Throughout my many travels I'm frequently asked by persons who don't know much about Mormons, Are Mormons Christians? With a smile I always give the same answer, "Yes we are, very much so."

Mormons quite often are referred to as Latter-Day Saint Christians due to the official name of the church which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But it's more than just a name, Latter-Day Saints strive daily to live the life of Christ and abide by his teachings and those of his apostles.

The Bible tells us the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The word Christian means “a follower of Christ" but the word disciple means “student” or “pupil.” Hence a true Christian is not someone who simply says they believe in Christ but rather someone who ardently follows and studies the Savior their entire lives. Mormons do exactly that, therefore we are very much Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Biblical 'minimalists' and the historical record

Khirbet Qeiyafa

(by Daniel Peterson 2-16-17)

Biblical archaeologists seldom talk or write about “proving” the Bible true. Usually, what they’re seeking to do is to clarify biblical stories, to flesh them out, to provide a background or a context for them.

However, although it’s not typically their goal, sometimes they do prove things. Sometimes they settle disputes.

An example of this may be furnished by the claims of a small but vocal scholarly movement (originating in England and in Denmark) that is sometimes referred to as the “Copenhagen School” but that has mostly come to be called “biblical minimalism.”

Biblical minimalists, focused largely on the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, have argued that the Bible isn’t a reliable guide to ancient Israelite history and that, in fact, the concept of “Israel” itself is historically dubious. The Israelite monarchs David and Solomon, such minimalists contend, are merely fictional characters (created, perhaps, as late as the fifth century B.C.). There was, they commonly say, no kingdom of Israel in the 10th century B.C. But even if some primitive “Israelite” clan organization existed, they argue, its level of literacy was too low in those early days to allow the writing of the chronicles referred to in the Bible.

However, in recent years the minimalists seem to have been proven wrong regarding each of these claims.

In the 1993-1994 excavation season, for instance, a ninth-century B.C. inscription was located at Tel Dan (very near the northern border of both biblical and modern Israel) in which a Syrian king refers to a “king of Israel” and to “the House of David.”

In reply, minimalists allowed that maybe David had existed, after all. But, they insisted, he was probably only a local tribal chieftain, not the head of a centralized government ruling over an extended territory. It’s difficult to imagine, though, why a merely local southern Israelite chief would be mentioned by a Syrian king’s inscription far north of Jerusalem and Judea, near biblical Israel’s disputed border with Syria.

Moreover, archaeological excavations in the city of Jerusalem’s oldest sector have disclosed strong evidence that a centralized government organization existed there during the era of the biblical David and Solomon. Likewise, digs at Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley and at Khirbet Qeiyafa, to the southwest of Jerusalem, seem to confirm the rise of an Iron Age kingdom during the same period. Some minimalists have tried to dismiss the findings by claiming that Qeiyafa wasn’t Israelite but Philistine.

Unfortunately for their dismissal, though, the building styles uncovered there seem plainly Israelite, not Philistine. Similarly, while the Philistines ate non-kosher pigs and dogs, no pig or dog bones have been recovered thus far from Qeiyafa, which suggests that its residents obeyed Jewish dietary rules.

Finally, in 2008 a 10th-century ostracon or pottery fragment was found at Qeiyafa bearing a short and rather difficult inscription that seems to be either Hebrew or something very like it.

Although its interpretation and even its language have been disputed, the text on the ostracon has been interpreted by leading scholars as exhorting its readers to worship God and to treat widows, orphans, foreigners, slaves and the poor well. The inscription also refers to a king, and it may possibly allude to the recent establishment of a monarchy — demonstrating a level of literacy that would most definitely permit the writing of chronicles, just as the Bible says.

Referring to “the setbacks suffered by Old Testament minimalists” in his book “Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), which inspired this column, Craig Evans comments that “they illustrate the danger of asserting the non-existence of this or the lack of historicity of that simply on the grounds that we only possess an ancient story. We must remember that only 5 percent of the sites of the biblical world have been excavated; and most of these sites have only been partially excavated. In any case, must every ancient narrative be corroborated by archaeological discoveries? If we insisted on archaeological corroboration before trusting our literary sources, very little history — biblical or otherwise — could be written.”

A postscript on the Book of Mormon: American archaeology is much less developed than that of the ancient biblical world, which, Evans says, remains 95 percent unexcavated. Archaeologically speaking, Israel is by far the most intensively studied place on earth. For a still-important reflection on that fact, see William Hamblin's “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon” online at


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Unexpected Revelation

In episode three of our Revelations in Context Series, host Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Matthew McBride of the Church History Department about his essay entitled “The Vision.”

In 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon reported receiving a vision at the John Johnson home. Apparently while working on a revision of the New Testament, Joseph had just completed “translating” John 5:29 when the vision commenced.

The early nineteenth century culture was highly religious and most Christian sects believed that the Bible was all sufficient. For Joseph Smith to revise what was already considered to be complete was radical. What he and Sidney saw in vision was even more surprising.

The vision touched on matters dealing with one of the most contentious religious debates of the time: who is saved? Suprisingly, the revelation confirmed the least popular position.

Brigham Young, arguably one of Joseph’s most loyal supporters, struggled with this Universalist position for quite a time. Other members had difficulty accepting this paradigm shift as well.

Matthew McBride uses this historical backdrop to provide a powerful metaphor for modern-day members to use when dealing with doctrine that may be difficult to accept.

This is an episode you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Why are there two sets of official Book of Mormon witnesses?

(by Daniel Peterson 1-26-17)

Two solemn declarations — “The Testimony of Three Witnesses” and “The Testimony of Eight Witnesses” — have been published with the Book of Mormon since 1830. They’re distinctly different both in their tone and in what they describe.

In the first, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris affirm that they’ve seen the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith. They also claim to have seen the angel who brought those plates and to have heard the voice of God himself testifying to the truth of the volume taken from them and commanding the witnesses to testify of that truth. Their statement is overtly and strongly religious in tone.

By contrast, the statement of the Eight Witnesses is strikingly sober, legalistic (note, for example, the two rather dry references to “the said Smith”), quite reserved (e.g. “the plates … have the appearance of gold” as well as “the appearance of ancient work”) and almost secular in tone. No divine voice is mentioned, nor any angelic appearance. God is invoked, but solely as guarantor of the truth of their affirmation, rather in the manner of courtroom testimony or the pronouncing of a solemn oath. They too claim to have seen the plates; unlike the three, however, they also claim to have “hefted” those plates, and to have “handled” them one by one.

What is the point of having these two distinct declarations? One thing, at least, is clear: They make the task of coming up with a single naturalistic explanation of the witnesses considerably more difficult.

Someone determined to reject the testimony of the Three Witnesses, for example, might argue that their experience was merely “visionary” and, thus — if visions are decreed to be impossible — the product of hallucination. Of course, something experienced by three distinct persons beside Joseph Smith — and, since Martin Harris received his witness separately from Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer — at two distinct times and two distinct locations is substantially harder to brush off.

If their worldview demands it, though, most skeptics are up to the task: “Once you eliminate the impossible,” Sherlock Holmes explains in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890 story “The Sign of the Four,” “whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

However, although some have sought to dismiss the experience of the Eight Witnesses as merely visionary (which, they insist, means merely imaginary), it occurred in broad daylight and remains stubbornly matter-of-fact. (See Richard Lloyd Anderson's “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses” ; and Steven C. Harper's “Evaluating the Book of Mormon Witnesses.”)

A conscientious unbeliever is required, accordingly, to assume fake artifacts, for the creation of which absolutely no evidence exists — and no sign, among Joseph Smith’s associates, of the required skill. Moreover, as later statements from the Three Witnesses indicate, they saw not only the plates but various other objects (e.g., the Liahona, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim and breastplate) that only an expert metalworker could have forged.

Significantly, too, each of the declarations — of the Three and of the Eight Witnesses — and both together eliminate the possibility that all of this rests merely on Joseph Smith’s imagination, whether that imagination is deemed deranged or deceptive. He didn’t perceive these things alone.

In her “History," his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, records his relief after the Three Witnesses had their experience: “Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, … ‘you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel … and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear.’”

Some years ago while driving through the countryside just north of Kansas City, Missouri, my wife and I saw a number of banners hanging at various Protestant churches, inviting people to join tours to the Holy Land. I lead tours to biblical sites myself; I recognize that visiting such places has enormous spiritual and educational value.

However, western Missouri itself is the burial place of several much more recent eyewitnesses who are, in important ways, comparable to the early disciples of Jesus. They too saw. They too knew for themselves.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Elder Oaks urges all Church members to defend religious freedom

(by Jill Adair 1-24-17)

Urging all Church members to take a stand in defense of religious freedom, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other Church officials addressed more than 1,100 people at the Tempe Institute of Religion at Arizona State University on Jan. 21. Over 11,000 more, age 16 and older, viewed a live broadcast of the event at 81 stake centers in Arizona.

“The leadership and membership of The Church of Jesus Christ are irrevocably committed to the principle and preservation of religious freedom because it is necessary for the divine plan for mortals to exercise their agency to make the choices necessary to progress toward eternal life,” said Elder Oaks. “In furtherance of what we believe to be the inspiration of God, our national and state constitutions guarantee the free exercise of religion by forbidding government laws or actions to restrict it.”

He explained that core principles of Church doctrine, such as those identified in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” are divinely given doctrine of the restored Church and cannot be changed.

“The most important Church doctrine being currently attacked is our practice and reliance on the traditional man-woman marriage and family,” Elder Oaks said. “The Family Proclamation begins with the declaration that ‘marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.’ ”

He said when the proclamation was presented by President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1995 many Church members questioned why such an official pronouncement of commonly accepted beliefs was necessary. Today, “we see the hand of the Lord in identifying our doctrine in clear terms,” Elder Oaks said.

“There are many political, legal and social pressures for changes that de-emphasize the importance or change the definition of marriage, confuse gender or homogenize the differences between men and women that are essential to accomplish God’s great plan,” he said. “Our eternal perspective sets us against such changes.”

Speaking prior to Elder Oaks was Elder Von G. Keetch, General Authority Seventy, and Elder Lance B. Wickman, general counsel of the Church and an emeritus General Authority Seventy.

Elder Keetch, who conducted the meeting, said the purpose of the Religious Freedom Conference was to assist Church members in understanding the role they can and should play in defense of basic constitutional rights.

“Religious freedom is definitely under fire,” he said. “There will be serious challenges ahead.”

“We should stand where we are and do the very best we can when a religious liberty fire erupts,” he said, referring to a story he told of a volunteer firefighter who left his post briefly and returned to a raging fire in a building he was assigned to protect.

Elder Wickman spoke of the creation of the U.S. Constitution by those who labored extensively to form “a more perfect union.”

“It was a product of hard work,” he said. “It requires us to do hard work as citizens to protect it.”

“We’ve left too much to the courts,” he said. “ ‘We the people’ must do the hard work in defense of religious freedom ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ today.”

There was also a presentation by two religious liberty lawyers, Hannah Smith and Alexander Dushku. They showed the Church’s new webpage,, which features videos and information that defines religious freedom and what can be done to protect it.

For example, under “Get Involved” there are “10 Ways to Protect Religious Freedom” and “Seven Keys to Successful Conversations.”

Under “Examples,” there are videos and information on “Everyday Conversations: Creating Mutual Respect in Heated Conversations” and “Religion in Public Schools: 7 Religious Things You Can Still Do.”

The presenters also took questions submitted by audience members and talked about how to speak up with courage and civility.
Sister Smith also recognized members of other faiths who were in the audience and pointed out a doctrinal perspective from Church history when the Prophet Joseph Smith said that he was just as willing to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good person of any denomination because he realized that the same principles that would trample upon the rights on those other faiths would be used to trample on the rights of Church members.

Joseph Smith said: “It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.”

She also quoted the Church’s 11th Article of Faith: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

“I hope, as members of the Church,” she said, “we would be the first to stand up for religious freedom for all people.”

Those participating in the conference reminded audience members of the need for civility and understanding when discussing and defending religious freedom and dearly held personal beliefs.
Elder Oaks said: “Notwithstanding opposition, the Lord Jesus Christ commands His followers to show love and seek peace.”

“Whatever our differences, most of us want to live together in happiness and harmony, with goodwill toward all,” he said. “We want effective ways to resolve differences without anger or contention and with mutual understanding and accommodation. We all lose in an atmosphere of hostility or contention. We should encourage all to refrain from the common practice of labeling adversaries with such epithets as ‘godless’ or ‘bigot.’ We all lose when debates on ideas and policies turn into personal attacks, boycotts, firings and other intimidation of adversaries.”

He added, “To achieve these goals, we must have mutual respect and Christian love toward others whose beliefs, values and behaviors differ from our own.”
Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev, who represents the Sikh religion on the Arizona Interfaith Movement, was one of many belonging to other religions who attend the conference. He said after the meeting that it was one of the best conferences of its kind that he had attended and would like to see more of them to help people better understand each other’s beliefs.

He said he was taking away the thought shared by Elder Oaks of the metaphor of a two-sided coin: “Love of others and tolerance for their opinions and behavior is only one side of a two-sided coin,” Elder Oaks said. “The other side is always what is true or right. One of these sides cannot govern without consciousness of the other. Those who question why the Church does something they consider contrary to love overlook the companion requirement of truth.”

Dr. Sachdev said of the message: “I believe we can find ways to live in harmony.”