Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Response to Matt Slick or Steve Smoot's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell (Pt. 2)

"The whole structure of anti-Mormon scholarship rests on trumped-up evidence."
-Hugh W. Nibley

In the second half of his article "A Quick Look at the Book of Mormon", Matt Slick provides the reader with a handy chart comparing teachings of the Book of Mormon with other Latter-day Saint doctrines. This is not, however, to be mistaken with some attempt to show consistency between the teachings of the Book of Mormon and other LDS beliefs. Instead, Slick tries to show that Mormon doctrine and the Book of Mormon "is not internally consistent and it is self-contradictory." This is a rather bold pronouncement, one that needs to be investigated.
Below are the points made by Slick. They shall be in red while my comments will be in black.

There is only one God
Mosiah 15:1,5; Alma 11:28; 2 Nephi 31:21
Mormonism teaches there are many gods.
Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 5

First, the scripture references provided by Slick will be posted.

Mosiah 15: 1,5
[1] And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.
[5] And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation, and yieldeth not to the temptation, but suffereth himself to be mocked, and scourged, and cast out, and disowned by his people.
Brant Gardner, commenting on these verses, writes:

The Nephite understanding was that Jehovah would come to earth as the Messiah. Modern readers read "Jehovah" as the premortal designation for Christ, and, hence, agree with the Nephites[1].

Gardner explains elsewhere that the Nephite understanding of God, in the context of pre-exilic Israel, would have included a belief that YHWH, or Jehovah, as the God of Israel and also one of the 70 Sons of El, would come to atone for the sins of the people[2]. YHWH, however, is not to be confused with El Elyon (God most High) whom, as Margaret Barker has shown, was viewed as a separate deity by the ancient Israelites[3]. Thus, these verses do not compromise the teachings of plurality of gods as later taught by Joseph Smith as the Prophet himself taught that Jehovah and Elohim were two distinct personages, as is recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Alma 11:28 features a discussion between Zeezrom and Amulek in which Zeezrom, who is described as being an "expert in the devices of the devil"(Alma 11:21), tries to catch Amulek in his words by asking if there is a plurality of gods. Amulek, who had previously spoke of only one God, answers that there is one God in verse 29. Slick tries to use this as evidence against the Book of Mormon. However, as has been pointed out by Brant Gardner, it is clear that Amulek answered the way he did in order to avoid getting caught in Zeezrom's trap of catching a contradiction in Amulek's words[4]. Furthermore, notice how the Book of Mormon text capitalizes the "G" in God. While it is true that LDS believe that men and women can become gods - lower case "g" - we reserve worship and faith to God the Father, which is consistent with Amulek's words.

2 Nephi 31:21 reads:
[21] And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.

However, once again, we need to look at these verses in the context of ancient pre-exillic Israel. To the ancient Nephites, the oneness of the Godhead would have been in the fact that they are united in their purpose; namely, to atone for the sins of the world and "bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).

Furthermore, there is some indication that the Book of Mormon teaches that man can become as God. In Alma 18:31 we read of how the righteous shall "become as Gods" if they follow the commandments.

The Trinity is one God
Alma 11:44; Mosiah 15:5; 2 Nephi 31:21
The Trinity is three separate gods.
James Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 35. 1985.

Like with his other proof texts, Slick does not bother to read these verses in context. As should be noticed by the reader, he even repeats the same passages as he did in trying to establish Book of Mormon monotheism. However, Brant Gardner has shown that the ancient Nephite understanding of God is both consistent with the ancient pre-exilic Israelite idea of God and the Modern LDS view as well[5].

God is unchanging
Mormon 9:9,19; Moroni 8:18; Alma 41:8; 3 Nephi 24:6
God is increasing in knowledge.
Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 120.

Once again, Slick fails to read in context. Mormon 1:9,19 teaches that God is unchanging in that he will always grant miracles unto the children of men. This is consistent with the teachings of Joseph Smith, who taught that God will always give miracles and revelations unto men. Alma 41:8 teaches that the "decrees" of God are unalterable and says nothing of God himself not changing. 3 Nephi 24:6 and Moroni 8:18 teach that God is unchanging, but they need not mean in knowledge or power. The Book of Abraham teaches that all intelligence is eternal and that the spirits of men (including God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ) are equally unchanging (Abr. 3:18). The Prophet Joseph Smith in his King Follett discourse taught that:

Is it logic to say that a spirit is immortal and yet has a beginning? Because if a spirit has a beginning, it will have an end. That is good logic. I want to reason further on the spirit of man, for I am dwelling on the spirit and body of man--on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the immortal spirit, because it has no beginning. Suppose I cut it in two; as the Lord lives, because it has a beginning, it would have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation who say that man had a beginning prove that he must have an end. If that were so, the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself. Intelligence exists upon a self-existent principle; it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. Moreover, all the spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible to enlargement[6].

Thus we see that, as is taught in the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham and by the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the reason why God is not changing is because his spirit and intelligence is eternal.

God is spirit
Alma 18:24,28; 22:9,11
God has the form of a man.
Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, p. 3.

The verses cited in Alma which, according to Slick, demonstrate that God is a spirit read as follows:

Alma 18 -
[24] And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
[25] And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.
[26] And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?
[27] And he said, Yea.
[28] And Ammon said: This is God. And Ammon said unto him again: Believest thou that this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?

Alma 22 -
[9] And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?
[10] And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things both in heaven and in earth. Believest thou this?
[11] And he said: Yea, I believe that the Great Spirit created all things, and I desire that ye should tell me concerning all these things, and I will believe thy words.

The Latter-day Saints fully affirm that God has a spirit. Such is clearly taught in the scriptures both ancient and modern. However, we also believe that God has a physical body. What Slick fails to show his readers (probably on purpose) is that the Book of Mormon teaches this as well.

In the Book of Ether we read of the Brother of Jared who saw the finger of the Lord.

Ether 3 -
[6] And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

Furthermore, Brant Gardner has show that the specific identification of the Lord as a "Great Spirit" was probably to gain an association and connection on the part of Ammon between Lamoni who, as a Lamanite, would have been worshipping a pagan god. This is similar to Paul or the other early Christian apologists who associated Christ with various pagan gods in an attempt to make a connection with others and thus have a better chance of contextualzing the Gospel for non-members[7].

Eternal hell
Jacob 3:11; 6:10; 2 Nephi 19:16; 28:21-23.
Hell is not eternal.
James Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 55.

First, none of the verses cited by Slick speak of an "eternal hell". 2 Ne. 28:23 does speak of hell as "endless torment" but, when read in light of D&C 19: 10, we find out that the phrase "endless torment" is a rhetorical usage that emphasizes God's judgment of the wicked.

Furthermore, The Nephite concept of hell has been explored by John Tvedtnes and David Bokovoy in their book Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and Hebrew Bible. In this is volume, they write that the Hebrew word "Sheol" - which is the equivilant of the English word "Hell" - is not a place of damnation, but is rather the dwelling place of spirits after death[8].

This is in strict accord with modern LDS teachings which speak of the spirit world (Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison, respectively) that the spirits of all men and women will enter into upon death until the resurrection.

Polygamy condemned
Jacob 1:15; 2:23,24,27,31;3:5; Mosiah 11:2,4; Ether 10:5,7
Polygamy was taught and practiced.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 3, p. 266

Again, we turn to Brant Gardner. He has convincingly shown that the Nephites did not condemn polygamy per se, but instead condemned the pratice of plural marriage in the context of using this system to get personal wealth or power. In ancient Mesoamerica, the most likely place were the Book of Mormon events took place, social statues was exalted by not only material goods but also by how many wives men had. Notice that Jacob (and the other Nephite prophets) condemns both of these practices together in conjunction in these verses. This shows that while, as is indicated by Jacob, polygamy is acceptable if commanded by the Lord to raise up seed under the covenant[9], the practice of polygamy for personal gain is not acceptable[10].

After this impressive laundry list of items of supposed contradictions, Slick then asks:

If the Book of Mormon is the "most correct book of any on earth" (History of the Church, vol. 4:461), then why does it not contain essential Mormon doctrines such as...
1. Church organization
2. Plurality of Gods
3. Plurality of wives doctrine
4. Word of Wisdom
5. God is an exalted man
6. Celestial marriage
7. Men may become Gods
8. Three degrees of glory
9. Baptism for the dead
10. Eternal progression
11. The Aaronic Priesthood
12. Temple works of washings, anointing, endowmants, sealing.

First, it must be understood that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring men unto the fulness of the Gospel of Christ and Salvation. The fulness of the Gospel of Christ, however, is different then those doctrines required for exaltation in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom. The fulness of the Gospel of Christ is a 6 step program that is intended not for exaltation, but simply salvation in the Celestial Kingdom - one of the lower two degrees in the Celestial Kingdom - in and of itself. These six steps include:
  1. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
  2. Repentance
  3. Baptism by Immersion for the Remission of Sins
  4. The Laying on the Hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost
  5. The doctrine of the Resurrection
  6. The doctrine of Eternal Judgment.[11]
The other doctrines selected by Slick, while being important for exaltation or becoming like god, do not have to do with the fulness of Christ' Gospel. This is why there is no explicit mention of some of these other items listed in the Book of Mormon; because they do not have to do with the fulness of Christ' Gospel.

However, some of the items listed by Slick are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, as we shall see. Once again, Slick's comments are in red and mine in black.

Plurality of Gods
Alma 12:31 speaks of men who shall "become as Gods".

Plurality of Wives
Jacob 2:30 teaches that the Lord will command polygamy if he desires to "raise up seed unto me".

Men may become Gods
See Alma 12:31 again. Furthermore, 3 Ne. 27:27 has an admonition by the Savior to his 12 Nephite disciples to be "even as I am" [i.e. deified beings or gods].

Temple Works
A fascinating article on the Temple in the Book of Mormon, including the rituals therein, has been discussed by Thomas R. Valletta in the book The Temple in Time and Eternity. In this volume, Valletta explores the temple and shows evidence for a Nephite understanding of the Endowment ceremony[12].

After yet another list, Slick then concludes that "essential Mormon doctrines aren't even found" in the Book of Mormon. However, one has to ask what doctrines aren't found. As has been said earlier, the purpose of the Book of Mormon was to proclaim the fulness of the Gospel of Christ.

This Gospel, however, is not to be mistaken for other doctrines that, while important, nay, essential for exaltation, are not required for salvation.

Slick, true to form, then ends his article with a giant logical fallacy. He declares that the reason these doctrines are not found in the Book of Mormon is because "the Book of Mormon is nothing more than a fictional account made up by Joseph Smith."

This is a massive non sequitor. The logic simply does not follow. Just because certain doctrinal concepts later introducted by Joseph Smith are not found in the Book of Mormon, that does not mean that the Book of Mormon events are fictional. How on earth does the fact that the because the Book of Mormon does not teach baptisms for the dead that therefore means that an ancient American named Mormon could not have written it? How is it that because the Book of Mormon is silent on issues like God once being a mortal that therefore means that there was never a battle at Cumorah or a city called Zarahemla? The historical aspects of the Book of Mormon are to be judged based on historical criteria such as archaeological and/or anthrological evidence, not theological evidence.

That being said, Slick in another essay does devote some attention to the historical aspects of the Book of Mormon, which we shall explore next time.
**End of Part 2**

[1]: Brant Gardner in Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Books. 2007. 6 volumes.) volume 3 pages 299-300. Henceforth this title shall be abbreviated SW followed by the volume and page number
[2]: See Gardner in Monotheism, Messiah, and Mormon's Book presented at the 2003 FAIR Conference. Link here.
[3]: See Margaret Barker The Great Angel: A Study of Israel's Second God (Westminster John Knoxs Press. 1992.) For a discussion of the early Israelite understanding of monotheism and polytheism, see Mark Smith in The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel's Ploytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (Oxford University Press. 2001.)
[4]: SW 4:187
[5]: Aside from Gardner's excellent article referenced in note 2, also see his Excursus: The Nephite Understanding of God in SW 1:214-222. For an excellent rebuttal to the claim that the Book of Mormon reflects modalism, see David Paulsen in the FARMS Review (13/2). Found here.
[6]: Found online here.
[7]: SW 4: 281-283, 331
[8]: John Tvedtnes and David Bokovoy in Testaments: Links between the Book of Mormon and Hebrew Bible (Heritage Press. 2003.) pg. 81.
[9]: SW 2: 483-499
[10]: Ibid. Also see Jacob 2:30
[11]: 3 Ne. 11:31-39 and 27:13-21 outline the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. The JST translation of Hebrews 6:1-3 also provides these six points as the "principles" of the Gospel of Christ. And, finally, in a discourse delivered 27 June 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith further elaborated on these principles and other items. See Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook in The Words of Joseph Smith (Religious Studies Center. 1980.) pgs. 3-6.
[12]: See "Conflicting Orders: Alma and Amulek in Ammonihah" in The Temple in Time and Eternity (FARMS. 1999.) pgs. 183-231. Found online here. Also worth reading is John W. Welch "The Temple in the Book of Mormon: The Temples at the Cities of Nephi, Zarahemla and Bountiful" in Temples of the Ancient World (FARMS. 1994.) pgs. 297-387.