Category Archives: Mormonism

What Doctrines Are We Asking Mormons to Reconsider?

The editors of the excellent book, New Mormon Challenge, provide a nice summary of what doctrines Christians are asking Mormons to reconsider. There are many areas of commonality between Mormons and Christians, but there are also numerous, important areas of difference. Francis Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen ask for Mormons to focus on some key issues that divide them from Christians at the end of the New Mormon Challenge.

What, precisely, are we asking the LDS community to consider afresh? Here we can only sketch some of the areas where we believe traditional Mormon theology needs to change in order to better conform to Scripture and reason:

(1) We believe the doctrine of the eternality of matter is fundamentally incompatible with biblical religion. Ideally, we would like to see the LDS Church embrace the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo. At the very least, we would encourage the LDS Church to consider the possibility that the world was created out of preexisting but not eternal matter.

(2) We believe that the doctrine of monotheism is essential for any true and religiously valid knowledge of God. We would encourage the LDS Church to reject the notion of an infinite regress of gods as it has been traditionally articulated and to reconsider doctrines that necessitate a form of theological finitism. The monarchotheistic Mormon view is a step in the right direction, but it must be combined with the belief in the contingent nature of the universe. God must be recognized as ontologically unique, not merely as superior in status over all other reality.

(3) We believe that the doctrine of the literal eternality of human persons is inimical to Christian faith, for central to a biblical worldview is the idea that we are created beings whose existence is contingent on the creative and loving will of our God. If the preexistence of spirits cannot be given up entirely, then we would encourage the LDS Church to consider a weakened form of this notion, in which the human spirit is viewed as preexistent but not as ontologically eternal (except perhaps in the ideal sense of eternal existence in God’s mind).

Beckwith, Mosser, and Owen continue:

There are other areas where we would like to see Mormon theology change: the doctrine of the materiality of spirit, the doctrine of divine embodiment, and the LDS form of the doctrine of the Trinity. But the three issues outlined above are absolutely fundamental and nonnegotiable.

We do not feel that the status of Mormonism in relation to Christianity can ever change unless there is a willingness within the structures of the LDS Church to reconsider those issues. In short, we want our Mormon friends to reconsider the nonnegotiable beliefs of historic Christianity.

Christians in general—not just evangelicals—confess that there is but one eternal God, who created all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. This One God is revealed in the One Lord Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for our salvation and whose presence is shed abroad among the people of God in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is this Triune God who is the only fitting object of religious devotion. He alone is the Living God, and it is to the praise of his glorious grace that the humble efforts of this book are adoringly offered.

One could argue whether additional areas should be added to the list, but there is no doubt that the 3 doctrines listed by the editors are certainly bedrock. For Mormons to move in the direction of the historic Christian faith, those 3 areas must be dealt with. I, personally, hope to see this happen.

Do Biblical Texts Leave Room for the Mormon View of God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Mormon scholars and apologists argue that there is significant ambiguity in the biblical texts when it comes to the nature of God. Because of this ambiguity, Mormon views on the nature of God are at least as likely to be true as non-Mormon views. After all, the Bible, according to Mormon scholars, leaves room for many interpretations of God’s nature.

Is this true? Is there a lot of confusion among biblical scholars about what the Bible says about God? After a detailed analysis of the Mormon interpretation of numerous biblical texts that touch on the nature of God, Jim W. Adams, in the New Mormon Challenge, draws some interesting conclusions:

At the beginning of this chapter it was observed that Jews, Christians, and Latter-day Saints claim that their most basic understandings of God, creation, and humanity are rooted in the texts of the Old Testament. Yet curiously, the traditional LDS view is radically different than the view held in common by Jews and Christians. What is to explain this discrepancy?

Jews and Christians debate among themselves and with each other about many doctrines and over the proper interpretation of many biblical passages, yet there is little dissent when it comes to most of the fundamental issues about the nature of God and the created status of the cosmos and humanity. The great majority of Jews and Christians find themselves in basic agreement about what the Hebrew Bible says on these issues. It would be absurd, then, to attribute the discrepancy to ambiguity in the biblical texts.

Adams makes an important point. For thousand of years, there was great unanimity on the doctrine of God among Jews and Christians. Then, in the early 1800’s, Mormons turned much of this biblical interpretation upside-down. What happened?

Stephen E. Robinson states, on behalf of the Latter-day Saints: “We accept the Bible (the LDS use the King James Version) as the inspired word of God—every book, every chapter, every verse of it—as revealed to the apostles and prophets who wrote it.” So far so good.

But then Robinson adds: “We also hold the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to be the word of God.” Therein, I believe, lies the source of the discrepancy.

These other books that the LDS consider as the word of God, along with their interpretations and midrashic expansions of the biblical texts, at many points contradict the view of God, creation, and humanity found in the Old Testament. Even more contradictory are the later teachings of Mormonism’s founding prophet, Joseph Smith.

Adams concludes:

In some significant ways the traditional LDS positions hark back to the pagan views of ancient Israel’s Near Eastern neighbors—views that the Old Testament patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists intentionally rejected in light of the revelation they received from the one true and living God. This is an unfortunate conclusion to reach, and one that Latter-day Saints will surely be uncomfortable with. However, it seems unavoidable in light of the evidence. It is hoped that LDS theology will develop further in the direction of the biblical revelation and that one day such a conclusion will not have to be drawn.

Is God a Creator or Just an Organizer?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In Christian theology, God created everything that exists out of nothing (ex nihilo), simply by speaking the universe into existence. When we turn to Mormon theology, we find a very different concept of creation. Mormons deny that God created the universe ex nihilo. What do they believe? According to the editors of The New Mormon Challenge,

In distinction from Christian teaching, a fundamental component of the traditional LDS worldview is the rejection of creation ex nihilo. Instead, as was so common in the pagan religions and philosophies of antiquity, according to the Mormon doctrine of “creation,” God formed the world out of eternally preexisting chaotic matter.

William Lane Craig and Paul Copan quote from traditional Mormon theologians on God and creation:

In 1910, B. H. Roberts wrote that God is constrained in exercising his power by certain “external existences”: “Not even God may place himself beyond the boundary of space…Nor is it conceivable to human thought [that] he can create space or annihilate matter. These are things that limit even God’s omnipotence.” He added that “even [God] may not act out of harmony with the other external existences [such as duration, space, matter, truth, justice] which condition or limit him.”

Mormon theologian John Widtsoe maintains that belief in creation out of nothing does nothing but cause confusion: “Much inconsistency of thought has come from the notion that things may be derived from an immaterial state, that is, from nothingness.”

In addition to this assertion, Widtsoe asserts that God cannot create matter [out of nothing] nor can he destroy it: “God, possessing the supreme intelligence of the universe, can cause energy in accomplishing his ends, but create it, or destroy it, he cannot.” The sum of matter and energy, whatever their form, always remains the same.

Craig and Copan conclude, “Similar statements about creation from the authors quoted above and other influential traditional Mormon theologians could be multiplied many times over.”

What about contemporary Mormon scholarship? Craig and Copan show that they still affirm the views of their forerunners.

For example, the recent Encyclopedia of Mormonism asserts that creation is “organization of preexisting materials.” In an article entitled “A Mormon View on Life,” Lowell Bennion states: “Latter-Day Saints reject the ex nihilo theory of creation. Intelligence and the elements have always existed, co-eternal with God. He is tremendously creative and powerful, but he works with materials not of his own making.”

Craig and Copan note, parenthetically, that “as with Roberts above, Bennion recognizes that the denial of creatio ex nihilo necessarily limits God’s power.” They continue:

Mormon philosopher Blake Ostler writes that “Mormons have rejected the Creator/creature dichotomy of Patristic theology and its logical correlaries [sic], creatio ex nihilo and the idea of God as a single infinite Absolute.”

Craig and Copan quote Ostler at length about God as an organizer, not a creator:

The Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos—neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.

It should be abundantly clear from these quotes that the God of Mormonism is not the God of Christianity. The God of Mormonism is an organizer of pre-existing intelligences, mass, energy, laws of nature, and moral principles.

Thus, as Craig and Copan point out, the Mormon God is not omnipotent in any meaningful sense of the word. The Mormon God is severely limited in what he can do. He must work with the pre-existing entities that existed before him.

It follows that the Mormon God cannot be the ultimate source of Being, the ground of all reality, the creator of the universe and everything in it, or the ground of goodness. The Mormon God, it turns out, is more akin to Superman than the God of classical theism.

Why Is the Polytheism of Mormonism False?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the teachings of Mormonism is that God the Father is only one among a multitude of gods. While God the Father is creator and ruler of our world, there are other worlds where other Gods are creators, worlds with which our God the Father has nothing to do. In plain language, this belief is polytheism, or the belief that there exist multiple gods, as opposed to monotheism, which asserts that only one God exists.

So, why is polytheism false and monotheism true? First, Mormons claim to revere the Christian Bible, and the Bible clearly and unequivocally proclaims monotheism. Here is a sampling of passages to illustrate the point:

“In the beginning God [not gods] created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4).

“You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

“I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6).

“I am the LORD, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18).

“ ‘The most important [command],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” ’ ” (Mark 12:29).

“We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4).

“[There is] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6).

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).

Theologian Norman Geisler sums up: “The text could scarcely be clearer: There is one and only one God, as opposed to more than one. The oneness of the Godhead is one of the most fundamental teachings of Scripture. A denial of this truth is a violation of the first commandment.”

Scripture, however, is not the only problem for polytheism. Philosophers and theologians have developed, over the centuries, numerous versions of cosmological arguments that demonstrate, from the existence of finite, contingent beings, the necessary existence of a First Cause of everything. The arguments all lead to a First Cause who necessarily exists, who is infinite (limitless) in being, and who is perfect (not lacking any perfection). This First Cause is God.

Why can’t there be more than one First Cause, more than one infinite and perfect being? First, there cannot be two or more infinite beings. Two or more infinite beings entails the existence of more than an infinite, which is absurd. There cannot be more than an infinite; there cannot be more than the most.

Another way to look at this is that for there to be two beings, there must be a difference between the two of them, but two infinite First Causes would be identical. Because they would be identical, there would actually only be one infinite First Cause, not two.

Second, there cannot be two perfect beings. If there were two perfect beings, then they would have to differ in some way, or else they would be the same. In order to differ, one of them would have to possess some perfection that the other lacked. As Geisler explains, “The one that lacked some perfection would not be absolutely perfect; therefore, there can be only one Being who is absolutely perfect.”

It is clear that both from Scripture and from philosophy, polytheism is false. If any of the cosmological arguments work, they all conclude that an infinite and perfect First Cause exists. There can only be one infinite and perfect First Cause, and that is who Christians call God.

If Mormons want to deny that their God the Father is the First Cause of the universe, deny that he is infinite, and deny that he is perfect, then, in effect, they have abandoned a God that is worthy of worship. Their God is finite and imperfect – hardly a God worth revering.

How Did Mormonism Originate? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1, we reviewed Grant Palmer’s conclusions about the true origins of the Book of Mormon.  There are three more foundational experiences of Mormonism that Palmer analyzes: the first vision, the angel Moroni, and priesthood restoration.  Again, if you would like to read more about these experiences, pick up Palmer’s book An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.

Palmer explains, about these three experiences, that they

appear to have developed from relatively simple experiences into more impressive spiritual manifestations, from metaphysical to physical events.  Joseph added new elements to his later narratives that are not hinted at in his earlier ones.  His first vision evolved from a forgiveness epiphany to a call from God the Father and Jesus Christ to restore the true order of things.  His original golden plates story was largely borrowed from his environment and then altered, becoming more religious and Christianized.  His form-changing archivist [a character in a literary work by which Smith was likely inspired] became a resurrected angel named Moroni who dispensed heavenly wisdom and quoted liberally from the Bible.  Likewise, Joseph’s accounts of priesthood restoration developed from spiritual promptings into multiple, physical ordinations by resurrected angels.

Palmer revisits the origins of the Book of Mormon and the witnesses’ testimony:

The witnesses to the Book of Mormon reportedly saw both secular and spiritual treasure guardians by “second sight” or through “the eyes of our understanding.” Their testimony of the Book of Mormon was not of a secular event. Their emphasis was on seeing an angel and handling plates of gold, which was impressive for its metaphysical aspects.

Where has the Mormon church gone wrong, then, in its accounts of these foundational experiences?

Today we see the witnesses as empirical, rational, twenty-first-century men instead of the nineteenth-century men they were. We have ignored the peculiarities of their world view, and by so doing, we misunderstand their experiences. Over time, we have reinterpreted their testimony so that, like with the other foundation stones, it appears to be a rational, impressive, and unique story in the history of religion.

The foundation events were rewritten by Joseph and Oliver and early church officials so the church could survive and grow.  This reworking made the stories more useful for missionary work and for fellowshipping purposes. But is this acceptable? Should we continue to tell these historically inaccurate versions today? It seems that, among the many implications that could be considered, we should ask ourselves what results have accrued from teaching an unequivocal, materialistic, and idealized narrative of our church’s founding. The first question would be whether it has brought us closer to Christ. Has it made us more humble and teachable or more secure in our exclusivity and condescending toward others? Has it made us reliant on the expectation of infallible guidance and therefore, to a degree, gullible? It is appropriate to tell simplified, faith-inspiring stories to children, but is it right to tell religious allegories to adults as if they were literal history?

Palmers’ answer to this question is “no.”  He concludes his book with an appeal to his Mormon brothers and sisters to return to what he believes to be the true core of Mormonism, Jesus Christ.  For Palmer’s conclusions, he was disfellowshipped from the Mormon Church two years after he wrote this book.

How Did Mormonism Originate? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Fourth generation Mormon Grant Palmer collected a mountain of historical scholarship on the origins of Mormonism and wrote a book about it in 2002: An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins.  Palmer’s goal was to communicate to Mormon laypeople the progress that had been made over the previous 30 years toward an accurate and historical understanding of Mormon origins.

If you want a great overview of Mormon origins, I commend this book to you.  With the possible future president of the United States being a Mormon, it is extremely important for all Americans to understand this faith tradition.  Below I have excerpted some of Palmer’s conclusions.  Obviously, you will have to read the complete book to get the details.

Palmer first writes about the origins of the Book of Mormon and the golden plates.  Recall that Mormon tradition claims that Smith discovered some golden plates which contained engravings of an ancient Reformed Egyptian language.  Smith claimed to be able to translate these engravings, and the result of his translation was the Book of Mormon.  Here is Palmer’s answer to the question of the golden plates and the Book of Mormon:

That Joseph Smith literally translated ancient documents is problematic.  He mistranslated portions of the Bible, as well as the Book of Joseph, the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook plates, and a Greek psalter.  There is no evidence that he ever translated a document as we would understand that phrase.

Furthermore, there are three obstacles to accepting the golden plates as the source of the Book of Mormon.  First, although these records were said to have been preserved for generations by Nephite prophets, Joseph Smith never used them in dictating the Book of Mormon.  If we accept the idea that he dug up a real, physical record, then we must account for the fact that he never used it in the translation process.

Second, much of the Book of Mormon reflects the intellectual and cultural environment of Joseph’s own time and place.  We find strands of American antiquities and folklore, the King James Bible, and evangelical Protestantism woven into the fabric of the doctrines and setting.  A few people want to maintain that something like the Protestant Reformation occurred 2,500 years ago in America.  It is more reasonable to accept that the evolving doctrines and practices of Protestantism down to Joseph Smith’s time influenced the Book of Mormon.  There is also an interesting syncretism in the Book of Mormon that shows the work of Joseph’s creative mind.  He draws from these major sources and fashions a message that was especially relevant to nineteenth-century America.

Third, the only other conceivable reason for preserving the gold plates would have been to show the witnesses a tangible artifact that would verify the antiquity of the translation.  Yet, the eleven witnesses gazed on and handled the golden plates the same way they saw spectral treasure guardians and handled their elusive treasures, in the spirit, not in the flesh.

Notice some of the key points that Palmer’s research unearthed.  Smith did not use the golden plates to translate the Book of Mormon.  Instead the Book of Mormon is demonstrably a compilation of KJV Bible passages, commentary on those Bible passages, identifiable American folklore that was popular in Smith’s day, and evangelical Protestant influences where Smith grew up.

In addition, the eleven witnesses who supposedly saw the golden plates merely saw them with their “spiritual” eyes.  In other words, they, at best, had visions of the plates.  One particularly powerful piece of evidence for this claim is that, according to Palmer, “On 25 March 1838, Martin Harris [one of the witnesses who allegedly saw the golden plates] testified publicly that none of the signatories to the Book of Mormon saw or handled the physical records.”  Palmer recounts additional confessions by other witnesses as to the real nature of their visions.

In part 2 of this series, we will consider Palmer’s remaining thoughts about the origins of Mormonism.

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In this final post in the series, we will review apologist Rob Bowman’s final thoughts on Joseph Smith’s golden plates.  Bowman writes:

Whereas the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances were obviously miraculous, supernatural occurrences, there is nothing supernatural or miraculous about a set of metal plates with engravings on them.  Showing skeptics the metal plates should not have been any more problematic than showing skeptics the Great Isaiah Scroll today is.  Joseph had no hesitation or reluctance to show people the Egyptian papyri on which he claimed were the writings of Abraham and Joseph, even to complete strangers. Yet someone could be in a room with Joseph, with the plates supposedly sitting right there on the table under wraps, and Joseph would not allow them to look at the plates.  If we’re going to compare the Resurrection appearances with the gold plates, it’s a bit like Peter telling Thomas, “Jesus is right behind that wall over there—Hi, Lord!—but I’m sorry Tom, you’re not allowed to see him now.”

So what are we to make of the golden plates?  Were they real or were they fake?  According to Bowman,

It isn’t clear how many people actually saw the plates or closely inspected them.  The three witnesses say they saw the plates, but give no details, and evidently did not even touch them.  The testimony of the eight witnesses appears to have been written out for them to sign; it claims they handled the plates and saw the engravings, but there are reasons to find this claim dubious.

The simplest explanation for Joseph’s behavior is that he had something, perhaps metal plates of some kind, but not gold plates with modified Egyptian characters.  I don’t think we have enough information to determine if Joseph found the plates somewhere or if he made them, or what. But the best explanation for why he didn’t show the plates openly was that they weren’t what he claimed they were.  That explains why the only people who testified to seeing the plates were a small group—people in his family and a few others, people who were either invested in the project in some way or were easy to manipulate or convince or both—such as Martin Harris.

Here are some additional thoughts I have about the resurrection vs. the golden plates.  As Bowman suggests, coming up with a plausible natural explanation of the golden plates is trivial.  Smith could have made the plates, bought the plates, or even found the plates.  There is nothing supernatural about golden plates.

None of the witnesses of the plates appeared to be in a position to understand the Reformed Egyptian language allegedly engraved on the plates, including Smith himself.  None of the witnesses saw an angel telling Smith where the plates were.  Nobody was with Smith when he allegedly found the plates.  Nobody can know if Smith correctly translated the Book of Mormon from the plates.  In fact, Mormon historians have carefully documented that the plates were rarely even around when Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon.  Much of the material in the Book of Mormon can be directly traced from the King James Bible and contemporary sources that Smith borrowed from – hardly miraculous.

By contrast, the public execution and subsequent resurrection of Jesus, who was then seen by both friends and enemies, over many days, in many different places, screams for a supernatural explanation, especially because Jesus predicted, before he died, that these things would happen.  Skeptics have attempted for 2,000 years to explain what happened without invoking the supernatural, and have utterly failed.

There is simply no comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the golden plates of Joseph Smith.  Any attempts to claim that they are similar, are, in my opinion, foolish.  My special thanks to Rob Bowman for making his comments available to me.  I think you would all agree that they were quite helpful!

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 2, we continued looking at Rob Bowman’s online exposition of how the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and the witnesses of Joseph Smith’s golden plates compare to each other.  In part 3, we will compare the lives of the witnesses after their experiences of either the resurrection or the viewing of the golden plates.  Bowman writes:

The witnesses to the Resurrection gained credibility after their experience, becoming consistently reliable, faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and honorable members of the Christian movement.  Cowardly Peter, doubting Thomas, and persecuting Paul each became unwavering witnesses to Christ and remained so for the rest of their lives.  Peter and Paul were both martyred for their faith, as were some of the other apostles (e.g., James the son of Zebedee in Acts 12).  Not one of the known witnesses of the Resurrection ever undermined his or her testimony.  Not one ever left the Christian church.  Not one was ever excommunicated or excluded from the church.  Not one ever tarnished his or her witness by engaging in wicked behavior.  Not one ever diluted his or her witness by also bearing witness to other religious claims in conflict with the Christian faith.

What about the golden plate witnesses?  Did they live out their lives in a similar fashion?

The witnesses to the gold plates, far from gaining in credibility following their signing the testimonies, lost credibility over the years. Martin Harris diluted his witness by also bearing witness later to the Shakers and the Strangites.  Hiram Page had his own seer stone and claimed to receive revelations that Joseph condemned as from the devil!  Several of the witnesses were excommunicated (some eventually returned, others did not).  Several of the witnesses over the years gave conflicting testimony as to whether they actually saw the plates with their natural eyes or physically handled the plates.  Joseph [Smith] claimed that God had commanded him to take over thirty women, some of them already married to living men, as his wives.  David Whitmer maintained, not without cause, that Joseph was a fallen prophet.  Joseph and Hyrum were killed, not for their testimony to the Book of Mormon, but because of violent mob reaction to their polygamy and other illegal activities.

There is simply no comparison between these two groups of witnesses.  What a stark contrast!  Bowman continues:

Mormons routinely argue that the checkered history of the witnesses all the more underscores the fact that they never disavowed their testimony that Joseph did have the plates.  There is some question about this claim with regard to Cowdery and Harris, but letting that pass, one may accept that Joseph had something like metal plates without concluding that the whole story is true and Joseph really did translate gold plates with Egyptian characters by the gift and power of God.  The lack of credibility of the witnesses is a real evidential difficulty that cannot be turned into an apologetic asset.

In the last post of this series, Bowman explains some final difficulties with the golden plates.  You won’t want to miss it.

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1, we started looking at Rob Bowman’s online exposition of how the witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection and the witnesses of Joseph Smith’s golden plates compare to each other.  We pick up where we left off.

Bowman next looks at the “contrast between the makeup of the collection of publicly identified witnesses to the Resurrection and the publicly identified witnesses to the gold plates.”

The witnesses to the Resurrection included at least five women (with Mary Magdalene as the first such witness); the witnesses to the gold plates included no women.

The witnesses to the Resurrection identified as family members of Jesus actually consisted only of, perhaps, two such family members, James and Cleopas (if, as some scholars think, he was the man by that name elsewhere identified as a family member).  An appearance to Jude may be implied, and it isn’t unreasonable to speculate that Jesus also appeared to other family members such as Mary.  Still, the named individuals who functioned as public witnesses to the Resurrection included only one or two family members of Jesus. The rest of the named witnesses were drawn from a dozen or more families, with at most two individuals from any one family (such as Simon Peter and Andrew, or James and John the sons of Zebedee).

By contrast, the witnesses to the gold plates were drawn almost entirely from two families, the Smith family and the Whitmer family.  Hiram Page married into the Whitmer family, which means that all of the “eight witnesses” were from the Whitmer and Smith families.  Oliver Cowdery was Joseph Smith’s second or third cousin.  David Whitmer was one of the “three witnesses.”  Thus, ten of the eleven witnesses were relatives of either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer!

Think about this.  Jesus’s resurrection was witnessed by numerous people who were not related to Jesus.  In the case of the golden plates, the witnesses mostly came from two families, one being Smith’s own – hardly a diverse group.  This puts into question the overall credibility of the golden plate witnesses, and certainly cannot compare to the diversity of the resurrection witnesses.

Bowman next looks at, perhaps, the most interesting comparison of the witnesses – their credibility after their experience.  In part 3 , we will look at the lives of the resurrection witnesses and the lives of the golden plate witnesses.  The contrast is glaring, to say the least.  See you then.

How Do the Witnesses of the Gold Plates Compare to the Witnesses of the Resurrection? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Mormons believe that their founder Joseph Smith was shown the location of some golden plates by an angel.  These plates, which were allegedly engraved in a language called Reformed Egyptian, were then translated by Smith into the Book of Mormon.

What is interesting about these golden plates is that they are sometimes compared to the resurrection of Jesus.  The idea is that just as the resurrection of Jesus confirmed him as the Son of God, so also the discovery and translation of the golden plates are a confirmation that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  But are these two events comparable?  More importantly, are the witnesses of the resurrection and the witnesses of the golden plates comparable?

First, it must be stated that the actual discovery of the golden plates was only witnessed by Smith himself.  Nobody else was there.  But what of the existence of the golden plates?  What about those who claim to have witnessed the plates themselves?

Apologist Rob Bowman, in an on-line response to a Mormon, lays out a detailed comparison of the witnesses of both.  First, Bowman clarifies the make-up of the witnesses:

In the case of Christ’s resurrection, Christ appeared to at least one family member who had rejected him during his mortal ministry and to Saul of Tarsus when he was the archenemy of the Christian movement.  The two disciples on the Emmaus road had heard about Jesus’ resurrection but were so hardened to the possibility that they were walking away from Jerusalem, where he had appeared, so Jesus came after them and surprised them.  Peter had denied Jesus three times.  Thomas missed the first appearance to the apostolic band and expressed skepticism about the Resurrection, insisting he would not believe unless he saw for himself.

These facts negate the argument, which others have made, that the plates were only shown to select individuals because one had to be worthy in order to be allowed to see them.  That criterion obviously did not apply in the case of the Resurrection.  By contrast, no one saw the gold plates except people who had already agreed to support Joseph Smith.  The contrast is dramatic.

What about the number of witnesses?

According to Paul, Christ appeared to hundreds of people (1 Cor. 15:6), whereas only a dozen people or so claimed to have seen the gold plates (and only four claimed to see the angel).  Even if one dismisses Paul’s statement as puffery (though I know of no good reason to do so), the texts inform us that a fairly large number of people saw the risen Jesus.  These included the five or more women at the tomb; the two men on the road to Emmaus; the eleven apostles; James the Lord’s brother; Joseph Barsabas, Matthias, and others among the 120 that gathered after the Ascension; and later Saul (Paul).  So even apart from 1 Cor. 15:6  we can count at least two dozen men and women who saw the risen Jesus.

Bowman then notes the circumstances under which Jesus appeared in contrast to the circumstances under which people witnessed the golden plates:

It isn’t just the larger number of people who saw the risen Christ that is significant but the lack of any mortal human’s involvement in deciding or orchestrating those appearances.  Jesus appeared to various individuals of his choosing when and where and how he wished.  Those appearances were never announced in advance; no one knew ahead of time when they would happen.  No spiritual “preparation” was needed (recall what is said above about Thomas, the two on the Emmaus road, and Saul).

The appearances took place just outside the tomb, in locked rooms, on open roads, by the lake shore, under varying conditions not subject to any mortal’s control.  By contrast, the eleven witnesses [of the gold plates] were evidently shown the plates with advance notice and preparation, under closely controlled circumstances.

In part 2 of this series, we will continue to look at Rob Bowman’s comparison of the witnesses.  There is much more to discuss!