Q – The Book of Mormon. Nothing conjures up the idea of HERESY in my mind more readily. But I’m having trouble putting the pieces together about my belief concerning the Bible related to other “scriptural” works.
Jim – I’ve read your entire email (which is presented here with my comments interspersed) and you sound a bit tentative. You write as if I’m likely to brand you a heretic for asking such questions about the Bible. If it makes you feel any better, we don’t brand heretics. We burn them on stakes. Okay, I’m kidding, but wouldn’t that draw a crowd? Just think of the news coverage!
Anyway, you’re asking good, important questions here. And if the Bible is true, it can stand up to whatever amount of scrutiny we impose on it. If we can, by our logic and powers of intellect, undermine the Bible once and for all, then it is not the word of God. The starting point for me, when comparing the Bible to other religious works considered to be Scripture by any group or sect, is to compare the content of the texts themselves and what they claim to be proving or supporting. I did a fair bit of this back in my “comparative religion” days. And when you lay the Bible next to, say, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, the book of Mormon, or the B’Hai texts, one thing jumps out rather dramatically. None of the other books that serve as foundations for other religions have a prophetic element to them. Only the Bible gives you the means to tests its veracity by making huge predictions of future events, kingdoms, wars, and a Messiah. The other texts talk of good works, morality, or the historic actions of its founder and followers, but none take the risk of actually foretelling future events. And not only does the Bible do that repeatedly, it has done it without error. All we have to do is hold history books up against the Bible and we can see how completely God controls the events of humankind. No other religious book does that. Consequently, no other religious book makes the sort of claims the bible makes; like the centrality of Christ and the purpose of His atoning work.
And that’s the second point: the Bible claims that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. That makes Him unique among founders of major worldwide religions. Those who established other religions merely claimed a divine revelation, but never claimed to be divine themselves. Only Jesus made Himself the center of the religious universe and said that what you did with Him, how you related to Him, would determine your eternal destiny. Then, unlike any other religious leader, Jesus supplied the evidence – historic, factual, provable evidence – that He was who He said He was. He rose from the dead. You simply don’t find that sort of content in the pages of any other religious scripture.
Buddha never claimed to be a deity. Siddhartha Gautama claimed to have found a path to enlightenment which any man could follow. Confucius offered a method for perfecting society. Muhammad never claimed to be deity. He claimed that Allah was the “one god” and he was merely a prophet. Again, only Christianity, unique among all historic religion, claims that its founder is also the object of worship, being God incarnate.
As for the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith never claimed to be any other than a man who received revelations. But the text has nothing to support it. Joseph Smith’s revelations are based on supposed golden tablets given to him by a hitherto unknown angelic being who has not been heard from since. And the gold tablets somehow disappeared. Yes, the very physical evidence, which would have hushed the naysayers and proved undoubtedly the veracity of everything Smith claimed, was lost. So, unlike Christianity and it’s wealth of historic evidence, the book of Mormon rests on nothing more than the claims of one man. And you’ll notice that he did not include particular predictions by which his revelation could be tested.
Q – I believe that the Bible is the only true scripture; that it is fully complete and needs no addendums; that all everything God wanted us to know is in that book. I don’t believe there are any more prophets in time beyond John the Baptist. However, I don’t know WHY I believe that. I don’t know why I believe that if something isn’t in this manmade canon it’s not God’s word. The “Bible” itself is a manmade tradition, is it not?
Jim – Be careful, here. The Catholic Church would love for you to continue believing that the canon of the Bible is a strictly manmade entity. Then the Catholic apologist will point at the Council of Rome, or Trent, or the Synod of Carthage and claim Rome’s supremacy in the establishment of the Biblical canon. Therefore, the Protestants who claim “Sola Scriptura” (Scripture Alone) as an argument against the Catholic Church are actually dependent on that selfsame Catholic Church for the determination of exactly what would comprise the very Scripture the Protestant is touting. It’s a popular bit of circular reasoning on the part of Rome’s advocates.
Of course, long before Trent there was an extant canon of books considered to be God’s own Scripture among the Jews. The leaders of the Jewish communities considered that collection of books to be the authoritative history of God’s dealings with His people. Tradition and history formed this group of books, along with their religious credibility and internal indications of truth (like accurate prophecy). Christ Himself often quoted from certain of these books, giving them even greater authority and credibility. Paul said that those (what we call) Old Testament Scriptures were “theopneustos,” or God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So, the Old Testament canon stands on firm historic/religious ground and has been testified to as verifiably the word of God by the two greatest voices in Christianity – Jesus and Paul.
Paul’s epistles began to circulate very early in church history and were looked upon as authoritative for the rule of faith and doctrine. By the end of the First Century, Paul’s letters were collected and circulated, and they were known to Clement of Rome (c.95), Ignatius of Antioch (died 117) and Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 115). So they were circulated widely and held in high esteem. (I’ll resist the temptation to make a joke about Polycarp from Smyrna.)
The full canon of the New Testament was established by the late Fourth Century and that list was determined based on the historic veracity of authorship, mention or quotes from those letters by the first generation of church leaders, and the increasingly accurate prophetic nature of certain books. There was certainly argument and discussion over books like Hebrews, 2 John, 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude and the Revelation. But, that argument was driven as much by anti-Semitism as by scholarship.
So, I say all that to say that the canon we now possess has been around for the better part of 2,000 years and has withstood the test of time in ways that every other alternative Scripture has failed to accomplish. I would also add at this point that there is an inherent internal consistency to the Bible, despite being written by 40 different authors (plus or minus) over roughly 1500 years. This feature of the Bible, missing from all other religious books, argues loudly for its Godly inspiration.
Q – Is it true that the “time of the prophets” is OVER, and there won’t be any more prophesy? Do we have some scriptural basis on which to declare that there can be no more scripture written?
Jim – I would go immediately to Jesus’ words and then to Hebrews Chapter One:
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.” (Matt. 11:12-13)
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds.” (Heb. 1:1-2)
From a theological standpoint I would say that the reason that God no longer speaks to His people through prophets is that He has said everything He wants to say through His Son. Once again, the Son gets all the preeminence.
As far as there being any other Scripture written, the test of apostleship is now impossible to prove. No one has walked and talked with Jesus personally to the degree that He can speak for Christ and give us insight into His mind and doctrine. The New Testament writers had direct connection to Jesus, either first-hand or via an original apostle. But, without that direct connection to Jesus, it is impossible to test the veracity of any man’s claims.
And, of course, that’s why Joseph Smith argued that he was an apostle; a “sent one.” But there is no evidence that Jesus ever actually communed with Smith in any real way (beyond the communion Christ has with all believers).
Q – Sure, Paul’s letters spell out the Christian theology. The Gospels tell the story of Jesus. The Old Testament books referred to by Jesus are certainly worthy of being called “canon”, but I’m having trouble reconciling (a) the canon, which we consider God’s word, (b) why other books like the BoM can be easily dismissed, and (c) why there would be a limit in time after which God will not speak new words of prophesy to His people.
Jim – Well, given what I’ve written above, we can summarize a bit. The canon was determined by a set of criteria that simply cannot be satisfied by any new revelations, such as proximity to Christ and first-hand knowledge of His day-to-day teaching. Other books can be dismissed because of their content. The Book of Mormon has nothing in its pages that would prove its own veracity. The Bible has thousands of years of faithfully predicting the future. The book of Mormon has stories that don’t even get history correct; like its dependence on the tribe of Joseph. Jewish history tells us that there never was a tribe of Joseph, inasmuch as the birthright blessing was handed down from Jacob to Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. If they cannot get history correct, they certainly don’t have much chance of predicting future events. The book simply does not have the internal evidence of truth, and can therefore be dismissed, while the Bible continues to prove itself as time unfolds.
Q – Again, I believe the things I listed above, but I don’t know WHY I believe them, so I’m prone to questioning it. I certainly want to believe that the current canon of the Bible is IT, but I don’t know where to go for an authoritative answer as to why some things are Scripture and some things aren’t. If this area is gray at all, doesn’t that mean that anything COULD BE scripture?
Jim – James White has just written a book on this subject called “Scripture Alone.” I have always found his books to be thorough, yet readable. I haven’t read this one yet, but it may address some of the issues you’re recounting here. The link is: www.aomin.org .
Also, not to get too “woo-woo” spiritual about all this, but there is certainly a very spiritual element to the Word of God. If it is in fact true, it will prove itself in time, in history, and in the heart and mind of every Christian God has called. You said you don’t know WHY you believe the Bible, you just know you believe. Well, despite the fact that the Mormons would also claim something they call “the internal witness” to verify their version of the truth, Paul did write:
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Rom. 8:16)
The Spirit of God, written of in the Bible, must be a true, actual, living entity and His presence must have some actual, definable characteristics that prove His existence and power. Otherwise, the whole thing is just a bunch of gobble-dee-gook that adds up to nothing. One thing that the Spirit of God would naturally do is lead a Christian to understand and trust the Word of God and distrust anything that is false or misleading.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4-5)
Those words must actually mean something, eh?
Q – I keep comparing the rising of Christianity to the rise of Mormonism. Wouldn’t the Jews see this whole “Jesus” thing as being NEW, heretical doctrine that should be abandoned the same way I view the whole “Joseph Smith” thing as being NEW, heretical doctrine that should be abandoned?
Jim – Yes, absolutely. But, the rejection of truth on the part of the Jews was predicted in their own Scripture. That’s why Paul took the time to hold them accountable in his epistle to the Romans. Unlike the book of Mormon, which had no predecessor predicting people’s reaction to it, the Bible plainly states that God’s son would be rejected by the very people to whom He was sent.
“Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isa. 53:1-6 NASU)
There is nothing like the prophecies concerning both the advent and the rejection of God’s Son in any writing of any other religion. That’s the sort of thing that gives the Bible veracity far above, and completely separate from, the Book of Mormon and all writing of that ilk.
Q – My point is that if NEW DOCTRINE could’ve appeared at a point in time in the writings of Paul, how can we say this won’t happen again?
Jim – New doctrine will always appear as men continue to imagine vain things. But, in order for new TRUTH to appear, the Son of God Himself must convey that truth. What Paul wrote was not genuinely new. He wrote of the advent of the New Covenant of salvation by grace through faith. But that very covenant was predicted back in Jeremiah 31. Paul was simply saying that the very thing God had predicted had now occurred. And, just as was predicted, some among the Jews rejected that doctrine. But it was not qualitatively new. And that’s important. What Joseph Smith wrote was not substantiated by any other source. It was, in fact, both new and unproven. Newness is not the same as truth. What Paul wrote had 1500 years of Hebrew history to substantiate it, which is why he so readily and frequently referred to the “God-breathed” Scriptures to prove his point.
Q – Surely I’m being incredibly foolish here. Please correct me!
Jim – You’re not being foolish. You’re being honest and inquiring. And that’s good, because honest inquiry leads to truth and we need to know that our faith if founded on solid, rigorous truths that cannot be changed or upended by the passing of time and the constant barrage of man-centered critiques. I learned to trust the Bible because it proves its own veracity. No other book can say that.
Q – This is the first sort of “belief dilemma” I’ve had since my ‘reformed enlightenment’, and it has a marked difference in that before, something like this would cause my thoughts to spiral into doubt and worry, but now, I have this amazing peace and even excitement because I KNOW the Truth is there, I just didn’t have a hold of it yet, but I knew it would come.
Once again, I am so appreciative of your clarity and thoroughness. Thanks for being my teacher.
Jim – Back atcha.