Mormonism Blog
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November 9, 2019, 7:00 AM

LDS Laborers Not Worthy of Hire?



A popular LDS tract that lists “17 Points of the True Church of Jesus Christ” includes a claim that the true Church must have “no paid ministry.” As long as I have known them, the LDS have prided themselves on this principle. So imagine my surprise when I learned that the LDS were commanded in their scriptures to financially support not only Joseph Smith, but future church leaders as well, all the way down to the local rank and file.

To support their argument that church leaders should not be paid, the LDS cite Acts 20:33-34, where Paul reminds the Ephesians that “I worked with my own hands to support myself” while he was serving there, and John 10:11-13, where Jesus criticizes the hired hand who does not truly care for the sheep. They also cite 1 Peter 5:2, where Peter exhorts elders to care for their people “not for shameful gain.”

The LDS can also cite Mosiah 27:5 from their Book of Mormon: “Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want.” Similarly, 2 Nephi 26:31 states, “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money, they shall perish.”

(For more of the LDS case for a non-paid ministry, see https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Mormonism_and_church_finances/No_paid_ministry.)

The Book of Mormon taps into a popular resentment for paid clergy in the frontier America in which it was published. But as Joseph Smith records further revelations in his Doctrine and Covenants, we find passages that defend his right, and the right of later church leaders, to financial support. Joseph says he is told in July 1830, “And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip.” (D&C 24:18)

The following year, in Kirtland OH, Doctrine and Covenants 42:71-73 makes it clear that it is not just Joseph Smith, but also local church leaders who deserve financial support: “And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop…Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services… And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.”

Several more times in 1831, the same theme is repeated. God reportedly says concerning Joseph, “if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him.” (D&C 43:12) “He who is appointed to administer spiritual things, the same is worthy of his hire, even as those who are appointed to a stewardship to administer in temporal things…” (D&C 70:12) Finally, “Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.” (D&C 75:24)

Jesus says of those who labor for the sake of the Gospel, “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7) Paul quotes Jesus’ teaching verbatim in 1 Timothy 5:18, and echoes it again in Galatians 6:6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” Paul also writes, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor (the word timÄ“ also means “price” or “compensation”), especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

While Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “the Lord appointed that those who proclaim the Gospel are to get their living from the Gospel” (see 9:3-18 for the entire context that backs up this reading of the Greek), Paul deliberately chooses to forego that right, so that he is beholden to no one but God. No one can say that Paul preaches for the same reason as Cher’s huckster father does in her song “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” for whom “preach a little Gospel” was just as good as to “sell a couple bottles of Doctor Good.”

While I sharply disagree with their claim that God decrees that church leadership must be unpaid, I greatly admire the LDS for the extent to which they practice what they profess. When I read the LDS romance novel The Bishop’s Bride: The Honeymoon’s Over (yes, I have read LDS romance novels!), I was impressed by the extremely busy life of an LDS bishop portrayed in that book. All of their church labor must be squeezed into evenings and weekends!

One can hardly devote 45-50 hours per week to such a calling and stay sane. Nor would that bishop be able to prepare a full-length sermon every week comparable to a sermon preached by a Christian pastor. Much of what a pastor might do, has to be delegated to an army of ward members, including delivery of Sunday talks, which no doubt has an advantageous effect on the average LDS believer.

But there is still a lot of labor for the LDS church that is paid. Don’t tell me that none of the laborers in their 26-story office building in Salt Lake is paid. Full-time educators are paid. (Those who teach religion at BYU even have theological training.) All of the Apostles, the First Quorum of Seventy, and regional fulltime Mission Presidents have living allowances. (See https://www.mrm.org/should-pastors-be-paid.) And although missionaries normally pay for their own two-year missions, local wards have been known to pass the hat for young people who otherwise would not be able to afford to go on a mission.)

Now, the job description of a Christian pastor includes not only the administration and guidance done by an LDS bishop, but also the work of a paid LDS educator, including weekly preparation of one or more competent Biblical sermons averaging 20-30 minutes, requiring the expertise of a BYU religion professor. For this work, most Christian pastors are paid less than LDS bishops are paid for their non-church careers.

Certainly Christian churches can learn and benefit from the LDS model. And certainly LDS wards might benefit if they had local bishops who were professionally trained and who could devote full time to their duties. God is already unleashing Christian laypeople. Paid fulltime LDS bishops would require the audacity of a President Nelson to pull off. (Let’s see what he has up his sleeve at the next General Conference…)

I categorically reject the claim that a completely unpaid ministry is a requirement of the true Church. Jesus flatly rejects the claim; Paul clearly concurs. Not even Joseph Smith was required to operate this way, except when compelled by economic realities. As the apostle Paul acknowledges, to serve God without pay gives us admirable “bragging rights.” But our willingness to value the fulltime labor of Christian leaders is clearly what Jesus intends.




September 13, 2019, 5:00 PM

Joseph Smith as a Student of Hebrew



The gift store at Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, Ohio temple sells reproduced copies of a small guide to the Hebrew language produced just for Joseph’s class of leaders at Kirtland who signed up to learn Hebrew. The instructor was Joshua Seixas, a Portuguese Jew who may have secretly converted to Christianity. Seixas taught Joseph’s class for several months, and Joseph claims that Seixas bragged on them as being an exceptionally capable class. But then Seixas went away on a vacation break and never returned, leaving his class unable to explain his abrupt departure.

The guide was produced because copies of Seixas’ full-length Hebrew grammar were in short supply. It is 22 pages of text, plus the entirety of Genesis 1 reprinted for the class to practice on. Pronunciation is different from the modern Ashkenazi method chiefly in the fact that Seixas pronounces the letter ‘ayin, which is silent in modern Hebrew. Seixas pronounces it “gn,” which helps explain Joseph’s use of two puzzling terms in his scripture Pearl of Great Price. One is gnolam, which turns out to be simply the word ‘olam or “eternal.” The other is Joseph’s raukeeyang, which is the way he was taught to pronounce raqi‘a or “firmament.”

(I happen to agree with Seixas that ‘ayin should be pronounced as a g-like guttural, as it is in Arabic. The Greek New Testament is proof; it often uses a g to spell names that have an ‘ayin in them. Otherwise, we would be calling Sodom’s twin city “Omorrah.”)

Seixas’ guide for Joseph’s Hebrew class quickly jumps from a few basics into complicated stuff. Unless we take the term “Supplement” in the title to mean that most of what Seixas is teaching is in the book and not in this brief guide, or that most of what he taught is not in either text, it is difficult to see how Joseph or his classmates were able to get past the first five pages of lesson material.

Joseph made some progress in simple Hebrew, which enables him to use false but plausible linguistic arguments in his re-translation of Genesis 1. When he plays deceptively with the text, at least he knows how to do so. When he attempts to translate Egyptian, as he does in the Book of Abraham and his Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar (see http://www.historicaljoseph.org/the_book_of_abraham_how_good_was_josephs_translation), it is clear that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he is doing.

Although he possessed a Greek New Testament, Joseph never seems to have attempted to learn Greek. However, in his diary from the Nauvoo period, he mentions spending quite a bit of time learning German, which he would employ along with Hebrew in his Nauvoo-era sermons. He seems to have believed that the German Bible could correct the English version.

Why would Joseph bother to try learning Hebrew, when he could just claim divine revelation, as he does to produce his Inspired Version of the Bible? In his Inspired Version, Joseph was able to make claims, not so much about faulty translation as about faulty manuscripts that left out “plain and precious” material that God revealed to him to be present in the original manuscripts, even though he had no hard evidence to which he could point to support his claims.

Joseph was not content, however, to rest entirely on divine revelation. He wanted to prove that he could translate. But his desire to prove that he could translate ended up backfiring on him in the case of the Book of Abraham. That mummy he purchased that he was so proud to exhibit to every visitor proved to be his undoing. He should have stuck to Hebrew, where he could at least plausibly argue that the words meant what he said they meant.




September 7, 2019, 9:01 PM

Rough Stone Rolling: My Last Word on Joseph Smith



My final post in my Christian conversation with the Latter-day Saints is a review of Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, which has somehow escaped my notice in the 13 years since it was published. I finally discovered it recently when a person who had been LDS for over four decades told me that this was the book that changed that person’s mind about Joseph Smith and helped lead that person to leave the LDS church.

I was surprised to find that Rough Stone Rolling was not at all an “anti-Mormon” book. In fact, it is the most even-handed biography of Smith I have ever found, although written from a sympathetic point of view. The author, a professor of history at Columbia University, is a Mormon in good standing, and the book was highly praised when it was reviewed in the LDS-owned Deseret News. Yet the book gives both sides of the story, with all the supporting information I would want to know about Joseph to make a fully-informed decision about him, while leaving plenty of room for the reader to decide either way about him.

While Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History (1945) was a ground-breaking work full of masterful research on Joseph, I found Rough Stone Rolling to be far more interesting. Here I found more of Joseph’s heart (as best we can discern it), and less of the naturalistic explanations and psychoanalyzing found in Brodie. (Unlike Bushman, Brodie was excommunicated for her views.) Yet it is not a hagiography (puff-piece promotional for a saint) like the LDS Church History Department’s recent book Saints: The Standard of Truth (see my review at http://www.biblicalethic.org/come_clean_ye_saints).

Rough Stone Rolling is a critical work in the best sense of the word, i.e. a work that asks and answers the right critical questions about Joseph. It makes a generous use of sources that are not easy to get, including collections of primary sources like: Where can you find the 4 written sources for Joseph’s famous 1844 King Follett sermon that introduces his doctrine of eternal progression? (In 2 of those sources, Joseph dares “all Hell” to prove him wrong. For such an important sermon, I’m glad that 4 people recorded it.)

Bushman gives us a stimulating discussion of the Book of Mormon unlike any that I have seen. He explores theories of its origin, preferring to give far more credit to Joseph than to any source that he might have borrowed from (such as View of the Hebrews, Solomon Spaulding, or Sidney Rigdon), while nevertheless expressing wonder at how Joseph could have produced such a text. He also makes persuasive cases for both sides as to whether the book’s content is true or false, while hinting that his own position may be that such a book need not be factual to be true.

Reading Bushman’s account of the Saints’ experiences at the hands of mob “democracy” in Missouri is revealing. The author explains why the Missouri mobs thought they were simply doing the will of the people by beating up Mormons and destroying their property, and why they thought that no judge or sheriff could punish the people from doing the people’s will. What happened to the LDS over and over in the 19th century could easily happen again in the 21st century to both LDS and Nicene Christians, at the hands of mobs with the names Antifa, Resist, and the political parties that support them. Speaking of the government’s claimed powerlessness to help the Saints on such occasions because of “States’ rights,” Joseph declared these authorities to be “a stink” and that “they shall ascend up as a stink offering in the nose of the Almighty.”

Rough Stone Rolling also sheds new light for me on Joseph’s views on African Americans and slavery. While the Book of Abraham declares Africans to be under a curse and therefore unable to hold the priesthood, and while he positioned himself in Missouri as being against abolition, in his 1844 campaign platform, Joseph is all in favor of setting blacks free from slavery: “Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire them to labor like other human beings.” (Here Bushman cites Joseph’s actual campaign brochure.) Joseph claims that slaveholders would readily set their slaves free if compensated for their losses. It is difficult to tell which of Joseph’s views on the subject are his heartfelt convictions and which ones are for political consumption, but it is helpful to have all of those views on the table.

Bushman’s description of Joseph’s Council of Fifty at Nauvoo was also enlightening for me. I had been led to believe that this was a super-secret council that anointed Joseph as a political king. I was surprised to find that this council included 3 outsiders, i.e. non-Mormons. Apparently, the Council’s first task was to find a more secure place for the Saints to live than their current location, probably sensing that their days in Illinois were numbered. Furthermore, the Council sought to lay out a broader vision for the implementation of the Kingdom of God on earth, a sort of shadow government waiting for God to bring the present world order to an end. Whether this was a treasonous body, or whether it potentially placed too much power in the hands of Joseph, the reader may decide.

The part of Rough Stone Rolling which probably turned the above-mentioned LDS reader against Joseph may have been the author’s treatment of Joseph’s plural marriages. Bushman’s approach to this subject is not attack, but matter-of-fact. His frank acknowledgement of the large amount of deception required in these marriages differs from the recent Church Historical Department book only by degree; while the Saints book concedes in a brief sentence that Joseph was compelled to deceive his wife Emma at times, Bushman’s book spells out how many times Joseph had to deceive both her and others. Yet Bushman explains that Joseph never thought of himself of committing adultery or practicing polygamy; he thought he was simply following orders from God. Whether this was God or not, the author leaves the reader to decide, without comment.

If I could recommend one book for an honest LDS seeker after truth to read about Joseph to place the necessary facts in their hands, I would recommend Rough Stone Rolling. Check out what you find there against the History Department’s book. Check out the works of Fawn Brodie and of Jerald and Sandra Tanner to dig deeper into their perspectives. You will then have all of the most important data necessary to draw the conclusions that everyone must make about Joseph Smith. Don’t leave it to someone else to do your thinking for you. You are the one who must answer to God for what you think of Joseph, and what you think of Jesus.

Whatever you do, don’t let anyone lead you away from Jesus. He alone can save us and put us right with God.




September 7, 2019, 8:57 PM

Faith-Promoting Fibs



LDS apostle Paul Dunn was a popular speaker, author, and church educator from the 1950’s until he quietly stepped down in 1989. I have two of his books, Ten Most Wanted Men and You Too Can Teach! He offered very sound advice on subjects like leadership and decision-making. Some of his spiritual advice would be good advice for Nicene Christians as well.

But Paul Dunn made the mistake of stretching the truth in some of his inspirational talks. He claimed to have been a professional baseball player with the St Louis Cardinals; it turns out that he played less than a month, at the minor league level. He also told numerous combat stories that were either not true or that were falsely told as if they’d happened to him (see https://www.deseretnews.com/article/147438/ARIZONA-PAPER-ALLEGES-MANY-STORIES-WERE-EXAGGERATED.html?pg=all)

This leads me to wonder about the passage in Ten Most Wanted Men (page 108) where Dunn claims to have known and pitched to baseball hero Lou Gehrig during batting practice. Dunn was 17 when Gehrig died of ALS in 1941. The story is not impossible, but becomes harder to believe in light of Dunn’s reputation for stretching the truth elsewhere.

Dunn believed that combining stories and altering names was OK because his intent was not to deceive, but to make points about God that remain valid, and to do so in ways that would be most effective for reaching his audiences. But aren’t such points undermined when the audience finds out the truth about what really happened? And doesn’t the phenomenon lead us to wonder about testimony stories told by others?

Nicene Christians are also guilty of stretching the truth in similar ways: healing stories and conversion stories that prove to be exaggerated, embellished, or totally fabricated. Every time this happens, it weakens our confidence in stories of faith that do deserve to be believed. Did God miraculously provide for that children’s home to stay open? Did that hippie kick his drug habit with no withdrawal symptoms? We are afraid to celebrate, for fear that the story has been stretched.

But why should it matter? Can a fib be faith-promoting? If we ask the question this way, the answer is obvious. While fiction does have its legitimate capacity to inspire, even fiction depends for its inspirational power on how faithfully it has depicted reality. And when lives or livelihood hang in the balance, none of us wants to be ripped off by a lie, no matter how inspiring it may be.

Mark Hofmann, the document forger who bombed two people to death in Salt Lake City in 1985 to cover up his web of deceit, successfully deceived the LDS church into purchasing numerous fake Mormon historical documents that had been pronounced genuine by the experts. These included the famous “Salamander Letter” (where an angel appears to Joseph Smith in the form of a salamander), and a blessing by Joseph Smith declaring his son Joseph III to be his successor.

As told in Naifeh and Smith’s book The Mormon Murders, in his confession, Hofmann says he did not believe he was cheating a customer by selling them a forgery that could not be detected by the experts. When he was a boy, he says he electroplated a mint mark on a US coin which the Treasury Department later pronounced genuine. Hofmann believed that if the experts say such an article is real, then it is worth whatever the buyer wishes to pay for it. “My feeling is, it’s not so much what is genuine and what is not, as what people believe is genuine.”

To illustrate his point, Hofmann says, “My example would be the Mormon Church…I don’t believe in religion as far as that Joseph Smith had the First Vision or received the plates from the angel Moroni or whatever. It doesn’t detract from the social good that the Mormon church can do. To me it is unimportant whether Joseph Smith had that vision or not as long as people believe it. The important thing is that people believe it.”

Sound familiar? How many people believe that it doesn’t matter whether any religion is true, as long as it produces nice results? To what extent is the human race benefitted by lies?

Look at it this way. Does it matter to you whether a document that cost you $10,000 really came from the pen of the named author? Or are you just as happy with an amazingly accurate fake?

What about the books and articles that quoted or cited the documents forged by Mark Hofmann as if they were true? Does it matter whether any effort is made to set the record straight? Joseph Smith may or may not have declared his son Joseph III to be his successor, but we can no longer cite Hofmann’s document as evidence.

The issue of faith-promoting fibs is what stands behind our need to know whether the Biblical documents, or the LDS canonical writings, are genuine or fabricated. We may dismiss the issue by professing that we’re OK with inspiring fiction, but deep inside, we know better.




September 7, 2019, 8:54 PM

Can God Change?



Does God change, or does God remain forever the same? A related question: Can God change his mind or his plan? Can God change his rules, or is everything that God decrees an expression of unchanging divine principle?

In one of his last sermons before his death, Joseph Smith issues a new doctrine that God was once a man who became God: “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea.” (Journal of Discourses 6:3) Here in this sermon is where the central LDS doctrine of eternal progression gets its start (https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Journal_of_Discourses/Volume_6/Character_and_Being_of_God,_etc.).

Like his ancestors before him, the LDS God starts out as a human being, becomes God, and is now in the process of becoming an even greater being. That’s change, on steroids! Not even today’s process theology proposes such radical change for God.

The LDS God is also very capable of changing his mind on major issues. The best example is the 1978 revelation giving the priesthood to all worthy male Africans, to whom priesthood status had been denied ever since 1836, when Elijah Abel was ordained. (To clarify the significance here, all male members in good standing hold the LDS priesthood, not merely a select few.)

The reason blacks were denied the priesthood is because they were cursed because they had not been worthy in the pre-mortal spirit world. Brigham Young even declared that interracial marriage with blacks was a capital crime: “If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This shall always be so.” (Journal of Discourses 10:110)

(Here we see the courage of the late prophet Thomas Monson. After the 1978 revelation that decriminalized African descent, Monson, who was an apostle at the time, was the first official who dared to perform an interracial temple marriage. The 1978 statement did not explicitly set aside the words of Brigham Young.)

How can such extraordinary change take place? The LDS understanding is that the word of God’s living prophet at the moment (the functional equivalent of a Pope) supersedes all previous revelation, written or oral.

Apostle Bruce McConkie, a strong defender of the previous doctrine on blacks and the priesthood, totally changes his tune as soon as the revelation comes out (indeed, he helped write the new revelation). Shortly thereafter, he tells a public audience at BYU, “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.” (https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/bruce-r-mcconkie_alike-unto-god-2/) In other words, forget all that I ever wrote on the subject!

My problem with this approach is that we end up with a God who is always changing his mind about matters that ought to remain settled. God may issue a firm statement this year, but who knows what God will think next year? Who can rely on the word of such a God?

Bedrock principles do not change with time. Don’t tell me racism is wrong today but was OK with God in the days of Jim Crow, or that sex outside of marriage was wrong in the Victorian age but is right today. If racism is wrong today, it was always wrong, whether we acknowledged it or not. Don’t drag God into it, as if God can’t make decisions for all time on such matters.

Objection: Doesn’t God set aside the Law of Moses for Christians? And what about God’s seeming turnabout on eunuchs, who are forbidden to enter God’s sanctuary in Deuteronomy 23:1, but who receive a blessing from God for doing what is right in Isaiah 56:4-6?

Jesus is central to our answer to the question of God’s law. Jesus has harsh words for anyone who would relax even one tiny letter of God’s law (Matthew 5:17-19, Luke 16:17), yet according to Mark (7:19), he was implicitly “cleansing all foods” (i.e. setting aside the kosher food laws) when he declared that nothing that goes into a person can defile a person (Mark 7:14-23). In another radical move, Jesus says that God permitted divorce in the Law of Moses “because of your hardness of heart…but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matthew 19:8)

How can Jesus make such breathtaking pronouncements? Because Jesus is our authorized interpreter of God’s law. Being God in the flesh, he is uniquely qualified. This means that no one else is authorized to issue any such radical updates to God’s law. And because Jesus says that he came “not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17), Jesus makes all of the Hebrew sacrifices unnecessary, because he has already offered the ultimate sacrifice that takes away sin on the cross (Hebrews 9:23-26).

Isaiah’s declaration of God’s blessing on eunuchs who keep the Sabbath and do what pleases God does not throw out the ceremonial law on who is permitted to enter the Temple, any more than Jesus’ heart for the handicapped (Luke 14:13-14) sets aside the ceremonial laws about them (Leviticus 21:16-24). Isaiah 56 and Luke 14 merely clarify that God still loves these classes of people, and that the Temple ceremonial laws are not intended to convey otherwise.

Can God change his mind (= repent)? We are told that God “was sorry” (nicham) to have made the human race in Genesis 6:6, that God “was sorry” to have made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11), and that God “changed his mind” about destroying Israel (Exodus 32:14) and Nineveh (Jonah 3:10 – all the same word). But the Bible also says that God is not a human being, that he should repent (same word – see Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29).

The same word can and does cover both meanings. Should we suppose that God did not know what would happen under Plan A, so God changes his mind to a better plan? As a Calvinist, I prefer to think that God’s mind does not change, but that God enacts first one course of action (Plan A) that God knows will be disastrous, then switches to a better course of action, purely by sovereign choice, to prove what would happen under Plan A.

Does the Calvinist solution sound complicated? To me, it sounds a lot better than the prospect that God keeps making bad decisions that have to be changed. How do you make a deal with a God who can’t be counted on to keep promises? If those promises were conditional, we can understand why they would be withdrawn, but not if they were mistaken planning on God’s part.

Having a God who can always change his mind and issue a new revelation may be convenient, but it’s not true to life. Having a God who is too much like us always leads to messy complications. How much better to have a God who does not change! (Malachi 3:6)


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