Chapter Nine

Revelation

"I am, or I was, a Mormon. As I read [your book] I couldn’t believe that someone else was going through the battle I am going through.
"My husband holds the Melchizedek Priesthood…. I have taught Spiritual Living Lessons…. We have been to the temple and had our two sons sealed to us.
"I know the Church is wrong…. There have been times I have wanted to take my own life. I had no one to talk to. All my old Mormon friends didn’t want to listen to me. They said that Satan had hold of me.
"Then the Lord brought me some new friends that believe in Him. They fellowshiped with our family.
"I think I’m going to make it."—Bonnie

 

In the second century a young Persian boy named Mani, meditating in his backyard, was visited – so he said – by an angel who told him that he was "to restore the True Church." Little Mani’s religion, Manicheaism, lasted 500 years, spread throughout the Roman Empire and garnered hundreds of thousands of converts.

Mani sent missionaries two by two throughout the Empire. They preached a legalistic gospel, changed the Bible and taught that exaltation came through a system of secret ceremonies.

One Manichean convert was a young law student named Augustine (eventually St. Augustine) who was a member of the cult for ten years before being born again reading the book of Romans.

Mani’s story sounds somewhat like Joseph Smith’s. So does the story of Mohammed, who, like Joseph and Mani, claimed to have been called to "restore the True Church." Mohammed said he was visited by the angel Gabriel and began, about 600 A. D., the religion of Islam, which today claims five hundred million adherents worldwide (there are about one hundred Muslims for every Mormon).

Both Joseph and Mani first shared their visions only with close family members. Mohammed’s first converts were his wife and daughters, his cousin, his son-in-law, and his friend Aku-Bakr. After three years of private proselytizing he had forty followers and began to preach his doctrines publicly in Mecca.

There seems to be no end to the stream of new gurus – those whom "God has sent" to restore the old order or usher in a new one. Beginning with Simon the Sorcerer in the book of Acts, they parade down through the centuries. In the early centuries A. D. we had Mani, Sabellius, and Arius. The nineteenth century produced Joseph Smith, the Fox sisters, Mary Baker Eddy, and Charles Taze Russell. And in our age we have had Jim Jones, Rajneesh, Victor Paul Wierwille, Sun Myung Moon, Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong, and Elizabeth Claire Prophet, to name only a few. The list is endless. All these luminaries claim the mantle of the prophet of the restoration.

Peter warned us about these heretics:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies…. Many will follow their shameful ways (2 Peter 2:1-2).

I never cease to be amazed that these false prophets seem to be able to seduce Christians without a great deal of trouble.

Why are Christians so vulnerable to the cults?

Paul says it is because we too easily put up with someone who preaches a "different" Jesus, a different spirit, or a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Harold O. J. Brown, in his excellent book Heresies, says that reason lies not in the fact that Christians are fascinated with error, but in the fact that the fallen world system wants to "integrate Christ into its thinking without being profoundly changed by Him." (1) In other words, the false prophets want to add Christ to their mix so they can add Christians to their congregations.

Christians (God calls them sheep) follow strong-willed people who use the name of Christ to get control over them. That’s why God charges shepherds to protect the sheep from wolves!

Objectivity vs. Subjectivity

False prophets come in among the sheep telling great spiritual lies. They display three characteristics.

First, they have false visions:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions (Colossians 2:18).

Second, come from within the Christian Church:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us (1 John 2:19).

Third, they seek disciples:

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own numbers men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29-30).

False prophets worm their way in among the people and introduce their own thinking. They usually are men or women of charisma and warmth. People are attracted to them and, unfortunately, believe their unbiblical visions.

They often use the Bible to support their thinking, but their own ideas are most important.

And, mainly, they attempt to lead their followers into a subjective experience. They want them to "believe."

When Mormon missionaries, for example, present their gospel, they encourage listeners to strive for a spiritual experience to prove to themselves that Mormonism is true. They refer them to this passage in the Book of Mormon.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if you shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4).

Mormonism wants its converts to get a "feeling" (a burning in the bosom") that the Book of Mormon is true. Mormonism wants its converts to begin to say four things:

All these points are based on a subjective feeling, a spiritual "knowing."

Jesus Is Different

Jesus Christ is unique among those who claim to come from God. He bases His divinity on objective not subjective concepts.

First, He fulfills numerous long-standing prophecies. His place of birth was prophesied hundreds of years in advance. His death a thousand years in advance (even the mode of execution – crucifixion – was stipulated, although crucifixion was not commonly practiced until five hundred years after the prophesy was written). Dozens of intricate Old Testament prophecies are exactly fulfilled in Christ, down to such specific details as the number of silver coins which would be paid for His betrayal.

Second, Jesus performed numerous miracles in the presence of thousands of people: raising the dead, opening congenitally blind eyes and ears, healing the sick everywhere He went, controlling the elements, defying natural laws by walking on water and through walls.

Third, He is resurrected. After His Resurrection from a sealed tomb guarded by Roman soldiers, He appeared throughout the countryside and was seen by hundreds of people – five hundred at one time. And the Jewish authorities, who had every reason to discredit the Resurrection (for example, by producing the dead body or charging the disciples with grave desecration and fraud), stand noticeably silent.

Jesus does not say, "Get a ‘burning in your bosom’ about Me." Rather, He says, "Test Me by the Scriptures."

To the Jews he said:

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)

Again, on the road to Emmaus, He reprimanded the disciples for their unbelieving and unscriptural response to His death and Resurrection:

He said to them. "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

The difference between the testimony of Christ and the testimony of Mormonism is the difference between objectivity and subjectivity.

The Theory of Revelation

Revelation is God communicating with His creation. He does it in two ways: through general revelation and through special revelation. Let’s look at these two forms of revelation to see where Mormonism fits in, if at all.

General Revelation. The ancient Greek philosophers looked at the universe and postulated a Creator. They said some very specific things about His nature.

They said He was real.

Through their observance of natural order, they said He was good.

This ability to perceive that God exists and that He is good is called general revelation. The Bible indicates that this revelation is available to all men. In fact, it is incumbent upon men to recognize, respect, and submit to the knowledge of God in general revelation.

As Psalm 19:1-4 says:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice in not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

Paul echoes these sentiments in Romans 1:19-20:

What may be known about God is plain to [men], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – [the fact that He is good] have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Special Revelation. After the Greek philosophers recognized the existence and goodness of God, they then made a wonderful philosophical leap. They said that a good God would not create a universe and populate it unless He planned to communicate with its inhabitants. By 200 B. C. the Greek philosophers fully expected that this good God would speak to men. They expected He would communicate His mind and will. The term the Greeks used for the mind and will of God was the word logos or "word." They said He would communicate His Word.

The apostle John used the concept of the logos in introducing Christ: "In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).

The specific communication of God’s mind is called special revelation. Another word for special revelation is prophesy. The Bible contains God’s special revelation to mankind.

God has chosen to communicate specifically with mankind from the beginning. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden, with Noah during the time of the Flood, with Abraham and Moses and David and with all the prophets until Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 says it this way:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….

And, of course, the Holy Spirit continued to speak through the apostles and prophets after the death of Christ. The special revelation of God includes the Old Testament before Christ and the New Testament after Christ.

 

Undermining the Bible

Any false prophet who wants to introduce unbiblical practices among Christians must first undermine the authority of the Bible. That is exactly what Joseph Smith set out to do. After Joseph Smith – occultist, visionary, and false prophet – began to get a following among his friends and family, one of his earliest accomplishments was to convince people that the Bible was unreliable. He said his Book of Mormon would unscramble what had been lost from the Bible over the centuries. Even more important, he established his continuing revelations as the Word of God.

His church was the "Church of the Restoration" and the Book of Mormon was the "Restoration of the Gospel" because "many plain and precious parts: of the Bible were deliberately taken away by the "great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth" (I Nephi 13:26-29, 32, 40).

Undermining confidence in the Bible began early in Mormonism. Orson Pratt, the cream of the early Mormon scholars, wrote books and pamphlets proving the Bible was unreliable. He said, "The Bible is not the word of God, but the word of uninspired translators":

What evidence have [Protestants] that the book of Matthew was inspired by God, or any other of the books of the New Testament? … We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed, and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons…. Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution? (2)

Mormonism’s Eight Article of Faith states the official position:

We believe the Bible to be the Word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.

Defending the Bible

One mistake evangelicals make is to get into a Bible discussion with Mormons without understanding that Mormonism does not see the Bible as the infallible Word of God. Although Mormons may tell you they believe the Bible is God’s Word, in reality they trust only the Mormon Church.

What they believe will not be determined by what the Bible says. Their doctrine is dictated to them from the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.

Until you bring them to judge the Mormon Church by the Bible, you are wasting your time.

To win Mormons, we must reinstate the Bible as the only rule for faith and doctrine.

To do that, we must challenge the Mormon concept of revelation. Our goal is to get our Latter-day Saint friends to understand the following concept: Former revelation always judges latter revelation! Or to say it another way, Latter-day revelation must be judged by the Bible.

What I am saying has its basis in a two-point foundation of logic:

First, if God speaks Scripture, that Scripture is true.

Second, since God doesn’t change and since His Word endures forever, nothing He says will contradict what He previously said.

Our Mormon friends must understand that Joseph Smith is judged by the Bible, not vice versa. If we can bring the Mormon back to an inspired Bible, we will have eroded his dependence on his subjective experience. We will have begun the process of bringing him into objectivity.

 

Opening the Revelation Discussion

Here is the way I introduce the concept of revelation.

Me: God can’t lie. What He says is true.

Mormon: Of course.

Me: For example, God led the children of Israel out of Egypt. One day Moses went up into the mountain and God told him, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" You recognize that as Deuteronomy 6:4, do you not?

Mormon: Yes, that is correct.

Me: Now, Moses died. And Joshua led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Can you imagine the reaction of the elders if Joshua were to go up into a mountain, have a revelation from God, come down and declare to the Israelites: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord, our God, the Lord is two!"? See, since God cannot lie, when He told Moses that God is one, He will not turn around and tell Joshua that God is two.

When I use this sequence with a Mormon I usually don’t get a lot of resistance. One of the reasons is that I am not pressing the polytheism issue at this point. I am merely using the exchange to establish a logical sequence. And the logical sequence is really undeniable. Now the Mormon may later choose to argue with my term "God" and claim that while there may only be one god for this world, there are many others throughout the universe. But right now, I merely want to establish that God doesn’t lie, change his mind, or correct Himself. I usually then come back with another similar example.

 

Me: Here’s another example: God has declared He doesn’t like adultery, right?

Mormon: Right.

Me: So if a so-called prophet comes along and says God told him adultery was okay, we would know God had not said it, right?

Mormon: Well, okay.

Me: My point is that former revelation always judges later revelation. For example, Joshua couldn’t get a valid revelation in direct contradiction with what Moses got. And David doesn’t disagree with Joshua, and Elisha doesn’t disagree with Elijah, and John and Paul and Peter don’t disagree with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

At this point my LDS friend is about to object. He instinctively agrees that God doesn’t change. But he has been taught otherwise. And, he still doubts that the Bible has been preserved correctly. While he is struggling, I say:

Me: In other words, because God doesn’t change His mind, former revelation judges latter revelation, assuming the former revelation has been accurately preserved.

Now my Mormon friend readily agrees. My assumption has left him an escape. He believes the Book of Mormon corrects the Bible because the Bible was not only given by the Holy Spirit, but also preserved by Him, then the Mormon’s subjective confidence in the Book of Mormon may give way to faith in God’s Word.

So now our job is to prove that the Bible has been preserved.

If we can accomplish that, we will have moved the Mormon from the labyrinth of subjective experience into objectivity. From that basis we can begin to examine the teachings of Mormonism in the light of the Bible. From there it is only a question of time. Only two options will remain for the Latter-day Saint. He can choose to change his belief system to line up with the Bible or he can choose to continue to adhere to a faith he no longer believes.

 

Proofs for the Preservation of the Bible

Our proof for the preservation of the Bible revolves around three concepts.

First is the futility of God giving Scripture if He knew it would be lost.

God spoke to man in Scripture. He was giving mankind a road map for living. He spoke to show us the way.

Since His speaking was a miraculous undertaking, the begging question is: How could God start out to speak to man through Scripture and fail? If God wanted to speak to mankind, to give his Scripture to the world, how is it that He only succeeded in giving it to one or two or a dozen generations?

It is logically inconsistent to think that the Creator could set out to give us Scripture and then be foiled in His attempt by the foibles of men. It is logically inconsistent to think that God sent His Scripture and men lost it. It is logically inconsistent to think that God inspired Scripture if he did not intend to preserve it.

Second is the vindication of the Old Testament by Christ.

A major proof of the accuracy of the Old Testament is that Jesus quoted from it copiously. He was satisfied that it had been faithfully preserved. He called it the Word of God. He read Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint. His confidence in the Old Testament gives us confidence in it.

Third is the science of textual criticism.

Textual criticism is the process by which scientists reconstruct the content of ancient documents. It is very simple in theory. Scientists simply gather together all the existing copies of an ancient document and compare them. Our certainty of the content of the original is linked to the degree to which the copies agree.

Of course, evangelical Christians have a high view of Scripture. We know that textual critics, whether they are Christian, Jew, or Muslim, agnostic, or atheist, are in agreement regarding the miraculous preservation of the biblical text.

Latter-day Saints don’t share that same high view of the Bible. I find, however, that many Mormons are interested in a simple, well-prepared apologetic for the accuracy of the Bible. Whenever possible I do what I call a "mini-course in textual criticism."

 

Mini-Course in Textual Criticism

My mini-course consists of four points and can be demonstrated in fifteen minutes in a coffee shop, by drawing on a napkin or the back of a placemat. It consists of four steps:

An overview of textual criticism.

The drawing of a simple chart.

The opinion of textual critics about the Bible.

An explanation of the process of preservation.

Step One: Overview of textual criticism.

I usually open with something like this:

"Throughout history, before the invention of the printing press, hand-copied books of the New Testament were carried throughout the Old World.

"Today scientists have access to thousands of these ancient manuscript fragments, which were found in various parts of the world – Africa, Asia, and Europe.

"These documents were copied in various time periods. Some come to us from the eighth century, some from as early as the second century.

"A textual critic will assemble all the fragments of a particular portion of the New Testament and compare them to see if they agree or disagree."

Step Two: The Chart.

Chart C

Then I draw a chart, reproduced here as Chart C on page 107.

"This is a diagram of how copies of ancient documents come into our possession. For our example, let’s take the book of Colossians. Chapter four, verse sixteen says, ‘After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans.’ (Colossae and Laodicea were two towns in what is now Turkey. Paul suggests that copies of his letters be passed around through the churches.)

"As time passed, more and more copies were made. The textual critic compares hundreds of fragments of the book of Colossians. If the copies vary widely, the textual critic will be uncertain about what the original said. But if the copies are in strict agreement, the textual critic knows, with a high degree of confidence, what the original said."

Then I stop talking and look at the Latter-day Saint. I’m ready for step three.

Step Three: The opinion of the textual critics.

If the system is working, my Mormon friend will ask what the textual critics say about the Bible text. When he asks that, reply:

"Well, textual critics, whether they are Christian, Jew, Muslim, or agnostic are in absolute agreement. They say that the text of the Bible is certain. One leading critic, Sir Frederic Kenyon, has said, ‘It cannot be too strongly asserted that in substance the text of the Bible is certain.’ (3)

"And now, even the Mormon Church is forced to agree. Dr. Richard Anderson, a BYU professor, says Kenyon is right! That all the ancient manuscripts agree in 99% of the Bible verses. And that there are no serious problems with the Bible. (4)

"So, we know – with amazing accuracy – what the apostle Paul wrote to the churches at Colossae and Rome and Philippi. Now, you’ll have to decide if Paul was inspired – if what he wrote was the Word of God. That is a question of faith. But there is not doubt about what he said. We know that he wrote two thousand years ago to the church at Rome and Corinth and Philippi."

At this point, if the listener is with me, he is now thinking that maybe God preserved the Bible after all. And now I want to give him some intellectual anchors to support this thinking. So I go into the fourth stage in my mini-course.

Step Four: The process of preservation.

God preserved His Word.

He said He would and He did.

But how did He do it?

He preserved His Word through the same agency He used to deliver it – men.

Joseph Smith was fond of saying that it was not unusual for "some old Jew" to change Scripture as he copied it. He implied that the Jewish copyists didn’t respect the Word of God. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The New Testament writers, their colleagues, the early Church Fathers, and the men of God in all ages felt a divine reverence and respect for the Word of God. These men were willing, and often called, to die for merely possessing the books of the Bible.

The Old Testament scribes and scholars, Talmudists, believed it was their sacred duty to preserve the Scripture exactly. They believed they functioned under a divine calling and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their work of transcription.

But, in addition to their feeling of spiritual anointing for their work, they devised intricate legal requirements for the work of copying. Talmudists adhered to the following regulations: (5)

Any scrolls not produced according to these regulations were condemned to be buried or banished to the schools, to be used as reading primers.

As you can see, the Talmudists took their job seriously. This was the Word of God! No "old Jew" changed it at whim. The Bible was copied correctly over the centuries.

During the four hundred years from 500 A. D. to 900 A. D., a group of Jews called the Masoretes accepted the job of standardizing the Hebrew text. They produced what is known as the "Masoretic" Text, so reliable that virtually every modern translation – in all languages – relies exclusively on it.

They devised their own complicated system to ensure accuracy. (6)

The Jewish transcribers did a marvelous job. Their accomplishment was verified in a very unusual way in 1947 by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls – rolls of parchment hidden away in a cave near the Dead Sea – marvelously preserved for two thousand years!

When the scholars examined these documents, they found that the Masoretic text had held up nearly perfectly. For example, of the 166 words in Isaiah 53, after one thousand years of copying, only three letters are in question, and those three letters do not affect the meaning of the text.

This is a revelation. The fact the God has spoken to us. He gave us His Word. He preserved it, just as He said He would.

I call my Mormon friends to the enduring Word of God and away from subjective experience.

The Word of God is the objective yardstick by which Latter-day Saints may measure Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Mormon doctrine.

How hopeful it is to be able to tell our Mormon friends what the prophets, apostles, and God Himself has said:

Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Psalms 119:89).

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Mark 13:31).

"It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law" (Luke 16:17).

You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

For,

"All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of the Lord stands forever."

And this is the word that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-24).

 

  1. Brown, p. 56.
  2. Orson Pratt’s Works, "The Bible Alone, an Insufficient Guide," pp. 44-47.
  3. Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts, p. 23. For a comprehensive listing of statements for the authority of the Bible, see Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Vol. I, which discusses textual criticism clearly and fully, with heavy documentation.
  4. Fourteenth Annual Symposium of the Archaeology of the Scriptures, BYU, pp. 52-59.
  5. The Hebrew Text of the Old Testament, as cited in Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Campus Crusade For Christ, Arrowhead Springs, California, 1972, pp. 56-57.
  6. McDowell, p. 58.