Are You Smarter than a Trinitarian? Part Two: Responding to Mormon Misrepresentations of the Trinity

Kimmons - My reaction to trinitarians who call me a heretic

In Part One of this response to LDS apologist Ronald Kimmons’s flow chart on the Trinity, I summarized his argument and replied to red herrings or misdirections included in that chart that are not germane to the issue of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is true. As I explained there, Kimmons seeks to trap Trinitarians into one of two indefensible positions: (a) claiming that people who don’t believe in a meaningless word are going to Hell or (b) claiming that people who don’t accept the Trinity are heretics while at the same time affirming an explanation of the Trinity that is itself heretical. As I shall now show, Kimmons’s polemic against the doctrine proceeds by systematically misrepresenting what Trinitarians actually believe.

 

The “Incomprehensible” Doctrine of the Trinity

Kimmons begins his questioning of Trinitarians with the question, “Can you explain the Trinity to me in a way that makes sense?” The Trinitarian is allowed to answer either “Yes” or “No.” Already we have a problem. Well-informed Trinitarians should be able to explain the doctrine of the Trinity sufficiently so that others can know what it claims, and they may even be able to explain its meaning in a way that shows it is not meaningless or irrational. However, this does not mean that their explanations, even if reasonable and cogent, will be persuasive or satisfactory to opponents of the doctrine. Moreover, most Trinitarians acknowledge that the doctrine in some way represents God as being beyond our full or complete comprehension. That is, most Trinitarians recognize that the doctrine of the Trinity posits ideas about God that we find difficult if not impossible to explicate fully. The “triunity” of God means something to us, something that is intelligible and significant, but since there is nothing literally triune in nature or in our tangible experience our understanding of how God is triune remains imperfect. This does not mean that we should answer “No” to Kimmons’s first question. We can explain the doctrine in a way that makes sense, at least to a significant extent, but those who take a rationalistic approach to the matter (I must understand it fully and perfectly or it cannot be true) will not agree that it makes sense.

You can see what Kimmons is doing from the rhetorical question he asks if you answer “No” to his question about explaining the Trinity: Continue reading

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Are You Smarter than a Trinitarian? Part One: Responding to Mormon Misdirection on the Trinity

Kimmons - My reaction to trinitarians who call me a heretic

Ronald Kimmons is a Latter-day Saint businessman with political ambitions, a self-described “digital marketing professional, linguist, and smartypants” who has also spent a lot of time answering questions on the popular Q&A website Quora. According to his Quora profile, Kimmons, who attended Brigham Young University, has answered over 6,000 questions, mostly about religion, Christianity, and the LDS Church.

Earlier this year, Kimmons created a flow chart entitled “My Reaction to ‘Trinitarians’ Who Call me a ‘Heretic’.” For the purposes of critical review, I have posted an image of this flow chart here. Kimmons has posted it on Quora at least four times in the past three months. The image of this flow chart is now making the rounds on other social media sites; I have seen it twice in the past week on Facebook. Kimmons also created a quiz on his Quora page entitled “Are You Actually a Trinitarian?” with six questions. Both the flow chart and the quiz are designed to show that Trinitarians have no coherent grounds for charging others with heresy. Kimmons seeks to expose most self-professed Trinitarian Christians as “heretics” by their own standard, supposedly by showing that their own explanations of the doctrine of the Trinity are actually theories that have been condemned in church history as heresies (modalism, Arianism, etc.). By the way, I took his “quiz” and at the end it proclaimed that I was a true Trinitarian (and stating that only 21% of those taking the quiz qualify as such). However, based on Kimmons’s flow chart, his quiz should have classified me as a heretic. More on that inconsistency in part 2. In this article, I will analyze Kimmons’s argument and respond to two red herrings or diversionary claims he makes in his chart.

 

The Argument of the Anti-Trinitarian Chart

The flow chart is structured so as to show any Trinitarian that his position is either meaningless or heretical by Trinitarians’ own standard. The chart begins with a question:

Can you explain the Trinity to me in a way that makes sense?

You are allowed to answer either “Yes” or “No.” If you answer “No,” the chart announces the following outcome: Continue reading

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Answers to Mormon Answers on Moroni 8:18

We agree with moroni 8-18August 18 is observed annually with the message “We Agree with Moroni 8:18” by evangelical Christians who seek to share the biblical faith with Latter-day Saints. Moroni 8:18, a verse near the end of the Book of Mormon, states:

For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being;
but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

This statement, dictated by Joseph Smith in 1829 and published in 1830 in the Book of Mormon, stands in stark contrast to a statement made by Joseph Smith in a sermon known as the King Follett Discourse near the end of his life in 1844:

In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how He came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.[1]

This statement from Joseph Smith is one with which evangelicals cannot agree, since we believe that God is indeed God from all eternity. Thus, we agree with Moroni 8:18 but not with Joseph’s later theology. As we see things, Joseph started with a belief that was fairly close, at least relatively speaking, to the traditional Christian conception of God, and we find this view reflected both in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph’s other early revelations. After he published the Book of Mormon and founded the new religion, however, Joseph’s theology underwent radical changes in the following 14 years.

Mormons are aware of the problem and in recent years have offered a variety of answers or explanations—or at least objections to the dilemma posed above. In this article, we’ll consider eight of these answers or objections.

  1. “From all eternity” in Moroni 8:18 doesn’t mean absolutely without any beginning but an eon ago, or an extremely long time ago, or something along these lines.[2]

Much could be said about this claim, but I will restrict my response to making two simple points. First, whatever “from all eternity” means in Moroni 8:18, it must correspond coherently with the mirror expression “to all eternity” that appears in the same clause (“from all eternity to all eternity”). Does any Mormon wish to argue that God will be unchangeable only for some future eon or some extremely long period of time, but will not be unchangeable forever and ever? I doubt any Mormon is prepared to argue for such a conclusion. But if “from all eternity” means only “from a very, very long time ago” or “from an eternity ago from our limited perspective” or however a Mormon wishes to redefine the expression, then “to all eternity” in the same context must mean “to a very, very long time in the future” or “until an eternity from now from our limited perspective.” So this redefinition just won’t fit the immediate context of the very clause in which it appears.

Second, there is no reason to think “from all eternity” means something different in Moroni 8:18 than it does in Joseph’s 1844 statement. Both statements concern the nature of God. One says that God “is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity”; the other says that people had “supposed that God was God from all eternity.” Both appear in texts that came from Joseph Smith. Unless there is some clear indication from the differing contexts of these statements that the expression “from all eternity” has two distinctly different meanings, we should acknowledge that the expression means the same thing in both places.

  1. It isn’t true that God changed from something less than God to being God as he is now; this is a misunderstanding of Joseph Smith’s theology in the King Follett Discourse.[3]

A full response to this claim is beyond the scope of this article. However, I will point out some glaring problems with this claim as a response to the dilemma. First, notice that this answer concedes what the first answer disputes: that Moroni 8:18 means what it seems to mean, which is that God has always, from all eternity, been God. If the Mormons who offer this answer are correct, then those who present the previous answer must be mistaken.

Second, without getting into too much detail here, those few LDS scholars who make this claim about Joseph’s theology being misunderstood assume that the version of the King Follett Discourse that has come down to us is unreliable. These scholars point out (correctly) that several individuals took notes about what Joseph said and that none of their accounts is complete or necessarily a perfect record of the speech (also correct). They then conclude that we may set aside the statement in the commonly used version of the speech that denies “that God was God from all eternity.” This is where these scholars’ argument goes off the rails. There are four problems with this proposal.

  • The entire line of argument in the King Follett Discourse presupposes the idea that God was not always God but became a God. The point toward which the speech drives is that we can and should become Gods by progressing from one stage to the next, “as all gods have done before you.” This idea clearly entails the belief that our God likewise became a God by the same type of progression. It is not possible to eliminate this idea from the speech.
  • In Joseph Smith’s subsequent speech, known as the Sermon in the Grove, he taught that our God the Father had a Father before him who was his God. This idea obviously presupposes the notion already presented in the King Follett Discourse that our Father was not always God but became a God.
  • The LDS Church’s subsequent prophets and apostles accepted the King Follett Discourse in the form familiar to us today, and they affirmed this idea that God had passed through a process of progression in order to become a God.[4]
  • The LDS Church has put its imprimatur or official stamp of approval on the King Follett Discourse in its traditional form. A curriculum manual published in 2004 stated that the King Follett Discourse as it appears in History of the Church (as well as the Sermon in the Grove) is one of a group of “approved and inspired writings that are not in the standard works” and that “should be used along with the scriptures.”[5]

For these reasons, the problem of the Moroni 8:18 challenge cannot be solved by rejecting the King Follett Discourse in its traditional form or as several LDS prophets and apostles have interpreted it since Joseph Smith.

  1. The “God” that is unchangeable from eternity to eternity is not a specific divine being but is the divine intelligence inherent in all things (D&C 93:29) and the infinite continuum or pantheon of all divine beings. “The attributes of deity have always existed, having no beginning and will have no end, regardless of who holds or shares these attributes.”[6]

That anyone would offer this explanation is shocking, to say the least. The claim here is that when Moroni 8:18 refers to “God,” it does not mean the divine Being we worship or obey, or any personal deity at all, but rather the divinity that is supposedly latent in the “intelligence” that underlies all things. In Mormon metaphysics, everything that exists, ultimately, consists of “intelligence,” a potentially divine substance or reality that takes form in intelligent beings, some of which have the potential to become fully divine beings like Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ.  Thus, ultimately “God” is not a specific, personal being at all, but the divinity that is present at least in rudimentary or incipient form in all things. There may have been an uncountable number of Gods before the being we call God the Father and there will potentially be an endless series of Gods emerging in the future, but all of these Gods are really just specific instances of beings in which the absolute God that is beyond being and personality takes form. Frankly, this is pantheism. Any Mormon taking this position is simply confirming the vast, unbridgeable gap between Mormonism and historic, biblical Christianity.

Notice again that this third explanation contradicts both of the two previous answers we considered. At least those two responses agreed that “God” in Moroni 8:18 is an actual divine Being, someone specific who is said to be unchangeable. This third explanation denies this idea altogether. The divinity potentially latent in all things is unchangeable from all eternity, but God the Father, the being we think of as our God, is not.

Here again, also, one wonders why “God” in Moroni 8:18 would have this hitherto unknown meaning of the divinity that has always existed in intelligence but not have the same meaning in the King Follett Discourse. Nothing in Moroni 8, or frankly anywhere in the Book of Mormon, lends any credence or plausible support for this interpretation of Moroni 8:18. Throughout Moroni 8, as throughout the Book of Mormon, “God” is one specific, personal being who is said to be revealing himself and his purposes through Moroni and the other prophets who preceded him. The reader is invited to read through Moroni 8 to confirm this simple observation.

  1. God is eternally unchangeable in his perfect moral character relative to human beings—his love, justice, and so forth—even if he has not always been fully God.[7]

Probably the most plausible answer I have seen from Mormons to the apparent contradiction between Moroni 8:18 and the King Follett Discourse is that Moroni 8:18 is only referring to God’s moral perfections, not to his metaphysical nature as deity. Mormons who offer this answer argue that God can and has changed in some ways (passing through mortality and becoming exalted to Godhood) without ever changing his character or intentions. They point out that in the immediate context of Moroni 8, Moroni is emphasizing that God’s will with regard to the salvation of little children has never changed (see Moroni 8:12). This explanation avoids the absurdity of claiming that “eternity” changes meaning within the same clause (answer #1), the problem of contradicting a sermon text from Joseph Smith that LDS prophets and apostles have repeatedly affirmed and that the LDS Church has stated is true (#2), and the bizarre claim that in Moroni 8:18 “God” does not refer to a personal deity at all (#3).

The mistake these Mormons make is that they confuse the significance of God’s unchangeableness with the meaning of God’s unchangeableness. In context, God’s unchangeableness is significant because it assures Moroni’s readers that God has always intended to save little children and will never change his purpose in this regard. However, the Book of Mormon presents Moroni grounding or basing this confidence on the unchangeableness of God’s nature “from all eternity to all eternity.” Notice that Moroni 8:18 says that God is “not a changeable being.” The use of the word being in this context makes his argument theological or philosophical. It is because God is not that kind of being that we can be sure that his intentions have never changed from all eternity and will never change in the future to all eternity. That is the argument that the Book of Mormon presents here.

We know beyond any reasonable doubt that Joseph Smith held at the time that God’s unchangeableness meant that he was unchangeably God from eternity to eternity. We know this is what he thought because he said so the very same year that the Book of Mormon was published, in the text now known as Doctrine & Covenants 20:

By these things we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them. (D&C 20:17)

There is really no workable way around the problem. Joseph Smith clearly taught, both in the Book of Mormon and in D&C 20, that God is unchangeably God from eternity to eternity, from everlasting to everlasting. Fourteen years later, however, he had explicitly rejected that truth.

I agree with Moroni 8:18.

 

NOTES

[1] “King Follett Discourse,” April 7, 1844, as quoted in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 345. The entire text of the discourse is on the LDS Church’s official website, in the April 1971 issue of the Ensign.

[2] Robert Boylan, “Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), Dec. 10, 2014.

[3] This view is associated especially with Blake Ostler; see his treatment of the King Follett Discourse in Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, Volume 2: The Problems of Theism and the Love of God (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2006), 438–42. See also David L. Paulsen and Hal R. Boyd, “The Nature of God in Mormon Thought,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, ed. Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 246–59.

[4] See, for example, Brigham Young, 8 Oct. 1859, in Journal of Discourses 7:333–34; Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund, “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era 13 (Nov. 1909): 75 (an official statement of the First Presidency, reproduced in full in “The Origin of Man,” Ensign, Feb. 2002); Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 2:47; Marion G. Romney, “How Men Are Saved,” Ensign, Nov. 1974, 38 (a general conference address).

[5] Bruce R. McConkie, “The Bible, a Sealed Book,” in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings Religion 370, 471, and 475 (2004), 123–32, quoted from A Symposium on the New Testament, 1984, 1–7.

[6] Robert Boylan, “Moroni 8:18, Psalm 90:2, and the Latter-day Saint Understanding of Deity,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), Dec. 10, 2014.

[7] Robert L. Millet, A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Foreword and Afterword by Richard J. Mouw (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 114. See also Barry R. Bickmore, “Mormonism in the Early Jewish Christian Milieu,” FAIR conference, August 1999.

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And Don’t Call Us Mormons: The LDS Church and Language Control

I'm a Mormon billboard

Earlier today the website Mormon Newsroom issued an “Official Statement” from Russell Nelson, the President and Prophet of the LDS Church:

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.

At the same time, the “Newsroom,” as it is now called, posted a revised “style guide” with directives for the terminology to be used in reference to the religion and its members. The “preferred” first reference should be the full name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The terms Mormon Church, Mormons, and Mormonism should be avoided. Members should be called Latter-day Saints, and the abbreviation LDS should not be used (not even in the expression LDS Church).

When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or the “Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged. The “restored Church of Jesus Christ” is also accurate and encouraged…. The term “Mormonism” is inaccurate and should not be used. When describing the combination of doctrine, culture and lifestyle unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ” is accurate and preferred.

The term Mormon is not being banned absolutely; it will still be used in the title Book of Mormon, as well as in such “historical expressions” as Mormon Trail (and, one supposes, perhaps Mormon Tabernacle Choir, though that remains to be seen).

I beg the reader’s forgiveness or at least understanding, but I will not be following these guidelines. Continue reading

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Yea, Verily, Yea: The Word Yea and the Book of Mormon’s Imitation of the King James Version

 

Yea, Verily, Yea

“Yea, verily, yea!” — Danny Kaye, in “The Court Jester” (1956)

Yesterday I posted a short article here summarizing the first three articles on IRR’s website in a new series entitled “Moroni’s New Testament.” In those articles, I showed that the author of the writings attributed to Moroni in the Book of Mormon was a modern English-speaking individual who was familiar with the New Testament in the King James Version (KJV) and freely drew on it in composing the books of Mormon and Moroni.

Several Mormons on Facebook commented on the matter. Some asserted that they saw nothing wrong with the Book of Mormon using the “terminology” of the KJV. Frankly, this response shows a lack of any serious understanding of the issue. When the Book of Mormon contains a passage that is verbally identical to a passage in the New Testament for a stretch of some 80 words (Mormon 9:22b-24 = Mark 16:15-18), such a phenomenon simply cannot be called “using the same terminology.” This response reflects the traditional LDS belief that God provided an inspired translation of the gold plates in which the English words were exactly what God wanted written in the English version of the Book of Mormon.

The most sophisticated response I have seen suggested, rather tentatively and hypothetically, that Moroni might have heard (or even read) statements very much like what is in the New Testament from the Three Nephites, the Nephite apostles who didn’t die according to the Book of Mormon. The Mormon speculated that the Three Nephites might have gotten together with the apostle John (whom Mormons also think never died) and compared notes. I just described this explanation as the most sophisticated, but that isn’t saying much. It is also so convoluted and so ad hoc that the Mormon who offered it admitted it was only a possibility, not something he actually believed. Here again, though, a close study of the three full articles should be enough to see why such an explanation simply is not workable. For example, there is a sentence in the Book of Mormon that echoes statements from two different books but that happen to fall in adjacent chapters in the New Testament canon because of the way the canon was organized (Mormon 9:9 = Heb. 13:8; James 1:17). This fact shows that the author of Moroni’s writings had access to an actual New Testament, not just to men who had talked to one of the Old World apostles.

By far the simplest and most plausible explanation of the evidence is that the author of the writings attributed to Moroni was a modern individual who composed the Book of Mormon drawing on his knowledge of the KJV. The evidence of the author’s cribbing from the New Testament is not the only evidence supporting this conclusion. There is much more.

In another new article, I have taken a close look at the occurrences of the little word yea in the Book of Mormon as compared to the Bible (specifically again the KJV). In the KJV, the word yea occurs 275 times in the Old Testament and 65 times in the New Testament, or 340 times in the entire Bible. In the Book of Mormon, though, the word yea occurs 1,254 times.

To put this difference in perspective, keep in mind that the Book of Mormon is only about a third the length of the Bible, yet the Book of Mormon has almost four times as many occurrences of the word yea as the Bible. It turns out that the word yea occurs once in about every 2,318 words in the Bible, but once in about every 215 words in the Book of Mormon. In short, in terms of frequencies or proportions, the word yea is used over ten times as often in the Book of Mormon than in the Bible.

Anyone interested in this topic will need to read the full article, which includes three tables with important statistical information as well as some details regarding the Hebrew and Greek words translated “yea” in the KJV. Here I will give just a brief summary of the article and not repeat all of the supporting details of my argument. Continue reading

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Moroni’s New Testament: Proof that the Author of the Book of Mormon Used the King James Version

Moroni's NT

Many passages of the Book of Mormon are demonstrably dependent on the New Testament. The most obvious use of the New Testament in the Book of Mormon comes in 3 Nephi 12–14, most of which is copied nearly verbatim from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 in the King James Version (KJV). However, there are many other interesting examples that are important because they demonstrate this textual dependence in other ways. Among the most noteworthy parts of the Book of Mormon making use of the New Testament are the writings attributed to Moroni, especially Mormon 8–9 and Moroni 7–10.

In a new series of articles, I explore the evidence from these passages that they were composed—not just translated—by a modern author who drew freely and extensively on the New Testament from the KJV. Three installments of this series are now online. Here I will provide what the Book of Mormon would call an abridgment of those three articles. The headings below give the titles of each article with a link.

 

Part 1: The Use of the KJV New Testament in the Books of Mormon and Moroni

In part 1 of the series, I provide an overview of the subject. I first look at what the Book of Mormon itself claims about the writings of Moroni: that he was a Nephite prophet in the early fifth century AD writing partly to address concerns of his own day and partly to exhort future readers to accept the message of the Book of Mormon.

Next, I discuss criteria for identifying meaningful parallels between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Expressions that are too short, not distinctive, or not meaningful, or that could come from the Old Testament books to which Moroni (if he existed) would have had access, should not be counted here. Continue reading

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The Light Analogy, Theological Method, and the Doctrine of the Trinity

Christiaan Huygens

Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), portrait by Caspar Netscher (1670)

In 2010 I participated in a lengthy online written debate entitled “The Great Trinity Debate” with a Christadelphian named David Burke. I presented a defense of Trinitarianism and Burke defended Unitarianism (of the “Biblical Unitarian” variety). A few days after our opening statements, another Unitarian named Jaco Van Zyl posted a comment on a Unitarian website criticizing my use of the scientific study of light as an analogy. Van Zyl badly misrepresented what I said, making any response to his comment seemingly unnecessary. However, just a few months ago a popular Mormon blogger, Robert Boylan, quoted Van Zyl’s comment with approval, likewise completely misunderstanding the point of the analogy. Apparently, even something buried far down in the comments section on a blog eight years ago can be easily resurrected and given new life in cyberspace.

In his comment, Van Zyl wrote:

Firstly, and I hope Bowman will not make this rather amateurish mistake, this analogy sounds like “proof by illustration.” If, indeed, he is not trying to prove the validity of different “natures” in one “being” by using this example, it still does not do much for Bowman’s argument, and it brings me to my next qualm: Why use an illustration in which different natures of light has been confirmed, to prove the plurality of another (God), when this is exactly what has to be determined?

Van Zyl continues in this vein, raising various objections against using light as an analogy to illustrate or even to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. You can follow the link given above and read his entire comment. I won’t be responding to everything he said, but rather will be focused on his objection to my use of the scientific study of the properties of light as an analogy. Continue reading

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Jesus the Divine Bridegroom: Michael Tait’s Case for a High Christology in Mark

Tait - Jesus, the Divine Bridegroom, in Mark 2,18-22

 

Tait, Michael. Jesus, the Divine Bridegroom, in Mark 2:18-22: Mark’s Christology Upgraded. Analecta Biblica 185. Rome: Gregorian & Biblical Press, 2010.

 

 

 

Michael Tait is a former schoolteacher and headmaster with two doctorates who sought but never entered the Catholic priesthood, instead becoming an accomplished biblical scholar. The present book is the published version of the dissertation for his second doctoral degree (Ph.D., University of Manchester, 2008).

In this densely packed and carefully reasoned book, Tait argues that Jesus’ reference to himself as “the bridegroom” in Mark 2:19-20 reflects a divine Christology in Mark every bit as “high” as what we find “in John, Paul or Hebrews” (17). In response to the question why Jesus’ disciples were not fasting, Jesus replied:

“While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (Mark 2:19-20 NASB).

Tait’s argument proceeds in four main stages.

First, in chapters 1–3 he argues that in the surrounding context of the passage, Mark presents Jesus in ways that implicitly attribute divine powers or prerogatives to him (16–134). Thus, Jesus forgives sins, even seeking out sinners, and miraculously heals people as demonstrations of his divine authority to do so (Mark 2:1–3:6). In general, I agree with the point Tait is making here, but some elements of his argument are open to question. In particular, I found his attempt to show that a second “controversy collection” later in the Gospel (Mark 11:27–12:35) exhibits a theological structure parallel to Mark 2:1–3:6 unpersuasive and a bit of a distraction (79–90, 119–33).

Continue reading

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Is the Expression “Make a Record” Evidence for the Book of Mormon? A Case Study in Testing Mormon Apologetic Arguments

Nephi makes a record

The “Book of Mormon Central” website, founded by LDS scholars Lynne Wilson and John W. Welch in 2015 and operated by the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, has quickly become a popular source for apologetic arguments in defense of the antiquity and authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Many of the arguments presented there were previously advanced by LDS scholars and other apologists, while some of the arguments appear to be new ones, presumably originating with the Mormons responsible for producing the website.

One such new argument for the Book of Mormon appeared on the website on June 26, 2018, in an anonymous article, as well as in a video on YouTube posted the same day.[1] Since it is anonymous, I will simply refer to the author as BMC (Book of Mormon Central). The opening sentences (which are the same in the article and the video) sum up the claim:

The writers of the Book of Mormon often stated that they would “make a record” of the things that they had seen or done. The fact that they said they would “make a record” rather than “write a record” or some other similar phrase may seem insignificant. However, this phrase provides evidence that the writers of the Book of Mormon had training in the ways of ancient scribes.

When reading or listening to an argument, it is important to pay close attention and to ask questions. Is this statement or assertion factually accurate? What is the source of this information? Does the conclusion follow from the premises or the information provided? Let’s use this recent argument as a case study in how to go about evaluating an argument.

 

What does the text really say?

The first thing we will want to do is to confirm the basic claim or claims being made. In this instance, BMC claims that the Book of Mormon writers used the wording make a record “rather than” the expression write a record or something similar. Immediately we will want to know if it is true that the Book of Mormon used one expression and not another. It turns out this claim is not correct.

Continue reading

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Lydia McGrew on Credentials and New Testament Scholarship

Lydia McGrewLydia McGrew is a scholar trained in the study of literature (her Ph.D. was in English literature), an accomplished author of peer-reviewed publications in philosophy (including epistemology and philosophy of religion) including some directly relevant to Gospel scholarship, and recently the author of an excellent book (which I endorsed) entitled Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. Her dual expertise in literature and analytic philosophy equips her handily to engage critical issues in the study of the biblical texts.

Lydia should not need to defend her qualifications to write on the academic study of the Gospels. Unfortunately, some people whose views on the Gospels that Lydia critiques (and these include some friends of mine) have dismissed her work on the grounds that she is unqualified to address the issues. On more than one occasion I have explained to some of these individuals why I think their dismissiveness toward her is a mistake. Now Lydia has written a lengthy apologia for her contributions to this field of study, “On Credentials, Philosophy, and NT Studies.” My only regret in this regard is that I didn’t write it for her. I know from my own personal experience that it is difficult to defend one’s qualifications without coming across as self-serving. I hope those who are dubious about Lydia’s professional qualifications will look past any such superficial impression and seriously consider what she says.

More important still, I would very much like to see respectful dialogue among evangelicals on the controversial subjects at issue. I have great admiration for all of the major players in the recent controversies, including Michael Licona, Craig Evans, and Lydia McGrew, and I greatly appreciate the contributions that these and other Christian scholars have made to the study and defense of the Gospels. I have learned from all of them and I want to continue learning from them, even from their disagreements. I am not looking for more agreement, but I am looking for more argumentation and less ad hominem, more light and less heat, more collegiality and less partisanship, more bridge-building and less demolition. (Please note that I think both sides in the recent controversies can improve in these areas.) We can, should, and must learn from those with whom we disagree. Our focus should be on defending the faith, not defending our turf.

I welcome comments on what I have said here.

 

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