Tag Archives: Old Testament

Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

I felt like Elder Oaks’ address from General Conference, “Loving Others and Living with Differences,” was fantastic. And heavy. And a little biting, especially if you’re one of those dweebs who doesn’t let their kids play with other kids who aren’t members of the Church.

(I mean, seriously?…)

Dang it. I just lost the “is it I?” game, deep diving into my second General Conference talk. Crap.

I feel like there’s so much in there that I’ll need to “noodle” over, but one of the heaviest parts of Elder Oaks’ talk, in my view, is the discussion about contention. “Contention” can mean a great many things to a great many people, which is what makes discussion about it so slippery. Before we look more into clues that help us see how Elder Oaks’ understands “contention,” let me tell you a story. Continue reading Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before

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A Tragic Example of Christian Cognitive Dissonance

This post will be more or less a recap of a (sad) conversation I’ve been mildly involved in. The topic everyone was discussing is how literally to take the Creation story in Genesis. That’s not the purpose of this post, and hopefully that subject won’t distract you from the real message I want to convey regardless of your personal stance.

That message is this: please don’t fall victim to cognitive dissonance.

What is cognitive dissonance? Aside from being one of the best and most researched principles in psychology, it’s a major human failing that will at times befall the best of us. Unfortunately, we must all overcome this (as best we can), but it’s essential that we do so if we are to be able to listen and understand others, and if we are to grow individually as we encounter positions contrary to our own.

So, more specifically, what is cognitive dissonance? In short, it’s the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience in reality. The theory behind this idea suggests that the more committed we are to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are mistaken.

I encountered a man who I think was experiencing cognitive dissonance. He kept repeating  the phrase “I’ll side with Jesus, I’ll side with Jesus” (for some reason, in my head he has a southern accent) without realizing that no one was suggesting we go contrary to the Savior. He simply did not want to accept that his view was not the Savior’s view, and thus continued with his cadence.

(You might think that if you’re going to have a cadence, there are far worse to have than “I’ll side with Jesus, I’ll side with Jesus,” but I’m not so sure. In the words of Malcolm Reynolds, one of my favorite fictional heroes, “Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he’s right with God.”)

I’ll let you read below. It’s sad that this happens, even in a text conversation when you have time to consider and reread the responses of others before you reply. What makes it worse is that our friend likely thinks that he’s either making a difference, or at least acting as an appropriate witness for his beliefs. The fact is that he’s doing neither.

How can we all be better?

The Background

The original piece was posted on the blog Tired Road Warrior, and entitled “Genesis 1-3 as Myth“. I had studied this very topic myself, and the post caught my attention. I read and commented.

I’ll include the post and comment thread below. I’ll post updates if there are any – I would not be surprised if our dissonant friend decided to continue his cadence.

Genesis 1-3 as Myth

According to David Williams writing on resurrectingraleigh.com,

Is Genesis a myth?  Ever since George Smith discovered and published the ancient Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, theologians, biblical scholars and informed lay people have been aware of the fact that the book of Genesis was not written in a literary or cultural vacuum.  As other ancient Near Eastern creation stories have been brough to light we have come to know a lot more about the intellectual, cultural, theological, and literary milieu with which Genesis was written, giving us an unprecidented opportunity to assess just what sort of text Genesis is.  What is Genesis’s genre and how ought we to read it if we are to do so responsibly?

The majority report among mainline biblical scholars is that the ancient texts which Genesis 1-3 resembles most are ancient Eastern creation myths, an observation which suggests that that is probably the best way to read Genesis, as well. . .

Williams goes on to explain how Christian apologist (and Mormon literary hero) C. S. Lewis dealt with the issue:

For Lewis, “myth” is not a bad word.  It does not necessarily carry connotations of falsehood or contrivance or deception or muddleheadedness.  For Lewis myth is a highly imaginative way of speaking about the world that can speak truth at least as well as history or science can.  For Lewis, “myth” does not automatically mean false.

. . . [Lewis] was a professor of literature, a man trained in the reading, understanding, and appreciation of texts, and his literary instincts, given the available evidence, led him to the conclusion not only that Genesis was myth but also that that was perfectly fine.

Comments

Trevor: 

I believe CS Lewis’s usage of “myth” is the common academic usage as well. Check out this interview with religious scholar Karen Armstrong, for instance:http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4992705

While I’d quickly describe much of the Old Testament, the BoM, etc. as “myth”, it’s certainly not a term I’d drop in Sunday School because I would be misinterpreted by probably everyone.

Eugene Adkins:

Jesus didn’t treat Genesis as if it were a myth – Matthew 19:4-6 (Adam and Eve); 24:37-39 (Noah); Luke 17:32 (Lot and his wife); John 8:56 (Abraham); Matthew 8:11 (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) and on and on. Genesis a myth? I’ll stick with Jesus.

Roger D Hansen:

I don’t know exactly how to respond. The early chapters of Genesis don’t track well with science, history, archaeology, geology, etc. I would hope that, if you have children or grandchildren, you encourage them to make up there own minds. That way, if they choose to believe in evolution and other scientific truths, they won’t necessarily lose their religious convictions. I’m very worried that the anti-science statements by religious leaders are causing a “crisis of faith” in our youth. Science and religion don’t need to be at odds.

Eugene Adkins:

I don’t worry too much with Genesis not “tracking well” with the faithless. I will stick with Jesus. If you can’t believe His words about the individuals I quoted above, the you can’t believe His words about anything else. It’s that simple.

I think you’re correct in saying that science and religion don’t need to be at odds. It’s the way certain people teach science that makes it come to odds with Christianity and the Bible and not the other way around. Nothing about the creation process of Genesis contradicts science. Science contradicts the Bible when it tries to teach we came “from monkeys” instead of being created complete and whole in one day in the image of God.

The science book or the Bible? I’ll take the Bible.

Me:

During a philosophy class, we looked at Genesis as a “myth”, which, as Trevor (and Williams) says, does not necessarily mean a false or untrue story (more traditionally, it actually means a *true* story!).

Regardless of the Creation story’s historicity, I gained some great insights about God from looking at this account as a traditional myth. I blogged about it on my own site – it’s part of an apologetic series I did about the corporeality of God. I’m not sure if you’re interested, but if you are, you can find more about the “myth of Genesis” here: https://religiousreason.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/god-has-no-body-part-4-1/

Adkins is a little off. It’s great to side with Jesus and the scriptures, but, in the words of Hank Hanigraff, we need to “read the Bible for all it’s worth”. Injecting our own perspective into an account meant to be understood differently can easily lead us from the path the Savior would have us walk. We can think we’re siding with him all the way to spiritual blindness.

Eugene Adkins:

“And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the BEGINNING ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4-6) Hmmm…I think I’ve read those exact words somewhere in the Bible before.

Wow, Jesus saying that Adam and Eve were actually created by God in the beginning. Boy, that sure does sound like I’m injecting my own perspective into the scriptures doesn’t it. “Adkins” is a little off in that “Adkins” believes the scriptures in the midst of a group of people who like to talk about God being real but they don’t like to believe His word really means what it says.

Were Adam and Eve real people? If you say “no” then you’re saying “no” to the Bible – that simple. Sounds like a lot of people are confused about something that God’s word is very clear on – http://wp.me/p20YNR-1b

Me:

I’m sure our host will act as moderator if our exchange devolves into mindless patter, though I myself don’t plan to to reply more than this once.

You see, no one is debating the “exact words” found in the Bible. *Perspective* refers to how people understand those exact words, and certainly you will concede that people from different Christian sects can understand the same scripture in much different ways. You say that you believe the scriptures, and I have no doubt you mean that, but what you really mean is that you believe *your* interpretation of the scriptures. And when you add that you’re amongst those who don’t believe the scriptures, what you really mean is that you’re amongst those who don’t believe them as *you* think they should.

You’re entitled to believe what you wish, including that I’m some sort of heretic, but let’s not misunderstand – I believe, just as much as you believe, in the scriptures and what they teach (also, for what it’s worth, I don’t think I’m a heretic). I’ll let Roger and Trevor speak for themselves if they’re so inclined.

I believe that God created Adam and Eve, that they were real people, and that they were separate and distinct from all other animals, just as you do. I don’t, though, necessarily believe that the world was created in six 24 hour periods, just like I don’t necessarily believe the dragons of Revelation literally exist even though I believe in the reality of Jesus Christ taught in that book.

Again, you’re welcome to believe what you want, but don’t mistake *your* perspective for *the* perspective, particularly when all you have behind you is your lay experience. Engage in the discussion, but do so by doing more than just repeating yourself or tossing around veiled insults about being confused or heretical.

Roger D Hansen:

My only point in posting this discussion was to make the case that religion need not be anti-science. If we assume that God created the Earth in his own good time (after all he had an eternity) and that Genesis was never intended to be a science or history book, then Genesis 1-3 makes sense if not taken literally. There is no discussion in OT about how God made the Earth and man.

I personally don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve. If my ancient ancestors were monkeys/apes, that is fine with me. Adam and Eve are symbolic for when the human species reached a certain level of sentience. There was no flood that covered the whole Earth, there is not enough water to do that. And there are also historical issues with a universal flood. And I can go on and on.

The important document for Christians is the NT and there is no need to get hung up on the OT.

Eugene Adkins:

You said, “If we assume that God created the Earth in his own good time (after all he had an eternity) and that Genesis was never intended to be a science or history book, then Genesis 1-3 makes sense if not taken literally.”

The problem is that you’re assuming where God’s word is telling.

You said, “There is no discussion in OT about how God made the Earth and man.”

Um, how about Genesis 1-3??? You must not read the Psalms very much, or very much of the rest of the Old Testament either for that matter.

You said, “I personally don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve. If my ancient ancestors were monkeys/apes, that is fine with me.”

It’s not fine with me because it’s not what the scriptures teach. Adam was a type of Jesus according the New Testament. A monkey is not a type for the Savior of the world. You may not personally believe that Adam and Eve were real people but Moses believed in Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26,27); Ezra believed in Adam and Eve (1st Chronicles 1:1); Job believed in Adam and Eve (Job 31:33); Luke believed in Adam and Eve (Luke 3:38); Paul believed in Adam and Eve (1st Corinthians 15:45, 1st Timothy 2:13); Jude believed in Adam and Eve (Jude 14); and Jesus not only believed in Adam and Eve, He created them (Matthew 19:4,5; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17). You cannot believe in the second Adam without believing in the first (1 Corinthians 15:45; Romans 5:14).

You said, “There was no flood that covered the whole Earth, there is not enough water to do that.”

You may not believe it, but Jesus did (Matthew 24:38-39). Your comments are exactly why I said what I said in my first reply and I’ll say it again – I’ll stick with Jesus; He didn’t teach that any of Genesis was a myth, plain and simple.

Roger D Hansen:

Robert A. Rees in the Mar 2012 “Sunstone” (p. 56) writes:

” . . . it is important to remember that much of scripture is an admixture of fact and fancy, a deliberate arrangement of history so as to make it more persuasive, and an artful telling–even invention–of human events to make them more dramatic. That sixty percent of the Old Testament is poetry suggests that we can give ourselves to the poetic (that is, imaginative) fabrications of sacred literature. . .”

Eugene Adkins:

Who are you going to place your faith in? The word’s of Robert A. Ress, or the word’s of Jesus the Christ? I know who I’m going to believe when it comes to interpreting the scripture of Genesis 1-3.

Racing to Beat Traffic

In the Pearl of Great Price we learn more about the Enoch of the Bible, who “walked with God: and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). He was the leader of a city so righteous that it was taken up into heaven.

From time to time I hear variations on a common fable dealing with this scriptural account. For example, someone teaching about keeping the Sabbath day holy will joking say that the City of Enoch was taken up into heaven on a Sunday afternoon when some less committed citizens were out fishing, instead of worshiping as God commands. We, therefore, should be careful to keep the Sabbath day holy rather than going boating on Sunday in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again during Sunday school!

Another variation I’ve head is that, similarly, we should be careful to attend the Saturday night adult meeting (one session of the bi-annual stake conference) in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again then! (It is never as well-attended as it should be.)

Ironically, during the last stake conference I attended, the adult meeting was moved from Saturday night to Sunday night. I’ve heard whispers that this was to accommodate the BYU football game that was taking place on Saturday.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

But that is neither here nor there.

These just-for-fun fables make sense, but I’ve always thought that it won’t be during Sunday school (to the peril of the boaters), or during the adult session of stake conference (to the peril of the football fanatics), that the Savior will come. Rather, it will be during the closing prayer of the general conference priesthood session, right after waves of men and boys have skipped out.

Why would the Savior come then? It is because, for some reason that is literally beyond my comprehension, scores of people get out of their seats as the closing speaker says “Amen” in a mad dash for their car, presumably to beat the traffic.

Spoiler: There’s not that much traffic coming out of a stake center. It was in college before I noticed any traffic at all. I had a father who’s expectation was for his sons to help set up chairs. By the time the chairs were put away, the parking lot was a ghost town.

Still, without fail, people – whether at a stake meeting, or a general conference meeting, or BYU devotional – will get up and leave during the closing song.

It boggles my mind.

You Can’t Pick

Why is this on my mind tonight?

Or rather, why is this on my mind other than the fact that I watched it happen in front of me, again, just last night?

Let’s take a step back to one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in a sacrament meeting.

I forget most of the content of the talk that this particular woman was giving, but a line that sticks out to me was this:

“You can’t choose the commandments your children break.”

I will do a horrid job of paraphrasing the talk of this wonderful woman, but I will try to explain her meaning. She was talking about parenthood, but it applies to being an example in any setting.

What she was saying was this: we will, through the choices we make, influence the perceptions of others. While we have control over how we act, we do not have control over how people perceive us. We may bend the rules in a case where we think the exception is acceptable, but those who see us won’t learn that it’s acceptable to bend the rules in that specific case; they will learn, rather, only that it’s acceptable to bend the rules. We don’t have control over the way they then bend the rules, or the cases where they deem it acceptable.

In short, as exemplars we can inspire or excuse, and in the instances we excuse, we have little control over what we excuse.

These men that jump from their seats as soon as the closing hymn begins may be exemplifying that it is acceptable to leave a meeting early if you want to beat traffic, or if you have a dinner at home getting cold.

The problem is that others may be perceiving that it is acceptable to become casual in our relationship with God when it’s more convenient to cut corners.

A Necessary Balance

As I was discussing this with my mother-in-law (who I love dearly), she gave me a bit of kind-hearted grief about being too invested in something that wasn’t worth the attention I was giving it. As she told me,

“It’s not worth having it rent space in your brain.”

Now, let me say this – her advice was very wise, and to tell you the truth, I can usually use a little grief.

And she’s right! This can be perfectly filed with other “pet peeves” of mine that don’t deserve a second thought, like when the young men who bless the sacrament wear goofy ties with Simpson characters, or adult priesthood holders wear bright orange shirts to church meetings even though they may be asked to officiate in some way. These are my personal standards, the gospel according to AlohaLarsen, if you will, and they should not be imposed on others who don’t feel the same way.

(Read: Don’t give me crap for drinking Dr. Pepper. That may be fine for you, but I love my “leaded” soda, and will drink it for years to come.)

But that does not make the principle any less true. We should be mindful of the example which we set before others who identify us with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In other words, don’t worry about leaving meetings early to beat the traffic, or wearing a goofy tie when you’re exercising your priesthood, or wearing bright shirts to church when you may be exercising your priesthood. I’ll think you’re kind of a dweeb, but that’s my problem – that tendency is a character flaw I’m still working on.

What should you worry about, though?

Actions Fit for Bearers of God’s Priesthood

In the priesthood session last night, Elder David A. Bednar spoke on priesthood, and told a personal story from his childhood. His father was not a member, but still attended the LDS Church like one. Elder Bednar says,

As a boy I asked my dad many times each week when he was going to be baptized. He responded lovingly but firmly each time I pestered him: “David, I am not going to join the Church for your mother, for you, or for anyone else. I will join the Church when I know it is the right thing to do.”

One week the conversation they had was different. Elder Bednar continues,

I believe I was in my early teenage years when the following conversation occurred with my father. We had just returned home from attending our Sunday meetings together, and I asked my dad when he was going to be baptized. He smiled and said, “You are the one always asking me about being baptized. Today I have a question for you.” I quickly and excitedly concluded that now we were making progress!

My dad continued, “David, your church teaches that the priesthood was taken from the earth anciently and has been restored by heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith, right?” I replied that his statement was correct. Then he said, “Here is my question. Each week in priesthood meeting I listen to the bishop and the other priesthood leaders remind, beg, and plead with the men to do their home teaching and to perform their priesthood duties. If your church truly has the restored priesthood of God, why are so many of the men in your church no different about doing their religious duty than the men in my church?” 

This is not a terrible question. If the LDS Church is true, and the men he met at the local ward really held God’s priesthood, then why did local ward leaders have to so desperately urge them to do their duty, week after week?

Elder Bednar concludes,

I believe my father was wrong to judge the validity of our Church’s claim to divine authority by the shortcomings of the men with whom he associated in our ward. But embedded in his question to me was a correct assumption that men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men. Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently….

I have never forgotten the lessons about priesthood authority and power I learned from my father, a good man not of our faith, who expected more from men who claimed to bear God’s priesthood. That Sunday afternoon conversation with my dad many years ago produced in me a desire to be a “good boy.” I did not want to be a poor example and a stumbling block to my father’s progress in learning about the restored gospel. I simply wanted to be a good boy. The Lord needs all of us as bearers of His authority to be honorable, virtuous, and good boys at all times and in all places.

As Elder Bednar says, it is wrong to gauge the truthfulness of the Church based on the imperfections of Church members, but there is a stinging hint of truth in that question. As holders of God’s holy priesthood, what does it say when we don’t act in accordance with what we know to be true?

More importantly, what does this tell others?

In this case, it told a father that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not an organization he wanted to join. How tragic!

(Luckily, this changed some time later, and Elder Bednar was able to baptize his father.)

Actions Fit for the Lord’s Ministers

I don’t wish to belabor the point, so perhaps a short final example will suffice.

A prophet in the Book of Mormon named Alma had a number of sons who acted as missionaries. Most were faithful, but one son, Corianton, made some visible mistakes. His father told him,

“And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother…

“Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.

“And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.

“Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted” (Alma 39:1-4).

And what was the result of Corianton’s poor example? His father continues,

“Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words (Alma 39:11).

Conclusion

Let us be mindful of the examples we set, even when it’s something so simple as leaving a priesthood meeting early to beat traffic. Let us consider the lesson we’re teaching.

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses Part 10

Go back to Part 1.

1 John 5

In TBC’s third volley, there is more wresting of the scriptures (it’s like they can’t help themselves). They write,

“The Apostle John reaffirms these principles by stating, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. . .” (1 John 5:9). He goes on to identify “the witness of God” to be that which he was writing, New Testament Scripture! The pressing importance of this discussion is also included in his narrative. It is only when feelings and predispositions give way to God’s objective written revelation, the Bible, that the truth about eternal life can be positively known.

” “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in
His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God
hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of
the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life. . .” (1 John 5:11-13).”

1 John 5:9

What does John say about confirming truth?

Like Isaiah, John does not say that the only source of truth is the New Testament or the Bible (the Bible was not even compiled in his day!). He does not say that we must subjugate personal revelation from the Holy Ghost. Instead, he says the Spirit bears witness of truth, and if we believe the witness of man, surely we should believe the witness of God. He says,

“This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth….

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son” (1 John 5:6,9).

The “this” of “this is the witness” does not refer to the New Testament, or even to the book of 1 John. Two other translations of 1 John 5:9 make this clear.

  • NIV: We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.
  • NLT: Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son.

These verses show that the “this” is simply a reference to what the witness of God is – that Jesus is his Son.

And as verse 6 states, this truth is borne witness of by the Spirit.

Clues from the Context, Again, Again

1 John 5:9 is part of a wonderful close that John gives to his book of 1 John. Let’s look at some contextual clues so that we can appreciate the theme that runs through the chapter. We’ll be looking most closely at verses 6-13.

Yet this will be somewhat more involved than when we looked at Jeremiah because of something called the johannine comma.

The Johannine Comma

In this part of 1 John there is a portion of scripture that isn’t found in any manuscript before the 5th to 7th century. Most scholars believe that Erasmus of Rotterdam inserted it himself, likely to give more credence to the doctrine of the Trinity (which, mind you, was not incorporated into the ancient church until 360 AD, at the Council of Constantinople).

Did you get that? This portion of scripture was not written by John, but was added to the Bible long after his death. The affected verses, with the johannine comma in bold, reads,

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

“And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (1 John 5:7-8).

Why is this important to bring up now? This text is right in the middle of John’s closing words, and is important when considering the meaning of the passage as a whole.

John’s Closing Statement

John desperately wants us to believe in Jesus Christ, and thereby inherit eternal life. In fact, that is the very reason that he wrote 1 John, that we “may believe on the name of the Son of God” (vs. 13).

How do Spirit, water, and blood relate to Jesus Christ, and to salvation? We’re taught,

“Inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;

For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified (Moses 6:59-60).

Being born again, of water and of the Spirit (see John 3:5), and being sanctified by the atonement and blood of Jesus Christ, is the only way to eternal life. How important this is to make known to the world! Lehi writes,

“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 (2 Nephi 2:6-8).

That’s why both the Father and the Holy Ghost bear record of this truth, as John tells us below. John himself also bears that same witness, for it is only though Jesus Christ that we can be born again and receive eternal life.

Without the johannine comma, let’s read 1 John 5:6-13, which has absolutely nothing to do with the sufficiency of the Bible. John says,

“This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.

“For there are three that bear record,

“The Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.

“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

“He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses Part 8

Go back to Part 1.

The Authority of the Word of God

TBC’s second volley continues the trend of wresting the scriptures. They write,

“Is there any absolute way to know the truth? Yes! The prophet Isaiah has said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Here the only reliable testimony is identified as the written Word of God. That certainly explains why the Apostle Paul commanded his readers to study the Bible, the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).”

The Circular Argument

Can you see the problem with their argument? I’ll give you another chance. TBC argues,

“Is there any absolute way to know the truth? Yes! The prophet Isaiah has said, “To the law and to the testimony….” Here the only reliable testimony is identified as the written Word of God.”

Do you see it? I’ll give you some more help.

  • Christian – “The Bible is the Word of God!”
  • Non-Christian – “How do you know?”
  • Christian – “Because it says in the Bible that the Bible is the Word of God!”
  • Non-Christian – “?”

Anything? Maybe it would help to see things from a different perspective.

  • Mormon – “The Book of Mormon is the Word of God!”
  • Christian – “How do you know?”
  • Mormon – “Because it says in the Book of Mormon that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God!”
  • Christian – “Oh! I want to be baptized!” 😉

See it now?

This is an unfortunately frequent, and horribly circular, argument used by mainstream Christians. One Latter-day Saint, speaking of how many Christians today practice what could be referred to as “Bibliolatry”, said, “The Bible is not the object of our faith; it is one of the sources of our faith.” This “Bible Worship” at the center of Christianity may be why mainstream Christians cling so tightly to this fallacious argument.

Unless we can first know whether or not the Bible is true, we cannot know if anything it says it true, including that it is God’s word.

So how do we know that the Bible is true? What can confirm the truthfulness of God’s word?

Certainly we have physical evidence to  support the people and places of the scriptures. We can find evidence that Moses lived and wrote what the Bible says he did. Yet this does not prove that what he wrote was true. We can find evidence of the historical Jesus, but how can we know that Jesus is the Son of God?

Only God can confirm his word, and he has chosen to do this through the Holy Ghost. Matthew writes,

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

“And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).

Isaiah 8:20

What does Isaiah say about confirming truth?

He does not say that the only source of truth is the Bible (the Bible was not even compiled in his day!). He does not say that the only way to confirm truth is to see whether or not it is in accordance with other revealed scripture. Much like Paul in Galatians, Isaiah is only saying that God is consistent, and that, for example, the truth he reveals in the New Testament will be according to what he revealed in the Old Testament. He says,

“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

For Latter-day Saints, what God revealed in the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants is according to what was revealed in the Bible. Silly, misinformed Christians may contradict this claim, but obviously we would have to investigate these objections on a case by case basis, and it’s not my purpose to do so here.

Clearly, Isaiah does not help TBC’s argument in this case.

2 Timothy 2:15

What does Paul teach Timothy about confirming truth?

He does not really teach anything about confirming truth. He doesn’t really teach anything about studying the scriptures, either, as TBC suggests. Instead, he teaches about using the scriptures. Paul says,

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

The last phrase, “rightly dividing,” could be translated, “setting forth without perversion, distortion”. It’s unfortunate TBC does not heed Paul’s counsel, and set forth the truth without perverting it or distorting it.

Clearly, Paul does not help TBC’s argument in this case.

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses Part 7

Go back to Part 1.

Jeremiah 17:9

The first wave in TBC’s attack comes in the form of a twisted Jeremiah 17:9:

“A basic Bible fact is Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. . .” Therefore, it may be concluded that even a burning conviction or “testimony” is totally untrustworthy. Tragically, even many “answers to prayer” fall under this description when based primarily on feelings.”

Whew, I hardly know where to start.

Clues from the Context

When Jeremiah speaks of the heart, to what is he referring? Let’s look at some contextual clues. Earlier in that chapter Jeremiah teaches,

“Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord…

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is” (Jeremiah 17:5,7).

Jeremiah contrasts those who trust in man with those who trust in God. One’s heart departs from the Lord, and one’s “heart” is with him. Of the heart of he who “maketh flesh his arm”, Jeremiah then teaches,

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

He then promises that

“I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).

Clearly, the heart is related to where we put our hope or trust. What else can we learn from the context?

Throughout the chapter Jeremiah uses the word “heart” four times, and each time as a symbol for innermost desires. Clearly, “heart” here is not a symbol for “feelings”, or even for revelation from the Holy Ghost. Our heart is a symbol for our innermost desires, and those who put their trust in God will find that he will test and try their hearts so that they become purified and centered in him.

There is a fantastic sermon here, but it has nothing to do with revelation. As such, we cannot draw the conclusion that TBC draws, that testimonies or answers to prayer connected to emotions are “totally untrustworthy”.

Heart – Our Innermost Desires

Surely this must be some fringe Mormon interpretation, right?

Not at all. From the Bible Tools page for Jeremiah 17:9, we get a similar interpretation. John Ritenbaugh teaches,

“A person breaks the second commandment when he exalts himself against God by trusting in his own or another’s reasoning and lives that way rather than the way God ordained and commanded.  Too often, the heart is easily led to satisfy its own desires rather than follow revealed knowledge. But God faithfully searches and tests our hearts to rid us of all idolatries so we will follow His way as closely as possible.

He continues,

Human nature, the law of sin within us, is always seeking to pull us again into the defilement of sin, seeking to destroy our hope of sharing life with the holy God. That is why God counsels us in Proverbs 4:23 to keep — that is, guard, preserve, and maintain — our heart. It is very easy to become defiled by lapsing back to old habits…. The normal human mind deceitfully convinces each person that they are good and love God, men, and law. But the reality is just the opposite: It is at war with God and men, and hates God’s holy, righteous, and spiritual law. It loves itself and its desires far more than anything else. It is this deceitful, self-centered enmity that exerts constant influence, pulling us into the defilement of sin.

This kind of legitimate commentary is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg.

More from the Scriptures

And what do other scriptures teach about the heart? I’ll offer just two references from a myriad examples.

Paul tells us,

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).

And the Savior himself promised that

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).

The heart is not condemned in scripture. Just the opposite, it plays a key role in our salvation.

A Response to “Biblical” Criticism of Spiritual Witnesses

I hope you can excuse a quick catch-up before I dig into the meat of this post.

Once Upon a Time…

Once upon a time, a girl who read this blog emailed me to ask a question about the LDS perspective on something, and a conversation got started. Unfortunately, she turned out to be less interested in knowing the answers to her questions, and more interested in destroying my faith just by asking them (spoiler: it didn’t work). You can find our conversation thread in my post “An Apple Not Quite Ripe”.

Still, this initial conversation got me studying the question, “How can I come to know spiritual truth?” more deeply. I collected some of my own thoughts on the subject, which you can read in a more polished post, “Coming to Know Spiritual Truth – Come, Feel and See”. I also went to a friend of mine, a pastor in central California, to get his evangelical perspective on some of my questions. You can find our conversation thread in my post “More Discussion About Spiritual Truth”.

That was going to be the end of it.

Then I decided to go to Twitter. Every now and then, usually when I’m looking for something to write about on this blog, I will search “mormon” to see the tweets that come up.

I don’t know why I do this – I usually end up reading something written by some (hopefully) well-meaning Christian, but a Christian who says some really dumb things, and I get frustrated and lose faith in humanity.

As an indulgent side note, I have something to say to the evangelicals practicing pitiful scholarship and blatant hypocrisy. Stop it. Please, just stop already. Believe what you want to believe, but this whole ends-justifies-the-means type of response to Mormonism was old and tired decades ago. If you’re part of the problem, repent. And if you’re not, well, great! Help solve it from your end by encouraging others to repent.

Anyway, during my (masochistic) Twitter search, I happened upon a group that criticizes Latter-day Saints, the Trinity Baptist Church in Riverton, Utah (shortened hereafter as TBC). As it so happened, they offered an answer to the question, “Does a ‘testimony’ assure discovery of truth?”

Given my recent experiences with the subject, and because I have no reason to expect that their criticism isn’t as good a one as any, I decided to look into it. Hence this post.

Does A ‘Testimony’ Assure Discovery of Truth? – TBC

Click on the hyperlinked portions of this text to view an in-depth response to that specific point. It may not be academically exegetical, but the sincere reader will have no trouble following my logic to the conclusion at the end of this post.

Besides, that level of intensity might drive off the (few) readers I now enjoy! (Oh, I’m kidding myself. I know all my hits are from Google Images.)

‘Testimony’ is understood by some to be sure knowledge received by revelation accompanied by a warm feeling of calm unwavering certainty. It is granted by several who bear such a testimony that this is essentially an inner experience not given to explanation or based on reason or logic.

But does feeling something is true make it so? Does profound belief assure truthfulness? Can feelings be depended upon to be the witness of the Spirit? When, for example, two opposing religionists both “know” their respective viewpoints are “true” because of personal “revelation” or an inner warm glow, how can it be determined which, if either of them, is correct?

A basic Bible fact is Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. . .” Therefore, it may be concluded that even a burning conviction or “testimony” is totally untrustworthy. Tragically, even many “answers to prayer” fall under this description when based primarily on feelings.

Is there any absolute way to know the truth? Yes! The prophet Isaiah has said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Here the only reliable testimony is identified as the written Word of God. That certainly explains why the Apostle Paul commanded his readers to study the Bible, the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). It is also highly informative to note that though Peter received direct revelation from both the Father and the Son, he emphatically declared the Bible to be “. . .a more sure word of prophecy. . .” (2 Peter 1:16-21).

The Apostle John reaffirms these principles by stating, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater. . .” (1 John 5:9). He goes on to identify “the witness of God” to be that which he was writing, New Testament Scripture! The pressing importance of this discussion is also included in his narrative. It is only when feelings and predispositions give way to God’s objective written revelation, the Bible, that the truth about eternal life can be positively known.

“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in
His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God
hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of
the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life. . .” (1 John 5:11-13).

Conclusion

If you followed all the hyperlinks above, you read nine other short posts:

Whew!

What do we take from these nine posts?

Frankly, that TBC and others like them are either intentionally deceptive or ignorantly deceptive. In the case of the latter that makes them either incompetent, disinterested, or unintelligent, and in the case of the former it makes them outright evil.

None of those are great camps to be in.

The Potter’s Clay

I was reading through some of my old mission notes the other day, and came across a fantastic little lesson. It all starts with this scripture from Jeremiah:

“O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).

The Potter’s Process

To those who may have taken ceramics in high school (or have seen the movie “Ghost” more than a few times) this may be old news. For the rest of us, though, this is how the ceramics process works.

First, you have to cut and wedge the clay. Wedging is done by rotating the clay and pressing it onto a hard surface. When done correctly, wedging homogenizes the clay and gets all the air bubbles out.

This is very hard work, but work that is absolutely critical. Air still in the clay will expand during firing, and the piece will explode in the kiln.

A piece is then molded and dried before making its’ way to the kiln, where firing takes place. Firing is normally done in multiple steps. The initial firing, referred to as bisque firing, is meant to harden the clay in order to make glazing easier. This first firing takes a few days, as the oven temperature slowly rises to almost 2000 degrees, then slowly falls before pieces are removed from the kiln.

If the temperature rises or falls too quickly, or if the wedging was poor and air bubbles were left in the clay, the piece will explode. It will be completely destroyed, and will likely destroy or damage pieces near it in the kiln.

Our Response to the Divine Potter

As our Heavenly Potter works us into the shapes he desires, we can respond in two ways.

Rebellious Clay

The first response is to rebel against his efforts, to push back against the wedging and the molding. Regarding this response, Isaiah asks,

“For shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:16; see also 2 Nephi 27:27).

“Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?” (Isaiah 45:9).

Isaiah essentially points out how silly it is to fight our Potter’s hands. It would be absurd for my own clay to start talking back as I formed it into a pot or dish! It’s dirt! It has no idea what’s going on, or what is best.

Humble Clay

This is why it’s so much better to respond in the second way, with humble acceptance. Contrasting the intelligence of a human potter and mud is an apt metaphor. Compared to our Heavenly Father, and just like the dirt, we don’t have a clue.

Additionally, the clay has no real value until it is molded. We could never become apart from the molding, pursuing our own course, what our Heavenly Potter could make us.

In the words of Isaiah, how better is it to say to the Divine Potter,

“But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

In his hands we can be shaping into something special. As he wedges us, and we feel the pressure of being stretched and refined, let us remember his purpose. He wants to prepare us for the kilns ahead, and give us the fortitude to withstand the heat.

Firing and Repentance

Once clay is kilned, it’s practically permanent. While it’s possible to become malleable again, it’s so much harder than before the clay is fired.

First, scraps need to be soaked. And soaked. And soaked. The moisture was taken out of the clay over a long, hot process, and it will take a long, long time for moisture to return. It does not happen overnight.

Then the clay must be reconstituted. This is sometimes done with a machine that crushes and mixes the scraps into clay that can once again be molded and shaped.

But all is not done even after reconstitution. Again, the clay must be wedged, and wedging reconstituted clay is far more difficult than wedging new clay.

What can we learn from this?

First, we learn that repentance is hard. It is possible, and it is worth it, but that does not mean that it is without a price. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,

“I am convinced that… salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that [we] have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. [We] have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.

“Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that [we], to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.

“For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.

If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.

The soaking, and the reconstitution, and the wedging after a life of sin will be difficult, and painful.

But I repeat, it is worth it. Isaiah tells us,

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Jesus Christ is our Savior. Should we, God forbid, reject his careful molding and shaping, his atonement provides for us to be soaked, reconstituted, and wedged so that we can be all he wants us to be.

“God Has No Body” Part 2.4

Find Part 1 here.

In Part 2.1, I challenged three assumptions that are implicit in the argument: first, the fallacy of begging the question; second, the logical weight that John 4:24 is made to bear; and third, the trust in Biblical accuracy. In this response I pointed out the fallacy; argued that the logical weight on John 4:24 is indeed too much for a single scripture; and argued that it is possible that portions of the Bible, including John 4:24, are inaccurate.

In Part 2.2, I challenged the first premise. It claimed that John 4:24 said that “God is a spirit.” When looking at the original Greek, it is clear this phrase could be translated “God is spirit” (as the words “a” and “an” don’t exist in Greek, and this mirrors more closely other statements made by John), “God is life” (as “spirit” could be translated “life”), or “God is the breath of life” (as “spirit” could be translated “breath”).

In Part 2.3, I challenged the second premise. It claimed that the disembodied spirits the Savior referred to in Luke could be compared to the glorified state of God. I argued that this is a weak analogy, for there are vast enough differences between God and man that we cannot necessarily trust that what holds true of one will hold true of another. I exemplified this point by discussing what Paul meant by a “spiritual,” resurrected body, like the body of flesh and bone the Savior showed to his apostles.

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 has traditionally been translated “God is a spirit” in the KJV, but could also be translated in a number of other ways including “God is spirit” or “God is life.”
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines mortal spirit as incorporeal; yet any analogy which draws similarities between mortal spirits and God is weak because of the vast differences between God and his children.  Further, Biblical scripture makes it clear that resurrected bodies like the tangible body of Jesus Christ are called “spiritual bodies”
  3. Thus, those who are mortal spirits are incorporeal, but glorified spiritual bodies like those of Jesus Christ are corporeal (2)
  4. There is ambiguity concerning how the scripture should be understood (1), and we cannot assume that the scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit” even though it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (3) (4)

The Fourth Premise

Originally, the fourth premise made a statement concerning how the scripture John 4:24 should be understood. From our discussions in Parts 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, we have necessarily had to change that premise to a statement about the scripture’s ambiguity. In this section, I will argue that the meaning of the scripture can be reasonably understood in terms other than those which teach that God is incorporeal.

God is…

J. N. Sanders, in A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John (1968), says:

“That God is spirit is not meant as a definition of God’s being—though this is how the Stoics [a branch of Greek philosophy] would have understood it. It is a metaphor of his mode of operation, as life-giving power, and it is no more to be taken literally than 1 John 1:5, “God is light,” or Deut. 4:24, “Your God is a devouring fire.” It is only those who have received this power through Christ who can offer God a real worship” (emphasis added).

Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School also explains how such statements would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:

“By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body… but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure” (emphasis added).

While we learn that God is both a consuming and a devouring fire in the Old Testament, in the writings of John alone we find three descriptions of God as abstract qualities. Because John 4:24 is one of those three instances, we can gain the most benefit in understanding the meaning of the passage by comparing it to the other two.

In Cherry Picking in the Orchard of God’s Word: John 4:24, Darryl Barksdale presents a formula that is evident in each of the three instances:

  1. Declaration of God’s attribute
  2. Description of God’s expectation in regard to our performance or behavior in reference to that attribute, and
  3. Declaration of our reward, if we succeed.

In other words, it follows the pattern: “God is x; whoever does x will receive y.” There is clearly no intent in defining, in totality, the nature of God.

For example, lets look at 1 John 4:16, where John says, “God is love.”

  1. God is love
  2. We are to “dwell in the love of God”
  3. If we do, God will dwell in us.  We will also be born of God and know him (1 John 4:7)

That wasn’t too hard. Let’s look at 1 John 1:5 now, where John says, “God is light.”

  1. God is light
  2. We are to “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 John 1:7)
  3. If we do, we will have fellowship with one another, and be cleansed from sin through Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7)

Now for the third scripture, John 4:24, where John says, “God is spirit.” I’ll even let you do most of the work!  (If you need a clue, re-read J. N. Sanders’ statement above).

  1. God is… (John 4:24)
  2. We are to worship… (John 4:24; also John 4:23)
  3. If we do, then we will know… and gain… (John 4:22)

This scripture, just like the other two written by John, fits the pattern. Clearly, it is not meant to describe what God only is.

Worship in Spirit

We learn from John 4:24 that God wants us to worship in spirit and truth. If God is an incorporeal spirit and we have to worship him in spirit, do we as mortals have to leave our bodies to worship him? Obviously the answer is no. Latter-day Saints believe that man is also spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 93:33-34Num. 16:22Rom. 8:16) and is, like God, housed in a physical body. We were, after all, created in the “image” of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Paul also told the saints in Rome, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you” (Rom. 8:9).

Numerous Latter-day Saints have commented on this concept of worshiping in spirit. Le Grand Richards said the following:

“This should not be confusing, since we are all spirits, clothed with bodies of flesh and bones. John says we are to “worship him in spirit and in truth.” He would not, however, imply that our spirits should leave our bodies so that we can worship him “in spirit.” Paul declared: “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17.) We are spirits in the same sense that John had in mind when he said “God is a spirit.””

Lowell L. Bennion, an LDS scholar, said:

“In this verse, Jesus was not trying to describe the whole nature of God; he was emphasizing the role of spirit in God and man as part of a brief discourse on how to worship. He was trying to teach the Samaritan woman to worship “in spirit and in truth.”‘

Randy L. Bott, another LDS scholar, said:

“Does the fact that God has a body prevent him from also having a spirit? Of course not. A thorough search reveals that “man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 93:33). Man certainly does not have to lay aside his body so that his spirit can communicate with God. Likewise, God’s ability to communicate with man’s spirit does not require that he not have a body. Physically, God can only be in one place at one time, so it would be restrictive if he were limited to a physical means of communication. The Savior, in teaching the woman at the well in Samaria, said, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship” (John 4:22).”

The argument can be adjusted as follows:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 has traditionally been translated “God is a spirit” in the KJV, but could also be translated in a number of other ways including “God is spirit” or “God is life.”
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines mortal spirit as incorporeal; yet any analogy which draws similarities between mortal spirits and God is weak because of the vast differences between God and his children.  Further, Biblical scripture makes it clear that resurrected bodies like the tangible body of Jesus Christ are called “spiritual bodies”
  3. Thus, those who are mortal spirits are incorporeal, but glorified spiritual bodies like those of Jesus Christ are corporeal (2)
  4. There is strong evidence that the scripture should be understood in terms of spirit being one aspect of a fuller character that does not prevent an incorporeal deity, and we cannot assume that the scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit” even though it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Thus, God may be incorporeal (3) (4)

Continued at Part 2.5.

“God Has No Body” Part 2.1

Find Part 1 here.

Perhaps the foremost argument used by those who claim that God is incorporeal is an appeal to the scripture John 4:24, which states in part that “God is a Spirit” (KJV). This argument often also appeals to Luke 24:39, where the Savior describes spirit as incorporeal. The formal argument goes something like this:

  1. The Biblical verse John 4:24 says “God is a spirit” (KJV)
  2. The Biblical verse Luke 24:39 defines spirit as incorporeal
  3. Thus, those who are spirits are incorporeal (2)
  4. The scripture should be understood as “God is a spirit,” as it contains no language such as “God has a spirit”
  5. Thus, God is incorporeal (3) (4)

Before challenging any of the above premises, I wish to challenge three assumptions that are foundational to this argument: first, the fallacy of begging the question which is so important to this argument’s reasoning; second, the assumption that it is appropriate to use this short phrase of scripture to prove something as important as the nature of God; and third, the assumption that the Bible is infallible. While challenging these assumptions may not invalidate the conclusion of the argument, it will certainly show that this argument is not as strong as most Christians assume.

Begging the Question

First, this argument commits the fallacy of begging the question. The manner in which this argument commits this fallacy is explained by Larry E. Dahl:

“Unfortunately many have wrested the Bible into a game of “Trivial Pursuit.” In spite of the preponderance of passages describing God in anthropomorphic terms, one brief verse in John, “God is a Spirit,” is seized upon to prove the contrary… Unable either rationally or scripturally to explain how God can be absolutely one supreme being of immaterial essence, and yet be absolutely three distinct persons (one having a corporeal body of flesh and bone), the theologians resolved the dilemma by begging the question and declaring the doctrine an incomprehensible mystery” (emphasis added).

Begging the question involves circular reasoning. In this case, it goes like this:

  • “We cannot know what God is really like through our finite understanding.”
  • “Why?”
  • “Because he is an incomprehensible mystery!”

Being unable to understand God because he is an incomprehensible mystery, and then claiming God is an incomprehensible mystery because we cannot understand him, is circular reasoning.

When we fail to even attempt to reconcile this scripture with the numerous anthropomorphic references in the Bible, and instead chalk it up to one great mystery, we stand in error. Certainly God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8), but this is not a case where we are meant to be left in the dark. Jesus himself said,

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, emphasis added).

Clearly, if God’s nature is an incomprehensible mystery, we cannot know him.

Obscure and Strained

Second, to settle a question as important as this by one part of one verse in a 66 book document is unquestionably extreme. This argument, though, claims that such extremism is acceptable. Joseph Fielding McConkie, the son of Bruce R. McConkie, said,

“Those advocating questionable doctrines or practices will virtually always seek to give them credibility through the use of proof texts from scripture. Two characteristics are common to such efforts. First, the texts will be obscure, in sharp contrast to the principles of salvation that are taught repeatedly throughout the scriptures. Second, they will be strained; the burden they are being forced to bear will not be natural to them. That is to say, they will not be justified by the context from which they are taken.

“Let me cite [this illustration]. Sectarian creeds declare God to be “without body, parts, or passions.” The text that bears the weight of that declaration is John 4:24, which states, “God is a spirit.” The difficulty here is… an assertion of such importance, one that is announcing the very nature of God, ought not rest on a single scriptural text. The burden is simply too great for a four-word sentence to carry. That has to be particularly true when the sentence is being given an interpretation that puts it at odds with hosts of other scriptural texts that describe the bodily appearance of God to prophets and others….” (emphasis added).

Our understanding of the great gospel truths should not be left to obscure passages out of reach of all but the best scriptorians. In this case, using John 4:24 is overreaching for such an important concept.

An Imperfect Book

Thirdly, the Bible is not a perfect document. Blatant internal contradictions within the Biblical text show that even minor errors remain today. The earliest manuscripts of the Bible still in existence date at least hundreds of years after they were originally composed (and far longer for Old Testament documents). There are books referenced in the Bible that make it clear that they were important anciently, but we don’t have them today. And the writers, translators, publishers, and readers of this sacred text are all human. We are naturally imperfect, and so errors happen naturally.

Latter-day Saints believe that the text of John 4:24 is mistranslated. Joseph Smith translated this text as “For unto such hath God promised his Spirit” (John 4:24 JST). Bruce R. McConkie said:

“The fact is that John 4:24 is mistranslated. It is part of a passage in which Jesus is teaching that the Father seeks true worshipers who will worship him in spirit and in truth. “For unto such,” he says, “hath God promised his Spirit.”

This point, I realize, may not be very academically strong. There is little evidence that this specific scripture is mistranslated. Still, it is clear that the Bible is not inerrant, which leaves this possibility open. Regardless, this point (while worth noting) is not vital to the denial of the argument as a whole.

See my related post regarding Biblical sufficiency and adding to the Bible.

Conclusion

The denial of these three assumptions greatly weakens the argument before we even start to look at the formal premises.

Continued at Part 2.2.