Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Augustine on Deification

The following quote from St. Augustine should be of interest to LDS readers.

But God forbid that we should meet him with such an assertion as he says certain persons advance against him: "That man is placed on an equality with God, if he is described as being without sin;" as if indeed an angel, because he is without sin, is put in such an equality. For my own part, I am of this opinion that the creature will never become equal with God, even when so perfect a holiness shall be accomplished in us, that it shall be quite incapable of receiving any addition. No; all who maintain that our progress is to be so complete that we shall be changed into the substance of God, and that we shall thus become what He is, should look well to it how they build up their opinion; for myself I must confess that I am not persuaded of this. (On Nature and Grace, chapter 37)

I believe this indicates that some Christians even as late as St. Augustine believed that those who are saved will "become what [God] is" and that their "substance" will "be changed into the substance of God." The word "substance" should be interesting to anyone who has studied early Christianity. The early Christians used "substance" as a code word for "same nature." The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are said to be of one substance, that is, each is of the same nature.

Food for thought.

Cessationism--Where have the Gifts Gone?

I recently communicated with an individual who reads this blog who is a cessationist. I hadn't heard the term before, but have met others who were cessationists. Wikipedia defines cessationism thus:

In Christian theology, cessationism is the view that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and healing, ceased being practiced early on in Church history.

Cessationists usually believe the miraculous gifts were given only for the foundation of the Church, during the time between the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, c. AD 33 (see Acts 2) and the fulfillment of God's purposes in history, usually identified as either the completion of the last book of the New Testament or the death of the last Apostle. Its counterpart is continuationism.

In other words, a cessationist believes the gifts of the Spirit have ceased since there is no more need for them. This individual I spoke with said that these gifts ceased because the apostles died and could no longer pass on these gifts to others. This idea is somewhat reminescent of the LDS concept of the apostasy. However, cessationists believe that it was God's will that these gifts cease since they have served their purpose. This individual further informed me that all we need is contained in scripture (i.e. The Bible). Cessationism is closely related to the (extra-Biblical!) Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (See here and here and here).

Of course, Latter-day Saints are not cessationists. One of our articles of faith states, "we believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth" (Article of Faith 7). Many, if not most, of us LDS have seen such gifts operate in the Church from time to time as needed.

As a LDS I can point to slews of LDS scriptures that declare these gifts to be needed in the Church today as much as 2000 years ago. However, since my cessationist friend does not accept LDS scripture as valid, I will here investigate and analyze the Biblical passages that pertain to this topic.

So, what passages are used to support cessationism?

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.(1 Corinthians 13:8)

But when does this scripture say that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will "vanish away?" Look at the following verses:

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away...For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

This seems perfectly clear to me. "Then," when we will see "face to face" we shall no longer "know in part." Then prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will be perfect and cannot be added upon. Do we now know all things? Do we know all speak the same language? If not, then there is no warrant, according to this scripture, for the cessation of these gifts.

Further, 1 Corinthians opens with a passage that clearly teaches continuationism.

1:4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;
1:5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;
1:6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:
1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:
1:8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This scripture indicates that the gifts of the Spirit will be on earth until the second coming of Jesus who will "confirm" (Greek: secure, establish, strengthen) us until the end.

Later in 1 Corinthians Paul exhorts us to "eagerly seek after spiritual gifts, most especially the gift of prophecy" (my translation of 1 Corinthians 14:1). When I pointed this scripture out to my cessationalist friend he responded that the verse refers to interpreting scripture. While my friend is welcome to interpret the passage this way, that is clearly a practice of eisegesis and not exegesis. In the same chapter Paul writes "Wherefore, brethren, with zeal seek to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking with tongues" (my translation of 1 Cor. 14:39). If Paul meant for these passages only to apply to the Corinthians of the first century A.D., he surely didn't say so.

Lastly, what about Jesus' statement that man shall live by "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God?" Note that Jesus did not say every word that "proceeded" out of the mouth of God, but by every word that "proceedeth" out of the mouth of God. Surely God's words and works never cease (see Moses 1:4)

While this post certainly isn't exhaustive on such an important topic, I think it is sufficient to start a discussion on the topic if anyone is interested.

As I mentioned previously, LDS scripture has a lot say about this topic. I will not investigate this here, but I point the interested reader to 2 Nephi 28:3-6, 26-31; 2 Nephi 29; Mormon 9; Moroni 7:24-38; 10:7-28. Anyone who does not believe that the gifts of the Spirit exist today would benefit greatly from reading these passages, pondering on their meaning, and seeking the truth of the matter.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Interesting Poetic Form in Mosiah 2

Years ago, someone (I do not recall who) pointed out the following parallelism in King Benjamin's speech in the Book of Mormon. Notice that it appears to be in verses (for lack of a better word), with each new verse set off with "behold" followed by two groups of parallelisms. The form looks like this:













Here it is:

[Verse 1] Behold,

I say unto you
that because I said unto you

that I had spent my days in your service,
I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

[Verse 2] And behold,

I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom;
that ye may learn that when

ye are in the service of your fellow beings
ye are only in the service of your God.

[Verse 3]

ye have called me your king; and if I,
whom ye call your king,

do labor to serve you, then ought not
ye to labor to serve one another?

[Verse 4] And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king,

who has spent his days in your service, and
yet has been in the service of God,

do merit any thanks from you,
O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

(Mosiah 2:16-19)

There is no doubt in my mind that this was intentionally done by the author. For the sake of argument, if Joseph Smith were the author and not the translator, did he come up with this poem intentionally when he "made up" the Book of Mormon? If so, why? Also, if so, why didn't he ever point out such beautiful complexities in the Book of Mormon (as there are many such complexities)?

I suggest that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon. Further, I submit he didn't even know such complexities existed in the text. The Book of Mormon is far more complex than its critics are willing to admit. It is interesting that most of the criticisms leveled against that holy book are against its origins, and not its content. Isn't it time that the critics took seriously the complexity of the book as confirming evidence of its veracity?

See more here: No Evidences for the Book of Mormon?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Closed Canon--Extra-Biblical?

Catholic and Protestant doctrines teach that the culminating revelation was Jesus Christ himself. After his coming, the need for revelation has ceased. All truth necessary for salvation is found in the Bile and the scriptural canon is closed. The Catholics, ironically, reluctantly admit that the revelation given thus far "has not been made completely explicit" (see below).

On the other hand, LDS believe that there can be no salvation without current revelation, that the canon of scripture will always be open (at least in mortality), and the Bible does not contain every essential word spoken by God. Further, the Bible cannot replace modern revelation.

Catholic Doctrine

" '...no new revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.' Yet even if revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries....Christian faith cannot accept 'revelations' that claim to surpass or correct the revelations of which Christ is the fulfillment, as in the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such 'revelations.' " (Catechism of the Catholic Church. [New York: Doubleday, 1995], pp. 27-28 paragraphs 66-67).

In other words, it took time "over the course of the centuries" to develop "Christian faith" since the completed revelation of ancient prophets and apostles "has not been made completely explicit." However, there will be no more revelation to clarify this confusion. Therefore, beware of any claiming to have more revelation (like the LDS)!

Protestant Doctrine

"Since the completion of the biblical books, there is no further divine inspiration for the writing of Scripture....Jesus Christ has done all that he can do in his redemptive purposes until his return to the earth. And in the available canon we have all the truths necessary to acceptance with God and for an abundant life. All the noncontradictory teachings of alleged recent revelations together do no add anything significant to scriptural teachings on God, mankind, sin, salvation, the church, and things to come. The commission of the apostles was unique and norepeatable...All the alleged revelations of spiritists, Latter-Day Saints, Christian Scientists, and others put together do not add anything significant to the teaching of Scripture...What people need nos is not more revelations but more faithfulness to the Spirit-illumined applications of biblical principles to specific situations" (Lewis, Gordon R., & Demarest, Bruce A., Integrative Theology. [Grand Rapids: Zondervan]. 1:116-117).

These authors would have us believe that:

1. There can be no more apostles.
2. There can be no more scripture other than what is in the Bible.
3. Jesus Christ can do no more for man's salvation than what he has already done.
4. LDS revelation does not add "anything significant" to our understanding of God.
5. et cetera

The message is clear: We are not to expect God to speak anymore to lead us to salvation. We have "scholars" who can do that for Him based on their interpretation of the Bible.

Mormon Doctrine

"From what we can draw from the Scriptures relative to the teaching of heaven, we are induced to think that much instruction has been given to man since the beginning which we do not possess now. This may not agree with the opinions of some of our friends who are bold to say that we have everything written in the Bible which God ever spoke to man since the world began, and that if He had ever said anything more we should certainly have received it. But we ask, does it remain for a people who never had faith enough to call down one scrap of revelation from heaven, and for all they have now are indebted to the faith of another people who lived hundreds and thousands of years before them, does it remain for them to say how much God has spoken and how much He has not spoken? We have what we have, and the Bible contains what it does contain: but to say that God never said anything more to man than is there recorded would be saying at once that we have at least received a revelation: for it must require one to advance thus far, because it is nowhere said in that volume by the mouth of God, that He would not, after giving what is there contained, speak again; and if any man has found out for a fact that the Bible contains all that God ever revealed to man he has ascertained it by an immediate revelation, other than has been previously written by the prophets and apostles" (Joseph Smith, The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], pp 61-62).

"Now I will give my testimony. I care not for man. I speak boldly and faithfully and with authority. How is it with the kingdom of God? Where did the kingdom of God begin? Where there is no kingdom of God there is no salvation. What constitutes the kingdom of God? Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives his oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not...The plea of many in this day is, that we have no right to receive revelations; but if we do not get revelations, we do not have the oracles of God; and if they have not the oracles of God, they are not the people of God. But say you, What will become of the world, or the various professors of religion who do not believe in revelation and the oracles of God as continued in His Church in all ages of the world, when He has a people on earth? I tell you, in the name of Jesus Christ, they will be damned; and when you get into the eternal world, you will find it will be so, they cannot escape the damnation of hell" (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], p. 271).

The irony is obvious. The idea of a closed canon, i.e. all necessary truth is already found in the Bible, is extra-Biblical. Logically, if a person proclaims that doctrine and belief must be derived from the Bible alone (sola scriptura), shouldn't the Bible say so? Further, if revelation was supposed to cease, how shall we know it without a revelation saying so?

Final Thoughts

This is clearly one of the biggest differences, if not the biggest difference, between LDS and mainstream Christian beliefs. I must here admit, I have never found any arguments against modern revelation or a closed canon convincing. While it is one thing to argue that Joseph Smith didn't receive true revelations (in actuality), it is another to argue that he couldn't have received revelation (in theory).

Further Reading

For those who are interested, I recommend:

1. Elder Holland's recent General Conference talk: "My Words...Never Cease"
2. 2 Nephi 28:3-6, 26-31
3. 2 Nephi 29:6-11
4. Joseph Smith--History 1:12

PS. I'm going to be out of town until next Saturday. I don't think I'll be by here in during the interlude. However, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From Everlasting to Everlasting

We Latter-day Saints have been strongly criticized for our belief that God is a progressive being who was once a man like us. This quote from Joseph Smith is well-known amoung our critics.

I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth...God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret...He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 435-436).

This conflicts, according to our critics, with the statements of scripture that God is "from everlasting to everlasting." I suppose it does conflict if you interpret "everlasting" to mean "forever and ever," but is that how it should be interpreted?

The Hebrew word olawm (Strongs 5769), literally means a time "concealed" or "out of mind." It can only be interpreted as "forever" in the future or the past figuratively. In other words, these passage literally speak of God as being God from a time "out of mind" from some point that is "concealed" from us.

President Joseph Fielding Smith commented:

"From eternity to eternity" means from the spirit existence through the probation which we are in, and then back again to the eternal existence which will follow...We all existed in the first eternity. I think I say can of myself and others, we are from eternity; and we will be to eternity everlasting, if we receive the exaltation. The intelligent part of man was never created but always existed. That is true of each of us as well as it is of God, yet we are born sons and daughters of God in the spirit and are destined to exist forever. Those who become like God will also be from eternity to eternity (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:12).

In other words, God is from everlasting to everlasting because he, like us, came from a spirit existence (one eternity) and then passed through a mortal probation into exaltation (the other eternity). Likewise, all mankind is from eternity, and those of us who are exalted will be to eternity. Eternity the place where spirit offspring is brought forth. We all came from one eternity. The exalted will in the hereafter bring forth their own spirit offspring. Therefore, they will be from eternity to eternity. This is in harmony with D&C 132:19-20.

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they [the seeds?] continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

I bring this all up simply to show that this criticism, like many others, leveled against the doctrines of the LDS Church is based on the preconceived notions of "mainstream" Christianity. While most in "mainstream" Christianity would interpret "from eternity to eternity" as "for ever and ever," LDS interpret it to mean "from one eternity (the creation of spirit children) to the next eternity (the creation of spirit children)." So, LDS can insist on one hand that God was once a mortal man and on the other hand fully accept and agree with the scriptures that say he is "from eternity to eternity." For us, "from eternity to eternity" means exactly that: God was once a man like you or I. Further, we mortals can become "from everlasting to everlasting" and become gods ourselves just as God the Father has done.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

For Good and Evil

I've always been impressed by the angel Moroni's prediction he made to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823.

He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people (Joseph Smith History 1:33).

When in Liberty Jail in March 1839, Joseph Smith received further light and knowledge on this topic. Said the Lord,

The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; while the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand (Doctrine and Covenants 122:1-2).

I have over the past few months visited a particular anti-Mormon message board. No matter how many times it occurs I am always shocked by the kind of foul names and language used by these "Christians" toward Joseph Smith. I stopped by for about 10 minutes today and read the following:

"Smith is a liar."

"joseph smith got the inspiration for his practice of polygamy from his loins."

"i would imagine it does save God some on his energy costs when those who are as full of gas, dung, and hot air as smithy was, finally arrive at their eternal destination. kindling."

"Joseph Smith is burning in hell."

Joseph Smith was a "sexual predator."

Mormons "revere a pedophile prophet."

Joseph Smith was "a dirty old man taking advantage of his authority position."

"Joseph Smith was a false prophet."

Joseph Smith committed "treason, bank fraud, adultery, bore false witness" and then was "shot to death by all these of peeved folks that he took advantage of."

I ask my viewers, in light of Ephesians 4:15, Matthew 5:43-47; 7:1-2 and 1 Corinthians 11:16 if such behavior and language is befitting of a Christian?

Of course, such behavior is nothing new. When Samuel the Lamanite was called upon by the Lord to preach to the wicked Nephites, he upbraided them saying:

And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out. Behold, ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil (Helaman 13:25-26)

In short, they "choose darkness rather than light" (Hel. 13:29). Could there be anywhere on earth a better description of how Joseph Smith was treated during his life and how some speak of him still to this day?

How grateful I am for the absolute knowledge I have received by the power of the Holy Spirit that Joseph Smith was called of God to bring forth the fullness of the everlasting gospel in preparation for the judgment to come as predicted by John in Revelation 14:6-7!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

General Conference

I know it seems that everyone says this every General Conference, but I must say, this has been one of the best and most memorable conferences I've ever seen. It has truly been wonderful for me personally. I hope each of you have had an opportunity to see it and enjoy it.

Best Wishes,

Friday, April 4, 2008

Special General Conference

Tomorrow we will sustain a new First Presidency of the Church and will likely sustain a new apostle. The new First Presidency has already been announced. Who will the new apostle be? At this point, most of us can only guess. Here are my guesses:

1. Richard G. Hinckley
2. Marvin Jensen
3. Jay Jensen
4. H. David Burton
5. Claudio Costa

Of course, it probably won't be any of those, but it's fun to guess. :) What are your guesses?

SANE Symposium

Students of the Ancient Near East at BYU (SANE) have been kind enough to invite students who are not studying the Ancient Near East to participate in their symposium this coming fall. I have submitted a research proposal for a paper to present and have been (conditionally) invited to present my paper this fall. If everything goes well, I'll be presenting a paper on November 7 at 9:30 AM. Below is a copy of my proposal:

The Greek word musterion, most often translated as "mystery" in the New Testament, had a specific meaning throughout much of the ancient world when Paul wrote his epistles. This word was used by the mystery religions of his day to refer to a secret rite or teaching that was given to those who were initiated. Since musterion generally referred to a religious ritual, the translator(s) of the Latin Vulgate frequently translated the word as sacramentum (Daniel 2:18; 4:6; Tobit 12:7; Ephesians 1:9; 3:3,9; 5:32; 1 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 1:20). Paul clearly employed this term in this way in 1 Corinthians to refer to esoteric rituals the "mature" Christians practiced (1 Corinthians 2:6). These Christians were those who were no longer "babes" in the gospel and who could endure "adult food" and not just "milk" of the gospel (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). In this context, Paul referred to himself as one who dispensed or oversaw the "mysteries" (1 Corinthians 4:1). Paul upbraided the Corinthian saints for not being ready yet to receive these mysteries.

These secret rituals and teachings had their origin in Christ's forty-day teachings according to Clement of Alexandria, and they clearly continued among some circles in the early Church as shown by Justin Martyr, the Clementine Homilies, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others. Due to heavy external persecution, all of the sacraments became "mysteries" being performed in secret to avoid the scrutiny of outsiders. Eventually the separate esoteric rituals spoken of by Paul were absorbed into the common rituals of baptism, confirmation, and the Lord's Supper and thus lost their separate identity.

This paper will first investigate the etymology and meaning of the word "mystery" and then demonstrate that these "mysteries" were a part of Pauline-Christianity. From this foundation, the paper will then show the continuance of these esoteric rituals and their absorption into the exoteric rituals resulting in their eventual loss in the early Christian Church. While not expressly tied to the ancient temple, there is considerable evidence that these teachings grew out of temple theology (see Barker, Margaret, The Secret Tradition).

I've read quite a bit on this topic, but for any of you early Church history buffs out there who may know of some interesting sources, any suggestions are welcome.