Tuesday, February 24, 2015

P13 Why the Bible is the Word of God: Is The Book of Mormon also the Word of God?

Joseph Smith, 
founder of Mormonism
2 Timothy 3:16 - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (ESV)

2 Timothy 4:3-4 "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

In this series we have been focusing on answering various questions surround the subject of "why the Bible". Up to this point we have been exploring the claims of scripture, its authority, it reliability and as we saw yesterday, why it is the basis for all true preaching. Thus far we have been addressing this subject as it is typically raised by either believers inside the church or those skeptics who claim to have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Today's post deals with the very important area of why the Bible, and no other book, is God's Word. 

In the above opening verses, we see the scriptures being described by the ESV as "breathed out by God" or rendered by other English versions as "inspired by God". We also see in the above verses the warning given of increasing counterfeits and heresies that will oppose the Gospel and which Timothy and subsequent generations of Christians have dealt with and will continue to battle. Both verses together express the reality of the Bible's uniqueness as God's Word and other wanna-be pretenders attempting to pass off as the truth. 

In our day and age, the Bible is not the only book in the world claiming to be the word of God or as a collection of writings revealed by God.  It is one thing to make the claim of something being revealed from God, and quite another to make good on such claims. In today's post we will be consider one such book that claims to be a book revealed from God - the Book of Mormon. In the course of our investigation, we will put forth a valid test for determining the claims of Divine revelation and inspiration of a given book. 

Testing the claims of Divine revelation and inspiration for any written document
To remind the reader of what we mean by the terms "revelation" and "inspiration", revelation refers to the event and process by which God makes known to people that which was previously unknown; whereas inspiration is the Divinely enabled work of putting that information into writing. Three areas can be used to test the claims of any document, namely: accuracy about the past, accuracy about the future and what it has to say about God. The first two areas are measurable by standard methods of science and history, and the third area follows from the results of the first two tests. In other words, if a given document claiming divine revelation from a given deity is shown to exhibit miraculous qualities such as predicting events beyond the date of the original prophecy, then the reality of the given Deity is demonstrated. 

Moreover, if the same document gives accurate details of events that were prior to the date of the author or which are contemporary to their day and past to our own, then the reliability of the document is confirmed and thus the reality of the Deity giving the information is confirmed. Philosophers such as Richard Swinburne have laid out similar such tests as the ones outlined above and such tests are mentioned in the philosophical literature that deals specifically with such matters. The Bible itself lays out the three tests in two main texts:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22

A quick history of the Book of Mormon and its main point
According to Mormon accounts, the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, had journeyed into a wooded grove in a rural area of New York in 1820. The then young Joseph Smith had grown disillusioned with the churches in and around New York, and so he went into the woods to gather his thoughts and to pray. According to the story, God the Father and the Son both appeared to Smith in bodily form, claiming that all the churches has apostasized, and that he need not join any of them. 

In  a copy of the Book of Mormon that I own, we read what happened later on to Smith on September 21, 1823: "While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor." This alleged heavenly visitor was an angel by the name of Moroni, who told Smith of a set of golden plates that were deposited in a secret place. Written upon the plates of gold was an alleged history of the Jews migrating to the Americas and various appearances of Jesus to them. The angel then told Smith that with the plates were two stones, the "Urim and Thummim" that could be used to translate the golden plates. 

As one reads on down through Smith's testimony, he claims in 1827 to have found the golden plates and begins dictating the revelation on them to one of the chief witnesses attested in Mormon history, Oliver Cowdery. In every copy of the Book of Mormon, the reader can view a written testimony by Cowdery and two other men (David Whitmer and Martin Harris) as having seen the alleged plates. 

So with the revelation of the plates in 1827, Joseph Smith gains alleged insights and claimed visitations from Biblical figures as John the Baptist, Peter, James and John about how Smith was to restore the Levitical and Melchizedekian priesthoods. As Smith's movement picks up momentum and followers, the group moves from New York to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1839. The group splinters and 600 followers go with Bringham Young to Utah in the 1840's. By 1850, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" is formed to become one of the largest religious movements in the world.

To summarize the Book of Mormon itself, an introductory section in one edition of the book reads: "The Book of Mormon is comprised of fifteen main parts or divisions, known with one exception as books, each designated by the name of its principal author. Of these, the first six books, namely, First Nephi, Second Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Jarom and Omni, are translations from the Smaller Plates of Nephi. Between the books of Omni and Mosiah, we find 'The Words of Mormon', connecting the record of Nephi, connecting the record of Nephi, as engraved in the smaller plates, with Mormon's abridgment of the Larger Plates for the periods following." 

Mormon had been, according to Mormon historians, a prophet of long ago who had a son, Moroni. Moroni was the one who allegedly appeared to Joseph Smith in angelic form and relayed to him the revelation of the Book of Mormon. The storyline is about how the Jews fled from Jerusalem in 587 b.c, crossed the ocean to the Americas and thus became the ancestors of two Indian tribes and their subsequent lives from 600 B.C to 400 A.D. The Book of Mormon retells the alleged post-resurrection appearances of Jesus to these peoples in America and how Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints are restorers of the lost message of Jesus and his followers.  

How does the Book of Mormon perform under the three tests of accuracy about the past, future and God?
In the edition of the Book of Mormon that I own, there are 524 pages of texts which average out to less than 295,000 words or roughly twice as large as the average New Testament. The above storyline and testimony of Joseph Smith makes some big claims of Divine inspiration. We could certainly detail the highly controversial history of Joseph Smith himself, but that will have to remain for another post. What we want to know is whether or nor the Book of Mormon is the Word of God like the Bible. To test these claims, we can note the following three tests as already outlined above:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a
Isaiah 41:22-22a states - "Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome." Despite the numerous peoples and place names mentioned in the Book of Mormon, there is not one archaeological or geographical confirmation of evidence. Conspicuously absent from the Book of Mormon are maps of any of the locations mentioned in the book or in any of Joseph's Smith's other writings. For example, on the Mormon's official website, one can actually view what are called "The Joseph Smith Papers", where Smith identified Daviess County, Missouri as the place where Adam blessed his posterity after he had fled from the Garden of Eden. No (reputable) archaeological evidence nor map (produced outside the context of Mormon scholarship) can trace the connection between the ground in Daviess County, Missouri to the Garden of Eden in the Fertile Crescent near the Euphrates River Valley on the other side of the globe!

When you look in a Bible, there is always accompanying maps that one can use to trace the journeys of Abraham or the ministry journeys of Jesus or Paul. However, whenever you look at the Book of Mormon, there are no maps, indicating that there is no evidence of any migration of Jews from Israel to America nor any of the details of lost tribes as recorded in the Book of Mormon. The Bible on the other hand has hundreds of confirmations of its historical details in both archaeology and geography. When the Bible has been used to reconstruct history, it has always been accurate. So on this test, the Book of Mormon is shown wanting.

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23
We read in Isaiah 41:22b-23   "or declare to us the things to come.23 Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified." Having read the Book of Mormon in times past, as well as information from scholars who have studied the book in detail, the test is failed in the fact that not one example of fulfilled prophecy can be found. In the accompanying volumes to the Book of Mormon (the Pearl of Great Price and Doctrine & Covenants), there is no example of fulfilled prophecy. 

When we turn to the Bible on the other hand, we find literally dozens and hundreds of examples of fulfilled prophecy in history. In past posts we have witnessed how the prophecies concerning Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28, Israel's time table in Daniel 9:23-27 and Jesus' prophecies about the destruction of Jerusalem in Matthew 24 are verified fulfilled in history. Jewish Historians such as Flavius Josephus, Roman Historians such as Tactius and Greek Historians such as Herodotus can be consulted to cross check the historical and prophetic fulfillment of these Biblical prophecies and others. 

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22
So far we have subjected the Book of Mormon to two tests of accuracy in matters of the past and fulfilled prophecy and have found it wanting. The Bible on the other hand consistently passes such tests with robust and numerous examples. As we had noted earlier, whichever document passes the first two tests in its claims to Divine inspiration necessarily demonstrates the reality of the Deity claiming to both reveal and inspire its contents.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3 states - “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." 

The God of the Bible is first of all One in existence. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Isaiah 43:10-11). Secondly, the God of the Bible is Three in identity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:18-20; 1 Cor 8:6; 2 Cor 13:14) Thirdly, this One God, existing as Three Persons, has revealed His words and purposes in the Bible alone. (Exodus 24:4; Isaiah 41:22; Luke 24:44; 1 Tiim 5:18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; 2 Pet 3:16; Matt 16:18; John 1:1)

Even if we relax the requirements of passing the first two tests on the Book of Mormon, the question is: does the Book of Mormon describe the same God as the origin of its words as the Bible does for its contents? Joseph Smith himself is quoted as saying the following: "I am going to tell you how God came to be a God. We have imagined that God was a God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil. He was once a man like us. Yea, that God himself, the father, dwelled on earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did. (Teachings of Joseph Smith). In an edition of the KJV Bible issued forth by the Latter Day Saints, the definition for God in the accompanying Bible dictionary reads accordingly: "From latter day revelation we learn that the Father and the Son have tangible bodies, and that the Holy ghost is a personage of spirit without flesh and bone." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22-23)

So is Joseph Smith a true prophet? Is his teachings and the Book of Mormon a book of God the same as the Bible? The Old and New Testaments teach that God in the Person of the Father does not have a body of flesh and bones, but is a Spirit (John 4:24) and is not a man that he should lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). The Person of the Son shares in the same nature with the Father and is not a separate God or exalted being as taught in Mormonism. Moreover, only the Son came and incarnated Himself in human flesh (Philippians 2:5-11) and thus is deemed God in human flesh (John 1:14). Thirdly, along with the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son exist as One God from all eternity (Psalm 90:2) in contrast to Joseph Smith's denial of God's eternality. So on that score we would have to say Joseph Smith is not a true prophet. 

This brief survey of comparing the Bible and the Book of Mormon and other Mormon literature reveals two different deities spoken by the Bible vs the Book of Mormon. The Bible has been shown consistent in its claims to be the Word of God, and thus the Deity revealed in its pages is the True and Living God. The deity spoken of in the Book of Mormon cannot be the true and living God nor then, can the Book of Mormon be a revealed book worthy of the title: "Word of God".

Today's post aimed to discover whether the Book of Mormon, with its claims of being the Word of God as revealed to Joseph Smith, is worthy of such claims. Three tests were put forth to evaluate the claims of both the Bible and the Book of Mormon as revealed, Divinely inspired pieces of literature:

1. Is the past accurately described. Isaiah 41:21-22a

2. Is the future accurately predicted. Isaiah 41:22b-23

3. What does the book have to say about God. Deuteronomy 18:18-22

In all three tests, the Book of Mormon and Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, failed to demonstrate either claims to Divine inspiration or prophethood. The Bible on the other hand consistently passed all three tests and thus demonstrated itself to be the only Divinely revealed and inspired Book. Hence, the Bible alone is the Word of God. 

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