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JS vs. BoM -
Reply to Response

I posted Joseph Smith vs. the Book of Mormon in the "alt.religion.mormon" Newsgroup. After several short, and rather snide responses, I finally received one civil and detailed response to the post. Below is my reply to this response.

I have revised my comments somewhat to give an indication of the contents of the comment I am replying to. Since I'm only able to present one side of the exchange, this article may be somewhat "jumpy" at times. But it shouldn't be too hard to follow.(1)

The same subtitles used in the original article will be used here to separate the sections. Parenthetical remarks have been placed in footnotes.

But before actually getting to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, the Mormon made a remark inspired by my Internet handle, "Reepicheep" - a character from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.(2)

C.S. Lewis and Mormon Theology

Thank you for your detailed response and the obvious time you took in writing it. I will try my best to reply.

You say in reference to my handle that you also like Lewis' writings because he makes statements that sound like Mormon theology. As evidence, you cite Lewis' statement in a couple of his books about God turning Christians into "gods."(3)

But C.S. Lewis was a member of the Church of England. As such, he probably agreed in the most part with the articles of that church. So I doubt very much if Lewis would agree with very much of Mormon teachings. But since he, as far as I know, never mentioned Mormonism in his writings, what his attitude towards it would be pure speculation. And since he isn't alive to ask I think a discussion of what his opinion of Mormonism would be would be rather pointless.

I will say this, in the preface to Mere Christianity, Lewis states, "Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times."(4)

I particularly like this quote as the purpose statement for my ministry is "Explaining and Defending the Christian Faith." And my term "Christian faith" probably is similar to Lewis' Mere Christianity. I discuss this subject on my ministry's Web site.(5)

In any case, his statements about people being made "gods" need to be interpreted in the light of these wider beliefs. Most important among these is what he believed God Himself was like. In fact, throughout this discussion, that is something to keep in mind.

When I say the word "God" and you say it we have rather different conceptions of what we mean. A better approach to this discussion would be to hash out this first; however, that would really get us off track of the original post. So I will simply say here, on my Web site are several articles on what I believe the nature of God is like.(6)

Now, despite your assumptions, I haven't read any of the Tanners' writings in quite some time. I didn't look at them at all when writing my article. In the articles on Mormonism on my ministry's Web site I believe I only mention the Tanners once or twice, and then only to quote their quote of a Mormon apostle or prophet.

Otherwise, in my writings I try to stick to quoting from books I purchased directly from the Mormon church and/ or which contain the writings of Mormon apostles and prophets themselves.(7)

JOSEPH SMITH VS.
THE BOOK OF MORMON

[snip introductory material]

One God or Many?

[snip original quotes from Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.] (8)

In quoting Alma 11:26-29 from the Book of Mormon, you say I "forgot" to quote Alma 12:31, "Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as Gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good."

If all that Mormons meant when they say they can become gods is that they will be "as Gods knowing good and evil" - that would be one thing. But the quotes I have seen from Mormon prophets go beyond this. For instance, Lorenzo Snow declared, "AS MAN NOW IS, OUR GOD WAS; AS NOW GOD IS, SO MAN MAY BE ...."(9)

I have asked Mormon missionaries I have spoken to what these words mean. Does it mean we will be come equal to God? Their response was basically that we will never become equal to God because He will continue to progress ahead of us; but we will reach where He is now.

Kind of like a train, the engine will always stay ahead of the other cars but the other cars will get to where the engine was. If this is the Mormon position, then it goes well beyond just knowing good and evil. But again, a discussion of what God is currently like would help clarify these matters.

As for your reference to Genesis 20:13, actually, I am aware that a literal translation would render the word "God" as "gods."(10) In one of the Scripture studies on my Web site there is a section on "Possible Hints of the Plurality of God in the OT." Point number six is: "Plural verbs (in the Hebrew) are used in reference to God's actions: Gen 20:13; 35:7."(11)

My point in the study is that, even though the OT teaches that there is only one true God, there are "hints" that God is more than one. As such, the NT teaching of a three-in-one God is not incompatible with OT monotheism.

Again, I am aware of the book Early Christian Doctrines, by J. N. D. Kelly,. I read this book quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, I no longer have it. Probably the reason I didn't keep it is, if I remember correctly, the quotes from the Church Fathers are rather short. The bulk of the book is Kelly's interpretation of their teachings.

When studying the Church Fathers, or anyone else for that matter, I prefer to read their actual writings, or at least, books with extensive excerpts. In my articles on the teachings of the Post-apostolic church on my Web site these references can be seen in the bibliographies at the bottoms of each article.(12)

You quote Origen from the book as saying in reference to the Father and the Son, "we are not afraid to speak in one sense of two Gods, in another sense of one God."(13)

Since I no longer have Kelly's book so I cannot check out the context of this passage. But having read the Church Fathers rather extensively, I can take a educated guess as to what Origen is getting at. The key words are: "in one sense" - "in another sense."

Tertullian taught that God is "three Persons in one essence." So Origen might be saying that God in the "sense" of His essence is one, but in the "sense" of his Personhood God is two. Why he is not including the Holy spirit at this time I can not say without the full context.

Next you refer to the Son and the Holy Spirit as each being a, "member of the Godhead" - when I see this phrase I think "one who possesses absolute deity" But you apparently are using it differently.

You also say the Son and the Spirit "share the same mind" with the Father. But God is omniscient (at least in my belief system). If Jesus shares His mind then He would have to be omniscient also. But, I do believe, omniscience is on of the attributes of Deity.

Next you quote John 17:11,22, "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." - "And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one."

Then you dogmatically assert that these passages must be teaching that the Father and Son cannot be "ontologically one" since "the saints" are not. You base this interpretation on the words, "even as."

Now, please excuse me if I do not accept your dogmatic interpretations of Scripture. What is "obvious" to one person is not so obvious to another. It a matter of your starting point.

Nevertheless, "even as" in what respect? As you seem to indicate, Jesus is not talking about essence here; and I would agree. The word "one" is not being used in that manner in this passage. He is probably talking about unity of purpose or something similar. So this verse is really irrelevant.

Taking "even as" as referring to every possible relational quality possible between Jesus and the Father is reading quite a lot into two little words. Even in your belief system, the relationship between Jesus and the Father has aspects of it that are different from our relationship to the Father (Jesus is the ONLY-begotten Son even in Mormonism I do believe).

Next you claim that the Book of Mormon doesn't really tech that the Father and the Son are one and the same being. But in my original post I quoted the Book of Mormon as saying, "I AM JESUS CHRIST. I AM THE FATHER AND THE SON" and similar quotes. This sounds to me like Jesus is saying He and the Father are one and the same being and one and the same Person. But you apparently interpret the verses differently.

The Father, Son, and Spirit:
One or Three?

[snip original quotes again]

You're calling me Mr. "Reepicheep" - I love it! I've never been called this before!

You quote several verses from the Book of Mormon that are appear to show that the book does not teach modalism.(14) As mentioned above, the quotes I gave from the Book of Mormon appeared to me to be teaching modalism. So maybe it's the Book of Mormon that contradicts itself. Just maybe.

You next emphatically claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is not Biblical and that it originated in the fourth Century.

As you say, your claims here would start another thread. I will simply reply by saying that on my ministry's Web site are several articles and Scripture studies on the Trinity. In them, hundreds of Scripture verses are referenced in support of the concept of a three-in-one God. Also, verses that supposedly teach otherwise are discussed.

In addition, there are also articles with quotations from the Church Fathers of the second and third centuries that demonstrate that the concept of a three-in-one God was alive and well long before the fourth century.(15)

God: Spirit or Flesh?

[snip original quotes]

The Book of Mormon uses the term "Great Spirit" to refer to God (Alma 18:26-28; 22:9,10). You claim that this term was not used by Mormon prophets in the Book of Mormon because they believed that God was in fact a spirit. Instead, they only used it as a "springboard" when talking about the nature of God to those who used the term "Great Spirit" to refer to God. You then compare this to Paul's reference to "The Unknown God" in Acts 17:22-23.

This explanation might make sense, except for one thing. When Paul refers to the "Unknown God" he then says, "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you" (Acts 17:23; KJV). Paul then proceeds to demonstrate point-by-point that the Athenians conception of God is wrong and proclaims the true nature of God to them. So Paul's purpose in referring to the Unknown God was so that he could correct the Athenians' wrong beliefs.

But in the following discourses in the Book of Mormon I do not see such a correction occurring. The closest is for it to be said, "God created man after his own image" - but since the people being spoken to apparently believed God was a spirit, it is doubtful such a reference would have been sufficient to let them know this idea was wrong. Again, Paul very specifically rebukes the Athenians beliefs.

You now point out that my third reference (Alma 31:15) was actually spoken by apostates, not prophets of God. Again, your explanation appears to be sound initially. Since these are apostates speaking then their words would not be considered "inspired." I'll give you that much.

However, the passage continues "Now when Alma saw this his heart was grieved; for he saw that they were a wicked and a perverse people; yea, he saw that their hearts were set upon gold, and upon silver, and upon all manner of fine goods" (Alma 31:24).

So it appears that Alma was grieved because of the greed, not a false conception of God. It does also go on to mention their non-belief in the coming of Christ. But, again, nowhere is the "false" belief of God being a spirit refuted.

Always God or an Exalted Man?

[snip original quotes]

You correctly point out that the word translated "eternal" in the OT can mean a long but limited amount of time; but it can also mean unending time. The context determines the meaning.

Consider the following verse:
"Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God (Ps 90:2; KJV).

The emphatic double use of "everlasting" and that God is said to exist before anything else to me makes this verse to be teaching that God has always existed as God.

Additional verse on the eternality of God are:
OT: Gen 1:1; 21:33; Exod 3:14; Deut 32:40; 33:27; Job 36:26; Ps 10:16; 41:13; 90:2; 93:2; 102:27; 106:48; 117:1f; Isa 40:28; 43:13; 44:6; 57:15; Hab 1:12.

NT: Acts 15;18; Rom 1:20; 16:25f; 1Tim 1:17; 6:16; Heb 4:3; 11:3; Rev 1:4; 11:17; 21:6. (16)

You point out that the Book of Mormon does not specifically teach that "God was NEVER man" and that the Book of Mormon itself teaches that it does not contain all that God taught the Nephites."(17)

But the idea that God used to be a man is a rather strong belief with many implications. You would think that it would be mentioned, especially since, as indicated above, there were people at that time who had the "wrong" conception that God was a spirit.

You again give me your dogmatic interpretation of Scripture verses, this time of Luke 2:52 and Phil 2:6-8. You say these verses teach that Jesus "set aside his deity" in the Incarnation and then "underwent a period of growth." You also refer to His death, resurrection, and exaltation. You then claim that this proves, "He changed from one state to another and back again!" Your conclusion then is that God's unchangeableness doesn't preclude changing His nature.

Again, excuse me if I don't accept your dogmatic interpretations of Scripture. Jesus did not cease to be Deity when He became man. For God to cease to be God is a logical impossibility since eternality is an essential attribute of God. Jesus set aside His prerogatives as God and veiled His Divine glory; but He was always God and man from His conception. And in regards to His humanity He "grew."

The Mormon doctrine that God the Father used to be a man is quite different. In this case, if I understand it correctly, God was not God before He was a man. In other words, you have a man, who has always been a man, never a God, who then somehow becomes a God. This is quite different from the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

Praise God or Become a God?

[snip original quotes]

In this section, my point was that Joseph Smith had introduced a rather important concept that was not taught in the Book of Mormon. Whether it is possible or not for one who has become a god to praise God would again hinge on what it means to become a god and on what God is like.

You now quote Alma 12:31; Mormon 7:48; 3Nephi 28:10. You say the last is important as it teaches, "these disciples would become EVEN AS Christ, just as Christ is EVEN AS the Father."

You ask what I think of this? Answer: The same as I said above about "even as" in reference to John 17 above.

I don't expect to see all Mormon doctrines in the Book of Mormon - but with the emphasis Mormons place on the book, I would think the most important doctrines would be there. And the idea of men becoming gods sounds to me like a rather important doctrine.

Final Notes

I will close by saying this, the reconciliations of my "apparent contradictions" you have given would probably be convincing to someone who already believes Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon are both "of God." But to someone like myself, who is not starting with this presupposition, I'm not quite convinced. It's a matter of one's starting point.(18)

Again, thank you for your detailed and civil response. I don't always have the time or energy to give such a detailed reply, but I do the best as I can.

><> Reepicheep <><

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Footnotes: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
1) I did e-mail the Mormon and ask for permission to post the full text of his response; but he never got back to me. Also, when I posted the above reply in the Mormon Newsgroup I received no response to it from the original responder, nor from anyone else.
2) See "Reepicheep" for information on my handle.
3) Mere Christianity, p. 160, Unabridged edition and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, pp. 14-15.
4) C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, Inc., 1952), p.6
5) See Essentials of "the Faith."
6) See The Nature of God.
7) See E-mail on Mormon Sources.
8) See the original article for the quotations from Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
9) "Improvement Era" 22:660, June 1919. Quoted in Ludlow, Daniel ed. Latter-day Prophets Speak. Logan, UT: Bookcraft, 1988., p.72.
10) The reason for this rendering is that the verb associated with the noun is plural.
11) See More on the Trinity.
12) See Post-Apostolic Church.
13) Origen, Dialogue with Heraclides 2, as cited in J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 129.
14) 2 Nephi 31:11-12, 14-15; Jacob 4:4; 3 Nephi 18:27, 35; 3 Nephi 9:15; Helaman 5:11; Ether 12:41.
15) See The Trinity.
16) These references are taken from The Attributes of God.
17) 3 Nephi 26:1-12; Ether 3:26-28; 4:7; 5:1.
18) See Dead Men Do Bleed (Presuppositions and Epistemologies).

JS vs. BoM: Reply to Responses. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).

The above article was posted on this Web site
and in "alt.religion.mormon" Newsgroup in May 1997.

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