Baptism for the Dead: True Christian Doctrine and Practice, or LDS Construction?

Note: The following essay was contributed by frequent contributor Scott S. Mitchell.

 

In the one of the most enigmatic scriptures in the entire Bible, the apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians about the universality of the resurrection, said these words: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” (See 1 Corinthians 15:29.) This passage has perplexed Christian scholars, and been the subject of much debate, since the second century A.D., and rightfully so. Jesus himself never taught baptizing for the dead to the Jews in Palestine or the Nephites in the New World. No other prophet, apostle or disciple made any mention of it, either. And even Paul uses the word “they” instead of the word “we” in describing who practices it, without clarifying who “they” refers to.  In the next verse, however, he does use the word “we” to describe a separate practice in which he personally participated–“standing in jeopardy every hour”, or being physically endangered by persecutors at all times because of his and his fellows’ Christian beliefs.  See 1 Cor. 15:30.

In 1841, however, Joseph Smith, founder of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “LDS Church” or “Mormonism”), began teaching that the practice of vicarious baptisms for the dead was a vital and integral practice among God’s people, dating back to the beginning of time.  The only proof text Joseph cited which actually mentions baptism for the dead was the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 15:29.  Consequently, however, the LDS Church began performing baptisms of live persons vicariously for persons who had died without being baptised into Mormonism.  To this day, millions of such baptisms are performed each year, exclusively in LDS temples, in order to provide the possibility of salvation to those who died without it.

Interpretation by Bible Scholars

The scholarly response to this passage is uniformly uncertain about it. From the Fully Revised Fourth Edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible: “It is not clear what was involved in the Corinthian practice of baptism on behalf of the dead. Paul appeals to the practice to suggest to the Corinthians that they have an implicit faith in the resurrection.”1

From Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

The exact meaning of this practice is uncertain. Some scholars believe it refers to the re-baptism of Christians for the benefit of people who had died unbaptized but already believing. But other scholars insist it refers to a baptismal formula in the Corinthian church that promised that believers would rise from the dead at the end of time to reign with Christ.2

From Archaeological Study Bible:

Every theory has some problems, but some are more plausible than others:

One explanation holds that Paul was alluding to some form of “proxy baptism” (an individual being baptized to secure the salvation of ancestors, relatives or friends who had died without Christ). There is no indication in his text, however, that Corinthians were being baptized for their ancestors or for other dead pagans—and no evidence that this was ever practiced in the early church.

Some suggest that the term refers to baptism for believers who had died unbaptized; others that it may have been some ritual rated in a superstitious belief that baptism itself almost magical, life-giving power. The Corinthian believers may have been influenced by a local cult of the dead at Corinth. On the other hand, if such a pagan background were behind this practice, we would expect Paul to have voiced disapproval.

Still others propose that the phrase actually means “baptized in the place of the dead” in the sense of taking the place of Christian martyrs who had lost their lives for the faith. This kind of baptism would have been a rite whereby a living believer symbolically took the place of this or her fallen brother or sister. This interpretation has some support in the context, since Paul immediately spoke in the following verses (vv. 30-32) of his own endurance of persecution.3

 

Book of Mormon Teachings

As stated above, Jesus Christ himself is not reported to have said a word about baptism for the dead when he founded his church in Israel or in the western hemisphere.  However, the Book of Mormon prophet Mormon, as quoted in Moroni 8:21-24, left no doubt that a practice like baptism for the dead was not only unnecessary, but was a corruption of the pure gospel preached in the Book of Mormon. This scripture unequivocally teaches that people who don’t have the gospel preached to them in this life don’t need baptism, either as living mortals or as spirits in the spirit world.  Baptism is only for people who have had the gospel preached to them and have had the opportunity to knowingly break God’s law.  Mormon said:

21 . . . I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them [Mormon’s words] and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
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.
24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.

Dead people who died without the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel comprise the overwhelming majority of those who have lived on this earth.  When they die, they no longer have the ability in the spirit world to break the commandments of God.  Having lived in mortality without Christ’s gospel law, they therefore need no baptism in this life, nor in the world of spirits, where they cannot break any law.

Teachings of Joseph Smith

Despite Mormon’s teachings in the Book of Mormon, in 1841, LDS Church founder Joseph Smith began teaching his followers the church needed to build a temple in its then-headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, wherein they could perform baptisms for the dead.  Purporting to be quoting the Lord himself, Joseph produced this mandate:

For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead–

. . .

But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.

But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not ve acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead [!], saith the Lord you God.

For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me;

. . .

And after this time, your baptisms for the dead by those who are scattered abroad, are not acceptable unto me, saith the Lord.

(See Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”) 124:29, 31-33, 35.  Emphasis and commentary added.)

The assertions and ramifications of the above verses are stunning.  According to Joseph Smith, the Lord is claiming something never before taught by anyone in the Old Testament, New Testament or Book of Mormon, even during the time when the kingdom of God was on earth with the Nephites and the resurrected Lord reigned over it–that baptisms for the dead performed in temples was a practice instituted from the foundation of the world.  Historically, this assertion is simply false.  Everything done in the Israelite and Jewish temples is described in the Bible, and baptisms for the dead are never mentioned.  The foremost Jewish scholars have never heard of this temple practice.  The Nephite temples were modeled after the Israelites’ temple of Solomon, and the rites of the Mosaic law prevailed there until Jesus brought it to an end.  (See 2 Nephi 5:16; Alma 25: 15-16; 3 Nephi 15: 4-9.)

The other startling notion from D&C 124 is that the Lord would not only reject the church, but also its dead, if the Mormons in Nauvoo don’t build the temple by the unstated deadline imposed.  Thus, not only would the church cease to be the Lord’s church, ostensibly leaving Him without a church on earth in the latter days, but all the earth’s innocent deceased former inhabitants, who played no part in the Nauvoo saints’ failure to work fast enough, would lose their chance at salvation.  This author has no qualms about declaring this notion absurd.  God doesn’t work that way.  He doesn’t punish the innocent for the supposed derelictions of others.  Mormons purport to agree with the author on this point, as manifested by the LDS Church’s second Article of Faith:  “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s [or anyone else’s, we might add] transgression.”  This author’s conclusion is that D&C 124 is simply not a revelation from God, and Joseph Smith was fallible enough to claim otherwise because he wanted the temple built in Nauvoo that had failed to be built in Jackson County, Missouri.

After mandating a temple be built to facilitate baptisms for the dead and other ordinances to be performed therein, Joseph Smith to expound on his doctrinal views concerning the necessity for baptisms for the dead.  His writings from 1842 on this subject are found in a letter he wrote to the church which was later canonized in D&C 128.  The passages related to baptisms for the dead are found in D&C 128:12, 16-18.4  It is noteworthy that, unlike most other sections of the D&C,  Joseph did not purport the writings in this section to be a revelation from God.5  Instead, D&C 128 is a mere letter to the church that Joseph wrote, in which he argues his scriptural views.  It’s also evident from verse 16 that Paul’s one-verse offhand remark from 1 Corinthians 15:29, quoted in the first paragraph of this essay, forms the doctrinal foundation for Joseph’s linking of baptism for the dead to the larger grand gospel plan of salvation.

How is it possible that Joseph Smith, the man who used the seer stones to produce the Book of Mormon text, could misinterpret biblical scripture, and teach his interpretations as the very word of God?  Because, very simply, he didn’t do his homework, and there was no one left in the church by 1842 who dared tell him that his scriptural knowledge was insufficient to support what he was now teaching.  Isaiah had described him accurately by referring to “him who is not learned.”  (See Isa. 29:12.)  Joseph misunderstood a great deal of what he read in the Bible, and forgot much of what he’d read in the Book of Mormon.  He seems to have forgotten all of Moroni 8.   Not only did he ignore Moroni’s teachings on whom baptism is for, but he had already instituted as a new commandment the baptism of eight-year-olds, who are little children.  This violated the clear teaching of Moroni 8 as well, which scrupulously avoids setting any specific age for baptism, instead teaching that parents should be baptized, not their little children. See Moroni 8:10, 11.

Joseph also forgot in his later years in Nauvoo, when the idea of baptizing for the dead began to take shape, what he himself had previously taught in 1836. He forgot that he had already claimed that his brother Alvin, who had never in his mortal life been baptized, was already in the celestial kingdom of God (which Mormonism teaches is the highest level of heavenly glory), without any person ever having been baptized for him.  As Joseph had explained, this was because God knew Alvin would have received the gospel had he been permitted to tarry on earth long enough to get baptized.  (See D&C 137: 1-8.)  No baptism for the dead had been performed for Alvin in 1836, because Joseph Smith hadn’t even thought of the idea, let alone instituted the practice, nor had he claimed to have had a revelation on said point.  Even though the Kirtland temple was built during this time, no baptism for the dead were performed therein.  So Alvin, and all other good people (see D&C 138: 8-9) were heirs of the celestial kingdom, according to Joseph Smith, without the need of either live baptism or vicarious baptism for the dead.  But by 1842, Joseph had forgotten what he’d said six years earlier.  This forgetting of his own previous teachings happened a lot during Joseph’s life, which is why Mormonism today contains so many contradictory beliefs. It’s also one of the perplexing problems this website exists to address and illuminate.

Arguments of LDS Apologists

Even if the LDS belief in baptism for the dead weren’t contradicted by Book of Mormon teachings, arguments by LDS apologists defending the practice would still face serious difficulties.  Several of them claim that baptism for the dead was a secret practice of the early church which was too sacred to be revealed, but can’t logically explain why it would be any more secret or sacred than baptism of live individuals.  If both are essential for salvation of the earth’s inhabitants, both teachings would of course be of equal sacredness, and discussing one would necessarily involve discussing the other.

Apologists also face this question:  If Jesus freely discussed and mandated baptism of live individuals, as we know he did (Matt. 28: 19, 3 Nephi 27: 20), why would he never be recorded as having taught baptism for dead individuals, since it was equally important, and would save far more people than live baptisms would?  Why would Jesus omit such an important teaching, unless it wasn’t  part of his gospel in the first place?

Third, how can it be argued that this teaching and practice was kept secret, while at the same time trying to show that it was NOT kept secret in the writings of early church scholars, and by Paul himself?  When God wants something kept secret, why does he allow it to be commonly  taught, as apologists claim?

One apologist friend of the author’s has argued that baptism for the dead was obviously taught to the Brother of Jared, then made part of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.  But how could someone be confident of this, when we have no idea what was in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, and don’t know what specific things the Lord told the brother of Jared, other than that which Moroni recorded?  Any time one argues something took place while admitting no record of what took place has been revealed, he’s not just on thin ice—he’s fallen through it.

Similarly, what is the point of having a sealed portion of the BoM, if the sealed, secret words get revealed anyway, as some allege occurred with baptism for the dead?

Sixth, since the Book of Mormon teaches that only people who have proven themselves righteous will get to have the contents of the sealed portion revealed to them (3 Nephi 26: 8-11), why would Mormonism publicly teach baptism for the dead to the whole world, regardless of the degree of righteousness of the audience?

Seventh, if baptism for the dead was one of the things shown to the brother of Jared, and thereafter sealed up to be kept secret until a certain time when the righteous were deserving of it, why didn’t Joseph Smith say so?  Joseph Smith himself never taught this doctrine to be part of what was taught to the brother of Jared.

Eighth, if baptism for the dead is one of the plain and precious parts of the gospel which was almost totally removed from the New Testament, why didn’t the Book of Mormon restore it?  Nephi specifically taught that we could find out what plain and precious parts of the gospel had been removed from the Bible by reading those teachings in the Nephites’ records, which would restore them.  1 Nephi 13: 40.

Ninth, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to the Gentiles, and then to the remnant of the house of Israel, is described as both groups receiving “the fulness of the gospel” in 3 Nephi 20: 28, 30.  This cannot be referring to the Gentiles receiving the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, because verse 28 speaks of the Gentiles rejecting that fulness, which we already know won’t happened with the sealed portion.  So, how could the BoM be described by Jesus as “the fulness of the gospel” if it’s missing such an extremely essential part of the gospel as apologists claim baptism for the dead to be?

Tenth, why would our current LDS practice require all baptisms for the dead to only be performed in the temple by “Melchizedek Priesthood” authority, when we know anciently neither temples nor Melchizedek priesthood were involved?

Some Mormon scholars have attempted to bolster the historical legitimacy for baptisms for the dead by reference to early patristic and apocryphal writings showing the practice existed among some small groups of Christians.  See, e.g.,  here.  In so doing, said scholars begin with the supposition that Joseph Smith’s teachings could not have been in error, and then set out to corroborate him with scattered writings from after the death of the apostles.  But it is the Book of Mormon’s purpose, not that of the patristic fathers’ or apocryphal writings’ purpose, to supply us with the plain and precious teachings missing from the Bible.  If the Apocrypha or writings of early Catholic fathers were the source to which we should look, the Book of Mormon would have said so, but it said the opposite.  But even we were to attach more weight  to apocryphal writings, from my own reading of them, I would still interpret them differently than Mormon scholars have done.  Those scholars make reference to apocryphal sources such as The Shepherd of Hermas, Epistula Apostolorum or the Gospel of Nicodemus to support Mormonism’s current practice of baptism for the dead.  But some early Christian scholars who discussed Paul’s one-verse reference to baptism for the dead seem to agree that it is closely related to other statements he made in other epistles.  I happen to agree with them on this point, and feel that the key to understanding 1 Corinthians 15:29 lies in comparing it to three other Pauline scriptures.

This Author’s Theory on What Paul Might Have Meant

These other scriptures seem to suggest the idea of baptisms being  performed not only to signal an acceptance of Christ’s gospel, but in a specific, symbolic way so as to memorialize the Christian belief, stated by Paul, that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” See 1 Cor. 15:22.  Consider another similar statement by Paul found in Romans 6, which utilizes the same words and concepts, italicized and boldfaced below, as those set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:29, only in a different and more understandable combination:

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

This scripture speaks of Christian believers being baptized for the purpose of memorializing Christ’s death, thereby symbolizing our own physical and spiritual deaths. It teaches that not only should we memorialize and symbolize Christ’s death, but we must also allow our old man, i.e., our old, sinful self, to die.  If we do,  just as Christ rose from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead, both temporally and spiritually.   This scripture therefore seems to have the three same main elements as 1 Corinthians 15:29–baptizing for some purpose related to death or the dead and the resurrection.

The second epistle of Paul wherein this same concept of baptism, death and the resurrection being interrelated is repeated is Colossians 2:12, 13, wherein Paul writes that we are–

Buried with [Christ] in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

In light of these two scriptures, I proffer the following possible interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:29, keeping in mind that the verse is an English translation of a short, cryptically worded piece of Pauline esoterica written in Greek (with concepts shared with the previously quoted scriptures in italics and boldface):  “Otherwise, what would they do who baptize in such a manner as to symbolize the physical death of the body, and the permanent spiritual death that results from it, if there were no resurrection to save the dead from such a fate?    Why would they then perform baptisms which symbolize people dying?”

Even if one accepts that what Paul was describing in 1 Cor. 15: 29 referred to a then-current practice of performing vicarious baptisms for the dead by proxy (a proposition which is by no means universally accepted among scholars), other facts weigh against the conclusion that he was endorsing vicarious baptisms performed on behalf of deceased persons.  Virtually every biblical scholar, both ancient and modern, agrees that baptism for the dead was never practiced within the mainstream Christian church, and was never taught or advocated by any apostle or disciple mentioned in the New Testament.   It’s entirely possible that Paul was referring in 1 Cor. 15:29 to people who, in their baptismal ceremonies, made special reference to the doctrines taught in 1 Cor. 15:22, Romans 6:3-6 and Col. 2:12-13, quoted above.

Most scholars cite Tertullian’s writings to show that the practice of vicarious baptisms for  dead persons was practiced at latest by the late 2nd Century A.D.  However, this argument, while true, doesn’t help demonstrate that the practice was well-accepted among Christians; it does the opposite.  Tertullian condemned the idea of baptism for the dead as heretical, writing in 207 or 208 AD.  In “Against Marcion” 10, he wrote that the proper interpretation of 1 Cor. 15: 29 was that it concerned the idea of being baptized for the body which was destined to die and rise again.  He made clear that Marcion, a cult leader who practiced baptism for the dead, but didn’t even believe in the resurrection from the dead, was far removed from actual Christian doctrine and practice.  All Christian scholars accept that Marcion was apostate, and his denial of the resurrection constituted good evidence of that, despite the fact that he may have enjoyed a sizable following.  So, the fact that the Marcionites engaged in baptisms for the dead certainly isn’t evidence of it being practiced in the early church.

About a century after Tertullian, scholar John Chrysostom, writing in Homily XL of his Homilies on the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (available free of charge online), explained that what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 15: 29 was an accepted practice among Christians for the convert to say these words immediately before descending into the water:  “I believe in the resurrection of the dead,” whereupon the baptism would be performed to symbolize death and resurrection.  This explanation of why Paul might have worded that one little verse the way he did seems entirely plausible to me, much more so than the Book-of-Mormon-contradicting and uncorroborated explanation that Joseph Smith came up with when he decided to expound on those words eleven years after the LDS church was founded.

A final word:  Our habit in Mormonism to accept without questioning Joseph Smith’s teachings on biblical subjects has often led us to have less biblical understanding than mainstream Christians of other churches.  Notice how much doctrinal structure we Mormons have built on a few, awkwardly worded and cryptic words from Peter, found in 1 Peter 3: 18-20:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in he days Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Christian scholars interpret this scripture to demonstrate that the group Jesus taught in the spirit prison (which is itself another term  not found elsewhere in the Bible or Book of Mormon) is a very small, narrowly defined group; it appears to be the same souls who are described in Genesis 6: 1-5, who were sons of God who should have known better than to copulate with the daughters of men.6  But if it were an important part of the gospel to understand this scripture, assuming Peter knew what he was talking about, I believe Jesus would have expounded on it perhaps in the Bible, but certainly in the Book of Mormon.  But he didn’t.  When Joseph Smith did start expounding on it, there was again no one left in the early LDS Church who dared challenge his understanding of it; they’d already left.  Predictably, the doctrine which resulted from Joseph Smith’s interpretation was at odds with Alma’s teachings in Alma 40 of the Book of Mormon, which Joseph appears not to have remembered.  It’s up to us now to do the homework and research such doctrines, intellectually and spiritually, before we accept and teach ideas built on such insubstantial scriptural foundations.

FOOTNOTES

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th edition, Michael D. Coogan, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 2021.
  2. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Ronald F. Youngblood, Gen. Ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 160
  3. Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), p. 1646
  4. For the author’s thought on Joseph’s misinterpretations of scriptures found in these verses, see Erroneous LDS teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and LDS Church History Regarding Elijah and Redeeming the Dead elsewhere on this website.
  5. It’s also interesting to note that in the LDS Church’s published 1842 personal history of Joseph Smith (see Joseph Smith—History 1:36-39 in The Pearl of Great Price) Moroni is reported as having quoted Malachi 4: 5-6 differently to Joseph than the way Joseph himself quotes Malachi in D&C 128: 17. The Church history version is also different from the way Jesus himself quoted the same verses from Malachi in 3rd Nephi 25:5, 6. The Church’s 1842 version also differs from Joseph’ own original 1835 version of Moroni’s visit, as told to Oliver Cowdery, in which he didn’t claim Moroni had quoted Malachi at all. (See Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, pp. 78-80, February 1835.) It thus appears that for some reason, the LDS Church’s 1842 history of Joseph Smith supplements Moroni’s words and adds things the angel didn’t actually say when he visited Joseph in 1823, unless Jesus was quoted incorrectly in the Book of Mormon when he repeated Malachi’s words, and unless Joseph’s accounts in the Messenger and Advocate and in D&C 128 are both in error.
  6. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Ibid., p. 2130

Jesus’s Failure to Endorse Eternal Marriage in the Bible and Book of Mormon

The title of this essay will be offensive and/or threatening to many Mormon readers.  As discussed fully in the essay Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation , found elsewhere on this website, Mormons believe that in order to attain the highest degree of eternal glory and become a god, a person must be sealed to his or her spouse by proper priesthood authority (which is held exclusively by Mormons) in an LDS temple.  These beliefs stem from a revelation purportedly received in 1843 by Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  This revelation that properly performed marriages lasted throughout eternity was and is known as the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” (See Doctrine and Covenants 131:2 and 132:15-17, 19-21.)  However, this essay is not an attack on the institution of marriage.  It is meant to be the complete opposite of that.  Jesus plainly taught that God intended mankind to marry, and blessed them with the ability to multiply and replenish the earth within marriage’s framework.  This essay is meant to preserve respect for the institution of marriage, without encumbering it with teachings not endorsed by Jesus Christ. Too often, the doctrine of eternal marriage, when taken as true, depicts God as demanding that which he does not actually require at all.

Nor should this essay be taken as evidence that the author is dissatisfied in his own marriage, or is looking for justifications to diminish its sacred character.  Again, the opposite is true; the author would in no way be disappointed if the idea of eternal marriage were an actual teaching of Jesus’ gospel.  In fact, there is no such thing as an unhappy person in heaven, so even if an unhappily married couple made it to heaven and it were doctrinally possible that their marriage could continue there, it would be impossible, by definition, that said marriage would remain unhappy in heaven.  Thus, the audiences most targeted by this essay are those Mormons who are concerned about (a) the eternal ramifications of dying without having been married in the temple (and thereby not being “sealed” for eternity to their spouse); (b) dying without even having a spouse at all (and therefore having no one whom their relatives can seal them to after they die); (c) being sealed to a spouse or to a family to whom they don’t want to be eternally sealed; or (d) the discrepancies between the teachings in the Bible and Book of Mormon on this issue and the practices and beliefs of the LDS Church.  A fifth audience would be any others, Mormon or not, who are spiritually or intellectually interested in whether eternal marriage is a true teaching of Christ’s church.

In the 12th chapter of the New Testament book of Mark, verses 18-27, we read that the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection, came once to Jesus with a hypothetical:  A woman is taken to wife by one man, who dies without producing any children by her.  Then, following the Levirate marriage practice prescribed in the law of Moses for such situations, the dead man’s brother took the woman to wife.  But he died without producing seed as well, as did five more brothers in succession from that same family.  After the death of her seventh husband, the woman died childless.  The question posed to Jesus was which man would be the woman’s husband in the resurrection.  Mark 12:24-27 recounts Jesus’s response:

24 And  Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?

25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

26  And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the Book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?

27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

These verses of scripture have greatly perplexed thoughtful orthodox Mormons, because Jesus here refutes the idea of marriages performed on earth having any effect when we are resurrected.  Based on my personal observations as someone is his mid-sixties who’s been an active LDS church member his whole life, the first impulse of Mormons upon reading Jesus’s words here is to see if they are corroborated by the other synoptic gospels.  And indeed they are, in Matthew 22:23-32 and Luke 20:27-38.  Their next impulse is to see if Joseph Smith, in his own purportedly inspired correction of the erroneous verses of the Bible, in any way altered the wording contained in the verses in Matthew, Mark or Luke. But he did not; he left them intact.  In fact, no sermon or exposition by him construing these verses has ever been reported.

A third Mormon impulse has been to hypothesize that Jesus was somehow limiting his remarks to a category of people who were married on earth, but not sealed together properly by Melchizedek priesthood authority, and thus not entitled to have their marriage last beyond the grave.  This hypothesis is untenable, however, for several reasons.  First of all, there was no such thing as eternal marriage at this time in history; it was unheard of among the Jews and among the Nephites, and no scripture suggested it.  Jesus never spoke of it in anything he said to the Jews or to the Nephites, though he spoke much of marriage-related issues to both peoples.

Second, the Old Testament contains a complete description of all ordinances performed within the Jewish Temple, and marriages weren’t solemnized there ever, under any circumstances.  In fact, the manner of marrying couples among the Jews appears to have been devoid of any exchange of vows by the bride and groom themselves, or of any ritual words pronounced by a priest as is characteristic of today’s ceremonies.  Marriages were consummated by sexual union inside the bridal chamber as the guests waited outside; before that point, they were only contractual betrothals (engagements) arranged by parents.1

Third, the question asked of Jesus was a hypothetical referring to no specific people.  The question thus did not contain any information which would cause Jesus to provide an answer that applied only to persons who weren’t devout enough to have been married in some ritually-preferable way.  In fact, Jesus’s answer presupposes the righteousness of the hypothetical people involved, as shown by his reference to them in the next life as being “as the angels which are in heaven.” His words as quoted in Luke are even more indicative of their presumed righteousness, wherein Jesus describes them by saying “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”  See Luke 20: 36.  Only in Mormonism does the idea exist that angels who dwell in God’s presence in the celestial kingdom of heaven are individuals being punished for their ritually inferior marriage, or for their failure to marry (see Doctrine and Covenants 132: 15-18).  Such a notion is utterly devoid of foundation in the Bible or Book of Mormon, where angels in heaven are uniformly revered as holy.2

Fourth, the whole context of Jesus’s answer to the hypothetical is that it’s being used by Sadducees who are attempting to demonstrate supposed logical problems associated with a belief in the resurrection.  Jesus’s purpose in answering is not only to correct the false notion that marriages survive the grave, but to establish the universality of the resurrection.  Therefore, he speaks categorically, clarifying that marriages are performed only by “the children of this world” (see Luke 20:34), but are not part of anyone’s heavenly existence.  Just as his comments on the universality of the resurrection cannot be interpreted as having only limited application, his comments on marriage are also not  susceptible of such an interpretation.

Another explanation occasionally proffered by Mormons is that what Jesus means is that for a marriage to last forever, it has to be performed on earth to be eligible for eternal duration, but it cannot be performed in the hereafter, because marriages aren’t done in heaven.  Joseph Smith taught this.3  In fact, this is also the canonized explanation contained in Doctrine and Covenants 132:15-16:

 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 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 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.

This explanation of Jesus’s quoted words in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which was also the one adopted by James E. Talmage in his well-known tome Jesus the Christ,4 suffers from the same defects as the last one discussed, and more.  The most obvious of these defects, at least for Mormons, is that Mormon doctrine steadfastly maintains that marriages are performed in heaven after this life, and this doctrine is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants, and is taught repeatedly by almost every Mormon general authority and lay leader everywhere.  Women and men who go their lives without marrying through no fault of their own, are assured by church leaders that they will be provided with at least one spouse and marriage in the next life, assuming they’ve lived righteously.  This promise is also provided to spouses who are married, whether in temple or not, and live worthily, but whose spouse does not live worthily enough to expect the highest heavenly reward.  And naturally, it is taught to grieving family members and friends of those who die before having the opportunity to marry.  Some Mormon women, including the author’s own mother, secretly harbor worries that when they arrive in heaven, they’ll find their dead husband has acquired an additional wife, or more than one, in heaven while his wife lived out her mortal life.  The doctrinal basis for such a belief of marriages being performed in the future in heaven is found in Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”) 132:39, where the Lord is quoted as saying he gave David’s wives to someone else.  Since there is no scriptural account of David’s wives being given to anyone else by the Lord during David’s life on earth, it is to be presumed this would have to have been done in heaven.  This one verse provides a fairly weak and uncorroborated scriptural foundation for the Mormon belief of marriages performed in heaven, and it is virtually never cited as authoritative on the question, but that fact has had virtually no effect whatsoever in deterring church leaders from promising such future marriages to the faithful.

Looking at Jesus’s words within the broader context of biblical and Book of Mormon exegesis, they seem to merely restate that which is plainly implicit in the ancient scriptures.  Nowhere is found in either book even a slight hint that marriage endures beyond the grave under any circumstance, even though marriage as a topic, and marriages of specific people, are much discussed in both books, and the posterity of the main figures are faithfully chronicled. If indeed the Book of Mormon contains, with the Bible, the “fulness of the everlasting gospel,” as Mormons believe (see Introduction to the Book of Mormon in the LDS scriptures, as well as the numerous Book of Mormon verses which substantiate that claim), its teachings should contain many references, both by prophets and the Lord himself, to the extreme importance of this doctrine of eternal marriage.  Instead, the doctrine goes unmentioned throughout the several allusions to the sanctity of marriage in both books, and  even when Jesus goes out of his way to define the basic elements of his gospel in 3 Nephi 11:28-40.

Moreover, it requires no great scrutiny of the scriptures to conclude that numerous prophets down through time, and Jesus himself, were definitely not married.  The scriptural descriptions of the lives of Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the Beloved, and Paul so clearly establish their lifelong bachelorhood that this author has been unable to find a single scriptural scholar outside of Mormonism who thinks otherwise.  Those Mormons who have been willing to teach that Christ or Paul, for example, were married constitute a very small minority of Mormon writers, and even they have rarely been willing to publish books or papers to that effect, apparently cognizant of the nonexistent scriptural support.  In the author’s experience, those Mormons hold such views only because they deem it impossible to be exalted without being married, relying solely on D&C 132.  As this author has argued in essays on this website referenced above, the teachings of D&C 132 are spectacularly wrong, fully contradicted by the Book of Mormon and Bible at almost every turn.  (In the author’s opinion, Book of Mormon prophets Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite and the last Moroni, to name a few, most probably remained single as well.)

In preaching that marriage was ordained of God, and that men should not divorce their wives for any reason other than sexual infidelity, Jesus also explained why some few men nevertheless intentionally remain single.  He prefaced his remarks by saying “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to which it is given.”  He then declared, “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.  He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Emphasis added; see Matthew 19:11-12.)  By twice limiting his words’ application to those who could receive them, Jesus implied that they were not generally applicable to most men.  Virtually all Bible Commentaries interpret this scripture the same way.  Representative of them is this explanation:

Those who heard the words could hardly fail, as they thought over them, to look on their Master’s life as having been the great perfect example of what He thus taught… The motives which St. Paul states as determining his own choice of the celibate life (1 Corinthians 7:7), or the counsel which he gave to others (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), are identical with this teaching in their principle.5

Even James E. Talmage interpreted Jesus’s words to mean that some men

voluntarily devoted themselves to a celibate life, and some few adopted celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that thereby they might be free to render all their time and energy to the Lord’s service.  But the disciples’ conclusion that “it is not good to marry” was true only in the exceptional instances stated.6

Another often-overlooked scripture signifying Christ’s abstention from marriage is found in Isaiah 53:8, wherein the prophet makes pointed reference to the dilemma posed by the prospect of Jesus dying without posterity.  Isaiah then resolves the dilemma in verse 10 by explaining that Jesus, the suffering servant, shall obtain posterity whenever individuals “shall make his soul an offering for sin.”  This explanation would be unnecessary, and would make no sense, if Jesus were producing posterity through the biological means incidental to marriage.

This understanding is further reinforced by the comparison in Ephesians 5:25 of Christ’s relationship with the church to the ideal relationship of a man to his wife:  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved  the church, and gave himself for it . . .”  Again, if Jesus had been married, Paul would have taught that men should love their wives as Jesus loved his wife.  The comparison of men’s wives to Christ’s church bolsters the conclusion that as Jesus had himself indicated, some men, like he himself, had kept themselves celibate so they could serve God with undivided attention and devotion.

In summary, it appears that the reason Jesus failed to teach that any marriages last into the eternities, regardless of how they’re performed, is because he didn’t believe it.  He affirmatively taught the opposite.  Whether he eventually changed his mind thirteen years after the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1830,  readers must decide for themselves.

 

FOOTNOTES

1.  Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995) 803-05.

2. For more on Mormonism’s unique teachings on the supposed inferiority of “ministering angels,” see the essay previously referenced in the second sentence of this essay, and Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism “Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism” elsewhere on this website.

3.  See Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1968) 300-01.

4. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972) 548, 564.  Surprisingly, Talmage, citing modern revelation from Joseph Smith as his source, even goes so far as to say that Jesus’s words make obvious that only the first marriage had could have any eternal effect, despite the plain indication in Jesus’s words that none of the marriages survived into the resurrection.

5. Excerpted from “Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers” as quoted in Biblehub.com, an online biblical exegesis website.

6. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, p. 475.

Eve’s Supposed Dilemma in the Garden of Eden: a Notion Lacking a Scriptural Basis

This last Sunday, our Gospel Doctrine class discussed again the dilemma that Eve supposedly faced in the Garden of Eden.  This dilemma is discussed ad nauseum in LDS church meetings throughout the year, even if the course of study for the year isn’t Old Testament.  Mormons teach that Adam and Eve had been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth (see Genesis 1:27-28 in the Bible and Moses 2:27-28 from the LDS canonized scripture The Pearl of Great Price), and that this commandment conflicted with the commandment simultaneously given to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:16-17, and Moses 3:16-17).  After the serpent tempted her to eat the forbidden fruit, explaining that it would allow her to know good and evil, Eve is said to have made the difficult, but providential, decision to partake of the forbidden fruit so she could comply with the greater commandment, which was to multiply and replenish the earth.  Eve is thus characterized in Mormonism as having possessed some overarching understanding of how to prioritize commandments, and of the need to sacrifice for the greater good of all mankind, so that man might be.  Paradoxically, despite her seemingly noble act, she tells the Lord that she was beguiled by the serpent, and is punished;  Adam is also punished for hearkening to her (see Genesis 3:13, 16-19 and Moses 4:19, 22-25).  Mormons don’t try to explain why, if Eve’s decision was noble and made for the greater good, either she or Adam should be punished.

This supposed dilemma faced by Eve is, within Christianity, peculiar only to Mormons.  This might be surprising to Mormons, since their Bible contains the same verses in Genesis that the rest of Christianity possesses, and the corresponding verses in Mormonism’s Book of Moses aren’t any different.  The fact is, and this will shock Mormons to read it, the idea that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth has no scriptural basis, whether you’re reading the Bible or the Pearl of Great Price.  That is why the rest of Christianity doesn’t philosophize over why God would give two commandments in direct conflict with each other.  According to scripture, He didn’t.  And it makes sense.  God creates many people with physical disabilities which don’t allow them to produce children, and others suffer injuries which take away this ability.  It would be inconsistent with God’s justice to command that which, in many people, is physically impossible.

According to both Genesis and the Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Moses, God didn’t command anyone, including Adam and Eve, to multiply and replenish the earth.  Instead, during the spiritual creation of mankind, before any living thing existed on the earth, God blessed mankind generally with the ability to multiply and replenish the earth, just as He had blessed all animal life generally.  (See Genesis 1: 20-22, 26-28; Moses 2: 20-22, 26-28.)  Neither scriptural account  indicates that afterwards, when God had completed the physical creation of all living things, He said anything to the animals or to Adam and Eve in the garden about multiplying and replenishing the earth.  But our first parents were commanded to avoid the  tree of knowledge of good and evil, without any conflicting commandment complicating their situation.

The scriptural accounts indicate the temptations that persuaded Eve to partake of the fruit were the chance to be as the gods, knowing good and evil; the fruit’s appealing appearance as food; and the serpent’s lying assurances that contrary to what God had told her, eating it wouldn’t bring about her death.  (See Genesis 3: 4, 6; Moses 4: 10, 12.)  Her temptation was of the same nature that sucks much of  humanity in, and persuades them to ignore what they’ve been counseled to do or not do–the desire to experience something new, exciting and pleasurable.

According to II Nephi chapter 2 of the Book of Mormon, this story is about God’s introduction of the concept of man having the right to choose whether or not to follow God’s commandments, while simultaneously having to face the consequences of whatever choice is made.  The Book of Mormon doesn’t corroborate that Eve faced the dilemma of contradictory commandments.  But it does say that all choices involve opposition, and in Eve’s case, the lure of the fruit’s perceived benefits opposed the fact that God had forbidden it.  God knew, of course, that Eve, and then Adam, would make the choice to partake of it.  And He planned for that result, foreseeing, but not causing, that through this means, man would still come to populate the earth.  He works this way, since “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” II Nephi 2: 24.  But the experience would teach our first parents and their posterity an extremely valuable lesson.  Men and women would now understand that they live in a world of self-determination, facing all the burdens and joys that co-exist with the freedom to choose their own paths.  Mistakes  were anticipated, and God would provide solutions to those mistakes, but even then, whether to use those solutions would also be a choice man would have to make.

Once they’ve re-read their scriptures and verified the idea that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth is absent, Mormons are likely to respond that what they’ve been taught comes from the endowment ceremony conducted in Mormon temples.  This is indeed true.  Endowment ceremonies do include a dramatic recounting of events that supposedly took place in the Garden of Eden, and among those is the dramatization of Adam and Eve being commanded to multiply and replenish the earth.  But this answer creates far more confusion than it dispels.  What is the basis for the temple dramatization, if it is not based on any actual scripture?  (Mormons assume it is based on scripture.)  If it is claimed that the endowment ceremony was revealed by God, what is the basis of that claim?  And how can revelations from God supplant divinely revealed scripture which isn’t defective in the first place? Did Joseph Smith or Brigham Young claim the temple endowment ceremony was revealed by God? (Mormons assume so, though they don’t know to whom it was revealed, and they have no record of anyone making that actual claim.)  If so, where can we read what the Lord supposedly said, and to whom, and when, and who recorded it?  (The answer is, truly, nowhere.)  Records from private collections do exist showing the ceremony has changed dramatically over the years from its earliest form, but the LDS Church itself hasn’t claimed to possess documents demonstrating its initial divine provenance.

So, Mormons go on believing Eve faced a dilemma of figuring out which of two contradictory commandments to obey.  The discussions on this subject consume much class time every Sunday they come up.  But amazingly, the notion is unfounded in LDS scripture and history.  How can the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints go on in this manner?

If we accepted the accounts in the Bible and Book of Mormon, not only would LDS doctrine be less convoluted, we also wouldn’t have to struggle to explain our way around why God would give contradictory and mutually exclusive commandments.  And that, in turn, would give us a more accurate and favorable understanding of the nature of God.

Why Are Mormons Commanded to “Follow the Prophet”?

Note:  The following essay was authored by reader and contributor Hal Mitchell.  The author can be communicated with by writing a comment at the end of his essay.

 

In 1980, Mormon Church apostle Ezra Taft Benson gave a speech at Brigham Young University titled, The 14 Fundamentals in Following a Prophet. This speech has been oft-quoted, and repeated en toto more than once by other LDS church general authorities. It has been 37 years since the talk was originally given, and it is now a sort of sacred motto-exhortation within Mormonism to “follow the prophet.” In Mormonism, the term “the prophet” refers exclusively to the current president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A man becomes the prophet automatically upon his ordination to be the church’s next president. “The prophets” is a more general term usually referring to the twelve apostles and three members of the First Presidency of the church collectively, and twice a year in General Conference, these fifteen men are all sustained as “prophets, seers and revelators” by the general membership of the church in attendance.  Otherwise, in gospel discussions sometimes denoting all prophets down through the ages. Most Mormons likely also consider “follow the prophet” to be a scriptural mandate, although it isn’t actually found in the canonical works. Following the prophet is heavily emphasized in the first lesson of the LDS church’s missionary training manual Preach My Gospel.1

Is this the way God intends us to foster loyal obedience to one particular church leader? An apostle gives a talk, other church leaders like what was said and quote it a few times, and then they get used to it, and then it becomes a sacred responsibility? Should we not first ascertain whether becoming president of the Mormon church purely by seniority, which is the way presidents are always chosen in Mormondom, automatically means they’ve become a prophet to be followed? Did they suddenly become incapable of teaching errors, just because the most senior LDS apostle ahead of them just died? A prophet establishes him/herself by accurately foretelling future events, or by declaring divine revelations from God that the people previously not received. If a person has been successful in that capacity, he/she will have a voluntary following, and should not need to command followers.

Since 1980, in the Mormon church, members are frequently taught that they can confidently adhere wholly to what the prophets and apostles say, because the saints cannot be led astray. This is another saying that has been repeated so often that it has now become doctrine. It was stated by Wilford Woodruff in his comments after issuing the Manifesto [banning polygamy] in 1890:

The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.

(Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2.)

In Ezra Taft Benson’s talk, his second fundamental is that the word of a prophet can refute the standard works.

So Mormon prophets have such faith in their abilities, they believe they can refute established scripture, which has been revealed to mankind by miraculous means. Ironically, in 1986 (six years after his Fundamentals talk), Benson gave another famous speech regarding how the saints trifle with the Book of Mormon:

Finally, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church . . .

Yes, my beloved brothers and sisters, the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion—the keystone of our testimony, the keystone of our doctrine, and the keystone in the witness of our Lord and Savior.

(Emphasis added.)

Many members who read or heard these words could be justifiably confused. Which is a standard truth, the Book of Mormon or the teachings of prophets? First Benson says a prophet can override the standard works of the church, but then he says six years later that if the if the Book of Mormon is not true, it being the keystone of the religion, then prophets, priesthood, testimony and all that Mormons believe is not true.

So again, which Ezra Taft Benson was correct? He was accepted by Mormons as a prophet, seer and revelator when he made both statements. How does one discern when we rely wholly upon human leaders? In which talk was he never leading us astray?

While President of the church, and thus considered a prophet, Brigham Young emphatically declared: “I never preached a sermon that could not be considered scripture.”2 (Emphasis added.)

He also emphatically declared his Adam God theory from the pulpit in the LDS General Conference on April 9, 1852 that Adam was “ . . . our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” He also stated that Jesus was begotten of Adam, and that he was our Father in Heaven. This sermon became famously known for its “Adam-God theory,” and caused much controversy because it was scripturally unfounded.

In his book Doctrines of Salvation, then-apostle Joseph Fielding Smith stated: “In all probability the [Adam /God sermon] was erroneously transcribed.”3

In a 1976 session of General Conference, Spencer W. Kimball, the then-current prophet, bluntly referred to Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory as “false doctrine.” He said:

We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some General Authorities of past generations, such, for instance is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.

(Church News, 10/9/76).

Kimball’s statement puts him at odds with not only Brigham Young, but also makes obvious his disagreement with Joseph Fielding Smith’s opinion that Brigham Young’s quote was transcribed incorrectly.

In his April 9th 1852 Adam/God address, President Young ended with the the following words: “Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.” 

So now the orthodox Mormon must choose whom to follow and whom to ignore as a faithful follower of prophets. Is one damned by not agreeing with Brigham Young, or for not following Spencer Kimball, or agreeing with Joseph Fielding Smith? Which is right? All have been ordained as prophets, seers and revelators, and in the eyes of Mormons, all three carried the mantle of the living oracle.

In case there be doubt again of a potential misquote, as Smith suggested, other apostles, namely Heber C. Kimball, on June 6, 1856 and Wilford Woodruff on June 29, 1854 wrote in speeches and in journals respectively that Brigham Young taught that Adam was God the Father.

Isn’t it better to follow God’s words in scripture than the theories and opinions of successive church presidents?

Brigham Young said in 1852 that blacks should not hold the priesthood and ten prophets agreed with him over the years. (See “Race and the Priesthood” essay published by the LDS church at lds.org.)

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin…but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate.4

On the LDS Church’s website it states:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

(Essay “Race and the Priesthood” at lds.org)

Does this mean the LDS church condemns and refutes past prophets, seers and revelators?

On the privately owned and operated apologist website fairmormon.org, it is mentioned that the most unfortunate legacy of the ban of blacks from the priesthood is perhaps an aspect that was least intended. Many members were sincerely concerned about the justice of the ban. Many sought to explain it through a variety of hypotheses. Such doctrinal folklore was never official (it is claimed), but became widespread as members sought to reconcile their ideas about the justice and mercy of God with the ban’s reality. But this doctrinal folklore, as implied by FairMormon, was not just taught by “many members,” but men like George Albert Smith, David O. Mckay, J. Reuben Clark, Bruce R McConkie, all whom Mormons had sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. See the following quotes:

“From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” (“Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question,” July 17 1947)5

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.

(The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes . . .

Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain’s transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.

(Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951)

Whom do we believe? Was Spencer W. Kimball wrong and the others right? Either way, if early church presidents speak for God, why would God change his mind?

When Bruce R. McConkie wrote his book, Mormon Doctrine, he did it without the knowledge of the First Presidency. He was not an apostle, or what the church designates as a prophet, seer and revelator at that time. Mark E. Peterson and Marion G. Romney (both apostles) were asked to review his book and give an official report to the prophet David O. Mckay. Peterson and Romney found over 1000 errors in doctrine in the book. and David O. McKay asked McConkie not to pursue the project.

From David O. Mckay’s office journal, we learn:

THURSDAY, January 7, 1960

10:15 to 12:45 p.m. Re: The book—‘Mormon Doctrine’

The First Presidency met with Elders Mark E. Petersen and Marion G. Romney. They submitted their report upon their examination of the book ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce McConkie. (sic)

These brethren reported that the manuscript of the book ‘Mormon Doctrine’ has not been read by the reading committee; that President Joseph Fielding Smith did not know anything about it until it was published. Elder Petersen stated that the extent of the corrections which he had marked in his copy of the book (1067) affected most of the 776 pages of the book. He also said that he thought the brethren should be under the rule that no book should be published without a specific approval of the First Presidency.

I stated that the decision of the First Presidency and the Committee should be announced to the Twelve.

It was agreed that the necessary corrections are so numerous that to republish a corrected edition of the book would be such an extensive repudiation of the original as to destroy the credit of the author; that the republication of the book should be forbidden and that the book should be repudiated in such a way as to save the career of the author as one of the General Authorities of the Church. It was also agreed that this decision should be announced to the Council of the Twelve before I talk to the author.

Elder Petersen will prepare an editorial for publication in the Improvement Era, stating the principle of approval of books on Church doctrine.

All of these men were prophets seers and revelators. Technically McConkie was not yet an apostle when he wrote the book, but the prophet told him to stop pursuing the project. Since the prophet instructed that the book McConkie had written be “forbidden,” who received the revelation that it should be pursued and continue to be a reliable church doctrinal resource? It is still quoted in LDS Seminary curricula and other Church manuals. Whom do we believe? Which prophet do we follow? Which prophet is inspired and speaking with the endorsement of the Holy Ghost? Which side is the one that will never lead us astray?

In the introductory heading of the LDS canon Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, it states:

Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Illinois, recorded July 12, 1843, relating to the new and everlasting covenant, including the eternity of the marriage covenant and the principle of plural marriage. Although the revelation was recorded in 1843, evidence indicates that some of the principles involved in this revelation were known by the Prophet as early as 1831.

On May 7, 1831, section 49 was revealed, and in verses 15 and 16 the Lord is quoted as declaring:

“15 And again, verily I say unto you, that whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man.                                                                              16 Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation . . .”

So now we have two conflicting scriptures, allegedly from the Lord, giving two opposite commandments, one endorsing polygamy, and the other saying men should have one wife.

How do we know what is from God, and what is from man, when we get two opposing commandments in the same few months of 1831?

Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter D&C) 137 is an interesting account of Joseph Smith’s vision of the Celestial kingdom.

5 I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept;

6 And marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins.

7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

8 Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

9 For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.

The clearly states that temple ordinances for the dead are not necessary. That was the question Joseph Smith says he took to the Lord, and the Lord answered it clearly and simply.  Joseph even implied that only baptism, not additional temple ordinances, is required to inherit the Celestial Kingdom, since Joseph had previously believed Alvin’s mere lack of a baptism had prevented his inheritance of the Celestial Kingdom. Why,  then, does the church persist in beliefs when a book accepted as scripture refutes a doctrine? According to this revelation, in the eyes of the Lord, if a person died who would have been receptive to the gospel, that person is going to the Celestial Kingdom . . . just like Alvin and Joseph’s parents. So whom does one believe, modern church doctrine or past Joseph Smith visions? What is the purpose of temples, if ordinances are not necessary for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom?

Also, in Alma 40 of the Book of Mormon, Alma is counseling his son Corianton and describes to him what happen to souls after they die. He never mentions a spirit prison, or souls waiting for relatives to get their temple work done so they can enter into God’s presence. Who came up with this idea when it is clearly negated in these two scriptural locations? Whom is one to believe, scriptures, or nonscriptural sources of unknown origin that eventually evolve into doctrine by no known inspiration or documentation?

In Joseph Smith’s April 1844 King Follet sermon he taught the doctrine that God is an exalted man and that man can somehow become God. This is a radical doctrine that most of Christianity rejects. But is it true? Lorenzo Snow, a future prophet, said the famous couplet as quoted from The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow:  “As man is now, God once was. As God is now, man may be.”6  But in an August 1997 Time Magazine article, Gordon B. Hinckley was asked about this concept established by two of his previous fellow prophets. The Time Magazine reporter asked the following question:

Q: …about that, God the Father was once a man as we were. This is something that Christian writers are always addressing. Is this the teaching of the church today, that God the Father was once a man like we are?
President Hinckley’s complete response was:

A: I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it. I haven’t heard it discussed for a long time in public discourse. I don’t know. I don’t know all the circumstances under which that statement was made. I understand the philosophical background behind it. But I don’t know a lot about it and I don’t know that others know a lot about it.

Is this disturbing on several levels? Why would the acting oracle of God on the earth say he didn’t know when asked about what is being taught in the church over which he presides? Is he denying that it is taught? Is he implying it may be a false doctrine? If something is no longer taught, does that mean it is no longer true? If it is a doctrine taught by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow about the nature of God, shouldn’t it be endorsed if two other predecessors emphatically stated it was true? And if it is not taught shouldn’t there be a solid reason for why it is not? If you are a prophet, why do you provide such a vague, meaningless answer?

In the next General Conference of 1997 he stated, possibly trying to redeem himself:

The media have been kind and generous to us. This past year of pioneer celebrations has resulted in very extensive, favorable press coverage. There have been a few things we wish might have been different. I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.

What a puzzling response. It is strange that if he feels he was misquoted, and he has a forum to clarify the misinterpretation to faithful followers of whether or not the church accepts, teaches, or believes what other prophets have said, why doesn’t he take the opportunity to do it? Why can’t Mormons hear hear his thoughts so they can discern, as he does, what the press is allegedly misconstruing? It’s again unclear who is inspired, President Hinckley or Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow.

The temple endowment ceremony is considered doctrine in the Mormon faith. It is unknown exactly who received the inspiration that established the things taught there, but it is doctrine. It also is continually changing. Words, rituals, etc. are changing as the years go by. The first endowment in the temple took eight hours. Who received the revelation to alter the ceremony and its doctrines over the years? Mormons aren’t taught that it comes from God or any other source. They’re taught nothing on that topic. One just goes to the temple and sees the endowment ceremony has been modified again. Why is it massively modified, if the author of truth is God? Does God need to correct his words for any reason?

According to Section 111 of the D&C, Joseph Smith was inspired in a revelation from God to go to Boston to get money for the church. He and those church leaders he took with him came back having accomplished nothing the Lord supposedly sent them there to do. The purported revelation was filled with misinformation from the beginning. The details of this are laid out in another article on this website devoted to D&C 111. Are we to believe that God erred, or just likes to play tricks, or did Joseph just report a non-revelation as a divine revelation? If the revelation was from God, why would it result in a wild goose chase?

D&C Section 103, another purported revelation which inspired the trek called “Zion’s Camp” to Missouri by a large group of Mormon men to defeat the church’s enemies there and reclaim lost land, is another example. Mormons teach that there were great lessons, and great examples of courage from Zion’s Camp. Here are the actual words the Lord supposedly said to the Joseph Smith:

13 Behold, this is the blessing which I have promised after your tribulations, and the tribulations of your brethren—your redemption, and the redemption of your brethren, even their restoration to the land of Zion, to be established, no more to be thrown down . . .

16 Therefore, I will raise up unto my people a man, who shall lead them like as Moses led the children of Israel.

17 For ye are the children of Israel, and of the seed of Abraham, and ye must needs be led out of bondage by power, and with a stretched-out arm.

18 And as your fathers were led at the first, even so shall the redemption of Zion be.

19 Therefore, let not your hearts faint, for I say not unto you as I said unto your fathers: Mine angel shall go up before you, but not my presence.

20 But I say unto you: Mine angels shall go up before you, and also my presence, and in time ye shall possess the goodly land.

Despite being allegedly told by God, “ye shall possess the goodly land . . .”, that never happened to Joseph Smith. Why did the Lord make promises if they were never to come true? In any other scripture does the Lord make promises that don’t come true? Sometimes he will offer a contingency of righteousness or wickedness to prophecies, but he did not in this case. This revelation clearly did not come from the Lord. The Saints never have possessed the “goodly land.” Joseph Smith was not like unto Moses leading them to Zion. The mission failed. There is nothing wrong with being wrong and admitting to it, but we need to question the notion that a Mormon prophet can never lead us astray. Pretending what happened was all the Lord’s will, which is a position taken by church Sunday School manuals, when God proclaimed the opposite according to Joseph’s revelation, is being deceitful.

According to Ezra Taft Benson in his Fundamentals talk, the prophet can authoritatively speak on any topic without specific training.

Joseph Fielding Smith and James Talmage both wrote on the subject of evolution. Talmage and Smith disagreed widely in their views despite the fact that they both were prophets, seers and revelators. Both are entitled to their opinions, but they cannot both be right. Smith wrote Man’s Origin and Destiny, and Talmage wrote The Earth and Man, after Smith’s book was published, to counter Smith’s opinion. David O. McKay gave a third opinion, stating that on the topic of evolution, the LDS church has no opinion. Which prophet, seer and revelator is right?

There has been, and will continue to be errors in judgment and false revelations due to the fact that we are led by men. Can the prophets, seers and revelators lead us astray despite their promise not to?

We are clearly not taught in any scripture to follow a prophet, but instead the Book of Mormon and the Bible clearly instruct mankind to follow Jesus. He did tell his disciples to come and follow him. If we do this, we are promised the kingdom of God.

Is it better to follow a prophet which Jesus never asked us to do, or is it better to just follow Jesus as Jesus asked us to do? Why do Mormons try to place someone in between Christ and his disciples?

Reading the Book of Mormon should cure any one of such notions. The brother of Jared story and the story of Enos are tales included in scripture to show us what happens when we put our faith in Jesus. Mormons rarely, if ever, get to sit and speak personally to a prophet, seer and revelator. But Jesus asks us to offer up prayers from our hearts daily. Why does he do this? Because if we are sincere, he will use our prayers to start building our faith. With greater faith, we have greater insight into our spiritual natures and we have greater capacity to understand God’s ways, and therefore we draw closer to him. Must this direct process be interrupted by a prophet, when we know from countless examples they are often in error?

In the story of the brother of Jared found in the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon, the Lord chastised the brother of Jared for not praying to him in a very long time. It is mentioned that after being rebuked, the brother of Jared and God spoke to each other for three hours. I believe the sacred scripture is written for us, for our times, and for every time. There is a message to be learned. The brother of Jared had been labeled by the Lord as someone whose faith was greater than any other’s (Ether 3:9). The Lord wants to hear the prayer of a person who has much faith. There are probably relatively few such people, and God looks forward, I imagine, to blessing that soul who believes mightily in him. Did the Lord actually miss the Brother of Jared, and does he miss us, when we don’t pray to him from our hearts? I believe the brother of Jared is no different than any other of God’s children. The Lord is always inviting us to have faith in him, to believe in him, to pray to him and to follow him. Is there anywhere a single verse of scripture that suggests that presidents of the church have superior understanding of God’s teachings, and sensitivity to the Holy Ghost, than any other sincere follower of Christ? Does God want us to follow a prophet who obviously can, and occasionally will, lead us astray, whether intentionally or unintentionally? I believe the Bible and Book of Mormon are filled with invitations for Jesus’ disciples to follow him only.

 

FOOTNOTES

1. Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004), 31-46.

2. Journal of Discourses, Vol.13, p.95, Brigham Young, January 2, 1870

3. Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writing of Joseph Fielding Smith, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) vol. 1, p. 96.

4. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966) p. 527

5. John J. Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro (Orem, Utah: Bookmark/Community Press Publishing Co., 1960) 46-47.

6. Lorenzo Snow, as quoted in LDS lesson manual Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 2011), p. 83

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.