Mormonism Blog
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September 7, 2019, 8:00 PM

Was Jesus a Polygamist?



Dan Brown may have raised the issue for today’s audience as to whether Jesus was married. But back in 1854, LDS apostle Orson Hyde had already ramped the issue up to an even higher level by stating in a public sermon that Jesus was a polygamist, that Mary and Martha and others were his wives, and that the wedding at Cana was his own wedding (Journal of Discourses 2:81-82 and 2:210 – see also 4:259).

I remember first reading this sound bite from Orson Hyde close to 40 years ago, but only recently, more than twelve years after the claims of The Da Vinci Code, did I connect Orson Hyde’s claim with the greater debate about whether Jesus was married at all.

Brigham Young says in Journal of Discourses 13:309, “The Scripture says that He, the Lord, came walking in the Temple with His train; I do not know who they were, unless His wives and children; but at any rate they filled the Temple.” Elsewhere, he says, “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy” (Journal of Discourses 11:269).

For me, the issue is not theological or ethical, but historical: did it really happen? Because he was the Creator incarnate, and the leading articulator of what marriage is all about, I have no problem with the hypothetical possibility of a married Jesus. Getting married could be a huge distraction from his mission (which was not to create a blood line of incarnate Deity!), but it would not violate his ethical standards for us, unlike a fornicating or practicing gay Jesus, which would violate his standards. (See my post at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tomhobson/2017/09/gods-sex-mandate-two-shall-become-one-flesh/ for more on that subject.) No, my issue, plain and simple, is: Did it really happen?

I joke about it, but yet I am serious: If Jesus were married, what Jewish mother-in-law could have kept silent about it? Aside from the silence of any mother-in-law(s), the silence of the apostles is deafening. They were in the best position to know.

The most conclusive actual Scripture that makes this point is 1 Corinthians 9:5. Paul argues that he has a right to be accompanied by a wife, “as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter].” So all these church leaders he cites are married. If Jesus had been married, Paul most certainly would have cited Jesus’ example as his strongest argument.

Apostle Orson Pratt agrees with his fellow apostle Orson Hyde’s claim that Jesus was not merely married, but a polygamist. He declares in The Seer, “If all the acts of Jesus were written, we should no doubt learn that these beloved women [meaning Mary, Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene] were his wives... We have also proved most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable Wives were to be married.” (The Seer, pages 159, 172.)

Similarly and at the same time as Pratt, Hyde, and Young made their claims, the apostle Jedediah Grant speculated, “'The grand reason why the Gentiles and philosophers of his school persecuted Jesus Christ, was, because he had so many wives; there were Elizabeth, and Mary, and a host of others that followed him... The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion, was evidently based upon polygamy, according to the testimony of the philosophers who rose in that age.” (Journal of Discourses 1:345-346).

By implication, historic LDS apostles who claim that Jesus not only married several wives but had earthly children by them are creating a huge theological problem. If Jesus was God incarnate, as we Nicene Christians believe, then he fathered children who were half-divine. But if such supposed children of his were not divine, then was Jesus not divine at this point, either? That gives us a purely human Jesus, whom we Nicene Christians categorically reject, even if he was later exalted to deity.

Pratt goes beyond today’s LDS leaders by teaching that Mary the mother of Jesus was one of God the Father’s wives. He writes, “We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His First Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus.” (The Seer, page 172)

How can this be? Pratt argues that God “had a lawful right to overshadow the Virgin Mary in the capacity of a husband, and beget a Son, although she was espoused to another; for the law which he gave to govern men and women was not intended to govern himself…it may be that He only gave her to be the wife of Joseph while in this mortal state, and that He intended after the resurrection to again take her as one of His wives to raise up immortal spirits in eternity.” (The Seer, page 159)

Meanwhile, Pratt tells us, just as God the Father and his wives have already begotten billions of spirits to inhabit human bodies, Jesus and his wives will also beget countless millions, according to his reading of Messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 9:7 and Psalm 45:16 (The Seer, page 172).

So already, polygamous deities (rather than a Triune God) have led to a non-virgin birth of Jesus. Today’s LDS leaders do not publicly draw such conclusions, and they refuse to go the next step with Brigham Young, who publicly taught that Adam is the one who fathered Jesus in the flesh, proclaiming that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.” (Journal of Discourses 1:50) In the same breath, he also emphatically states that Jesus was “not begotten by the Holy Ghost,” with which Orson Pratt concurs.

Whether Latter-day Saints have the option to reject the teaching of a prophet of Brigham’s stature is questionable from a logical standpoint. We can applaud their desire not to affirm what appear to be indefensible statements. But the LDS prophet and apostles who succeeded Joseph Smith taught a comprehensive polygamous divine order that cannot be so easily set aside. And what good are prophets and apostles, if they can’t be taken at their word on such matters?




September 7, 2019, 8:00 PM

Pre-Existence: Is It Biblical?



The claim that humans existed in a spirit world before we born on earth is a major feature of today’s LDS faith. It is their answer to the question, “Where do I come from?” Are we prepared to answer that claim?

When visiting with the local LDS bishop in Utah, I confess I was taken by surprise when he asked me if I believed in the Pre-Existence. I was not surprised by the belief, nor was I uncertain in my rejection thereof, but I was not properly prepared at that moment to make the Biblical case against the belief. All I could say at the time was that I had no need for the belief, and saw no Biblical proof for it.

LDS theology teaches that God the Father dwells on a star called Kolob (namesake of a canyon in Zion National Park) with an unspecified number of wives, where he is procreating multitudes of spirit children who must wait until they are implanted into bodies of flesh to be born on earth. We do not remember this existence, but it becomes an incentive for LDS families to have as many children as possible, so that a maximum number of spirit children will have maximum opportunity to accept the LDS message.

In the mid-1800’s, LDS apostle Orson Pratt (mathematician, scientist, and early chancellor of the University of Utah) devoted much attention to making the case in favor of the doctrine of the Pre-Existence. He makes his case in his volume The Seer.

Pratt insists that spirits are begotten, not created. He rejects the possibility that God creates each person’s spirit when he/she is conceived; that would require God to be working too hard to say that he rested from his work of creation. Pratt thinks that eternal procreation would avoid this problem. But if it’s overwork to create billions of spirits, isn’t it just as much overwork to beget billions of them? Even Solomon and his oversized harem would appear unequal to such a task.

Pratt’s Biblical argument begins with Ecclesiastes 12:7, where we are told that the human spirit “returns to God who gave it.” Pratt asks, “Could the spirit return to God, if it never were in His presence? Could we return to a place where we never were before?” He also points to our innate knowledge of God and of moral law as evidence that we learned it in a previous existence.

Pratt cites the disciples’ question to Jesus about the man born blind in John 9:2 as proof that both Jesus and his followers presume a previous existence. He quotes Hebrews 12:9, where we are told that God is the “Father of spirits” (in contrast to the “fathers of our flesh”). He also cites Job 38, where God asks Job, “Where were you…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Curiously, he does not add Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”)

Pratt also injects into his picture of the Pre-Existence an element of karma that the belief itself does not demand. He points out that some spirits are born into places where they are more likely to hear and believe the LDS message than others are. He also observes that some are born into the African race, which was declared to be under a curse by Brigham Young and the Book of Abraham. He then asks, “Now if all the spirits were equally faithful in their first estate in keeping the laws thereof, why are they placed in such dissimilar circumstances in their second estate?” If one accepts Pratt’s premises, the LDS Pre-Existence resembles an abbreviated form of reincarnation, with only one previous life (as it were) before the present one.

Needless complications are raised by predicating this pre-mortal existence. Like the problem with reincarnation, why should we be punished for sins that we don’t remember? What’s worse is that LDS scriptures teach that Africans were born under a curse because they were not righteous in this Pre-Existence. While this curse was declared to be lifted in a 1978 revelation, how does one remove the LDS scriptural claim on which the curse was based?

Yes, there are scriptures that refute the belief that human spirits must be procreated by God rather than created within the unborn child. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God breathed into us the breath of life. In Zechariah 12:1, God states that he is the one “who formed the human spirit within.” And in Psalm 139:13-16 (see also Isaiah 44:24), God’s intimate involvement in the formation of human embryos contradicts Pratt’s argument that God cannot devote enough time and effort to the creation of billions of human spirits as well.

We can also correct the misinterpretation of the verses used to support the LDS belief in the pre-mortal spirit world. Before birth, Jeremiah (and the rest of us) existed only in the mind of God, not as pre-mortal spirits. God’s question to Job “Where were you?” has a better answer: you did not exist! Likewise, Pratt’s appeals to Ecclesiastes 12:7 and John 9:2 do not prove what he thinks those verses prove.

The only person in Scripture who actually did exist before his life in the flesh is Jesus Christ, to which John 1:30, 8:58, and 17:5 and Colossians 1:17 bear witness. However, these verses cannot be applied like Pratt does to teach the pre-existence of other human spirits.

How does God create our spirits? Does it happen through special creation, or do we get them from our parents? Christian theologians have leaned toward the first option, but even if God uses the spirits of our parents to create them, the end product is a new creation, just as surely as God uses the DNA of our parents to create a totally new body.

Not only does the Bible reject the concept of our pre-existence, but we are better off without it. The love between a husband and wife is a far cry from the duty to procreate thousands of spirit children. And while the LDS Pre-Existence explains the circumstances of our birth to be an achievement of our own merit in our previous existence, the Bible puts the circumstances of our birth entirely in the hands of a sovereign God.




September 7, 2019, 7:55 PM

Come Clean, Ye Saints?



The release of the first volume of Saints: The Standard of Truth was heralded as a courageous move by the LDS church to deal frankly with problems in its history (see http://www.kuer.org/post/mormon-church-tries-more-honest-approach-its-history#stream/0). It comes as an official publication of the Church History Department, with 6 writers and 8 editors named, and a front-page endorsement from the First Presidency. There is real demand for this book: customers cleaned out all 50 copies at Seagull Book in Springville, Utah! And although the book is 550+ pages plus 100 pages of references, it was surprisingly cheap (only $5.75).

Yes, this book does inch forward toward addressing painful topics in LDS history, such as Joseph’s money-digging past, his deception of Emma over his multiple wives, and the fact that Joseph defended himself with a six-gun at his death. But if you were expecting a radical new level of “honesty” in LDS history-telling in this book, you will be disappointed.

For instance, I was led to believe that the book would grapple with the issue of Joseph and Emma Smith’s struggle over his taking of additional wives. However, Joseph’s taking of wives who were married to other men is treated as if the women were only being sealed to him for eternity and not for time, i.e. the present life. The fact that Joseph deceived Emma over wives he had already taken for time as well as eternity is acknowledged, but as briefly as possible.

In contrast to Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton’s The Mormon Experience (1979), Saints: The Standard of Truth reads less like a work of historical scholarship and more like a novel. And although the book is heavily footnoted, not surprisingly, the references are highly selective. We hear Emily Partridge Young’s version of how Emma Smith dealt with her husband’s taking of multiple wives, but she was one of Joseph’s plural wives. There are plenty of sources left out that would give us a different picture of how Emma handled her predicament.

Obviously, no one expects the LDS History Department to give the same spin on historical evidence that we would get from Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History or Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? However, I appreciate it when an historian acknowledges data that presents a different story than the version that the historian chooses to believe. While I find Fawn Brodie is too quick to employ naturalistic explanations in her telling of Joseph Smith’s story, I find the collection of data she provides to be more helpful than an approach that fails to give me details that I would have wanted to know.

The book addresses Joseph’s use of his seer-stone to dig for money, a fact strongly denied by scholars until 1971, when Rev. Wesley Walters unearthed an original court document that Joseph was tried in court for this practice in 1826 and paid a fine of $2.68. However, the Walters discovery is not even mentioned in the book’s footnotes. The book claims that Joseph was acquitted.

Among some of the faithful, the death of Joseph at the hands of the Carthage mob is told as if Joseph went like a lamb to the slaughter. The book corrects this picture by stating that Joseph was armed with a six-gun that he did use. However, the book does not go into the detail found in the History of the Church, including John Taylor’s unverified report that two of Joseph’s targets died, and the report from even one of Joseph’s enemies that he “made a handsome fight.”

Sources quoted in the KUER article worried whether some LDS readers might lose their faith over what they read in this book. I sincerely doubt it. There are no bombshells or sizzling concessions to critics here. Anyone who begins with the a priori assumption that whatever Joseph does must be OK with God should have no problem with this book.

I feel that former official Church Historians Arrington and Bitton actually produced a better history than what I find in Saints: The Standard of Truth. True, their book doesn’t read like a novel, but it does a better job in using all of the historical puzzle parts in the box as they piece together their picture of Joseph.

 




September 7, 2019, 7:50 PM

Coffee, Anyone?



“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31.

A coffeehouse outreach in Utah, you say? Isn’t that counterintuitive? Isn’t there a ban on coffee for faithful LDS?

The prohibition in question is Section 89 from a book of LDS scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants, a chapter that is commonly called the “Word of Wisdom.” I would not call it a “ban.” I see it as a promise of health and blessing to those who avoid wine and “strong drink,” tobacco, and unspecified “hot drinks” (neither coffee nor tea is named), and to those who eat meat “sparingly…only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine” (89:12-13).

Wine is only allowed when used in the “sacrament,” and then only pure wine “of your own make” (89:6). Also, curiously, barley is said to be good “for mild drinks” (89:17). A plausible case can be made that this verse permits beer (!) as opposed to stronger alcoholic drinks, which are clearly said to be not good for the belly (89:5,7). This might explain why Joseph Smith felt free to drink “a glass of beer at Moesser’s,” as he records in his diary.

However, as practiced today, the Word of Wisdom is seen to rule out all alcohol, coffee, and tea. Some understand this prohibition to extend to all caffeinated drinks (even cold ones), while allowing hot chocolate. To get a permit to enter an LDS temple (called a “temple recommend”), believers must certify to their local bishop (= pastor) that they faithfully observe this Word of Wisdom.

What I could not figure out for the longest time, however, is why today, wine in the LDS sacrament has been replaced by water. One searches in vain to find this change commanded anywhere in LDS authoritative writings. How did this happen?

At the same time, how did the Word of Wisdom go from divine “friendly advice” (as it were) to strict command? In the 1800’s, evidence indicates that observance of this code of conduct was nowhere near as strict as it is today, even by church leaders. How and when did this change happen?

I found my answer in an excellently documented article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (http://followtheprophets.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Word-of-Wisdom-from-Principle-to-Requirement.pdf). The change happened in 1905, after a considerable debate between the presiding prophet Joseph F. Smith and his apostles. Some were in favor of strict enforcement of the ban on items forbidden in the Word of Wisdom, while some preferred leniency. The prophet’s opinion prevailed. Leaders at the local level began requiring strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom for those who wished to receive a temple recommend. And at that same time, wine was replaced with water in both the Temple observance of the sacrament and at the local level.

The issue of caffeinated soft drinks was raised in 1924. When representatives of Coca-Cola convinced him that Coca-Cola contains only one-fourth the amount of caffeine found in coffee, LDS prophet Heber Grant declared that he was “sure I have not the slightest desire to recommend that the people leave Coca-Cola alone if this amount is absolutely harmless, which they say it is.” Some LDS today, however, choose to be more cautious than Heber Grant about Coca-Cola and similar drinks.

The Bible’s advice on the abuse of food and drink is far less detailed. It permits wine and beer, but not drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). God himself commands offerings of wine in the Hebrew Bible, and in Numbers 28:7, God actually commands Israelites to offer him a beer! (The Hebrew word shÄ“ker, usually translated “strong drink,” means “that which makes drunk,” and is actually a form of beer or malt liquor.) Non-kosher food such as pork and shellfish is ruled out for Jews in the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 11:1-47, Deuteronomy 14:3-20), but is permitted for followers of Jesus in Mark 7:19, Romans 14:14-21, and 1 Timothy 4:3-5.

As for tobacco, all we find in the Bible is Paul’s teaching, “I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). One cannot dispute that tobacco is a great slavery, at least in its cigarette form. That is why I have stayed as far away from it as I can. Pipes and cigars may appear to be less addicting, but here I still agree with the LDS Word of Wisdom.

Is there room for LDS leadership to change their approach to their Word of Wisdom? Absolutely! The move to strictly enforce these teachings did not come from their authoritative writings. The LDS church can easily go back to reading the passage the way it was first read: as a promise of health and blessing.

I am not bound by its teachings, but it would not be hard for me to keep the LDS Word of Wisdom. Assuming that soda is not covered by the command, all I would have to give up is tea (I drink quite a bit of that), and an occasional half-serving (2 ounces) of wine. I have tried but do not like beer or liquor, and I have never had tobacco or coffee.

God has a sense of humor, to get me to serve in a coffeehouse. I have never had coffee in my life! Would you want coffee prepared by someone who has no idea what it’s supposed to taste like? That’s why a second person will be there to brew it!




September 7, 2019, 12:39 PM

The True Church: How Can We Tell?



Which is the true Church? Nicene Christians (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and all who agree with the Nicene Creed) and Latter-Day Saints have tended to agree that both churches can’t be true; at least one of them must be false. However, Nicene Christians have tended to de-emphasize the question, while Latter-Day Saints have made it central.

The Scots Confession, an early Protestant creed, states 3 requirements for a true “kirk” in chapter 18: the Word must be rightly preached, the sacraments must be rightly administered, and discipline must be rightly exercised. In the debate between the Nicene Church and the LDS Church, I think we can agree that the true Church: 1. must teach correct apostolic doctrine, and 2. must be correctly organized, to the extent that a standard of correctness can be determined.

In the standard version of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the gauntlet is thrown down. Joseph is told that he must join none of the churches that exist in his day, because “they were all wrong,” and “their creeds were an abomination” in God’s sight (Pearl of Great Price version). In his book The Great Apostasy, Apostle James Talmage chronicles his case for how the true Church ceased to exist after the first century AD, only to be restored in 1830 by Joseph Smith.

The LDS claim is that the original Church was led by a living prophet, that the apostles were intended to be an ongoing part of the top leadership, that there was a Melchizedek Priesthood with thousands of male priests, that the majority of the male members ages 12 and up were elders and deacons, and that the original church taught the system of doctrine taught in the LDS Church today.

It is the above-described church that we find no trace of in the available hard evidence. In the Biblical description of the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 7:24), we are told that Jesus has an un-transferable (a-parabaton) priesthood. Jesus was and is the one and only Melchizedek priest! There is no prophet leading the Church in the first century AD. The apostles are never said to be a perpetual part of the leadership, and do not continue into the second century AD. It was never God’s plan for them to continue any longer than they did.

Local churches were led by teams who were called “elders” (presbyteroi) by the Jews, but were called bishops or literally “overseers” (episkopoi) by the Gentiles. In the second century, the episkopoi became solo leaders resembling what we call “bishops” today, but nowhere at this time do we find “elders” constituting a majority of the active male membership ages 19 and up. Nor do deacons appear to have existed in numbers resembling what we find in the Aaronic priesthood of the LDS church (the Aaronic priesthood being another element found nowhere in the true original Church).

Furthermore, doctrine does not change in the second century. A robust doctrine of the Trinity, culminating in the Nicene Creed of 325 AD, becomes clearer over time, but simply unpacks what was already there in God’s word. Furthermore, there is no LDS doctrine of eternal progression in the early church, a teaching which itself is no logical development, but a stunning innovation from the Trinitarian orthodoxy of the Bible and even the Book of Mormon.

The LDS claim to be the true Church fails to prove itself true. The Nicene Church has all the evidence in its favor.

Chains of apostolic succession through the laying on of hands prove nothing. Being able to trace such a chain back to Peter, James, and John does not prevent church leaders from falling into grave error. The truth that is taught is far more reliable evidence of where the true church exists.

The true Church includes both more and less than the people found on its membership rolls. Not everyone who joins or belongs to the institution has a saving relationship with Christ. And there are likely to be some who never do join the visible Church who do have a saving relationship with Christ. What matters is not whether you belong to the visible Church, but whether you belong to the invisible Church, the one composed of those who truly believe. Only God knows who they are.

The real issue facing today’s Church is not true versus false, but ideal versus real. Yes, there are times when even the true Church hardly resembles the Bride of Christ. But it proves nothing if we hold a contest to see which church is on its best behavior. truth of God’s church does not depend on the goodness of her members. I believe the resurrection of Jesus was true, even if every follower of his proves to be a jerk. (Didn’t Paul say something similar in Romans 3:4?)

“You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16) is not the test of a true church. In the previous verse, Jesus makes it clear that he is talking about prophets, not their followers. Islam, the LDS religion, and any other religion led by a prophet, must be tested by the fruits of their founders. That merits another post someday.


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