"The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known." - Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who were the first apostles of Jesus?

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 7-23-15)

“I am convinced,” wrote Mark Twain, sarcastically dismissing the testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses in his 1872 book “Roughing It.” “I could not feel more satisfied and at rest if the entire Whitmer family had testified.”

It’s a funny comment, and Twain, a professional humorist, was definitely going for laughs, but his jest scarcely constitutes a serious engagement with the historical data.

However, that hasn’t stopped critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from using Twain’s witticism as if it represented a rigorous and adequate scholarly response. The witnesses to the Book of Mormon, they say, were just too provincial and too closely interrelated to be credible.

Many such critics — as I write, I’m looking at a website that uses Twain’s comment as evidence against Mormonism — are conservative Christians. Unfortunately, they call to mind the proverbial warning about throwing stones if you yourself live in a glass house.

Consider the ancient Christian apostles, for example:

Peter and Andrew were brothers, both Galilean fishermen from the tiny village of Bethsaida, which was also likely the home of the apostle and fisherman Philip. But Peter, at least, had moved to equally tiny Capernaum, about six miles away, where he partnered in a small fishing business with James (sometimes called “James the Greater,” to distinguish him from the other apostolic James) and John, the sons of Zebedee. Certain ancient traditions identify their mother as Salome, a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector in Capernaum. Little is known about James (“the Less”), the son of Alphaeus. But Mark 2:14 identifies Levi also as a son of Alphaeus, so it’s possible that Matthew and James the Less were brothers. Moreover, there is reason to suspect at least some family tie between them and Jude, who is probably the same person as Thaddeus.

Bartholomew, who should probably be identified with Nathanael, seems to have been a friend of Philip, from the small village of Cana in Galilee. He was influenced by local small-town rivalries: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he mockingly asked (John 1:46), when Philip first sought to introduce him to Jesus.

Simon Zelotes, the “Zealot,” so called to distinguish him from Simon Peter,
 probably came from the shore of Galilee. And Thomas, too, was almost certainly a Galilean.

In fact, the only member of the original Twelve who wasn’t from Galilee was Judas Iscariot, and some writers have speculated that estrangement from his 11 Galilean colleagues — including Jesus of Nazareth — may have played at least a minor role in his betrayal of his leader.

Indisputably, ethnic frictions arose within the early Christian movement. In Acts 6:1-6, for example, Greek-speaking Jews from beyond Palestine complain about neglect by their Palestinian Jewish leaders. Significantly, when the apostles responded by choosing seven “deacons,” all seven of them bore Greek names.

Clearly, the first Christian apostles — chosen from a small geographical area along the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in a backwater sector of the distant and small Roman province of Judea — were closely bound by kinship and business ties, as well as by previous acquaintance. They had distinctive rural accents (see Matthew 26:73), and, at least as portrayed in the ancient Christian “Clementine literature,” when they preached the gospel in sophisticated places like Rome, they were ridiculed as uncultured hayseeds who talked funny.

And yet — apart, of course, from Judas, who committed suicide just after betraying Jesus, and James the Greater, who was stoned to death in Palestine quite early, around A.D. 44 — these were the men chosen to take the message of Christianity to the world.

Peter was crucified in Rome. Tradition holds that Andrew preached in what is now Ukraine and southern Russia and died in Greece. John preached in Greek-speaking Asia Minor (today’s western Turkey); Philip, too, was martyred in that general area. Bartholomew, Jude, Simon the Zealot and Thomas preached and died in Armenia, Iran and India. Matthew may have died in Persia or Ethiopia. James, son of Alphaeus, probably died in Egypt.

People in those lands might reasonably have asked, “Why are all of the apostles Galilean Jews?” “Why don’t they speak our language?” “Is this a Jewish church?”

Since the Christian message was to go through prophets and apostles to the entire world, it might seem strange that Jesus chose only Palestinian Jews to convey it. Nevertheless, says the New Testament, that’s just what he did.



Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book of Mormon apologetics and scholarship

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 7-16-15)

Critics of the Book of Mormon often demand its advocates provide the strongest single piece of archaeological evidence — or that they name, say, the top three pieces of such evidence. That, in the judgment of those critics, should prove its historical authenticity to an unbiased observer.

Even though the notion of an “unbiased observer” is problematic by itself, such demands seem to me to fundamentally misconceive the issue. They misunderstand what advocates of the Book of Mormon as history believe themselves to be doing.

Having argued for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon for decades and knowing many, if not most, of those who’ve been engaged in the same project over that period, I can say that I know of no serious writers on the subject who believe themselves able to “prove” it, let alone capable of proving it beyond a reasonable doubt, to the satisfaction of everyone.

Rather, we understand ourselves to be patiently engaged in amassing a cumulative case that will show the Book of Mormon is congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing about the ancient Near Eastern environment from which the Jaredites, Lehites and Mulekites are said to have emerged and about the pre-Columbian American environment in which they lived out their histories.

Sometimes, such a “fit” or consistency is so striking to us that we think it ought to provoke reflection among outsiders, if they’re paying attention. It should cause them some doubts about their doubts. But no single piece of evidence is, or is likely to be, decisive by itself. Nor will three or five or 10 such pieces likely “prove” the Book of Mormon true, overcoming all resistance.

Do we believe there is enough evidence, taking it altogether, to force the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is genuinely ancient? No. We don’t. Do we imagine that the evidence is such that, without the Book of Mormon, scholarship on ancient America and the ancient Near East is left with a gaping and obvious Nephite-shaped hole? No, we don’t.

There was no Olmec-shaped hole in Mesoamerican studies before their distinct historical presence was recognized. And then they were mistakenly thought to be a Late Classic culture rather than an early formative one. Nobody expected the Dead Sea Scrolls, let alone sought them, before a Bedouin boy found them.

The heliocentric model created by Copernicus was built on the same evidence that seemed to support the ancient, geocentric model created by Ptolemy; they were simply different ways of viewing the same data. And, in fact, Tycho Brahe, the greatest observational astronomer of the age, remained largely unpersuaded.

So, do believers see ancient evidence for the Book of Mormon only because they’re already committed to its antiquity on other grounds? In a sense, yes. Does that prove them guilty of pseudo-scholarship motivated solely by irrational (or, at least, nonrational) faith? No, it doesn’t.

It’s true that advocates of the Book of Mormon typically have spiritual convictions regarding it. I know none who don’t. But they also have nonarchaeological evidence for taking seriously its claim to antiquity.

For example, Joseph Smith and the book itself declare that it was written by ancient American prophets. That, in itself, doesn’t prove that it actually was, but it certainly provides a reason to consider the idea. Moreover, independent accounts from seemingly sane, honest, reliable witnesses attest to the existence of purportedly ancient golden plates and other artifacts connected with the record. They were produced by somebody. And they testify to the perceptible involvement of divine beings with the book, which plainly removes it from the realm of simple, ordinary historical fiction.

Furthermore, various characteristics of the book — not limited to its language, the speed of its dictation, the apparent multiplicity of its writers, and its sheer complexity — seem to place its creation beyond the capacity of any 19th century person who’s been plausibly suggested as its author.

These and other such considerations make it entirely justifiable to take the claimed antiquity of the Book of Mormon as a serious possibility. And, so long as that claim to an ancient origin remains unrefuted, believing it to be genuinely ancient is scarcely irrational.

Moreover, this is especially so if, as many competent scholars have argued in hundreds of articles and books over many decades, there are aspects of it that cannot easily be explained except as the result of real antiquity.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Quit Acting Like Christ Was Accepting of Everyone and Everything


(by Greg Trimble gregtrimble.com 6-20-14)

Too many people are neglecting what is in the scriptures and trying to “customize Christ”. You can’t do that…seriously.

Too often we read a few scriptures that make us feel good and then omit everything else that we know about Jesus that might make us feel bad. Some have bowed down to modern trends and allowed themselves to be manipulated by the media and false teachers. Too many people are looking for a religion that is easy. In the world, we are offered instant salvation and taught about a Christ that accepts everyone just the way they are. There is no difference between our day and Isaiah’s time when the people asked him to “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things” (Isaiah 30:10) Instead of looking for a Church that teaches truth, many are on a quest to find a church that can satisfy their innate desire to worship God, and yet at the same time, live the lifestyle that they want to live regardless of how ungodly it really is. Some consider it a great feat to find a church that allows them to live how they want to live, and still feel like they are worshipping God.

I don’t care whether you’re Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, or any other type of Christian…one thing is for certain. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a ‘buffet’ that you can compile your perfect plate from. There is no salvation in building your own religion or customizing Christ to suit your needs and wants. The popular trend is to determine how you’d like to live your life and then to conform Christ to that lifestyle. It is done by appealing to Christ’s infinite love and mercy. But you can’t just go around rehearsing that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8) and then be done with it. John 3:16 is awesome…but it’s just one verse! God wouldn’t have given you all of those other verses if he didn’t want you to read them and apply them. The “customize Christ” movement is in full swing.

At the base of this movement is the feeling that Christ was so loving and accepting of everyone, that He would never stand for any kind of exclusion or discrimination. This could not be farther from the truth. Yes… it is true that Christ loves everyone and yes it is true that we should practice the doctrine of inclusion, but Christ was far from accepting behaviors that were not in accordance with the commandments. He didn’t come to this earth and just “accept people” and let them act however they wanted to act.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” he said in Matthew 10 verse 34. He continues, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” In another place in the New Testament He even says, “I never knew you” as he spoke about people that were unwilling to repent and live the commandments. How and why will “a man’s foes be they of his own household?” Because Christ asks you to take a stand. He asks you which side of the line you’re going to be on…and you prove which side you are on by “keeping the faith”. Everyone and everything is not “ok” or “accepted” by Jesus Christ. All are loved by Him, but our behaviors have the power to leave us standing at a door in which He will not open. 

Does that sound all-inclusive?

If Christ were walking the earth today preaching the same things He was preaching back in His day, people would be flying off the handle. He’d teach hard things. Draw a line in the sand. Tell people He loves them. Ask them to repent. Maybe even get mad and turn over some tables. (Matt 21:12-13) Then they’d call Him a bigot. Self-righteous. Un-accepting of others and their way of life. They would “go away” and start their own form of religion like so many of them did while he was preaching in Israel. The question you have to ask yourself is the same question He asked His apostles. “Will ye also go away”? (John 6:67)

People get mad at the LDS Church, it’s leaders, and Mormons across the world for trying to defend some of the basic commandments. I am amazed at the sort of heat the LDS Church gets for its stance on homosexuality. Christians inside and outside of the Church label Mormon doctrine as old and outdated, and in the same breath say that Mormons don’t believe in the Bible. Nothing in the Book of Mormon says anything about homosexuality.

But guess where it is visibly forbidden?

Paul tells the Romans, in the Bible, that “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (Romans 1:26-27) In the Old Testament homosexuality was one of the primary reasons for the downfall of Soddom and Gomorrah. And again, Paul states that it is a man that should be with the woman “in the Lord”. (1 Cor 11:11). That was Biblical doctrine before it was ever something that needed to be addressed by the modern Church. Consider the woman taken in adultery in John 8. The Savior did not condemn her… but he also didn’t condone what she did. He loved her and He forgave her, but He also meant what He said when He told her to “go and sin no more.” The forgiveness of Christ should not be misinterpreted for acceptance. 

Mormons aren’t trying to be exclusive or discriminatory toward anyone. If they are…then they are not living their religion. Elder Quentin L. Cook stated, “As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.”

We should be “loving and compassionate” but we should never allow ourselves to believe that Christ just accepts us how we are. That was never in the program. He’s always asked us to change, to repent, to get better, and to overcome the things that we struggle with. When we quit trying to align our wills with God, and start trying to get God to align His will with ours…that is when we start to lose our way.

Many people are taking the equality and fairness argument to the extreme, assuming that Jesus is accepting of everyone and everything. It’s just not true according to the scriptures.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Seer Stones and Treasure Digging-- Fair Mormon Podcast


Critics cite the Church as intentionally creating a simple sanitized view of the translation of the Book of Mormon. But what really happened? Here is one believer's personal take on the translation process when all of the historical record is taken into account. Did the Church intentionally hide information? What are we to make of Joseph's "Treasure Digging"? What did the witnesses say? We discuss this and much much more.