Tag Archives: Joseph Smith

Is the Biblical Canon Closed? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This is a profound question for the Christian church.  Every year, there are new cults that emerge where a charismatic leader claims that he or she has received a revelation from God that must be added to the biblical canon.  In fact, this is exactly what happened almost 200 years ago when Joseph Smith claimed to have received revelation from God which became the Book of Mormon.

Norman Geisler and William Nix tackle this very question in their book A General Introduction to the Bible.  To the question of whether the biblical canon is closed, Geisler and Nix answer, “To this one should respond that the canon is closed theologically and historically, and is open only hypothetically.”

Theologically the canon is closed. God has inspired only so many books and they were all completed by the end of the apostolic period (first century A.D.). God used to speak through the prophets of the Old Testament, but in the “last days” he spoke through Christ (Heb. 1:1) and the apostles whom He empowered with special signs (miracles). But because the apostolic age ended with the death of the apostles (Acts 1:22), and because no one since apostolic times has had the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12) whereby they can raise the dead (Acts 20:10–12) and perform other unique supernatural events (Acts 3:1–10; 28:8–9), it may be concluded that God’s “last day” revelation is complete (see Acts 2:16–18).

This does not mean that God’s visitations are over, because there are many other things yet to be fulfilled (see Acts 2:19–20). Nor does it mean that there will be no new understanding of God’s truth after the first century. It simply means that there is no new revelation for the church. Indeed, this does not necessarily imply that there have been no miracles since the first century. Supernatural acts will be possible as long as there is a Supernatural Being (God). It is not the fact of miracles that ceased with the apostles but the special gift of miracles possessed by a prophet or apostle who could claim, like Moses, Elijah, Peter, or Paul, to have a new revelation from God. Such a prophet or apostle could back up his claim by dividing a sea, bringing down fire from heaven, or raising the dead. These were special gifts bestowed on prophets (apostles), and they are not possessed by those who are not the recipients of new revelation (Acts 2:22; Heb. 2:3–4).

It is interesting to note that both Muhammad and Joseph Smith were rejected as prophets by most Christians of their day because they were unable to perform miraculous feats such as dividing seas, bringing down fire from heaven, or raising the dead.  Their miraculous claims centered around supernatural visitations from God or angels, who allegedly gave them new revelation.  This was not sufficient to back up their claims of being prophets of God.

I have often been asked how I would deal with someone who claimed to have a brand new message from God.  I would say this to the person: “Show me the miracles.  Show me the signs.  Heal the deaf and blind.  Raise some people from the dead.  Until you do those kinds of things, I won’t even consider your new revelation from God.”  Muhammad and Joseph Smith were likewise asked to do those things, and they could produce nothing of the kind.

In part 2, we will look at why the canon is historically closed.

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.

Joseph Smith’s “New Translation”of Romans 4:4-5

Post Author: Darrell

Romans 4:4-5 are two absolutely beautiful verses of scripture, for they put the gospel message into thirty-five short words. The King James Version reads as follows.

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. [emphasis mine]

What a glorious message!! We don’t work to get to God. In fact, we can’t! Instead, God justifies us when we don’t work, i.e., when we seek not to justify ourselves and simply trust in God for our salvation.

The founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, revised portions of the Bible that he believed to be in error. His work was published by Herald Publishing House and is titled Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible. In addition, Smith’s alterations are included in the LDS Publication of the King James Version of the Bible.

Romans 4:4-5 contains, in my opinion, one of Smith’s more startling changes. It reads as follows.

Now to him who is justified by the law of works, is the reward reckoned, not of grace, but of debt. But to him who seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. [emphasis mine]

Besides the fact that Smith destroyed a beautiful piece of scripture, there are numerous problems with his “translation”. First, there is absolutely no support in the Greek for the addition of the word not after justifieth. In Greek the word for not is mē. only appears once in the original Greek version of verse 5, being applied to ergazomenō, the word that has been translated as works.

As a result, there are no grounds in the Greek for Smith applying not to justifieth. Of course, no student of Mormonism will find this surprising as Smith demonstrated little regard for his source text in most all of his translations. When the papyrus that he “translated” The Book of Abraham from was later analyzed by experts, it was discovered to be nothing more than an Egyptian Funeral Text, having absolutely nothing to do with Abraham. So much for Smith’s attention to detail!

A second problem with Smith’s addition of not is that it is counter intuitive to Paul’s entire message in Romans. In the first three chapters, Paul builds the case for how all of mankind is ungodly.

Romans 2:1 says, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.” [emphasis added]

Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one… .” [emphasis added]

Romans 3:12 says, “…there is no one who does good, not even one.” [emphasis added]

As these verses demonstrate, Paul believed and preached that all mankind is unrighteous and in need of a Savior. Therefore, the idea of him stating that God does not justify the ungodly makes no sense, for he held the view that everyone is ungodly! Unfortunately for Mormons who believe Smith to be a prophet of God, it appears that Smith’s “prophetic” ability failed him in his task of “correcting” the Bible. In reality, he completely overlooked these verses when he so willingly added the word not.

Fortunately, those who trust in Christ for their salvation need not worry about Smith’s butchery of the Bible. We are knowledgable of the fact that God does, in fact, justify the ungodly. We realize how ungodly we truly are, and we realize that our salvation is not dependent upon anything that we do. Instead, it is dependent upon Him, and He has already paid the price.

All praise be to our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ!


The Mean Man Who Does (Not?) Bow Down

Post Author: Darrell

In my last post, I discussed one of the areas where Joseph Smith plagiarized and changed verses from The Bible.  Let’s take a look at another example.  Chapter 12 of 2 Nephi in The Book of Mormon is taken directly from Isaiah chapter 2.  However, there are a few areas where Smith made changes.  Verses 8 & 9 in Isaiah read as follows:

 8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made: 9 And the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself: therefore forgive them not. 

Isaiah is talking about how some men were bowing down to the work of their own hands: idols.  They had turned away from The Lord and had chosen to worship false gods.  Therefore, they were not to be forgiven.  Now, let’s take a look at these two verses in The Book of Mormon.

8 Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made.  9 And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not (emphasis mine).

Notice how Smith changed the entire meaning of verse 9 by adding the word not.  Obviously, if one reads verse 9 all by itself, it makes perfect sense to say that a man who does not bow down or humble himself before God should not be forgiven.  However, when read in context with the surrounding verses, adding “not”  in makes this verse utter gibberish, for you are now saying that a man who does not bow down to idols and false gods should not be forgiven by the One True God. 

In his desire to correct the mistakes he thought were in The Bible, Joseph Smith made the classic error of failing to read in context.  He brought his own wisdom to bear on The Word of God, and in the process, the Word of God proved its own worthiness and demonstrated the falseness of his prophetic claims.

Run And Not Grow Weary?

 Post Author: Darrell 

Isaiah chapter 40 is among my favorite chapters in The Bible.  A large portion of the chapter is devoted to contrasting the Lord’s greatness with the meekness of man. Verses 6 and 7 say, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.”  Verses 22 and 23 liken men to grasshoppers while verses 25 and 26 say of the Lord:  

To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? . . .  Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength,  not one of them is missing. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

We truly have an incredible God!  He knows and names each and every one of the billions of stars, yet He was willing to condescend Himself in order to lift us up!  The promise at the end of chapter 40 in verses 29 – 31 speaks to the great love the Lord has for us:

He [the Lord] gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint [emphasis mine].

If we place our hope in Him alone, He will renew us, strengthen us, and lift us up!  There is nothing we can do to receive this promise; rather, it is something that He does in response to our trusting in Him.  What a wonderful promise!

One of the Mormon Church’s four canonized scriptures, The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), carries this exact promise in Section 89, also known as the Word of Wisdom.  Among other things, the Word of Wisdom commands Mormons not to partake of coffee, tea, or alcohol.  This commandment is considered so important that obedience to it is a requirement for entering the Temple to receive one’s endowment, an ordinance required for admitance to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom (Mormon Heaven). 

One of the surprising differences between the promise in Isaiah and the promise in D&C 89 is what one must do to receive it.  While The Bible says that all one must do is hope in the Lord, Section 89 says that complete obedience to the Word of Wisdom is required.  Verses 18 – 20 say:   

And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings [the commandments in the Word of Wisdom], walking in obedience to the commandments . . . shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint [emphasis mine].

Why the difference in requirements?  Did the Lord change His mind and decide that He would require more in order to receive this blessing?  Fortunately, we know the answer to that question is an emphatic “No” as The Lord never changes His mind.  Unfortunately, this is just one more example of how Joseph Smith plagiarized The Bible.  There are numerous places throughout Mormon scriptures where Joseph Smith took portions out of The King James Version of The Bible and made blatant changes.  Stay tuned.  I will cover more of these later.