he was replacing the Law of Moses with his own set of moral principles, a higher law of the heart rather than a checklist of outward observances.
  2. From a comparison of the statement of “doctrine” quoted from 3 Nephi 11 with the message contained within 3 Nephi 27, it appears that the words “doctrine” and “gospel” are used almost interchangeably, with much overlap in their substance, or, at the very least, are very closely related to each other. If there is a difference between the two concepts, it might be that “doctrine” consists of Jesus’ instructions to his followers on how to inherit the kingdom of God, whereas “gospel” is the good news that justifies the giving of those instructions.
  3. Though the reception of the Holy Ghost is characterized in current Mormon doctrine as a separate ordinance which is required to “confirm” a baptism, it was taught differently by Jesus. It was understood to be something that would happen to anyone who accepted his gospel, 3 Nephi 9: 20; 27: 20, not as a core physical ritual requirement validating a baptism. In fact, occasionally, both in the Old World and New World, groups of people received the Holy Ghost without having been first baptized, or even necessarily knowing what had happened to them. The Bible and Book of Mormon demonstrate a person’s reception of the Holy Ghost might best be characterized as a spiritual transformation which could take place through varied means. See Acts 10: 44-47 and 11: 15-17; Helaman 5: 34-50 and 3 Nephi 9: 20, respectively. Indeed, the apostles themselves had not received the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; see Acts 2: 1-4. Alhough Jesus’ twelve Nephite disciples were instructed to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands upon those who had been baptized, as was the case in the Old World, the Book of Mormon contains no account of anyone else besides the twelve having been thereafter authorized to do it. After the twelve Nephite disciples died, no mention is made in the Book of Mormon of this ritual physical practice being continued by subsequent church leaders. Similarly, in the New Testament, only apostles were described as conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. See Acts 19: 1-6; Moroni 2: 1-3. However, it’s clear that the influence of the Holy Ghost continued to work upon and cleanse those in the church who embraced the gospel and were baptized, even if the process whereby it was received remains unknown to us. Moroni 6: 4. And, in one of the most famous passages in the Book of Mormon, Moroni urges all persons reading the Book of Mormon to ask God whether that sacred record is true, adding that by the power of the Holy Ghost the truth of all things will be manifest to those who ask with true intent. Such manifestation is considered a gift from God. Moroni 10: 4-19. Presumably, this gift of the Holy Ghost can be received by anyone praying about the Book of Mormon, regardless of whether they have yet been baptized. Nevertheless, Mormonism continues to teach that the gift of the Holy Ghost can only be obtained through a physical ordinance by the laying on of hands. See Pearl of Great Price, Article of Faith 4. The only proffered scriptural support for this Mormon teaching consists of Doctrine and Covenants 130: 23, which only states that a man may receive the Holy Ghost without it tarrying with him.
  4. I use the word “attributed” because the ceremonial practices performed by Mormons in their temples are not specifically set forth in any history published by the LDS church, nor are they found in Mormon canonical works. Today, a Mormon who participates in these temple ordinances is told (if he or she asks in the first place) that they were revealed to Joseph Smith by God, but unlike other reputed revelations, if a person wants to actually read how and when the specific ceremonies came into being, and what God’s actual words were, there is nothing published by the LDS church to read. These things are kept secret by the church.
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 76: 25-113. Compare I Corinthians 15: 35, 40-42, wherein Paul mentions the existence of celestial and terrestrial (but not telestial) bodies. Mormons cite to this scripture as biblical support for the teaching that resurrected beings will go to one of the named three degrees of glory when they are resurrected. A fourth place, where “sons of perdition” go, is reserved for the worst of the worst—those who knew the truthfulness of Jesus’s gospel through the witness of the Holy Ghost but nevertheless denied it.
  6. In Mormon doctrine, a person who remains single isn’t eligible for exaltation in the highest degree of eternal glory. For discussion regarding how those who never marry during their mortal lives can later qualify for exaltation, see discussions below under footnotes 11 and 12.
  7. Curiously, in most of the world, governments don’t afford legal recognition to marriages performed solely by ecclesiastical authority in Mormon temples. In such countries, couples must be married civilly before they can be sealed in the local Mormon temple. And of course, at such civil marriages, anyone can attend, whether Mormon or not. A growing movement within Mormonism advocates handling temple marriages in the United States the same way as in most foreign countries, with a civil marriage, attendable by all invitees who wish to attend, preceding the restricted-attendance temple ritual.
  8. See Hebrews 5: 5-10; 6: 20; 7: 11-28
  9. Joseph Smith’s First Vision is the subject of Chapter 2 of this book.
  10. The requirement of a marriage performed by proper Melchizedek priesthood authority applies to deceased couples as well as living ones. In fact, Mormons teach that those who were married without such authority and are now deceased are barred from exaltation until the matter is resolved back on earth. Accordingly, LDS individuals who desire to facilitate the exaltation of forebears and ancestors who fall into this category can perform all of the six ordinances previously described, as well as baptism, by proxy in the temples. More will be written about these teachings in Chapter 3.
  11. A gaping hole exists in Mormon theology concerning those members who unintentionally remain single throughout mortality. They’re taught by church leaders that someday in heaven they’ll be given a spouse if they’ve lived righteously on earth, and will thus remain eligible for godhood. Unfortunately, no scripture exists to verify this promise, or even address this subject, within Mormonism’s expanded canon of four separate books. Nor is Joseph Smith known to have spoken on the subject publicly or privately. Within Mormon orthodoxy, those who remained intentionally single in mortality are thought to have forfeited their chance for exaltation in the hereafter, though this view is also without specific scriptural support.
  12. Thomas S. Monson in New Era Magazine, Salt Lake City, Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, October 2004, p. 3
  13. 3 Nephi 15: 13-14
  14. Some Mormon apologists may defend Joseph Smith’s supplementation of the doctrine and gospel of the Book of Mormon by arguing that the Book of Mormon itself describes revelations from the Lord to the brother of Jared, which were to be kept hidden from the world and be revealed at some future latter-day time when the world is righteous enough to receive them. See Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon, chapters 3 and 4, and chapter 5, verse 1, generally. This argument ignores several important facts. First, the sealed revelation to the brother of Jared was not described as being Jesus’ core gospel, but rather, information about the history and future events of the inhabitants of this world. Second, as already emphasized, Jesus himself had described the unsealed portion of the Book of Mormon which would come forth to contain “the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah.” Third, the ordinance-heavy theology introduced by Joseph Smith had nothing to do with the world history shown to the brother of Jared in Ether 3: 25-26, and Joseph Smith didn’t claim otherwise.
  15. 3 Nephi 15: 2-5.
  16. See 3 Nephi 11: 1
  17. 3 Nephi 23: 6-13

The Most Consequential Reason behind Doctrinal Errors Gaining Acceptance in the LDS Church

A careful student of Mormonism’s scriptures will, at some point, inevitably notice a puzzling fact.  The most high-profile teachings of Mormonism, those that most distinguish the LDS Church from other Christian religions, are at odds with the teachings of the Book of Mormon and Bible.  Counterintuitively, the student finds that the  book for which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is most famous–the Book of Mormon, Mormonism’s namesake–has been repeatedly contradicted, upstaged and supplanted by the teachings in two books the Church has canonized–the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price— and by the ideas that resulted from Joseph Smith’s many claimed revelations and heavenly visitations.  Biblical teachings have suffered the same fate.  This observation is the subject of a book currently being written by M.S. Brothers entitled Restoration II:  Defending the Bible and Book of Mormon against LDS Theology.  Orthodox Mormons accept the doctrines and practices promulgated by Joseph Smith, even if the conflict between those teachings on the one hand and the faith’s first two canonical books on the other hand, is obvious upon a comparative reading.

For example, the doctrine and gospel taught by Christ in the Bible and Book of Mormon is dramatically different than the LDS theology of exaltation and godhood through rituals performed in Mormon temples.  This discrepancy is the subject of an essay on his website entitled “Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation.”

Another clear example is the unequivocal condemnation of baptizing little children found in Moroni Chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon.  But such straightforward message  from the prophet Mormon did not stop Joseph Smith from claiming a revelation from the Lord in which church members were commanded to baptize their children at the age of eight.  As a result, the Mormon Church now practices the baptism of eight-year-olds.  This  discrepancy between straightforward Book of Mormon teachings (which are also strongly implied in the Bible) and current LDS philosophy and practice is addressed in this website’s essay “The Baptism of Eight-year-old Children.”

A third example, though not as important as the ones outlined above or discussed elsewhere on this website, is one that is immediately noticed by non-Mormons who visit LDS sacrament meetings for the first time.  They are invariably surprised to observe the use of water in place of wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.  The Bible suggests “the fruit of the vine” should be used; the Book of Mormon unequivocally requires the use of wine.  But Joseph Smith, after initially accepting the Book of Mormon’s requirement of wine, later claimed the Lord had revealed to him that it didn’t matter which drink was used in the sacrament.  Accordingly, Mormons some 70 years later adopted the use of water in place of wine.   This subject is addressed in this website’s essay “The Use of Wine in the Sacrament.”

Many, many other examples could be cited, and most of them will soon become the subject of essays here if they have not been written about already.  But the question of why Mormons are so willing to accept and adopt Joseph Smith’s revisions and replacements of doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon, even if those doctrines are taught by Jesus himself to be immutable, remains.  In this writer’s opinion, it boils down to this:  Though Mormons purport to accept that Joseph Smith was human and fallible, they absolutely cannot accept that he could be fallible enough to declare his ideas to be revelations from the Lord when they really weren’t.  Other men and women in the church might be guilty of this, and Joseph might have comparatively minor flaws, but, the reasoning goes, Joseph simply couldn’t have THAT flaw.  Mormons are sure that if Joseph Smith were capable of having an idea that originated with him, but which he claimed had been revealed to him as the word of God, spoken in the first person,he wouldn’t be a good enough man for the Lord to have chosen to bring forth the Book of Mormon as a choice seer.

Similarly, and even more steadfastly, Mormons cannot accept the suggestion that Joseph Smith, as opposed to other church leaders and upstanding members, and religious leaders from all other churches, could ever have been capable of claiming a heavenly manifestation or visitation he didn’t actually have.  This would disqualify him as being too sinful for the Lord to use him for the purposes Mormons believe he was used for.

As a result, when a conflict occurs between the teachings contained in Joseph Smith’s claimed revelations and visitations and the clear theology of the Bible or Book of Mormon, the overwhelming majority of active LDS church members adhere to what Joseph taught, and try to ignore Book of Mormon and Bible theology to the contrary.

 

The Momentous First Recorded Founding of the Church of Christ Before Jesus’s Birth

(Note to reader: The essay on this website entitled “The Initial Loss of the Gospel of Christ among the Nephites” leads up to the points that we focus on in this essay.)

The significance of Abinadi’s preaching to the court of King Noah about the coming of God to the world to die and be resurrected  cannot be overemphasized.  The effect of Abinadi’s words wrought such a great change in Alma, that it resulted in him formally founding the church of Christ (also variously called the church of God, Mosiah 18: 17) among the Nephites.  Though King Benjamin had already delivered his sermon on Christ from the temple in Zarahemla, Alma’s generation hadn’t heard it, because they were descended from the large group of Nephites whose departure from Zarahemla with Zeniff to re-settle the land of Nephi had preceded Benjamin’s speech.  Though Benjamin’s address had had a dramatic effect on his audience, the actual founding of the church of Christ in Zarahemla had remained yet unaccomplished.  Accordingly, the events at at the waters of Mormon assumed even more prominence in Nephite history.  When Alma embarked on his new, repentant life and started baptizing in the waters of Mormon, the occasion was of such moment that Mormon himself, writing five centuries later about the hallowed place after which he himself had been named, rhapsodized:

And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.

(See Mosiah 18: 30.)

Mormon’s sentiments about this sacred event echoed what the the Lord himself had said about it.  The Lord considered the day at the waters of Mormon to be the founding of his church.  When years later Alma prayed concerning how to govern the nascent Christian church, the Lord began his answer to Alma with the words, which we read in the following verses of Mosiah Chapter 26:

15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.                                                                                                                                 16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.                                                                                                                     17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.

The Lord in these verses not only signals the importance of the events at the waters of Mormon, but also makes clear what kind of faith he prizes most.  Faith born of hearing (or reading) the word alone, which causes the listener to recognize its divinely-inspired truth, unaccompanied by impressive visual demonstrations, is the highest kind of faith man can exercise.  The Lord later would reiterate this point about faith to Thomas and his apostles in Palestine, and to the Nephites at Bountiful. 

 John 20:29; III Nephi 12: 1-2.  Later, as Alma the younger continued his father’s ministry, he reflected this same understanding of when and where the church had actually begun.  Preaching to those at Zarahemla, he said, in Alma 5: 3-5:

I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon . . .
I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.

The account of the baptisms at the waters of Mormon described in 18th chapter of Mosiah therefore makes that chapter one of the most memorable ones in all of scripture.  Before baptizing the 204 souls gathered in that place, Alma had taught them what it means to be a Christian, describing a religion as being much simpler, but much deeper, than the ritualistic Judaism they had inherited from their Israelite past:

1 And now, it came to pass that Alma, who had fled from the servants of king Noah, repented of his sins and iniquities, and went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi—
2 Yea, concerning that which was to come, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and the redemption of the people, which was to be brought to pass through the power, and sufferings, and death of Christ, and his resurrection and ascension into heaven . . .
7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.

Mosiah 18: 1-10

The obvious problem facing the first Alma, and later his successors, was that they were trying to supplement Judaism’s Law of Moses, practiced by the majority of the Nephites, with a Christian gospel that placed far less emphasis on ritual and “chosenness” and much more emphasis on God’s kindness to us, and our kindness to each other.  Teaching the transplanted Israelites what their inherited religion was really all about didn’t come without great effort.  Repeatedly, until Jesus personally visited the Nephites, there arose challenges to the idea of a coming Christ who would suffer death for his people, and a stubborn resistance to the idea that it was wrong to exalt oneself over one’s neighbor because of one’s wealth or station in life.  Alma taught his early converts that not only would he not become their king, but that “every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them.”  Mosiah 23: 6. And Alma’s successors patiently carried this message of repentance, equality and kindness to the Nephites everywhere, “in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews.”  See Alma 16: 13.

In its most successful periods, the new religion was an enlightened, hybrid form of Judaism and Christianity that still practiced the Law of Moses, but understood Christ’s fundamental teachings to be the intended focus, and that the Law was only designed to point the people to the coming Messiah.  The religion still had temples and high priests and intricate customs, but the message was much different from the rigid Judaism which was simultaneously being preached in Palestine by the Maccabees and their successors.  The final break from the law of Moses didn’t come until Jesus told the people in person that that the Law of Moses had ended, and that they should not marvel over this fact.  See III Nephi 15: 2-9.  Thereafter, temples, high priests and Old Testament customs received no more mention in the Book of Mormon.  (Some Book of Mormon scholars have hypothesized that when Jesus descended out of heaven and appeared to the Nephites, the reason a multitude of them were gathered there at the temple in Bountiful in the first place was because they were observing a Jewish holiday under the Law of Moses, and that this explanation gives even more context to the people marveling when Jesus explained he was ending the Law of Moses.   3 Nephi 11: 2 states these people were also “conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death.”  Some scholars have also concluded that the “great and marvelous change” that caused them so much wonder was a spiritual one that had so transformed the people in the year since the destruction.  We tend to like these explanations; they sound right.  It was a religious gathering to begin with, and it was the perfect setting for Christ to introduce the teachings which would define his gospel going forward.)

In summary, the day at the waters of Mormon was a watershed event in religious history.  When we think about the founding principles of our faith, we would do well to reread of the things said and done at that place, for as the man Mormon said, “how beautiful are they.”

The Initial Loss of the Gospel of Christ among the Nephites

It appears that for some reason, the teachings of Christ and his gospel died out among the Nephites at some point after Nephi’s and Jacob’s deaths.  It might have been a century later, less than that, or more than that, but it appears to have happened.  The two men had taught about Christ’s mission, his philosophy, the need to repent of one’s sins, and the process of being baptized and receiving the Holy Ghost .  Though no actual baptisms during their time are specifically recorded, it’s obvious the same teachings that would later define the church of Christ were well understood while they were alive.  But it appears that after Nephi’s death, Jacob and Joseph, who had been consecrated priests and teachers, struggled to keep the people living the gospel of Christ, and the problem grew in succeeding generations.  About four centuries later, by the time of King Benjamin’s address concerning the coming of Christ to the Nephites and Mulekites in Zarahemla, it’s clear the king was now declaring new information of which neither he nor his people had been previously aware.  I draw this conclusion from three facts:

First, Benjamin introduces his Mosiah 3 sermon on Christ by stating that an angel had appeared unto him as he slept, in an answer to his prayers, saying that he had come “to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.”  The angel proceeds to preach the gospel of Christ to Benjamin, which Benjamin would have already been familiar with if he’d read the small plates of Nephi. The angel’s words comprise the whole rest of the chapter from verse 3 through verse 27. The effect on the people of hearing the angel’s words in Benjamin’s speech is dramatic; they fall to the earth, overcome by the things they’ve just heard, and overwhelmed by the goodness of God toward them in being willing to come to earth and die for them.  Both the words of the angel in introducing his message, and the people’s reaction when hearing the angel’s words, indicate the message was new and momentous.

Second, Mormon tells us that after the last person to write on the small plates, Amaleki, finished the record, he gave the plates to Benjamin, who added them to the records on the large plates that had already been kept by the kings from the time of Nephi.  Words of Mormon 1:10.  Mormon doesn’t say Benjamin read the small plates, but only that he added them to the already-voluminous records he already possessed.  In fact, it’s logical that the reason the angel needed to come to Benjamin was because the king wasn’t familiar with what was on the small plates.  This conclusion is also borne out by the point made in the next paragraph.

That third point is that Mormon himself wasn’t even aware the small plates existed until he’d already abridged the entire record of the Nephites on the large plates.  He’d read all the prophecies and sermons among the Nephites over the past 950 years, but hadn’t read any quotations of the word of Lehi, Nephi and Jacob found in the small plates.  At the last minute, so to speak, he discovered the small plates, read them, and was pleased because of all the prophecies about Christ and the last days contained upon them.  See Words of Mormon 3-6. Mormon sensed great value in the small plates,”for they are choice unto me”, he said, and this value Benjamin would also have sensed had he read them.

The lessons we learn from this are twofold.  First, the consequences of failing to read all our ancient scriptures can change the course of an entire civilization or culture, depriving it of vital treasures of spiritual and historical knowledge.  How incomplete the Book of Mormon would be today if Mormon hadn’t come across the plates that constitute what we now know as First and Second Nephi!

Second, even very good men, like King Benjamin obviously was, can make the mistake of assuming that the religious and historical writings they’re familiar with contain all the gospel understanding they need, and that the more ancient writings are less relevant.  Had King Benjamin known that what the angel eventually told him during that fateful night was already written on the small plates of Nephi, which he himself possessed, he doubtlessly would have done all within his power to read them.  (We acknowledge the strong possibility, however, that King Benjamin lacked the ability to read the writing on the small plates of Nephi, given the likelihood that unlike his son Mosiah, he had received no interpreters with which to do so, and that the written language on those plates had undergone much change over the centuries of mixing with other peoples in the New World.)  He and many of his predecessors had, in effect, been in the same situation as his Lamanite brethren; they were lacking the writings they most needed to read and understand.  Similarly, we should always ask ourselves whether our church leaders, and we ourselves, have likewise ignored ancient scriptures in favor of less valuable latter writings.

(Note: This essay pertains only to the loss and restoration of the knowledge of Christ’s gospel among  the Nephites.  It does not treat the subject of the actual first reported full-fledged founding of the Church of Christ among the Nephites, which occurred after Alma’s embrace of Abinadi’s message.  A separate essay on the formal founding of the Church of Christ by Alma is found on this website under the title “The Momentous First Recorded Founding of the Church of Christ before Jesus’s Birth.”

Why the “Lines of Priesthood Authority” Concept is Missing from the Book of Mormon, and How Authority was Obtained to Found the First Known Church of Christ

Many have wondered and speculated how exactly the first Alma received the power and authority to form the church of Christ on earth.  Because of our LDS background, we tend to search out lines of authority, wanting to know who gave a man his priesthood, and who gave that man his priesthood, and trace the whole “line of authority” back to its original source.  But it doesn’t appear to have worked that way among the Nephites.  The Nephites had no descendants of Levi among them, and Levites were the only tribe among the Israelites allowed to hold the priesthood.  (Mormons assume that all Old Testament, New Testament and Book of Mormon prophets such as Abraham, Jacob, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Peter, Nephi, Jacob and Abinadi held priesthood authority, but this notion finds no support in the Bible or Book of Mormon.)  So, the practice among Nephites was for kings to appoint their priests and high priests without respect to lineage.  Zeniff had appointed his own priests, and Noah had replaced those priests with a group of men whom he “consecrated” to be priests and high priests, the latter receiving elevated golden seats in the temple on which to sit.  These priests are described as having been “lifted up in the pride of their hearts,” and given to many wicked practices, Mosiah 11: 4-11.  These passages describing their evil, as we will show, necessarily meant that by definition, they could possess none of God’s authority.

Alma appears to have been one of those wicked priests, but as is argued in this essay, it is inconceivable that he received power and authority to later found the church of Christ from being consecrated by evil Noah, who had never had the endorsement of the Lord because of his evil designs.  It would be the same if Adolf Hitler, upon assuming control over Germany, had appointed himself the leader of all Christians living within his domain.  His appointment of men to lead Christianity, regardless of whether it were just LDS Christians or all Christians, would not receive heavenly endorsement.

Later in his life, after the events discussed herein, when Alma had brought his people to Zarahemla, King Mosiah had given him authority to organize the newly-introduced church as he saw fit, which church was now being introduced by Alma into the Nephite nation as a whole.  Mosiah 25: 19; 26: 7,8.     However, Alma had already become high priest over the church earlier when he’d founded it at the waters of Mormon.  Mosiah 23:16.  So how did he get the “power and authority” to assume this great honor?

It’s our hypothesis that he received it right before he baptized Helam in the waters of Mormon.  At that moment, he cried, “O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.”  He was specifically seeking that holiness of heart that the wicked priests of King Noah had not possessed.  Because of Alma’s singlemindedly pure intent, which God recognized, “when he had said  these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said:  Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God . . .”   Mosiah 18: 12,13.  Before that moment, Alma had never claimed to have received God’s authority.  It appears the holiness of heart he prayed for, if recognized by God, was what would allow God to confer authority–in other words, divine approbation and endorsement–on the baptisms he was about to perform.

Yes, that’s what we’re saying.  We believe Alma received power and authority to found the church of Christ, and be its first high priest, when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and moved him to proceed.  He had heard God’s voice calling him through Abinadi, and had manifested that crucial ability to repent that had always been required of all high priests.  In olden times, men had been ordained as high priests “on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish; Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.”  Alma 13: 10-11.  Alma had completed this process, and was now imbued with power and authority to begin the great work with God’s endorsement.

Contrary to the idea promoted in the Book of Abraham (which we have argued in a separate essay on this website was not divinely revealed to Joseph Smith) that the High Priesthood was hereditary, and passed down from father to son (see Abraham 1:2-4, and the same notion propounded in Doctrine and Covenants 84: 6-16 and 107: 40-52), the Book of Mormon makes clear in the passages quoted above that the authority of high priests came to them based on their “exceeding faith and repentance.”  Thus, the LDS concept of a “line of authority” being a prerequisite to holding the office of high priest is not only uncorroborated by the Book of Mormon, but contradicted by it.

This raises a point that seems paradoxical to orthodox Mormons:  While Alma was repenting of his sins and founding the church of Christ in  the land of Nephi, the main body of Nephites in Zarahemla were being led, spiritually and civilly, by a very rare man who is not described in the Book of Mormon as possessing priesthood authority or leading God’s “church.”  Yet, the text demonstrates he was indisputably a great spiritual leader.  This man, King Mosiah, son of righteous King Benjamin, met the scriptural definition of a prophet, seer and revelator, which is to say that he actually possessed the interpreters, which gave him the ability to access knowledge that no one else could access.  Possession of these interpreters was deemed the greatest gift God could give to man.  Mosiah 8:15.  Nevertheless, the Book of Mormon makes clear that Mosiah’s people, though they had been taught of Christ and many had accepted him, still didn’t have among them the formally-organized church of Christ, and their great spiritual leader Mosiah was not recognized as any kind of priest.  However, it is also easily inferred from the text that what Mosiah did as king, seer, prophet and revelator was done with God’s approval and inspiration.

By contrast, in our latter-day era, since early 1830, Mormons haven’t required their leaders to actually possess seer stones or interpreters to qualify as a seer like Mosiah was.  However, LDS people nevertheless believe that a seer, who in Book of Mormon times was also a considered a prophet and a revelator (see Mosiah 8: 15-16), could not have possibly existed anciently, and cannot exist now, without the church of Christ existing with him and him presiding over it.  They also don’t believe it possible such a prophet, seer and revelator could possibly not hold “priesthood authority.”  But the LDS Church’s modern organizational structure, and its notion of indispensable “priesthood” authority, was unfamiliar to the Nephites, both before and after Christ.

  The notion that seers, prophet and revelators were necessarily priests is completely absent from the Bible or Book of Mormon.

A friend of ours, who is himself a devoted, lifelong student of the Book of Mormon and an orthodox member of the LDS Church, disagrees with the conclusions we reach here.  He has argued that Nephite leaders held priesthood authority, even though the text doesn’t say so.  He has speculated why it is that Ammon (the first Ammon mentioned in the Book of Mormon, not the son of Mosiah) didn’t actually baptize anyone when Limhi and his people wanted to be baptized but were separated from the followers of Alma.  Our friend argues that Ammon must have held the priesthood, but didn’t feel worthy to perform the baptism, and thus declined.  He also opines that if Ammon hadn’t held the priesthood, he would have said that he couldn’t baptize because he didn’t hold the priesthood.  Regarding this, our point, as explained above, is that the Book of Mormon indicates that no “priesthood”, as we think of it in Mormonism, was necessary to do a baptism.  For this reason, Ammon didn’t mention not having the priesthood because that wasn’t required anyway; it was a concept he would have been completely unfamiliar with.

The related idea that someone had to have someone else give them “priesthood” in order to baptize also wasn’t, and isn’t, a concept found in the ancient scriptures.  Compare Matthew 21: 24-32, where Jesus, in telling the Pharisees by what authority John the Baptist baptized, didn’t cite to his “priesthood authority”, but to his “righteousness,” which meant he had heavenly endorsement.  If the mechanical act of having someone confer the priesthood upon you were the determiner of whether or not you were authorized by God to do baptisms, Jesus’ description of John’s greatness wouldn’t have made sense.  Jesus was suggesting the Pharisees judge John’s baptisms on the spiritual merit of his message and intentions, just as Alma’s baptisms were judged.  

  We contend that Ammon didn’t feel worthy because he knew he hadn’t had the Spirit of the Lord come upon him in such a way as to make him an appropriate representative of God.  The scriptures describing Ammon’s feelings of having insufficient authorization seem to bear this conclusion out:  From Mosiah 21 we read:

32  And now since the coming of Ammon, king Limhi had also entered into a covenant with God, and also many of his people, to serve him and keep his commandments.
33 And it came to pass that king Limhi and many of his people were desirous to be baptized; but there was none in the land that had authority from God. And Ammon declined doing this thing, considering himself an unworthy servant [i.e., one who hadn’t had the type of spiritual authorization Alma had received].
34 Therefore they did not at that time form themselves into a church, waiting upon the Spirit of the Lord.  [Compare Mosiah 18:13 for the same phraseology used to describe the process whereby Alma received authority.]  Now they were desirous to become even as Alma and his brethren, who had fled into the wilderness.
35 They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts; nevertheless they did prolong the time; and an account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.

It’s interesting to note Jesus’ use of the phrase, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” in Luke 4: 18, quoting Isaiah 61: 1.  Jesus said these words to bear witness to his own authority as the anointed one, the prophesied Messiah about whom Isaiah had written.  These words seem to signify divine authorization, as Isaiah, Jesus and Mormon all use this phrase in the same way.

In conclusion, the Book of Mormon teaches that authority to lead the Church of Christ was not based on a receiving priesthood through a line of authority.  Authority was conferred through living in such a way as to merit the conferral of the Spirit of God.  Moreover, seers, prophets and revelators were not required to hold the priesthood to be the spiritual leaders of the Nephites during periods before the church was formally organized among them.

(Note:  For further information on the conflict between LDS doctrine on Melchizedek Priesthood Authority and the teachings in the Bible and Book of Mormon, see the essay “Erroneous LDS Teachings concerning Melchizedek Priesthood Authority” on this same website, or using the search term “Melchizedek Priesthood.”  The subject of the absence of high priests among the Nephites after Christ is soon to be treated in a separate essay on this website.)

Damage Done by Doctrinal Errors

(Note to reader:  The following excerpt is the concluding part of a letter sent by M. S. Brothers to seven LDS apostles in early 2015.  No response was ever received.

Why is it imperative that we correct doctrinal errors? The answer is an easy one for church apologists, including seminary, institute and religion teachers, those who teach on Sunday and parents who are continually faced with the many difficult questions raised by the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Abraham, and the church’s own version of its history. When the teacher’s response to tough questions doesn’t make sense, the questioner is only left with more questions and doubt about church teachings. Questions grow, and too often, questioners’ testimonies, if they existed initially, begin to flag.

I have occasionally experienced the results that resulted from me providing unsatisfactory answers to thoughtful questions.  The first such experience of those I remember occurred at age 18 in my college English class in California. This was several years before the priesthood was made available to blacks in 1978. My black female professor asked me to explain to the class why my church denied the priesthood to the black race. I knew the doctrine behind the practice perfectly, but I also knew the doctrine was scripturally and logically indefensible. Even if I used exclusively Mormon scriptures from the Pearl of Great Price, those scriptures still didn’t sustain my point. Gamely I explained Mormon beliefs on that occasion, but I wasn’t surprised when the class members poked holes in my arguments. Inside, I myself found the reasoning in those arguments massively problematic. Unfortunately, my answer probably reinforced the opinion of the professor and class members that my religion and I were racist.

For the last 20 years I’ve been able to give what I consider much better answers. An example from a few years ago is the question asked of me after priesthood meeting by a 17-year-old Mormon priest: “Why do some people descend from a different tribe than their parents, according to their patriarchal blessings?”

My answer: “Because parts of patriarchal blessings are often based on doctrinal misconceptions and the patriarch’s understandable and very human desire to please or impress the person receiving the blessing. The unfortunate patriarch feels he has to provide some tribal declaration, so he does, whether or not God reveals it to him. Descending from someone other than your parents is impossible, by definition. And no patriarch can explain why tribal declarations are important anyway, since the gospel specifically makes this information of no consequence in determining your future blessings.”

The boy replied, “That’s kind of what I thought, but I’m surprised you actually said that. Thanks for giving it to me straight.”

But on a whole other level, consider what can happen to a faithful Mormon who’s watching for the signs signaling the second coming of Christ. If he or she believes Mormon doctrine, there is no reason to worry, because the second coming cannot be anytime soon. The New Jerusalem and its centerpiece temple haven’t been built in Missouri, the tribes in the icy north haven’t gathered to Zion bringing their gifts to the tribe of Ephraim, Adam hasn’t appeared in Daviess County, Missouri and held an auspicious meeting with church leaders, no highway has been cast up across the ocean, and of course, Mormon missionaries (as opposed to missionaries from many Christian faiths, including Mormons) haven’t proselytized every country in the world yet. But if all these beliefs are misconceptions, and none of these harbinger events are required by God, the faithful Mormon may fail to properly prepare for an event that could arrive more like “a thief in the night” than he or she realizes.

I personally believe that all the last-days prophecies recognized by the Lord have already been fulfilled except for Armageddon and its related events (earthquake, two prophets dead in the streets and then resurrected, etc.). If the faithful Mormon is waiting for events to happen that aren’t going to happen, the anomalous result could be that he who most believes Mormon teachings might be the least prepared for the Second Coming among the many Christian denominations which still anticipate that event, while he or she who recognizes the many misconceptions in Mormon eschatology is better prepared. To prevent this from happening, we should make sure our beliefs really come from actual revelations from God before we rely on them.

Your predecessor church leaders didn’t always exercise due care in controlling what became canonized scripture and official church doctrine. Are the results of their failures to do so irreversible?

May God help us all to discern his truths.

Sincerely,

M.S. Brothers

 

Erroneous LDS teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and LDS Church History Regarding Elijah and Redeeming the Dead

(Note to reader:  The following is an excerpt of a letter sent by M.S. Brothers to seven apostles of  the LDS church in early 2015.  No response was ever received.)

Acknowledging the actual extent of Joseph Smith’s fallibility allows us to consider some of his more important historical and/or doctrinal claims in a different light. For example, on the subject of Elijah, anyone who today accepts all of Joseph’s claims on face value must aver that Elijah the prophet appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple in 1836 (see D&C 110:13-16), even though Oliver Cowdery wrote an exhaustive eight-page summary of the Kirtland temple events in the March, 1836 Messenger and Advocate, pages 274-81, but never mentioned this experience. (His account also failed to corroborate Joseph Smith’s claim recorded in D&C 110: 1-12 that Jesus, Moses and Elias had appeared and spoken to the two men during the same Kirtland temple events.)

In addition to the above, the LDS apologist must also defend the following propositions:

–That the purpose of Elijah’s coming was to restore the “priesthood keys” of the “dispensation” of turning the hearts (the Bible and Book of Mormon use the word “heart” instead of the word “hearts” found in the Doctrine and Covenants) of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.  This is to be believed even though none of the many references to Elijah in the Bible, and the one in the Book of Mormon, including the words of Jesus himself, mention him possessing any such priesthood keys, or the priesthood itself. The Bible and Book of Mormon nowhere teach, nor even hint, that prophets necessarily possess priesthood. (Ironically, Elijah’s holding of the Melchizedek priesthood is even contradicted by D&C 84: 25-28, which states that the Holy Priesthood was taken out of Israel’s midst with the departure of Moses. Since Elijah lived many hundreds of years after Moses, he couldn’t have possessed this priesthood if D&C 84 is accepted as reliable.

Second, that the aforementioned prophecy regarding Elijah didn’t refer to the coming of John the Baptist as a forerunner to Christ 2000 years ago, despite the fact that the angel Gabriel, and Jesus himself, straightforwardly taught that the mission of John the Baptist was the fulfillment of this prophecy. Malachi 3: 1-3, 4: 5-6; Matthew 17: 10-12; Luke 1: 13-17, 7: 24-27; see also Mark 9: 11-13. At no time did Gabriel or Jesus indicate that these prophecies would be fulfilled by a momentary appearance of Elijah to one man 1,800 years later.

Third, that Elijah only “held the keys” to this grand work, but that Joseph Smith and his followers were to do the actual work of said turning of hearts, instead of Elijah doing it himself, even though the Bible and Book of Mormon said the Elijah figure himself would do the work. See Malachi 4: 5-6; III Nephi 25: 5-6.

Fourth, that Elijah and Elias were two different people, and that Joseph Smith was visited by both of them on the same day in the Kirtland temple, see D&C 27: 6-9; 110: 12-15, even though no one in the history of the entire Christian and Jewish worlds, including Jesus, is known to have taught that these were separate individuals until Joseph Smith referred to them separately. No biblical writer or speaker ever mentioned a man named Elias when they weren’t speaking about Elijah. In fact, every New Testament mention of “Elias” turning the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to the fathers refers to prophecies about Elijah quoted from the 3rd and 4th chapters of Malachi. That’s why Jesus’ comment regarding the miracle “Elias” performed with the woman in Serepta and her cruse of oil was the same story as Elijah in Zarephath, the only difference being the New Testament quote from Jesus replaces Hebrew names with Greek ones. See scriptures quoted in preceding paragraph, as well as First Kings 17: 1-24 and Luke 4: 25-26.

As shown below, Joseph Smith demonstrated that he never figured out that the New Testament changed names such as Elijah and Isaiah to the Greek names Elias and Esaias, respectively; or that Jeremy was a New Testament form of Jeremiah. To him, each name referred to a separate man. The Old Testament doesn’t mention any person by the name of Elias, but Joseph Smith claims an Old Testament Elias appeared in person and “committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham…”(D&C 110: 12). In D&C 84: 9-13, two men with Greek/New Testament names of Jeremy and Esaias are listed along with other men with Hebrew names, and are referred to as living in the time of Abraham. The problem is that in Abraham’s time, almost 2000 years before Christ, the Greek/New Testament names Elias, Esaias and Jeremy didn’t even exist. In fact, neither Greece as a nation nor the New-Testament-era Greek language existed then. But Joseph Smith, an unlearned man, didn’t know this. The evidence is very strong that, despite the divine assistance he’d received earlier through the Urim and Thummim and seer stone in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, his linguistic misunderstanding when he no longer possessed these divine instruments led to outwardly impressive non-revelations being represented as divine.

The following questions are therefore justified:  Before our church built its entire doctrinal structure of “redeeming the dead” through genealogy work and temple ordinances on the claimed coming of Elijah to the Kirtland temple, should not our former church leaders have studied and fully discussed the issues above? Shouldn’t someone have spoken up and quoted Gabriel’s and Jesus’ already-clear words about the Elijah prophecy? Shouldn’t someone have dared to say to Joseph, “Brother Smith, I think you’re interpreting the Bible incorrectly there.  According to Jesus, the Elijah prophecy was fulfilled with John the Baptist’s mission.”

Moreover, shouldn’t someone have mentioned that Joseph Smith had already quoted God to the effect that redeeming the dead was unnecessary, because God would judge all those who’d gone unbaptized during mortality on the desire of their hearts? See D&C 137: 5-9. Joseph’s brother Alvin had never been baptized, nor had anyone been baptized for him, but he was already dwelling in “the celestial kingdom of God” according to this LDS scripture.

Full discussion of the Elijah issue would also have revealed that Joseph Smith’s teachings in D&C 137 provided a view similar to that found in Moroni 8: 22-23 concerning the non-necessity for “work for the dead”:

22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.

(Emphasis added)

Given the staggering amount of Mormon teachings, labors and money directed at “redeeming the dead”, it seems fair to say that the failure of early church members to scrutinize Joseph Smith’s understanding and teachings on such seemingly small matters as the meaning of the Elijah prophecy in Malachi eventually led, unfortunately, to breathtakingly dramatic departures from sound gospel doctrine.

Apparently Erroneous Teachings Concerning the Last Days from Doctrine and Covenants 133

(Note to reader: the following is an excerpt from a letter sent by M. S. Brothers [a pseudonym] to seven LDS apostles in early 2015.  No response was ever received.  Also, while the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel is one of the topics briefly covered in this excerpt, that topic is fully addressed in a separate essay posted under the title “The Lost Tribes of Israel.”)

Joseph Smith produced a revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 133 which he claimed came from God concerning the events to transpire in the last days. The section repeats much biblical eschatology. But some of its text creates reasonable doubt regarding its authenticity in the mind of even the faithful believer because of the scriptural contradictions it creates. Verses 20 and 27, for example, indicate a highway is going to be “cast up in the midst” of the ocean to facilitate the return of the lost tribes. However, this already-implausible event is also made even more so, as well as unnecessary, by verses 23 and 24, which assert the earth’s land masses will no longer be separated by water, and the ocean will be driven back into the north countries when the lost tribes return. The reader of these things, while believing that God will of course accomplish anything he says he’ll do, justifiably wonders whether God actually said these things. This doubt seems to be justified for the following reasons:

First of all, since 1831, when the putative revelation was purportedly received, the prophesied events have not come to pass, and become more and more unlikely by the day. Airplanes have been invented, and hundreds of millions of people have come to America either to visit or to make it their home by sailing in boats or flying in airplanes. The prospects of building a highway across the two-and-a-half-mile-deep ocean, or of expelling the ocean to the north countries, now appear extremely unlikely.

Second, it’s also noteworthy that today, the overwhelming majority of converts to the church come from southern countries, not northern ones, but in Section 133 only the latter geographical area is mentioned in the text as the immigrants’ point of origin. D&C 133 seems to not anticipate the latter-day demographics of the church, apart from the modes of travel in our time.

Doctrine and Covenants sections 110 and 133 combine to create a third issue. It’s evident that Joseph Smith believed that the lost tribes were gathered and hidden in the icy north somewhere (see D&C 110: 11; 133: 26, 34), and that they knew they were descended from the Israelites. But Joseph’s beliefs on this subject are now no longer taught by the church. Presumably, this is because the northern regions of the earth are well known, and the ten lost tribes of Israel are no longer thought to be concealed there. But while the church doesn’t affirmatively teach the specifics of it, Joseph’s claimed revelation containing his belief remains in the form of an immutable quotation from God.

The fourth and most obvious indication that this revelation isn’t of God comes from D&C 133: 30, 34, which speaks of the tribe of Ephraim receiving a “richer blessing” than the other tribes after they’ve gathered to Zion. The gospel of Jesus Christ unequivocally refutes any notion that tribal lineage will determine the extent of an individual’s blessings among otherwise equally-righteous individuals. Instead, John the Baptist illustrated the meaninglessness of lineage to God when he taught in Luke 3:8 that God could “of these stones raise up children unto Abraham.” Peter taught God is no respecter of persons, Acts 10:35. And Nephi taught that God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” II Nephi 26:33.

Erroneous Doctrine and Covenants Teachings Concerning Adam-ondi-Ahman

(Note to reader:  The following is an excerpt from a long letter written by M. S. Brothers to seven LDS apostles in early 2015.  No response to this letter was ever received.)

In connection with this subject, another purported revelation, D&C Section 116, declares another part of western Missouri, in Daviess County, to be Adam-ondi-Ahman, the place where Adam will come to visit his people. In April of 1838, while encouraging church members to gather to Missouri, Joseph Smith claimed the Lord revealed this to him, and later that year also claimed that this and the Far West area were the “land where Adam dwelt,” see History of the Church 3:45-46; D&C 107: 53, and D&C 117: 8. It’s also suggested in D&C 107: 53 that all the patriarchs through Methuselah also lived close enough to Adam’s western Missouri location that he could gather them together for a meeting shortly before his death. But Joseph’s claims, which appear in the Doctrine and Covenants in the first-person voice of God, appear to be contradicted both by the Bible and in the Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Moses, as well as by common sense.

According to Genesis 2: 10-14 and Moses 3: 10-14 in the Pearl of Great Price, the Hiddekel (which is identified by almost all biblical scholars as referring to the modern-day Tigris) and Euphrates rivers flowed out of the Garden of Eden to the east. Another river (“Pison”) flowed from Eden to the land of Havilah somewhere south of Israel where the Amalekites lived, and one more (“Gihon”) flowed from Eden to Ethiopia. Clearly the geography of the Middle East has changed somewhat since Adam’s time, since the river to Ethiopia is covered now by sea, or has dried up, and the river to Havilah appears to no longer flow. Still, since all the lands to or through which the rivers flowed can still be identified today as lands in the Middle East, and since the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates can still be located, the Garden of Eden can reasonably be said to have been located somewhere in the general area south of the Black Sea, several hundred miles north of Israel. Thus, if we assume that after leaving the Garden of Eden, Adam remained within 1000 miles of it, his habitation was nowhere near Missouri.  Instead, it was several thousands miles to the east of it, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

(As an aside, the explanation sometimes offered in church meetings for the distance between western Missouri and the headwaters of the Euphrates is that the earth’s formerly-joined land masses separated in the time of Peleg, “for in his days was the earth divided.” Genesis 10: 25. Thus, the explanation goes, modern geography is unreliable, because it doesn’t account for the geography pre-existing Peleg’s time. This explanation is without merit for two major reasons, even if you don’t count the reason, given by Mormon and non-Mormon scientists alike, that the division of the continents occurred millions of years before Peleg. The first reason is that the division being spoken of is shown by other surrounding scriptures to be one of political subdivisions and languages, not of land masses. The Peleg reference comes in the context of describing Noah’s posterity and where they settled after the flood. Seven verses after the Peleg verse, this verse is found: “These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.” Gen. 10: 32. The next verse, Gen. 11:1, which backtracks chronologically, drives this point home: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” The “earth” being spoken of in all three quoted verses is without question people, not land masses. This “division” was beginning in Jared’s time around Babel, and was completed later in Peleg’s time. The second strike against the “Peleg” explanation is that a division of continents would undoubtedly have received much more biblical attention than one verse, if it were describing something of such magnitude as the land of the patriarchs suddenly sliding away to an unknown part of the world. And finally, if the Jaredites and Lehites were only being led back to the continent previously inhabited by their forefathers, certainly the Book of Mormon would have described it that way, just like the Bible described Moses leading the children of Israel back to the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Instead, the destination of the Jaredites and Lehites was described, before Peleg’s time, as “a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth,” (Ether 1: 42) for which neither group had any other descriptive name. Lehi even commented that the land had been “kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations.” See II Nephi 1: 5, 8.)

But these contextual and geographical realities didn’t stop Mormons in Joseph Smith’s time from inferring, and then teaching, that the garden of Eden itself, as well as Adam’s home, had been in western Missouri, despite the contrary information in Genesis 2:10-14, Ether 1 and 2 and Moses 3: 10, 13-14. Today, over 175 years later, are we wrong to question, after considering all that we know on this subject, whether God actually revealed this to Joseph Smith?  Are we wrong to not believe that Adam is going to come again to Missouri for a big meeting before Christ comes, as Mormon doctrine holds? Does our church membership require that unless we regard Joseph Smith as doctrinally infallible, we are rebellious and lacking in faith? We have seen a charismatic LDS general authority in our own time fabricate many impressive and inspiring, but completely untrue, personal experiences.  And he was much better educated than Joseph Smith and had traveled the world. Could Joseph Smith not have done the same?

Erroneous Doctrine and Covenants Teachings Regarding the New Jerusalem

(Note to reader:  The following four paragraphs are an excerpt from a long letter written by M. S. Brothers to seven LDS apostles in early 2015 covering four separate doctrinal matters.  No response to the letter was ever received. However, fifteen years earlier, Scott Mitchell, a chief contributor to this website, had written an essay in the form of a letter to the two LDS apostles who had each previously served as the president of Brigham Young University.  His letter/essay expressed the view, set forth below, that history and scripture demonstrate Salt Lake City to be the home of the New Jerusalem.  This hypothesis was warmly received, and one of said apostles responded with a letter on behalf of both of them thanking and complimenting Mitchell on his thoughts and research and claiming both men had been benefitted thereby.  Then, in 2002, days before the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics began, Henry B. Eyring, in an interview with Associated Press correspondent Hanna Wolfson, declared Salt Lake City the New Jerusalem.)

Joseph Smith also claimed God revealed in several revelations that the New Jerusalem, or the city of Zion, was to be built in Independence, Missouri. See primarily D&C 57: 1-5 and 84: 2-5; see also 28: 9; 42: 9, 35; 45: 65-67 and 58: 7, 44-58. The words of these purported revelations were unequivocal, and didn’t say that the location for the city might change, depending on human cooperation. But as history shows, Independence and Jackson County didn’t become the place of the New Jerusalem, and objective observation tells us that it won’t happen in the future, either. To establish the city there today would require the displacing of some 2.3 million people who currently live in its metropolitan area. It would also entail the migration to that place of millions of saints who’d thereby lose their employment, the expenditure of many billions of dollars currently being used to run the church around the world, the moving of church headquarters from their current location in Salt Lake City, and most importantly, a reason to do all of this.

A neutral observer would identify four factors that indicate the church itself has given up on Joseph’s claimed Independence-is-New Jerusalem claim: the amount of money the church has spent in building up Salt Lake City, the building of a new temple a few miles from, but not on, the temple lot designated by Joseph Smith as the center of the New Jerusalem, the failure of the LDS Church to acquire ownership of the designated temple lot, and the lack of any plans to move the church’s headquarters back to Missouri. An even bolder commentator might note that more than 170 years have passed since anyone leading the church has claimed the Lord wanted the old western Missouri model to be actualized. Joseph Smith tried very hard to establish the New Jerusalem in western Missouri, but those efforts only resulted in the church being driven from that area and many lives being lost.

Furthermore, Jesus taught in 3rd Nephi 21:5-25 that the Gentiles who would bring the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites would also assist the house of Israel by building the New Jerusalem. The copies of the Book of Mormon that went to the Lamanites throughout Latin America were printed while Salt Lake City, not Independence, was being built up as a religiously-founded city to which the world could gather. And if we believe the land in the “top of the mountains” described as the Lord’s dwelling place in Isaiah 2: 2-3 provides physical descriptors of Zion/New Jerusalem, it’s immediately apparent that Jackson County, Missouri never did fit the bill. But the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants unequivocally declaring it such, though now apparently in error, remain canonized LDS scripture.

Explanations as to why the New Jerusalem was never established in western Missouri, despite the tremendous effort expended by the early saints to bring it to pass, are difficult to find today.  One answer is provided by some verses of canonized Mormon scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 124: 49-53, but it isn’t hard to see why Mormons are extremely reluctant to quote those verses.  Therein, the Lord purportedly explains that Independence failed to become the New Jerusalem because it was hindered by unrighteous enemies of the Church. [M. S. Brothers doesn’t accept this explanation as having come from the Lord.]  If these verses were doctrinally correct, it would mean the Lord’s ancient prophecies can be foiled by unrighteous men despite the righteousness of the Saints in attempting to bring them to pass.  Obviously, this proposition flies in the face of all other Mormon teachings about the immutability and certain fulfillment of the prophecies of God.  But this difficulty diminishes considerably if Mormons are willing to contemplate and accept that Joseph Smith was human enough to represent the New-Jerusalem-in-Independence as a “revelation” when God hadn’t actually revealed it to him.  With this approach, the idea becomes simply something Joseph much desired, but didn’t have divinely revealed to him.

As mentioned above, the author believes another city seems to be the probable candidate for the New Jerusalem.  This view, set forth in the following paragraph, is more fully stated at Footnote 20 of the essay “How Scritpure and History Show the Pre-Millennial Gathering of the Lost Tribes of Israel is Mostly Complete,” elsewhere on this website here.

LDS readers are likely to believe that the New Jerusalem, which they have been taught will be built in Jackson County, Missouri, has not yet been built, just as they don’t believe the lost tribes have already been gathered.  However, the author theorizes that the New Jerusalem has been built, and that it, like its Old World counterpart, is known worldwide as the headquarters of a well-known religion whose most prominent symbol is a famous temple.  Also like the old Jerusalem, from which Christ’s disciples dispersed to carry the gospel message, the New Jerusalem is the city from which missionaries were first sent to take the Book of Mormon to the descendants of Lehi, a branch of the house of Israel living in the Americas, and to all people everywhere.  And if those similarities were not clues enough, this city, like Jerusalem in Israel, is also found in the desert, not far from a freshwater river running into a large body of salt water.  The author believes the role this city will play in the future is yet to be realized, but that it has been built.  Ironically, those who occupy it, and gather to it, have been unable to see its significance, believing that the New Jerusalem is elsewhere.