Tag Archives: Nature of God

An Apple Not Quite Ripe

I’ve mentioned a recent missionary moment. Unfortunately, it turned out to be less a sincere inquiry and more an effort to witness to a hapless Mormon blogger. I thought it might be an interesting read for anyone wanting to sift through the thread below.

I’ve lost the first contact that initiated this dialogue, but that’s of little consequence. It was a short question asking about Latter-day Saints’ belief relating to Original Sin. The ensuing conversation can be found below.

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From: Me
To: Well-Meaning Witness

I figured this was an easier way to answer your questions. I hope you don’t mind. I also hope it doesn’t seem too long winded or complicated; I tried to include hyperlinks where appropriate so that you could study further if you were interested in that. I wanted to be concise, while still trying to be as clear as possible so that you’d have enough information to feel like your questions was answered.

One section below, “The Short of It”, is my attempt to summarize the rest of this email and answer your question succinctly. It may be worthwhile to read it before you start on the other sections.

Original Sin

In many faiths, original sin is the doctrine that all people, except for the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, inherit personal guilt because of the transgression of Adam and Eve (this is also why infant baptisms are so important in some churches – the stain of original sin is removed as quickly as possible because those that die while under original sin stand condemned).

Latter-day Saints believe that while we inherit the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve, we are not personally responsible for the sins of anyone else, including our first parents. Our second Article of Faith states that

“We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”

For more on Latter-day Saints and Original Sin, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for Original Sin. Another good place might be this wiki page by FAIR on the Bible and the doctrine of Original Sin.

The Effects of the Fall

And what of the effects of that Fall? The first effect was physical death. After partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve were mortal, and could die, and this condition was passed on through their progeny. The resurrection of Jesus Christ unconditionally overcomes this effect – “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

The second effect was sin, or spiritual death, separation from God. Adam and Eve were no longer innocent – their eyes had been opened – and as such they had the wonderful gift of agency. Latter-day Saints view the Fall not as a tragedy, but an integral part of God’s plan – a “Fall” forward, and not downward, if you will – because this gift of agency was also passed on through the children of Adam and Eve. We have the right to choose between good and evil, and through making choices we experience growth.

Unfortunately, with the gift of agency comes sin, because none of us are perfect – “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This tendency of mankind to sin is why we so desperately need a Savior. A scripture from the Book of Mormon describes this dilemma, and how essential the Atonement of Jesus Christ is:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth of the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).

For more on Latter-day Saints and the Fall, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for the Fall of Adam.

The Triumph of the Atonement

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is designed to overcome the Fall of Adam and Eve. The first effect was physical death. The son of a mortal mother, Jesus inherited the power to lay down his life; but the son of an immortal, divine Father, the Only Begotten Son, he also inherited the power to take that life up again. The resurrection of Jesus overcomes this effect – “and thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men” (Mosiah 15:8). This gift is unconditional, as I mentioned above, and will be given to all who have ever lived or who ever will live.

The second effect of the Fall was spiritual death, or sin. Because Jesus was the only sinless man to ever live on this earth, and therefore not subject to spiritual death, he was the only one who could make that sacrifice. His sacrifice was indeed infinite, and he paid the price of the sins of all people. Yet this gift is not completely unconditional. Now, the conditions we must meet in order to qualify for this gift differ from church to church, and we don’t necessarily need to get into that now, but at least Christians and Latter-day Saints can agree that we must meet some condition before qualifying for the incredible grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For more on Latter-day Saints and the Atonement, see the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry for the Atonement.

The Short of It

So, how can I sum up those sections into a brief answer of your question? Like this:

Indeed, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all the world needed to be offered by someone perfect and sinless. And it was! The perfect, sinless life of the Savior allowed him to atone for us, and his divinity allowed him to conquer death so that we all can be resurrected.

Yet the doctrine of original sin as understood by much of Christianity is incomplete. Do we all suffer death because of the Fall of Adam? We do. Do we all make mistakes because of our agency? We most certainly do. But are we guilty because of the sins of our first parents? We are not, and that fundamentally changes your question. It is true that only Jesus Christ was sinless, but this is not due to mankind’s guilt born of the Fall. It’s because we all naturally make mistakes because of our fallen nature.

I love my Savior, and I am grateful every day for his atoning sacrifice in my behalf. I like the words of Lehi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon. He wrote,

“Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

“Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto  none else can the ends of the law be answered.

“Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.”

Further Study

There are other doctrines, differences between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism, that play parts in this, and you can look into them if you’re interested. One may be the doctrine of the Godhead – we believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one in purpose but are three distinct individuals (see here or here). Another is the LDS doctrine of exaltation, which I blogged briefly about here – we believe not that God and man are different species, but that His goal for us is to one day become like He is, and that we can become like He is because we are His children.

I tried to do a good job answering your question, but if there is something else that I didn’t quite make clear, please let me know. Thanks again for your question. I may not “approve” your comment since I don’t want to get the original post too off topic, but maybe I’ll blog about this in the future.

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From: Well-Meaning Witness
To: Me

Yo, thank you for replying.

I scanned through it and a few things popped up…

‘It is true that only Jesus Christ was sinless, but this is not due to mankind’s guilt born of the Fall. It’s because we all naturally make mistakes because of our fallen nature.’

So why doesn’t Jesus naturally make mistakes too, if he is simply a man just like the rest of us?

‘We believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one in purpose but are three distinct individuals’ 

Hey, so do we! They’re definitely distinct individuals… with different roles, but all having the essence of God in them. But anyway, I don’t think arguing over the Trinity is gonna help!

THIS caught my eye…

‘We believe not that God and man are different species, but that His goal for us is to one day become like He is, and that we can become like He is because we are His children’

Where does this belief come from?

Hey I hope I don’t come across argumentative or ignorant or anything like that. I often appear to type rude, but I’m just too lazy to try to articulate things in a kind way… Just so you know – I’m cheery on this end!

Actually, I suppose we have different beliefs and both sincerely believe them (PS I admire you for that!)… So my question to you would be – What would it take to convince you that Mormonism is false?

For example… If the bones of Jesus were someday discovered and they did a DNA test on the bones and compared it with a DNA test on the shroud, and if somehow it was clearly and irrefutably concluded that these were the bones of Jesus, would you continue to be a Mormon since the Bible said that the tomb was empty because Christ had bodily risen and ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless’?

Would that at least cause you to consider that Mormonism may be false? What if the gold plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon were someday discovered and translated by twenty professional Egyptologists and if their translation bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon, would that make you seriously consider that maybe Mormonism is false?

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From: Me
To: Well-Meaning Witness

I don’t think you’re being argumentative or rude at all. I’m happy to discuss any questions you have.

As to your first question, I think that it’s my fault for the misunderstanding. I hope you’ll excuse any faults in these discussions, as you’re talking to a religion and philosophy enthusiast, but a simple amateur all the same :) happy.

I didn’t mean to de-emphasize the divinity of the Savior, just to emphasize my point about original sin. Jesus is certainly not ‘a man just like the rest of us’; he is the Son of God and God himself (see John 1:1-5). Latter-day Saints completely believe in this divinity.

As to your second point, I’m fine not discussing the Trinity and the Godhead (that discussion can be very involved), and you’re right that there are some elements of similarity. But the Latter-day Saint belief of the Godhead and the Christian belief of the Trinity are two very different doctrines.

Where Belief Comes From

I’m going to spend a little more time on your third point. It deals specifically with an LDS doctrine referred to a number of ways – the deification of man, the nature of God and man, exaltation, theosis, or the divine nature/potential of man. It’s one of the most unique doctrines of the LDS Church, and one of the most frequently demonized by mainstream Christianity. If you’d like to talk about it more, I’d be happy to, but since you’re question didn’t ask about that specifically I’ll shelf it for now (it also can be involved).

I think a story will help answer your question, “Where does this belief come from?”

A Mormon named Ross Baron held some question-and-answer sessions in his southern California community. At one session, he was asked a question similar to, “Where does this belief come from?” This is what took place, in his own words (see this blog post of mine):

“[This] premise that oft-times we get drawn into is exemplified by a guy from the Christian Research Institute. He stands up and he says, ‘The Church bases their work for the dead on John 3:5, 1 Corinthians 15:29, 1 Peter 4:6, 1 Peter 3:18-20…’

“He starts this way, and I said, ‘Excuse me; stop. That’s incorrect.’

” ‘What do you mean?’

” ‘The Church doesn’t base the work for the dead on the Bible.’

” ‘What?’

” ‘Now, I’m going to say something, and I want you to take very close note. The Church is not based on the Bible. The Church is based on what the Bible is based on: revelation, through prophets.’ “

Later Baron says, “Now that’re hard core.” I completely agree!

Because Christians believe in a closed cannon (i.e., that the Bible contains all that God has said or will ever say), the doctrines of mainstream Christianity come from interpreting that Word. Different sects, different churches, arise because of different interpretations of the same scriptures.

The doctrines of the LDS Church, though, while supported by the scriptures, do not come from the scriptures. We are taught these doctrines from prophets and apostles, who are God’s mouthpieces. Another story, again from Ross Baron’s Q&A sessions, illustrates this point (see this blog post of mine):

“We were getting near the end of [a Q&A session]. The head pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church… stood up, and he said this:

“He prefaced it by saying, ‘Well, I have the quote here that will definitively tell all of you here’ – this is what he’s saying, kind of his opening statement – ‘about Mormonism and about how it’s false.’ And he pulls out the quote from Brigham Young where [Young] said that unless we accept Joseph Smith, that we cannot gain salvation. And he said, ‘That’s utter blasphemy, and they claim to be Christians, but we know that that is absolutely false. How do you respond, Mr. Baron?’

“I looked at him, and I said, ‘Well, can I ask you a question?’

“And he said, ‘Certainly.’

“And I said, ‘Imagine you’re living in AD 34. You’re in Jerusalem. It’s Acts chapter two. Peter is preaching about Christ and him crucified. You feel the spirit. Can you, sir, reject Peter’s testimony and accept Christ?’

“And he went, ‘Um.’

“And I knew I had him.

“And I said, ‘That’s exactly how we feel about Joseph Smith: he’s a modern-day Peter. That’s exactly how we feel.’

“Now, think about that. If he had said, ‘Yes, we can reject Peter and accept Christ,’ then we throw the Bible out, right? If he says, ‘No, we can’t [reject Peter and accept Christ],’ then he knows exactly the position Joseph Smith’s in.”

So, where do our doctrines come from? In a tradition more Biblical than even mainstream Christians follow, the doctrines of the LDS Church come from the prophet, a modern day Peter or Paul. Just like the apostles of old wrote letters to the Christians of their day (those letters which make up our New Testament!), the current prophet and apostles tell us God’s word and will today. They are truly the foundation of the Church (see Ephesians 2:19-20). The doctrine of the deification of man is taught by modern prophets, and is supported by the scriptures (including the Bible) because it is not new. It is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For other posts of mine on prophets and related subjects, see here and here. You can also look at the article “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” by a past prophet Ezra Taft Benson for more on how we view prophets.

What it Would Take

I found your last question very intriguing! I want you to know I took it very seriously, and put some real thought into it. I want to ask in return (I’m curious now after you asked me!), what would it take to convince you that Mormonism is true?

The “what if” scenario’s don’t do anything for me (the DNA scenario, for example – wouldn’t such a thing be evidence against both Mormonism and Christianity, since both religions accept the resurrection?), but I get you’re point. What if some day in the future I am confronted with some sort of evidence that goes contrary to what I believe?

Growing up in California, I’ve made many evangelical friends. From time to time they witness to me. Additionally, I’ve been confronted with a variety of claims aimed at discrediting Joseph Smith and the Church (that’s sometimes how I decide what to blog about!). There is always some new piece of evidence “proving” that Mormonism is false. When this happens, I study the topic as diligently as I care to so that I’m informed, and then I take my concern to God (see James 1:5). I can tell you that in each instance I’ve either found an answer that satisfies me, or God reaffirms my testimony and reminds me that his thoughts and ways are higher than mine (see Isiah 55:8-9). Surely, what greater witness can you have, than from God? (see D&C 6:22-23). This is why, when I was a missionary, I would ask those I taught to pray about what they’d learned – their testimony needed to be rooted in a divine witness from God.

I doubt your testimony of Jesus comes from archaeological evidence, Hebraic writing patterns, or DNA. I’d wager it comes, as my testimony has and as Peter’s testimony did, from God. I’ve read the Book of Mormon, and in it’s pages I hear my Savior’s voice. I’ve lived and grown under it’s teachings, and I can feel God’s spirit when I spend time in it’s pages. I’ve prayed, asking God if it’s true, more than once in my life, and each time he tells me it is. Because of this witness, I also know that Joseph Smith is indeed the Lord’s prophet. The teachings of the Church, the teachings of Christ, they enlarge my soul, they enlighten my understanding, and they are “delicious” to me (see Alma 32:28; the chapter, from about verse 21 to the end, is one of my favorite sermons of faith)

Because my witness, my testimony, came from God, it would take a similar communication from God to make me believe something different. Man is flawed, and we get things wrong all the time, so how can I put my trust in the arm of flesh? No, DNA evidence or Egyptologist translations would not convince me, because I put my trust in the Lord.

I hope those answers are satisfying. I’m enjoying the opportunities afforded me because of your questions and this discussion. God bless!

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From: Well-Meaning Witness
To: Me

Hey, thanks for your quick reply!

You know, I’m an amateur too! In fact, this time last year I wasn’t a Christian! There have been massive changes in my life this past year as you can imagine!

Well, reading your final point…

I’ll pick out this sentence-

‘I can feel God’s spirit when I spend time in it’s pages.’

Christianity is trustworthy because the text of the Bible is pure and much of it is confirmed by archaeology and secular history. We also have the proof from Jesus’ resurrection. Mormonism offers no proof of its truthfulness. There is no confirmation of the Book of Mormon from archaeology or history.

Translations by professional Egyptologists of the Book of Abraham papyri are completely different than Joseph Smith’s translation. If his translation skills are in question for the Book of Abraham, they are also in question for the Book of Mormon. Mormon scholars admit this is a serious problem, and attempts to reconcile it fail. Mormonism’s only “proof” is the confirmation God gives when one reads the Book of Mormon – just like you said.

However, this evidence is weak, since people of other religions claim God has convinced them of their own religion’s truthfulness. Who’s confirmation can be trusted, and why? I know plenty of people of different religions who sincerely believe that God is speaking to them, re-assuring them that this is the truth… Muslims believe God speaks to them as they read the pages of the Qu’ran. But they all can’t be right, can they?

When you consider Mormon doctrines such as the plurality of Gods, God having been once a man, man becoming a God, Jesus created by God, an afterlife much different than Jesus describes, and salvation requirements, Mormonism presents a gospel much different than we find in the Bible. Therefore, the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 1:8-9 may very well apply:

But though we, or an angel from Heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so I say now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

As you said, no I don’t just base my faith on evidence… But it definitely does play a part! Yes, the message of Jesus and salvation simply ‘clicks’ and I feel a presence of god in my life… but I don’t base my faith on feelings. Feelings change all the time!

Well, I can understand you may think ‘who am I to say this’ to you.. I really don’t want to anger you at all…  I just wanted to see how you consider this stuff…

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From: Me
To: Well-Meaning Witness

Put your mind to rest about any reactions like, “Who are you to tell me this!” In fact, I’m not angry at all. If anything, I feel a little bit sad. I’ll tell you why.

I love dialoguing about religion and philosophy, and I really enjoy answering questions about the Church. I enjoy it regardless of the circumstances, because I’ll learn something whether or not anyone else does, but I certainly enjoy it more when I feel like questions on the other side are sincere. I’m worried that this dialogue of ours has devolved into a back-and-forth where you supply me with run-of-the-mill anti-Mormon questions from the nearest anti-Mormon pamphlet or website.

That’s terribly disappointing. Your questions are familiar and stale; it’s the same recycled junk that’s been around since the Church was restored in 1830. I was concerned after your “What might convince you that Mormonism is false?” question. I hoped that I was being unfairly paranoid. It turns out I wasn’t.

I’ll be happy to respond briefly, and I appreciate the practice, but because I doubt your genuineness I’m going to completely ignore most of “your” questions, trusting that you can use Google if your disposition changes. Understanding the concepts in my last email is also a fantastic foundation for all those objections.

If you’re not sincerely interested in continuing, I won’t be offended at all. I promise. But I do offer this one caveat – if you do want to continue dialoguing, I expect a higher degree of sincerity on your part, evidenced by more thoughtful investigation. If you still have trouble connecting the dots on a topic, we can tackle specifics from there. Even someone who cares about me enough to share the true gospel of Christ (that’s the excuse most have given in the past for spewing anti-Mormon drivel) should have more than a two paragraph mastery of such a complex subject.

(As a side note, don’t misunderstand the phrase “spewing anti-Mormon drivel” as my crossover into anger. Still totally not angry. I’ve just become familiar with the scholarly ethics of most Church critics, and the term is appropriate)

If that caveat is not something you’re willing to do, again, I won’t be offended, but I must insist that we waste no more of each other’s time.

Because archaeology and scholarly proof seemed so important to you, I leave you with this quote by Hugh Nibley for your consideration:

“…The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.”

If I don’t hear back from you, it’s been (mostly) fun! Feel free to facebook me, check out my future blog posts (I’m wrapping up a series on The Book of Mormon musical), or email me if you ever feel so inclined (keeping in mind my caveat).

God bless.

Another Gospel

I love the scripture in Galatians. I include the text here from the KJV of Galatians 1:6-9:

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Already the Christians in Paul’s day were experience dissension and apostasy. He gives them a caution to keep them steadfast in what they’ve been taught:

“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”

What is Paul cautioning against? Angels? Nope. Preachers? Nope. His caution is against a gospel that is contrary to that which was preached by he and his apostle-peers.

Ignoring that various interpretations of the Bible make it near impossible to use it as “the standard”, as a fun experiment let’s test your criticism – that we shouldn’t base our belief and faith on revelation from the Holy Ghost – against the gospel found in the New Testament.

Trusting the Holy Ghost

  • John 14:26 (see also 1 John 5:6 and John 15:26)
    • But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
    • Would “all things” include the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon? Probably. The only thing left is to discuss how the Holy Ghost speaks to us (though the name the Savior first calls him by gives us a clue).
  • James 1:5-6
    • If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all me liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
    • Could one lack wisdom about religious matters? Certainly. And would God answer those prayers? He would – liberally! Again, the only thing left to discuss is how God, through the Holy Ghost, speaks to us.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but I think does the subject justice:

Feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, gentleness, faith, and hope – Romans 15:13Galatians 5:22-23John 14:26-27

Enlightens the mind – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11

Bring things to our remembrance – John 14:26

Guides us to truth – John 16:13

Testifies of the Father and Son – John 16:14

Some gifts of the Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:3,8-9

A still, small voice – 1 Kings 19:11-12

It seems that your “gospel” of writing off feelings, ignoring the Holy Ghost, or whatever you may want to call it (it’s not my intent to argue semantics – this list represents for Latter-day Saints what revelation from the Holy Ghost, revelation that confirms the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, is like, and you may call it what you wish), is actually a gospel other than that which was preached by the early apostles. That makes you… ;) winking

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From: Well-Meaning Witness
To: Me

Hey!

I’m won’t lie about it… yes! I completely just used lots of run-of-the mill questions for Mormons – to see what your response would be! If I didn’t want you to know, I would have at least tried to conceal it by using my own words 😉

It doesn’t mean I don’t want to sincerely hear your answer though! After all, if the questions are really that bad, then surely they’ll be easy enough to answer?

I’m really confused… Do Mormons believe the Bible or not? Yes or no? I keep getting Bible quotes from you… but then your beliefs turn into the Book of Mormon. Help me out!

I see you think the Bible has been too corrupt over the years to deem it reliable – would I be right in thinking this? If so, can this be our point of discussion?

‘Bring things to our remembrance’, forgive me, because I got this from South Park and haven’t checked it up yet. But doesn’t Joseph Smith write down his revelation from looking inside a hat (!) and when asked to do it again, he couldn’t do it? Why didn’t God bring the revelation back into remembrance for him?

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From: Me
To: Well-Meaning Witness

(I’m gonna use smilies. This isn’t work or college, so I hope you don’t mind)

Investigating

Okay, fair enough :) happy. Well, answering all of those objections will take quite a long time, and be very involved. I maintain my caveat, that you investigate further before bringing them back to the table – that will make the process a little simpler. This is a good place to find Mormon responses to objections.

If I may, let me offer a suggestion. In a few of my philosophy classes in college, we didn’t have tests. Instead, we had to write long papers (yuk!), and they would all be organized the same way. We would make our argument in favor of something, but then we had to respond to two or three objections. In that analysis, we had to formulate the objection in the strongest way we could, and then give our response.

Now, I’m not saying you go write papers (yuk), but try out that format. One of your criticisms was about the deification of man doctrine. Fair enough. Why not look for Mormon responses, and then formulate the strongest objection to the original criticism that you can (maybe that the belief is actually Biblical, or that it was taught by the early Christian Church Fathers). Then feel free to totally poke holes in those objections! Tear the Mormon response up! But this way, the questions you ask will fundamentally change, and our discussion will be much more productive. True, it’ll be more work on your end, but I’ve made it fairly simply by giving you the FAIR wiki website.

That’s just a suggestion. Take it for what it’s worth :) happy.

The Bible

I’d love to concentrate our discussion on the Bible! Those are some very good questions.

I definitely believe the Bible, as does the rest of my Church! And I definitely believe the Bible is reliable!

We just don’t believe in a closed cannon. Instead, we believe that God spoke to more of his children than just those in the Middle East, and that he continues to speak to us today. Just as you might use both Matthew and John to teach a specific principle, or both the Old Testament and the New Testament, I and my Church use both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I just used more of the Bible in my emails because it’s what you believe in.

We do believe that many “plain and precious” truths have been lost from the Bible, but we certainly don’t believe that it is corrupt, useless, or unreliable. We don’t believe that it’s inerrant (without error), and we don’t believe that it’s sufficient (that it contains all we need to know about God or about his plan). But again, in my eyes, that would be like you saying that you use your whole Bible because Luke and Romans don’t contain all we need to know about God. Believing that there’s more isn’t the same as believing that the Bible is unreliable or corrupt.

Also, the Bible never makes a claim that it is either inerrant or sufficient! (and before you throw out the scripture in Revelation, please read my blog post here)

Some help in formulating a strong Mormon response to the claim that the Bible is inerrant can be found here and here ;) winking.

So, in short, I believe the Bible is true, and I believe that is it reliable. I just don’t believe that it’s sufficient, and I don’t believe that God has stopped speaking.

Could I ask you a question? If we happened to find Paul’s earlier epistle to the Corinthians, or his epistle to Laodicea, would they belong in the Bible?

Joseph’s Translating Tools

That’s quite a lot, so I’ll be brief with your last question. I’m not sure about the specific instance you’re talking about (not having something “brought to his remembrance”), so you’ll have to give me more if we want to talk about it. As for the translation, the only thing we know for sure is that it took place “by the gift and power of God” (D&C 135:3). We know he used what he called “seer stones” for part of it, but we’re not sure exactly what they looked like or how he used them. They were fastened to a breastplate by a bow. They likely looked more like funny glasses than a hat :) happy

I’ve never known anyone from the UK! Isn’t the internet awesome?

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From: Well-Meaning Witness
To: Me

Howdy! 

You see, the way I see the Bible is like a jigsaw… The more I read the Old Testament the more it is shocking just how much it is pointing towards Christ. Then Christ comes and fulfils the prophesies… ‘It is finished’ … He rises from the dead and tells his disciples to go spread the word ‘to the ends of the earth’… Then the Bible contains the spread of the early church.

So what I don’t get is how there’s another episode many many hundreds of years later involving stones and hats and golden plates. Where does this all fit into the picture? Jesus was always talking of fulfilling the scriptures… ‘For it is written…’ Is there a pointer to any Mormon beliefs/J. Smith/etc, from the Old Testament, or Jesus himself?

‘We believe that God spoke to more of his children than just those in the Middle East, and that he continues to speak to us today.’

Of course, that’s why Jesus said the message must be spread to all nations… and look at the growth of his kingdom across all nations today! And he does continue to speak to us today – but does that mean the message changes? I don’t understand why the North American gospel would be so different from the Middle Eastern version?

‘We do believe that many “plain and precious” truths have been lost from the Bible’

…Lets talk about this. Why do you believe this? What are these plain truths? What era did they become lost from the Bible and why?

Do you believe the Old Testament as the inerrant word of God? As there is plenty to suggest that they were established scripture – even Jesus didn’t complain – ‘The Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35).

So is it just the New Testament you have the problem with? 

Can we agree that Jesus gave the authority to his disciples to write down this stuff?

Jesus (speaking to the apostles): But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 14:26). 

– No mention of authority to future Mr. Smith

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning (John 15:26,27). 

– Mr. Smith wasn’t with him from the beginning.

However, when He, the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come (John 16:13). 

– No mention that Mr. Smith was to come.

–  Can we agree that Jesus gave authority to his disciples to write all this stuff down? Therefore fulfilling the scriptures, which is why we have the Old and New Testaments and then it stops…

So tell me, why was there a need for John Smith?

You know, I just want to say something to you Danny boy… thank you so much for giving up your time to email me – I really appreciate it! And although we have different beliefs, its so refreshingly good to discuss with some kind of similarish believer! So often I’m having these conversations with atheists – so thank you my friend!

And yes! What a communications revolution we have lived through! Where are you on this planet then? Utah? I’m joking (you’ll have to get used to my humour)

________________________________________________________________

(At this point I was a little peeved, and a little more exasperated. As you can see from the last message below I decided to stop coddling my Well-Meaning Witness friend. Perhaps that is why this the last part of our exchange.)

From: Me
To: Well-Meaning Witness

I am in Utah right now (I just graduated from BYU), but I grew up in California and I’m moving to Washington in April to start work.

Now, you remember my caveat – that I expect, if your questions are sincere, you do some homework on your own. You just asked me about whether or not I believed the Old Testament to be inerrant. The answer is no and, in addition to clearly stating earlier I did not, I gave you three links that would have clearly answered that question. I also asked you this question – “If we happened to find Paul’s earlier epistle to the Corinthians, or his epistle to Laodicea, would they belong in the Bible?” You never answered!

And surely someone who is invested in these discussions would know that Mr. Smith’s first name was Joseph, not John. These are small things, and it’s really not a big deal, but it suggests that you’re not doing your homework.

What’s more, this time around you use some proof texts. That’s a fine thing to do, but I’m concerned that you’re “wresting the scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16), and that is not okay. It suggests to me, again, that you’re just pulling these things out of anti-Mormon literature without paying the price to find out what they really mean. For example:

  • “It is finished” – does it suggest a closed cannon, or as a popular YouTube video has suggested, a condemnation of religion? Or might John 19:28-30 have reference to the completion of the atoning sacrifice just before the Savior voluntarily gave up his life?
  • “The scripture cannot be broken” – does it suggest that the Bible is inerrant, and flawless in it’s current state, or could it suggest, as translated in the NIV, that we should not set it aside the teachings of scripture when confronted by doctrines with which we disagree? (Ironically, Latter-day Saints often use this scripture group as evidence for our belief in the deification of man.)
  • Is John 14:26 a reference to Jesus giving his apostles authority, or a reference to him promising them the companionship of the Holy Spirit? (If you want better scriptures about Jesus giving apostles authority, you know, for future reference, see this post of mine, the “Great Desire” section)
  • The scriptures in John you quoted don’t mention Joseph Smith, it’s true. And yet, they do not mention those apostles called after the resurrection and ascension of the Savior, like Matthias and Paul.

I feel like you misuse these scriptures. Perhaps it’s innocent, but either way it is irresponsible. For some, even just by reading the context it’s clear that you’re interpretations are off. For others, like the last one, it would just take a moment or two of careful thought.

Now, since we’ve started we’ve talked a little about whether the Bible is inerrant, whether the Bible is sufficient, the manner in which we come to know spiritual truth, the Fall of Adam and Eve, the atonement of Jesus Christ, the nature of prophets, God’s communication with man, the translation of the Book of Mormon, the meaning of “gospel”, archaeology, and a lot of other things in passing that probably merited much deeper discussion. I feel like we switch topics so quickly and cavalierly!

So all this has gotten me thinking about what we’re doing, and I decided that if we want to continue, we need to come up with an objective. That way, when we’re talking, you or I can say, “Let’s shelf that for now – it doesn’t help us reach our objective,” or, “Let’s concentrate on this for now – it helps us reach our objective.”

There’s only one problem – we don’t have an objective! So let’s decide on one. What do you think? Let’s talk about some objectives we hope to reach from our discussion, and when we agree on one we can continue.

_______________________________________________________________

That’s the end of it! I guess my Well-Meaning Witness friend decided that there would be no converting me to her version of the “truth”. Such is the case with most witnessing experiences I’ve been involved in – they give up, never having given serious consideration to any of the points I raised.

Hopefully this can be an additional positive contact point that will move my friend towards the gospel. As it says in Doctrine and Covenants 123:12-14,

“For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it

Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—

These should then be attended to with great earnestness.”

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Mormon Observations on “Mere Christianity” – Preface 3

This is a post continuing my analysis of Mere Christianity from an LDS perspective. See my table of contents here.

The Meaning of  “Christian”

Lewis addresses the objection that he should not be allowed to define who is and who is not Christian. He says,

“People ask: ‘Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?’: or ‘May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?’ Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.”

He goes on to tell how the word “gentlemen” once had a useful meaning. It meant someone who had a coat of arms and some landed property. Over time, it eventually came to be used more as a compliment when someone else did something you liked. As a result, it becomes quite useless if anyone tries to use it in its old sense. As Lewis says, “it has been spoiled for that purpose.”

He concludes that it’s important to define who is a Christian so that it does not become useless. It, like the word gentlemen, will simply be used as a compliment. Instead, he suggests that

“We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts xi. 26) to ‘the disciples’, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles.”

I think Lewis’ analogy is a good one. It is important to define who is Christian so that the word doesn’t lose it’s meaning. He is not looking to exclude people; he is simply trying to make sense of the hundreds of Christian denominations he sees and find a common ground.

The question of who is Christian will be one that he tries to answer for the rest of the book, and I think generally he does a good job (though I don’t agree with everything he says). But while he takes an entire book to answer that question, it is important to note that he answers it wonderfully in just two lines – someone who is a follower of Christ and of the apostles whom Christ chose to speak for him after his ascension.

Are Mormons Christians?

But are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Christian? As a member of the Mormon church, this question has particular import for me. I have worshiped and followed Jesus Christ all my life, but often mainstream Christians would call me unchristian, or worse, a member of a cult!

(For an in-depth discussion of this, see my post on Mormonism and Robert Jeffress. Briefly, though, the claim that Mormons are members of a cult is also one of semantics. Much like the word “gentleman” has been corrupted into little more than a compliment, the word “cult” has been corrupted to little more than an insult. We’re a little weird, sure, but who isn’t? Perhaps someone who is abiding be the rule Lewis mentions as “common to the whole house” should choose different terminology (see Part 4).)

This is not a simple question. If, when we say “Christian” we mean something akin to what Lewis identified above, a follower of Jesus Christ and his apostles, then certainly Mormons are Christian.

Usually, though, the term “Christian” means something entirely different for those who use it. Instead of a follower of the apostles, one must also be a follower of the Church Fathers and all their creeds, including the doctrine of the Trinity (for a discussion of the authority of the Church Fathers, see here). They must also adhere to only the Bible, and believe that God has stopped speaking to his Church as a whole. In this respect, Mormons are unlike other Christians.

I am somewhat unique (among Latter-day Saints) in my belief that there is great power in focusing on what makes us ‘non-Christian’ rather than shouting, “We’re Christian too!” In the introduction to his book “Here We Stand,” Joseph Fielding McConkie expounds on this idea:

The message of the Restoration centers on the idea that it is not common ground we seek in sharing the gospel. There is nothing common about our message. The way we answer questions about our faith ought to be by finding the quickest and most direct route to the Sacred Grove. That is our ground. It is sacred ground. It is where the heavens are opened and the God of heaven speaks. It is where testimonies are born and the greatest truths of heaven are unveiled. It is of this sacred ground that we say, here we stand.

Do Latter-day Saints believe in Jesus Christ? Of course we do! We believe that he was born of a virgin, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth. He died for the sins of all men, becoming the only way we can gain salvation (Mosiah 3:17). He is King of kings, and Lord of lords. As a church,

“we bear testimony… that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son” (for a summary of what Mormons believe about Jesus, see this statement written by the apostles of the Church; compare it to what makes someone a “Christian”).

But we also believe in a Jesus Christ that appeared to Israelites in the Americas, showing to them as well as other scattered tribes that he indeed had died for them and had been resurrected (See 3 Nephi 11; also 3 Nephi 11-30). We also believe in a Jesus Christ who is a separate and distinct personage, separate from the Father and the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). We also believe in a Jesus Christ who appeared to answer the prayer of a 14 year-old boy and end the dark night of apostasy that had swept over the world since the death of the apostles (see Joseph Smith – History; see also here and here). We also believe in a Jesus Christ who stands at the head of this Church, leading it today through a modern prophet.

Is that different? Yes! And it’s wonderful! So are Mormon’s Christian? As we can see, the answer is yes and no depending on what you mean. But Latter-day Saints can find great strength in not abandoning those things that make us different. We can find great strength in not abandoning our “sacred ground.”

For more information on the Restoration, see here.

Study Questions from this Section

The Meaning of “Christian”

  • Is the analogy about the term ‘Christian’ a good one?
  • Who is a Christian?
  • Are Mormons Christian?

“God Has No Body” Part 6.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 6.1, I included the clarification that Latter-day Saints share this belief concerning God’s unchanging nature. I cited the Lectures on Faith and a scripture from the Book of Mormon. This also strengthened the premise that God’s unchanging nature does not include a prohibition against physical change.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, clarify that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically.  Instead, “unchanging” helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Premise 4 and 5

This section is in regards to premise 4 of the original argument, and premise 5 of this new formulation of the argument.

While the responses to anthropomorphites’ objections we’ve looked at in Part 4 and Part 5 have both been inductive, this argument is perhaps the best example (of the three) of the weaknesses born of inductive arguments.

The conclusion can only be formulated as it is in the fifth statement, i.e. conditionally (“could”). The first three premises could very well be true; in fact, most Latter-day Saints would agree with them. The issue is that they do not lead to the conclusion. Because Jesus did not always have a body does not infer that he would immediately shed that body to regain his incorporeality. In fact, he could very well have kept that resurrected body until this very day. The argument that incorporealists should be making is one regarding why the Savior would shed his resurrected body. This argument from unchangeableness is nothing more than a distraction.

Again, this is the big issue with this argument. It’s purpose, I assume, is to dispel attention from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Savior retains his resurrected body, then God must be corporeal. Yet being unchangeable does not have anything to do with having a physical body – that is what is being argued by the third premise, which is supported by Latter-day Saint theology (see Part 6.1).

Conclusion

Because the premises of the argument lead so weakly to the conclusion, the argument should be adjusted to at least clarify the issue described above. It can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, clarify that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically.  Instead, “unchanging” helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, as far as this argument is concerned, it is equally likely that God could exist as spirit or as an embodied deity; no determination can be made since there is no support given regarding why the Son might or might not have shed his physical body after his ascension.

Arguments considering the question raised by this revised conclusion will not be treated here, but may be covered later.

“God Has No Body” Part 6.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often point to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the Savior so diligently endeavored to show that he had been resurrected, why would he so quickly shed that physical body? The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. Many Biblical verses say that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Thus, this body must not be part of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2)
  4. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Being “Unchangeable” is Important

Joseph Smith, the first president and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught in his Lectures on Faith that it was vital to understand the character of God in order to exercise faith in Him. The third of six characteristics he defined was unchangeableness.  Joseph said,

“From the foregoing testimonies [in scripture] we learn the following things respecting the character of God… that he changes not, neither is there variableness with him; but that he is the same from everlasting to everlasting, being the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and that his course is one eternal round, without variation.”

Joseph then went on to explain why it was vital for men to believe that God held this characteristic:

“But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long-suffering; for without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.”

Obviously, Latter-day Saints not only believe that God is unchangeable, but that it is essential we know this in order to exercise faith in him.

What is “Unchangeable”?

This argument could benefit from an expansion of what it means to be unchangeable. Physical change is not prohibited, it is claimed, by being unchangeable (premise 3). The evidence provided is the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. Yet while this is good evidence, there are many more scriptures in both the Bible and LDS scriptures that teach more about what it means to be unchangeable.

For example, in 2 Nephi 27:23, Nephi quotes (and effectively endorses) Isaiah, who quoted the Lord:

“For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.”

In working with his children, God does not favor some above others.  He is willing to work miracles in all of our lives as long as we have faith in him.

Considering these two sections, the argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God has always existed, and is unchangeable
  2. Jesus assumed an earthly body only after being born of Mary in the meridian of time
  3. Many Biblical verses, along with LDS scriptures and LDS leaders, teach that God being unchangeable does not preclude him from changing physically, but rather helps define his interactions with his children.
  4. Thus, physical change is not prohibited by the scriptural meaning of God’s unchangeable nature (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, God could exist as spirit even though the Son took on human form

Continued at Part 6.2.

“God Has No Body” Part 5.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to multiple scripture references in the Bible which describe God’s body, parts, and passions. God has a human-like form in visions; he has arms, eyes, ears, and hands; and he is moved to anger, sadness, and repentance. Anthropomorphites’ claim that these references, or at least some of these references, are literal. The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield, a buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from the “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:51 Samuel 26:21, 24Jeremiah 52:2), or arms (Isaiah 53:151:9), or other parts, etc.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, God is incorporeal (8)

The Seventh Premise

This argument makes a big jump at the seventh premise, claiming from the existence of some metaphorical passages that all passages must be metaphorical. This is a clear fallacy, or in other words, this argument breaks certain logical rules which render the conclusion invalid. This then becomes a serious problem that is detrimental to this argument’s conclusion (i.e. God is incorporeal).

The fallacy in this argument is one of false emphasis, specifically the fallacy of composition. This fallacy occurs when one infers something is true of the whole when it is true of some of its parts:

  • A spark plug is lightweight, and therefore a car must be lightweight as well.
  • Atoms (which humans are made up of) are invisible, and therefore humans must be invisible as well.

Both cases are clearly ludicrous. Cars are heavy, and humans are visible. We can all see that just because something is true of the parts does not mean that it is true of the whole.

The argument up to the seventh premise is fairly sound. There are many metaphorical references to God in the Bible. And just like a spark plug is not the only lightweight car part, the reference to God’s “wings” is not the only metaphorical reference – God does not have wings, and many of the references to his eyes or arms (including the ones above) are also metaphorical. Yet to conclude that all references to God are metaphorical because some references to God are metaphorical is where the argument turns sour. God may be incorporeal, as most Christians claim, but it cannot be proved or evidenced by this argument.

While we may not be able to know for sure exactly which references are metaphorical and which references are literal, anthropomorphites need only provide one example of a scripture that can reasonably be taken literally to challenge the assumption that all references are metaphorical. I include two examples below which could reasonably be taken literally.

  • In Exodus 33, the Lord invites Moses to behold his glory. For his own purpose, the Lord tells Moses that he will cover his eyes while he passes, but will remove his hand in time for Moses to see his “back parts” (Exodus 33:23). What metaphorical interpretation could Christians give for these”back parts”?
  • Many prophets have seen visions of a corporeal deity other than Jesus Christ. Stephen, for example, saw the Savior standing on the right hand of God before he was martyred by the Jews (Acts 7:55-56). In this case also, there is no metaphorical interpretation. It gives more evidence against Trinitian ideas than for incorporeality.
  • There are other examples of scriptures which can be reasonably interpreted literally here.

Conclusion

Because the argument rises or falls on premise 7, it needs to be adjusted to correct for the fallacy of composition. It can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse Psalms 91:4 speaks of God as having “wings” and “feathers”
  2. The passage as a whole also contains references to God as a refuge, a fortress, a shield and buckler, and a habitation; and references to the speaker as being delivered from a “snare of the fowler,” “noisome pestilence,” and flying arrows
  3. The passage references are clearly metaphorical representations used to describe both various powers of God and various needs of man
  4. Thus, the references to God’s wings and feathers are metaphorical representations of his love and concern (1) (2) (3)
  5. Numerous Biblical passages describe God as having eyes (Ezra 5:5; 1 Samuel 26:21, 24; Jeremiah 52:), or arms (Isaiah 53:1; 51:9), etc.
  6. These passages are clearly metaphorical representations used to symbolize God’s power and knowledge
  7. Thus, while we can safely assume then that many Biblical passages are metaphorical, it would be fallacious to assume from only this evidence that all descriptions of God found in the Bible that refer to tangible, anthropomorphic qualities are metaphoric (4) (5) (6)
  8. Thus, we cannot conclude that God does not have any tangible qualities, including a physical body (7)
  9. Thus, we can conclude that if these scriptures can be taken literally, God is corporeal (7) (8)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“if…”). Still, this new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that all scriptures should be considered as metaphorical. Because no argument is set in stone, and others may challenge this new seventh, eighth, and ninth premise, the conclusion is uncertain. Yet, as the conclusion says, if as many as one scripture can be taken literally, then it is certain that God is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.4

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

In Part 4.2, I challenged the second premise. The premise originally stated that the difference between man and animal was a rational soul. I argued that the veracity of this claim is more or less irrelevant, for the idea is philosophical, not scriptural. Thus, we should not put faith in it the same way we would put faith in Biblical teachings. As a side note, I showed that this was a good example of how Christianity was influenced by Greek philosophy, or Hellenized.

In Part 4.3, I challenged the third premise. This premise originally concluded that the image of God found in man was a rational soul. It was weakened by the changes made to premises 1 and 2, and was forced to be changed to include the caveat that such ideas were philosophical. I further argued (with the assistance of FAIR when it came to the Hebrew language of the original text) that when looking at the context of the verses, it was clear that it was far more likely that “image” referred to a physical, corporeal body than to a rational soul.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have); alternately, scripture suggests that image refers to a physical, corporeal likeness.
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it is unlikely that such a reference is to a rational soul.  Rather, it is much more likely that the reference, while not excluding a rational soul, is to a physical, corporeal body (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, if God’s “image” refers to a physical body, God is corporeal (4)

Conclusion

Having investigated all the claims made in the original argument, it is clear that the foundational statements that led to the conclusion that God may be incorporeal were erroneous. This adjusted argument is much more accurate. Consequently (and ironically), it leads instead to a conclusion that God may be corporeal rather than incorporeal.

It is important to note that this argument is still inductive. We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“if…”). Still, it is conditional for a much different reason than the original argument. The original argument was conditional because it was so narrow. Genesis 1:26 could refer to a rational soul, but God could still be corporeal. The scripture didn’t say enough one way or the other.

This new argument is conditional only because some may argue (however badly) that the only similarity between man and God is a rational soul. Because no argument is set in stone, and others may challenge the fourth premise above, the conclusion is uncertain. Yet, as the conclusion says, if God’s “image” truly refers to a physical body, then it is certain that he is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.3

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

In Part 4.2, I challenged the second premise. The premise originally stated that the difference between man and animal was a rational soul. I argued that the veracity of this claim is more or less irrelevant, for the idea is philosophical, not scriptural. Thus, we should not put faith in it the same way we would put faith in Biblical teachings. As a side note, I showed that this was a good example of how Christianity was influenced by Greek philosophy, or Hellenized.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The Third Premise

Because premise 3 is affected by both premises before it, changing premise 1 and 2 also requires that we adjust premise 3 so that it logically follows. While we can still claim that the “image” of God found in man is a rational soul, and this is the reference made by the author in Genesis 1:26, it must be admitted that this idea is not scriptural. This idea, on the contrary, is philosophical.

This weakens the premise substantially, and consequently weakens the entire argument as well. And yet it is appropriate to challenge this premise in another way. I’ve claimed that the scriptures are silent on this issue of a rational soul. What do the scriptures have to say, then, about this matter of “image”?

For this discussion, because I am no Hebrew scholar, I take my comments from FAIR’s response to this same premise. It is paraphrased, if not mostly copied directly, from them.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image [Hebrew tselem], after our likeness [Hebrew demuth]”. Christians claim that this should be interpreted figuratively, in the sense that humans have “rational souls,” which set us apart from the animals. However, just a few chapters later the author of Genesis repeats “God created man, in the likeness [Hebrew demuth] of God made he him” and then adds some interesting commentary about the birth of Adam’s son Seth: “And Adam lived an hundred thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness [Hebrew demuth], after his image [Hebrew tselem]; and called his name Seth” (Genesis 5:1-3).

Adam was created in God’s image and likeness, and one of Adam’s sons had Adam’s image and likeness. Exactly the same words were used to describe both scenarios by the same prophetic author only one verse apart; thus, the words must have been used in the same way, and to describe the same things. Either Adam looked like God (as Seth looked like Adam), or Seth was the only one of Adam’s sons who possessed a “rational soul,” being the son made in his image.

If there is a good reason to interpret one passage in one way, and the other in another way, the critics must provide it.  As it stands, I can see none.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have); alternately, scripture suggests that image refers to a physical, corporeal likeness.
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it is unlikely that such a reference is to a rational soul.  Rather, it is much more likely that (even if a rational soul is included) the reference is to a physical, corporeal body (1) (2) (3)
  5. Thus, if God’s “image” refers to a physical body, God is corporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.4.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 4.1, I challenged the first premise. The premise originally stated that the purpose of Genesis 1 was to differentiate man from the animals. I argued that this was incorrect, or at the very least incomplete. Rather, the purpose of Genesis 1-3 is to teach us about the character of God, and Genesis 1 specifically teaches us that he is omnipotent and logical. The consequence is that we should not be looking for implied differences between God and man.

The modified argument is as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The Second Premise

This argument claims that the difference between man and animals is a rational soul. This is a very plausible claim, and I will not be challenging it directly. Rather, my challenge will be first and foremost to it’s source.

This idea of a rational soul originally comes not from the apostles, or even the Church Fathers, but earlier than either of the two. It originally surfaced in the writings of Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. This idea that a rational soul is the difference between men and animals can be found in his book Nicomachean Ethics [you can find a number of translations in Google Books], in Book 1.

That this is an idea of Greek philosophy shows very clearly two things. First, as intelligent as Aristotle may have been, the fact remains that he was uninspired. His words do not carry the same authority as the words of Jesus Christ, or the apostles, or the prophets.  Though they sound good, his ideas may very well not be true. They are the “philosophies of men,” and should not be considered the same way we consider Biblical teachings.

Second, it shows that Greek ideas were influencing the formation of Christian dogmas. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, wrote of how he was influenced by Greek ideas.  He says,

By having thus read the books of the Platonists, and having been taught by them to search for the incorporeal Truth, I saw how thy invisible things are understood through the things that are made…. I now believe that it was thy pleasure that I should fall upon these books before I studied thy Scriptures, that it might be impressed on my memory how I was affected by them… For had I first been molded in thy Holy Scriptures, and if thou hadst grown sweet to me through my familiar use of them, and if then I had afterward fallen on those volumes, they might have pushed me off the solid ground of godliness” (emphasis added).

Augustine gives credit to philosophical books for keeping him on the solid ground of godliness, but nonetheless it was his understanding first of Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers that effected how he understood the scriptures, that “impressed on [his] memory how [he] was affected by them.” Anyone who has participated in a discussion of a controversial theological subject knows that a person can “teach” just about any personal doctrine from their interpretation of scripture. It was the Hellenization of Christianity that affected the interpretation of the scriptures, and created the idea that what we have in common with God is nothing more than our rational minds.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The traditional philosophical difference between man and animal is a rational soul, but the scriptures do not support this idea; on the contrary, it originates with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, who lived 300 years before Christ.
  3. Thus, philosophy, and not scripture, suggests that instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.3.

“God Has No Body” Part 4.1

Find Part 1 here.

Those who argue that God has a corporeal body often refer to Genesis 1:26 as evidence for their claim.  It reads,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”

The argument responding to this objection goes something like this:

  1. The purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from God’s other creations, including the animals
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (1) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

The first thing that should be noted is that this argument is inductive, which carries with it its own problems. The conclusion can only be formulated as it is in the fifth statement, i.e. conditionally (“may”). Even if premise 4 is true, it clearly deals only with Genesis 1:26. It is possible that God has a body even though the image referred to in Genesis 1:26 is a rational soul.

Even as an inductive argument, it weakens the position of anthropomorphites. But it cannot establish deductively that God is incorporeal, only that he may be incorporeal.

Myths

This argument claims that the purpose of Genesis 1 is to differentiate man from the animals. That is not necessarily true. In fact, this tract gives no basis for this claim whatsoever.

The way that men have understood the world has changed dramatically since the beginning of the scientific age. Eos no longer brings dawn with rose-red fingers that creep across the sky; instead, dawn is brought by light that emanates from a burning, godless ball of gas. In the same way that science has changed the way men explain the world, it has also changed the way men understand myths. Rather than dealing with whether or not something is historically accurate, as many believe now, myths have traditionally been used to explain man’s identity and relationship to the world around them. They are not just funny stories, but (in their traditional sense) have deep spiritual and religious importance. As the philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote, a myth

“means a ‘true story’… that is a most precious possession because it is sacred, exemplary, and significant.”

The “Myth” of Genesis

At the risk of sounding heretical, I claim that to fully understand Genesis the way its author intended  it to be understood, we should think of it as a myth. In other words, we should look at it in the way Eliade suggested, and the way that ancients looked at myths – to learn who we are and what exactly is our relationship to God. Again, myths bring mysteries within the mental grasp of mankind, while teaching them important, sacred lessons that help them live life more perfectly. In the myth of Genesis, man gains insight into the being that God is – an all-powerful and all-knowing Creator who is to be respected and honored, while also a personal and compassionate Father whom man may approach.

We get this understanding about God from the Creation story in Genesis. Yet it should be noted that there are two accounts of the Creation, which have very noticeable differences – one in Genesis 1, and another in Genesis 2 and 3. The purpose of each account becomes clear when examining the difference between the two. The primary purpose of Genesis 1 is not to differentiate man from the animals, but rather to demonstrate God’s majesty and power. This is in contrast to the primary purpose of Genesis 2 and 3, which is to demonstrate God as a personal, involved sculptor who is aware of the small details.

The Purpose of Genesis 1

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful, almighty God. He sees two problems with the universe – it is without form (chaotic), and it is void (empty). He solves the first problem in the first three days. He forms light and dark, the sea and sky, and the earth and plants. Then, he solves the second problem in the next three days.  He fills this creation with lights, then fish and fowl, and then animals and man.

The God of Genesis 1 is a powerful Creator.  Just by speaking he is able to bring all things into being.  He is also pragmatic, logically solving the problems he identified in the beginning. This was a very specific lesson planned by the author of Genesis, and becomes even clearer when we contrast it with the God of Genesis 2 and 3.

The Purpose of Genesis 2 and 3

We see a much different God in Genesis 2 and 3. Rather than a distant, almighty designer, we come to see God as a very personal and involved creator.

After God creates Adam, he teases and plays with him lovingly as they search together for a help meet. Initially, God tells Adam that it is not good for him to be alone, and then parades before him all the animals. Of course, Adam finds no help meet in this group.

When no help meet is found, Adam is presented with Eve. The original term used to describe creating Eve denotes building, or a similar architectural activity. This is in stark contrast to simply speaking something into existence. God is personally involved here, molding humans from the clay, breathing into them the breath of life.

After sinning, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden. God sets cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life, but then makes them clothing. Was there a needle and thread? Perhaps not. But regardless, God was there, making the clothing for his created children.

This personal, loving, and involved picture of God is a view that you just don’t get from the first chapter of Genesis.

Conclusion

The story of the creation, with both accounts, teaches very vital principles about the character of God.  Both are important, and just one would paint only an incomplete picture. There are differences in the two accounts, but that is done purposefully and should not effect how we view its’ veracity as a whole. The story of Genesis 1-3 was meant to explain the purpose of the Creation and it’s relation to man, and to teach us about the kind of being God is. It’s not necessarily about the historicity.

And when looking at the story, or myth, in context, it’s clear that the purpose of Genesis 1 is much broader than to differentiate man from the animals God created.  Instead, it is to teach us about God, specifically about his almighty power, his omnipotence, and his pragmatic, logical manner.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The purpose of the Creation story is to teach man about the character of God, and Genesis 1 showcases God’s almighty power and pragmatism
  2. The difference between man and animals is a rational soul
  3. Thus, instead of a physical body (which animals also have), the image of God found in man is their rational soul (which animals do not have) (2)
  4. Thus, when Genesis 1:26 speaks of man being made in God’s image, it does not refer to a physical, tangible body (3)
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (4)

Continued at Part 4.2.

“God Has No Body” Part 3.2

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 3.1, I challenged the first premise of the Church Fathers argument found in Part 1. The premise originally stated that the Church Fathers are a reliable source from whom we can learn about the doctrine of the Church. I argued that this is incorrect, and it is the apostles, not the Church Fathers, to whom we should turn. The apostles were taught directly by the Savior in person and through revelation, and the Church Fathers were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy (see also my post relating to Greek influence on the Rational Soul argument, Part 4.2)

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts
  3. Thus, God may or may not be an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts (1) (2)

The Early Church

The matter of what the Church Fathers believed is not a difficult question to answer.  Clearly, the doctrine of a Trinitian God is evident again and again in their writings.  It is also important to consider, though, what the beliefs of lay church members was in those vital first centuries.  There is plentiful evidence that, as Dr. David Paulsen argues, “ordinary Christians for at least the first three centuries of the current era commonly (and perhaps generally) believed God to be corporeal.”

My shortcoming here is that my knowledge of the writings of early Church Fathers is very basic.  Because of that, I must appeal to others, to whom the reader could profitably turn for further investigation.

In “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Paulsen investigates the claim that the writings of Origen and Augustine show that early Christians often believed in a corporeal deity.  The widespread belief in an anthropomorphic God was the reason Church Fathers had to combat the belief so vigorously.

Kim Paffenroth, of Notre Dame, replied to the paper in his comment “Paulsen on Augustine: An Incorporeal or Non-anthropomorphic God?”  This comment, though, was a spotty attempt at making Paulsen’s argument into a straw man, which Paulsen clarifies in a response to Paffenroth (“Reply to Kim Paffenroth’s Comment”).

Another paper by Paulsen that covers the subject is “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God.”  Substantial portions of the paper were drawn from many others, written by Paulsen, on the subject of divine corporeality and early Christian beliefs.  It thus becomes a good single resource to find valid, and documented-backed claims regarding early Christian beliefs.  It suffices me to point you to that resource rather than citing the many references found therein.

If academic papers are not within your reach, you can also check our FAIR’s article on the same subject.

Regardless of what the Neo-Platonic Church Fathers believed, it can be strongly argued that early members of the Christian church believed in a corporeal God.  This is vital because it was these early members who would have been closest to the unadulterated teachings of the apostles and the Savior himself, and furthest from the corrupting influence of Greek philosophy.  Their beliefs reflect strongly on what the uncorrupted dogma of the Church might very well have been before it was infiltrated by Greek thought and practice.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The apostles, not the Church Fathers, are a reliable and authoritative source from which man may learn  of Christian theology, including doctrine on the character of God
  2. The Church Fathers taught that God is an unchangeable, immaterial spirit who is without parts, but neither the scriptures nor the apostles necessarily support this idea; on the contrary, this idea originates with pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, who lived over 300 years before Christ.
  3. Evidence suggests that the members of the early Church (i.e. in the first three centuries) believed in a corporeal God.
  4. The beliefs of early church members would have been most directly influenced by the teachings of the apostles and Jesus Christ himself, and least influenced by Greek thinkers.
  5. Thus, it is likely that the apostles taught that God is embodied rather than incorporeal (3) (4)
  6. Thus, it is likely that God is corporeal (1) (5)

It is important to note that this argument is inductive.  We can only make a conclusion that is conditional (“it is likely…”).  Still, the condition is based on arguments over what was taught by the original apostles.  If the apostles did in fact teach that God is corporeal (which is likely when considering the beliefs of early Church members who had not been influenced by Greek philosophy), then it is certain that God is corporeal.

That is a much stronger conclusion, and a powerful bit of evidence in favor of the anthropomorphites’ claim that God is embodied.