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.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Book of Mormon at year's end

(by Daniel Peterson 12-29-16)

Perhaps the most appropriate subject for this last column of 2016, a year when the adult curriculum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been devoted to the Book of Mormon, is the truth and significance of that book.

The most amazing fact about it is its very existence. That it was dictated at remarkable speed by an impoverished and poorly educated young farmer is both impressive and difficult to explain in secular terms. Its demonstrable complexity is also striking in that light. (For an introduction to this topic, see Melvin Thorne’s 1997 “Complexity, Consistency, Ignorance, and Probabilities” on
The testimonies of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon also cannot be simply brushed off. (For brief treatments, please see my previous columns “Book of Mormon witness testimonies,” “Did Book of Mormon witnesses simply see the golden plates with their 'spiritual eyes'?” and “Mary Whitmer, 12th witness to the Book of Mormon” .) They ensure that Moroni and the golden plates cannot be dismissed as merely the product of the personal imagination of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who received the plates from the Angel Moroni and translated them.

And then there’s the price paid by some of these witnesses. I turn here to Joseph's brother Hyrum Smith, and to Joseph Smith himself. Shortly before being murdered by a mob, Hyrum sought comfort in Ether 12:37-38 and Joseph testified to his captors of the Book of Mormon’s divine origin. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s 2009 commentary is precisely on point:

“In this their greatest — and last — hour of need, I ask you: Would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth?” asked Elder Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“Never mind,” Elder Holland continued, “that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be ‘houseless, friendless and homeless’ and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this Earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the church which espouses it to be true.

"Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.”

And then there are the sometimes astonishing parallels and affinities between the Book of Mormon and its claimed environment in the ancient Middle East and pre-Columbian America. The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, known as FARMS, and its successor organization, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, identified and shared such features for many years. Today, that work continues through the Interpreter Foundation online at (of which I am chairman), Book of Mormon Central online at and similar efforts.

Recently, I’ve been amazed at the quite unexpected evidence, turned up by Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, for the presence of early modern English in the Book of Mormon dictated by Joseph Smith. The book’s truth claims certainly don’t demand such surprising linguistic features, but, again, a naturalistic explanation for the appearance in the text of linguistic elements from generations before Joseph Smith was born and absent from the King James Bible is hard to imagine.

From another linguistic angle, Brian Stubbs’s identification of apparent ancient Semitic and Egyptian influence on Uto-Aztecan languages — see a recent review of his recent major scholarly book on the topic at; find his new, shorter, more popular, LDS-oriented treatment in "Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now" — intrigues me. We wouldn’t necessarily expect such findings and, even if they prove genuine, they wouldn’t actually prove the Book of Mormon true. But solid evidence of ancient Middle Eastern influences on Amerindian languages would dramatically weaken a main skeptical argument against the book’s claim.

Why does any of this matter? Because the Book of Mormon testifies — and, if it’s true, it demonstrates — that there is a God who cares about us, who still speaks, who sent his son to pay for our sins and open the doors of eternal life to us. There’s no better knowledge to take with us into 2017.


Monday, December 26, 2016

Why did the wise men give gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?

(by Jack Welch 12-23-16)

Little is known about the wise men. The Gospel of Matthew says they came from somewhere east of Jerusalem (see Matthew 2:1). The early Christian writer Justin Martyr said that they were Jewish men who came from Arabia, southeast of Judea. They may have been among the many Jewish people who were looking for the fulfillment of Israelite prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, such as Daniel’s prophecy.
As Margaret Barker points out in her book "Christmas: The Original Story" (London: Continuum, 2008), Jewish traditions also spoke of temple priests who had gone into exile in Arabia awaiting a chance to return. She points to the Jerusalem Talmud, Tacanit 4.5, which mentions that some priests had fled from Jerusalem and settled in Arabia around 625 B.C. Other priests may have been expelled by King Herod when he built his own magnificent temple in Jerusalem.

So, it is possible, that the Magi came from these priestly groups or from other groups of watchful priests awaiting the coming of the Lord of Holiness. If so, their three gifts could not have been more perfectly suitable, given by priests to their new high priest.

The gift of gold would have sparkled like the gold that was required in the temple. According to scripture, the inner doors, altar, table for the bread of the presence, lamp stands, bowls, censers, utensils and implements of the temple and the paneling on the walls of the Holy of Holies were to be made of pure gold or were gold-plated (1 Kings 7:48-50). Gold was incorruptible and did not rust. It was thought to have absorbed and embodied the radiance of the sun. Shiny gold objects reflected radiantly the heavenly glory of the sun.

Frankincense, a resin gathered from trees in south Arabia, provided fragrance in the temple. The Holiness Code required incense to accompany every sacrifice “offered by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 24:7). Its sweet, billowing smoke was thought to carry prayers up to heaven. It was burned in the temple to invite and invoke the presence of the Lord.

Isaiah 60:6 prophesied that camels would bring gold and incense from southwestern Arabia, but what about myrrh? Myrrh is another resin, drawn from the life-sustaining sap of another desert tree. It was a key ingredient in preparing the sacred oil that imparted holiness. The recipe for that anointing oil is found in Exodus 30:23-24. It calls for 500 shekel-weight of myrrh, 250 of cinnamon, 250 of calamus and 500 of cassia to be mixed in a hin (about one gallon) of olive oil. That anointing oil was uniquely used to sanctify the temple, the ark of the covenant and the temple vessels, menorahs and altars. Most of all, it was used to anoint and consecrate the high priest, and it could not be used outside the temple (Exodus 30:26-33).

As Barker continues, the holy myrrh had disappeared from the Holy of Holies and had been lost or hidden away in the time of Josiah, according to the Babylonian Talmud, Horayoth 12a. It represented wisdom (Ben Sira 24:15) and because of its preservative qualities, it was used in preparing the dead for burial.

But more than that, Barker notes that myrrh oil was known as the “dew of resurrection,” and it "had anointed the royal high priests after the order of Melchizedek and transformed them into sons of God." One early Christian, Pope Leo the Great, said: “He offers myrrh who believes that God’s only begotten son united to himself man’s true nature.”

Thus Barker concludes, that uniting of divine and human was the mystery of the myrrh oil in the Holy of Holies, and along that line, she points to old traditions that also spoke about Adam receiving gold, frankincense and myrrh from three angelic messengers so that he could offer proper sacrifices when cast out of Eden.

By giving Jesus these three essential, holy and precious gifts, the wise men prepared Jesus, “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), to offer the ultimate sacrifice as the new and everlasting high priest, bringing eternal light, life and God’s presence from heaven above to earth below.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pliny and Trajan on the Christians

Pliny the Younger was governor of Pontus/Bithynia (west coast of modern day Turkey) from 111-113 AD. We have a whole set of exchanges of his letters with the emperor Trajan on a variety of administrative political matters. These two letters are the most famous, in which Pliny encounters Christianity for the first time.

Pliny, Letters 10.96-97

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Trajan to Pliny

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.