More Puzzling Subordination and Diminution of Book of Mormon Text in LDS General Conferences

David A. Bednar waving with a journal in his hand as he and his wife exit the Conference Center.

In most of the articles on this website, I have stressed the point that The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “LDS,” “Church” or “LDS church”) teaches myriad ideas which run contrary to the unambiguous teachings of the Book of Mormon.  Most LDS church members are surprised and/or upset by this assertion and skeptical of its accuracy.  But to prove its truth, I urge readers to ask themselves if, during the April 2020 LDS general conference, they noticed any point in any talk where a scripture was quoted by a general authority which was at odds with the version of the same scripture in the Book of Mormon.  It absolutely did happen, as we shall see. Continue reading

Ignoring the Book of Mormon in General Conference Talks and LDS Instruction

In his October 2016 LDS General Conference address “If Ye Had Known Me,” Church apostle David E. Bednar began his address by citing to an example in the scriptures wherein Joseph Smith had supposedly corrected erroneous language in the King James Version (hereafter “KJV”) of the Bible.  The scripture Bednar accepted as mistranslated was Matthew 7:21-23, which we find near the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Bednar commented:  “Our understanding of this episode is enlarged as we reflect upon an inspired revision to the text. Significantly, the Lord’s phrase reported in the King James Version of the Bible, ‘I never knew you,’ was changed in the Joseph Smith Translation to ‘Ye never knew me.'” Bednar then went on to partially base his talk on the verse that Joseph Smith had reworded in his “inspired” revision–Matthew 7:23.

The problem with Brother Bednar’s assumption that Joseph Smith’s revision was inspired, and that the King James Version of this scripture was in error and not inspired, is that the Book of Mormon version of this same scripture agrees with the King James Version, and disagrees with Joseph Smith’s revision.  The same Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivered to the Jews was also delivered almost word-for-word to the Nephites.  It is found in 3 Nephi 12-14.  The counterpart of the King James Version verse that Joseph Smith saw fit to modify is 3 Nephi 14:23.  Its wording is identical to Matthew 7:23 in the KJV; the phrase in question reads “I never knew you,” not “Ye never knew me.” Continue reading

In Retrospect, what Russell M. Nelson Might Wish He’d Said at his Press Conference

At a January 16, 2018 press conference following his introduction to the world as the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson was asked by Peggy Fletcher Stack what he would do to bring women, people of color and international members into Church decision-making.  Stack had preceded this question by observing that the leadership of the Church remains “white, male, American.” Stack’s assertion wasn’t completely true, since Apostle and former member of the First Presidency Dieter F. Uchtdorf is German, and as President Nelson pointed out, several members of the Seventy are from foreign lands.  However, President Nelson never really answered the question, and initially forgot it altogether.  He even had to be reminded of the “women” part of it by Stack interrupting him and shouting from the audience, “What about women?”

I speculate that at some point of his existence, whether on earth or in the next life, he might look back and wish he would have answered the question something like this:

“There’s something everyone needs to understand about what the leaders at the head of this church actually believe.  You see, we really do believe that this church is led by revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ.  We honestly think he is the head of it.  We pray for  revelation from him every day.  We try to only do what we conclude he wants us to do.  Discerning his will involves much study, pondering, discussion and of course, prayer.

“We have studied the question of whether women should be ordained to the priesthood, and whether the apostles and First Presidency ought to include women among their number.  That study has included, of course, a thorough review of what the scriptures have to say on that question.  While the Bible tells us of women who were prophetesses, we have found no instance in the Bible or Book of Mormon where a woman was ordained to the priesthood.  Jesus chose no women to be among his twelve apostles in the Old World, nor did he choose any to be among his twelve disciples in the New World.  We have thought about that fact a lot, and why Jesus did things that way.  Several obvious explanations come to mind, but we do wish Jesus would have explained his rationale.  For now, though, we’re strongly influenced by the way he did things during his time on earth.

“Not only did female prophetesses not receive the priesthood, most male prophets actually held no priesthood authority either.  Instead, they were, and still are, far better known for their spiritual gifts than those levites, priests and high priests who officiated in the temples, or baptized or blessed the sacrament in Jesus’s post-resurection church among the Nephites.  The brother of Jared, Elijah, Isaiah, Nephi, Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite and of course, Deborah, Anna, Elizabeth and even Mary are just a few of many such prophets of either gender holding no priesthood.

“What we glean from the scriptures is that the definition of a prophet or prophetess seems to be a person who speaks for God and who communicates God’s inspired messages courageously to the people.  They bear God’s word for the purpose of teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness, and often, foretelling important future events.  In the church today, many men and women might fit this description.  We have no reason to try to restrict who might fill the role of prophet and prophetess or any kind of spiritual leader.  Would to God all our members would feel called to fulfill that role!  By their fruits, not by their titles, shall we know them.  The fact that only 15 people in the church are called “prophets” is something I aim to correct.  Holding priesthood authority doesn’t equate with being a prophet, seer or revelator, nor does being a prophet or prophetess, or person of great spiritual influence, equate with holding the administrative authority of the priesthood.

“In addition to studying whether women should be ordained to the administrative authority of the priesthood, we have continued to consult the Lord on the matter, praying that we might discern his will.  We are intelligent enough to know that if we were to announce to the world that women were now to be ordained to the priesthood, we would instantly gain popularity in today’s society and be heralded as courageous reformers.  We’d be relieved of much social pressure.  But because we only do what we think the Lord wants us to do, we can’t ordain women to the priesthood unless we feel the Lord had communicated his will in that direction, whether by dreams, visions or the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.  So far, we have not received any communication from God that we can interpret as his will that we should take this unprecedented step.  That’s why we haven’t done it.

“There will be many who will scoff at this answer, accusing us of desperately holding on to our own power, and using God’s failure to communicate clearly to us as an excuse.  Interestingly, however, no one, whether man or woman, has come to our attention claiming that God had revealed to him or her individually that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should ordain women to the priesthood, or ordain female apostles.  If that were to happen, my response would be, ‘If you have received that revelation, why do you care that we haven’t? You obviously believe God is revealing to you things he’s not revealing to us, so you consider your leadership inspired, and us uninspired.  Why would you want to stay in this church with leaders less inspired than you?  If God’s not directing us, but is directing you, you should therefore start your own church and not worry about what this church is doing.'”

“Of course, we will continue to seek the Lord’s will in all things.  I suspect, though, that Jesus will soon come to the earth again, and if we’re fortunate enough to be there, we’ll get to hear the answers to questions like this one from the Lord’s own mouth.”

Whether or not you agree with the views expressed in such an anwer, the answer would nevertheless have been, I believe, a truthful statement, and his logic hard to argue with.

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.



  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

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.)

The Book of Abraham: Fully Discredited by LDS Church History, the Bible and the Book of Mormon

Image result for the book of Abraham

(Note:  The following letter was sent by M. S. Brothers to seven apostles of the LDS Church in 2014.  No response was ever received.)

Dear Brethren:

     I’m writing these letters because I believe you seven recipients possess the spirituality and intellectual objectivity to assure that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaching the truth is more of a priority than merely defending past teachings.  I’m not unaware that objectively evaluating long-held Mormon beliefs as if they were new to you, which practice I advocate, is extremely difficult, especially when you’ve not only devoted your lives to the church, but believed and defended the very teachings now under review.  But this objective evaluation of Mormon teachings is now overdue by about 182 years.  The more we delay it, the more we’ll continue to bleed members whose legitimate historical and doctrinal questions the church can’t or won’t answer.  Many of these questioning individuals already have, or in the future will lose their belief in the Book of Mormon, while others will lose faith in religion itself, simply because so many other beliefs they used to accept have proven unreliable.  It’s this tragedy I hope to avert, and I trust you that you do, too.

     In this letter I’ll attempt to evaluate the Book of Abraham from the perspective of a neutral and objective investigator who’s familiarizing himself or herself with it for the first time.  I don’t do this because the teachings of this book are in some way damaging to believers; they are not.  I do so because analysis of this book informs the discussion about whether our church has adopted the practice of defending its past teachings without carefully determining whether they’re of God or not.  This evaluation will also consider the merits of the article posted on the church’s website entitled Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham.  Some of the information discussed below regarding the Book of Abraham is undoubtedly known to you, but as you read on, I hope you can look at it, temporarily at least, through the eyes of someone who, unlike you, wasn’t taught to accept it more than half a century ago. 

     The posited hypothetical person whose perspective I’ll try to represent herein is a well-read, intellectually curious, devout non-Mormon Christian.  After thoroughly studying and praying about another book of LDS scripture, the Book of Mormon, he or she has reached the surprising conclusion that it was indeed exactly what it purported to be—another testament of Christ,  revealed in the latter days by the gift and power of God.  Therefore, this individual is neither burdened by preconceived notions for or against Mormon truth claims, nor predisposed to defend those who believe or don’t believe the Book of Abraham to be divinely inspired.

     As he or she has done before with the Book of Mormon, the investigator writes down every authenticity-related observation and question that arises in reading the background history and text of the Book of Abraham.  No question is too pointed, since he or she feels no need to protect any apologist from difficult issues.  At the same time, this seeker doesn’t question the possibility God could reveal new latter-day scriptures, since he or she has already accepted the Book of Mormon as such.  He or she generates the following commentary:

                                The Process Whereby Joseph Obtained the Papyri

     Preliminarily, it seems odd that the discovery of the papyri appears to have been by coincidence.  Joseph Smith never claimed God or an angel instructed him to buy mummies and papyri from anyone.  No divine influence was ever alleged in this process.   Instead, Joseph’s account implies nothing other than mere coincidence and luck occurred when he bought two papyrus scrolls along with four mummies.  One of these contained the “writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”  See Pearl of Great Price, p. 29.  He also claimed the other scroll, or “roll”, contained the writings of Joseph of Egypt.  History of the Church 2: 236.  (For evidence there were only two scrolls, see WW Phelps’ letter to Sally Phelps, pages 19-20, July 1835 and Oliver Cowdery letter to William Frye, December 22, 1835.  Both these men were constant eyewitnesses to the artifacts and even assisted Joseph Smith in trying to devise the Egyptian alphabet.  The church article omits this strong evidence of there being only two scrolls in favor of suggesting a much greater body of papyri.  This latter suggestion pads the essay’s contention, argued in the alternative, that the translation might have come from one of those papyri that no longer exists.  This suggestion is untenable, as shown below.)  Moreover, since the seller of the artifacts, Michael Chandler, had originally possessed eleven mummies and an unknown number of scrolls, and had already sold seven of the mummies to previous buyers in other areas, Joseph was doubly fortunate that no one had already purchased the two valuable scrolls that remained.  Of course, the Lord could have had a hand in causing the right papyri to fall into Joseph’s hands, but neither Joseph Smith nor anyone else asserted he’d received any divine guidance in the purchase.  Thus, the process of discovering the book of Abraham papyri was oddly coincidental and inauspicious, given the book’s claimed status as an ancient sacred text.  The process was also strikingly unlike that used for the gold plates, which were revealed to Joseph Smith by an angel who momentously appeared three times during the night to announce their location and tremendous importance, and once a year for four years to repeat his instructions. It seems incongruous to assume the Lord would bring about the discovery of the handwritten words of Abraham so passively and casually.

     Just as puzzling is the fact that the alleged writings of Joseph of Egypt, which at first glance would have just as much significance as Abraham’s words, were never translated after being purchased.  Why would God reveal the author of these writings and then never produce a translation?  Would God intend that such treasured writings be treated so lightly, if they were authentic? 

              The Process Whereby Joseph Translated Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics

     A monumental question naturally arising from the book of Abraham is how Joseph Smith produced the translation (although the LDS church website article on the subject shows the church is no longer sure it was a translation, as is discussed later herein).  Joseph Smith’s inability to read the Nephites’ writing on the golden plates required the help of “interpreters”, as they’re called in the Book of Mormon, or the Urim and Thummim, as Joseph later referred to them.  Later he used a seer stone to complete the Book of Mormon translation process.  But not a word of the Book of Mormon was translated without the help of these instruments, and after the Book of Mormon was published, Joseph never again possessed or used those instruments.  How then could he read the Egyptian hieroglyphics and produce an English translation, with no Urim and Thummim or seer stone assisting him? 

     The difficulty in answering this question is heightened by noting that after publishing the Book of Mormon, Joseph assiduously studied Hebrew, an ancient language, in the School of the Prophets, but never did learn that language, and later discontinued his efforts.  And although he never took any lessons in reading ancient Egyptian, a written language more ancient than Hebrew, he did eventually produce, after acquiring the papyri, what he claimed was an Egyptian alphabet and rules of Egyptian grammar.  But Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists have determined that his alphabet and the rules of grammar were completely in error.  The LDS church admits this in its article on the subject on its website.  These facts seem to rebut the hypothesis offered by the church near the end of its article that merely viewing the ancient writings might have triggered a revelation from God by which the ancient text was revealed.  If this had been the case, Joseph would have had no reason to study any language’s alphabet or grammatical rules.

                           The Length of Time Taken to Produce such a Small Book

     Both the theory that Joseph translated the text by reading the hieroglyphics, and the alternate theory that God revealed the text to him through some other means not involving language translation are weakened considerably by the fact that the Book of Abraham took so long to produce.  The short work was seven years in the making.  The church article concedes that Joseph began deciphering the papyrus scroll in 1835, but didn’t produce the book’s few pages until 1842.  If the book were a revelation from God, one would expect its publication to be more urgent, and it seemingly wouldn’t take more than two weeks to complete, at most.  None of Joseph’s other claimed revelations, including the longest ones in the Doctrine and Covenants, had required more than three days, even when counting the ones which had material added to the initial versions.  The translation of what is now the 531-page Book of Mormon, once it begun in earnest, took less than three months.

Papyri now Possessed by the LDS Church have been Conclusively Proven to be the ones used by Joseph Smith to Produce the Book of Abraham, despite Arguments to the Contrary in the Church’s Website Essay, and Smith’s Rendering of the Egyptian Text has been shown by Egyptologists not to be an Authentic Translation.

     At least parts of the two papyrus scrolls purchased by Joseph Smith were found in the 20th century in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and given back to the church.  The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable that the papyri now possessed by the church are the same ones Joseph purported to translate.  This evidence stems from two extremely important points which the LDS church article doesn’t even mention:  First, the Pearl of Great Price contains a facsimile of the same drawing that is found on the church’s papyri, and this drawing, referred to as Facsimile No. 1 by Joseph Smith, is described in great detail in the very text of the first chapter the Book of Abraham.  In fact, the text has Abraham telling the reader that he has produced the drawing with his writing to illustrate the story he is telling.    Note these words from Abraham 1: 12-15:

12 And it came to pass that the priests laid violence upon me, that they might slay me also, as they did those virgins upon this altar; and that you may have a knowledge of this altar, I will refer you to the representation at the commencement of this record.   13 It was made after the form of a bedstead, such as was had among the Chaldeans, and it stood before the gods of Elkenah, Libnah, Mahmackrah, Korash, and also a god like unto that of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.                                                                                                         14 That you may have an understanding of these gods, I have given you the fashion of them in the figures at the beginning, which manner of figures is called by the Chaldeans Rahleenos, which signifies hieroglyphics.                                                                   15 And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands. . .

(Emphasis added)  

     All of the figures described in the above four verses are not only visually observed in the Pearl of Great Price Facsimile 1, but bear the identifying labels Joseph Smith assigned to them.

     The second irrefutable proof linking the church’s papyrus to the one Joseph Smith purported to translate is the fact that the Figure 3 facsimile found in our Pearl of Great Price contains the name of Horus (or “Hor”), the same man whose breathing rights constitute the subject of the text found in the church papyrus.  After being returned to the Mormon church, the papyri had eventually been translated by eminently-qualified LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists.  These experts’ translations of the hieroglyphics agreed with each other in every major respect, but bore no resemblance whatsoever to Smith’s translation.  According to all the egyptologists, the papyri scrolls contained a standard, oft-encountered funerary text entitled Hor’s Book of Breathings, but contained no mention of Abraham or any of the subjects contained in Joseph’s version.  Since illustrations like Facsimile 3 are always found at the very end of Egyptian funerary scrolls, this illustration was obviously at the end of Hor’s Book of Breathings—the same scroll possessed by the church.  These facts have been established by LDS and non-LDS Egyptologists alike. The church may not have the entire scroll, but without a doubt Hor’s Book of Breathings is the one Joseph Smith produced as the Book of Abraham.

     In addition to his rendering of the text, Smith had also provided translations of three drawings (two of which are described above) contained with the hieroglyphics on the papyri.  His translations of these drawings, now found within the fifteen pages of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price, have also proven to be erroneous by the aforementioned Egyptologists.  [Note to reader:  The LDS egyptologists who first interpreted the Egyptian writings and illustrations on the papyri were John Gee and Michael Rhodes.  Since that time, Stephen E. Thompson, another LDS egyptologist, has flatly stated his agreement that the Book of Abraham could not have come from Joseph Smith’s translation of the papyri, because the papyri have nothing to do with Abraham.]

     Surprisingly, notwithstanding the evidence above, the church’s essay attempts to create doubt over whether the rediscovered papyri fragments are from the scroll Joseph Smith purported to translate:

The relationship between those fragments and the text we have today is largely a matter of conjecture. . .

Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary. . .

It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession. Eyewitnesses spoke of “a long roll” or multiple “rolls” of papyrus.32 Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri. . .   

Gospel Topics essay, Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham at LDS Church official website  

     It’s puzzling that the church’s essay not only omits the most important evidence bearing on the papyri’s relation to the book of Abraham, but also propounds the above misleading and easily-refuted arguments.  Only if the article’s authors, who remain unidentified, had never read the Book of Abraham’s first chapter could they have been unaware of the undeniable relationship between the text of that chapter and the facsimile drawing that precedes it.

     (Although it would be possible that the translation could have come from more than just one scroll of papyri in the church’s possession, Joseph Smith himself claimed this wasn’t the case, stating the book of Abraham came from one scroll.  See Messenger and Advocate, Dec. 1835, 233-37. And even if it had come from more than one scroll, that wouldn’t negate the fact that his translation of the one we have was in error.)

       The Assertion in the Church Essay that the Text was a Revelation as Opposed to a                   Translation is Contradicted by Joseph Smith and All Church History Accounts

     After admitting the extent to which Joseph Smith attempted to construct Egyptian alphabets and grammar, the church essay asserts this:  “The Lord did not require Joseph Smith to have knowledge of Egyptian.  By the gift and power of God, Joseph received knowledge about the life and teachings of Abraham.”  This statement is flatly contradicted by Joseph Smith himself, and by the sheer weight of the church’s own historical records.  No one who worked on deciphering the Egyptian with Joseph has ever suggested that studying and interpreting the individual hieroglyphics was unnecessary to the process of producing the text.  Repeatedly, Joseph wrote about his labors in doing exactly that, and never made any claim whatsoever that the book of Abraham was anything other than a linguistic translation. See History of the Church 2: 235-36, 238, 289, 318, 320, 348-51.  Joseph also never mentioned a revelation from God, but rather, made plain that this translation was dependent on his own ability to read Egyptian, and his credentials as a translator.  When after seven years he produced the book, he captioned it as being


A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt.—The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.

     It’s certainly noteworthy that the Mormon church never represented the book of Abraham to be anything but a conventional, linguistic translation until the papyri came back into church hands and were translated by qualified egyptologists.  When Joseph’s translation proved to have no linguistic merit, the church’s historical narrative changed.  What had been a translation for over a century and a half was suddenly reclassified.  It was now either a translation of other papyri no longer in existence, or a revelation triggered by poring over Egyptian characters.

              Doctrinal and Factual Contradictions Created by the Book of Abraham

     Previously unknown doctrine is created in the book of Abraham concerning premortal events in heaven. These doctrines needn’t be discussed here because their presence isn’t evidence for or against the book’s authenticity.  Other teachings do bear on this question, however.  According to the narrative in the first chapter of the book, Abraham seeks to be a “rightful heir” of the title of “High Priest.”  This hereditary position, we are told, is passed down “from the fathers,” and God tells Abraham “I will put upon thee. . .even the Priesthood of thy father.” See Abraham 1: 2-4, 18 and 2:11.  This concept is in line with Joseph Smith’s propensity in the Doctrine and Covenants to highlight priesthood hierarchies and lines of authority.  This propensity distinguishes the Mormon church from other Christian faiths.  But Paul taught in the Bible that the order of high priests to which Melchizedek and Jesus belonged was not hereditary like the Levitical Priesthood, see Hebrews 7: 1-17.  In fact, Paul’s sermon concerning Melchizedek makes clear that Abraham was subordinate to Melchizedek, because Melchizedek was a chosen and holy high priest whose priesthood was “without descent”, and Abraham was not.  If Abraham were also a high priest, Paul’s sermon would make no sense.  Paul, himself from the tribe of Benjamin and descended from Abraham, and an expert on his own Jewish religion, certainly would have mentioned Abraham’s own status as high priest if he had held such, but instead, he contrasted the great Abraham with the even greater Melchizedek.

     The Book of Mormon sermon by Alma corroborates Paul’s words in two ways.  First, when Alma discussed Melchizedek, he noted that “even our father Abraham” paid tithes to him because he (Melchizedek) belonged to the holy order of high priests.  See Alma 13: 14-19.  Again, this explanation by Alma wouldn’t make sense if Abraham were also a high priest.  Nephi in the book of Helaman made a similar point, speaking of prophets dating back to Abraham who had known and spoken of Christ’s coming, and of a separate group of high priests after Christ’s holy order that had also known and taught these things prior to Abraham.  See Helaman 8: 16-19.  Though the Book of Mormon and Bible speakers and writers discuss Abraham repeatedly and at length, never do they state, or even imply, that he was a high priest under the order of Melchizedek. 

     Second, Alma also emphasized in his sermon that those who were called and ordained to be high priests after this holy order were selected because of their “exceeding faith and good works. . . having chosen good. . . on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish. . .” See Alma 13: 3, 10. This ordination obviously couldn’t be inherited, since one couldn’t qualify for it without already having previously repented and exercised exceptional faith and righteousness.  Presumably, if inheritance were a key aspect of receiving this priesthood, Alma, Nephi and Paul would have said so, since this priesthood was in each case the topic under discussion.

     Curiously, Doctrine and Covenants sections 84 and 107, both of which, like the Book of Abraham, were introduced by Joseph Smith, also describe a lineage-related, father-to-son passing of the Melchizedek priesthood, thus creating a doctrinal conflict with the Bible and Book of Mormon.  In choosing which scriptural teachings to accept, the Bible and Book of Mormon should be deemed authoritative.  I have received an intellectual and spiritual witness that the Bible and Book of Mormon are divinely inspired, just as the Book of Mormon declares itself and the Bible to be, and just as angels testified to Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses.  As has been shown previously, neither the book of Abraham nor the Doctrine and Covenants stand on that same firm footing.

     Abraham’s narrative also describes the Chaldean cities of Ur and Haran as being under Egyptian religious and political hegemony in Abraham’s time.  This appears in conflict with virtually every history written concerning that period.  Egypt exercised no religious or political control at all over these areas in Abraham’s time (approximately 20th century B.C.) and no Egyptian, Sumerian or Assyrian writings from that era assert otherwise. 

     Other anomalies  (though admittedly minor) discrediting the Book of Abraham’s authenticity is how improbable it appears that Abraham would tell his story by writing in Egyptian instead of his own primary language, and that he would adopt Egyptian art motifs to accompany his narrative.  Moreover, what possible reason could there be for this account, which condemns Pharoah and the Egyptian religion, to be wrapped up with Egyptian mummies?  Wouldn’t Egyptians want something a little more friendly to their beliefs wrapped with the body being prepared for the hereafter?  Abraham’s own language, likely some mixture of Assyrian and early Aramaic, was easily advanced enough to use in describing his past experiences; indeed, it was the language used by his own fathers and posterity to keep the biblical record.  Of course, if the Church’s new hypothesis is correct, Abraham didn’t write anything in Egyptian at all—despite the flat contradiction of Joseph Smith’s claims to the contrary that this represents.  Facing new evidence carbon-dating the papyri to approximately 100 CE, which is almost two millennia after Abraham, the Church has had to change its story.  It now suggests in its essay that the papyri weren’t written in Abraham’s own hand, but perhaps were written by some unknown Egyptian who was quoting Abraham.

     The church essay doesn’t address any of the doctrinal and factual conflicts discussed above.

     In footnote 46, the very last footnote of the church’s essay, it’s conceded that some of the content of the book of Abraham was contained in other extrabiblical accounts of Abraham which had been previously published, mentioning Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and the Book of Jasher as examples.  The church quickly adds that it isn’t known whether Joseph Smith had read these works or not.  Once again, very important information has been held back from the reader.  The Book of Jasher had been published in America in 1840, and a September 1, 1842 Times and Seasons editorial, written while Joseph Smith was editor, cited to it.  See Times and Seasons 3: 902.  The Book of Jasher was immediately widely read and well-known for several of its claims, including the ones that Abraham’s father had been an idolater, and that Abraham had refused to worship his father’s idols and had destroyed them.  In the Book of Jasher, however, the idols were those worshipped by the great king Nimrod of biblical fame, having no relation to the Egyptian Pharoah.  Josephus’ work was also well known among those who studied Israelite or Jewish history, and it contained a noteworthy account that Abraham had instructed the Egyptians in astronomy and mathematics while he sojourned there.  Since the Book of Abraham text contains these same assertions, it would seem appropriate to mention this fact in the body of the essay instead of at the end of the last footnote.  Instead, the church essay merely argues that other extrabiblical and apocryphal writings tend to lend corroboration for some of the events described in the book of Abraham.


     As you can see from the above notes, it is difficult to defend the authenticity of the Book of Abraham, even if the reviewer affirmatively believes in Book of Mormon authenticity.  The non-Mormon investigator is gentle in addressing the fallacies and misleading statements contained within the church’s essay.  Mormons who study the Book of Abraham carefully, however, are not at all gentle in criticizing what they see (correctly, I believe) as intellectual dishonesty on the part of the LDS essay writer(s) in omitting inconvenient facts and mischaracterizing as weak and confusing  the evidence against authenticity.  Hopefully, though, we can remember we claim to be the Church of Jesus Christ, and therefore no longer countenance any form of dishonesty in defending old, unchallenged beliefs.


M.S. Brothers