Is Mormonism “Wholly Nonbiblical”? A Prima Facie Case That It Is Not; But Does It Matter?
By Ken K. Gourdin
From time to time, the charge is leveled against my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons or Latter-day Saints, for short—saints simply meaning “followers of Christ,” as opposed to referring to anyone who approaches perfection) that it is “wholly nonbiblical” (my phrase). I write to answer two questions: (1) From the perspective of Latter-day Saints, does it even matter whether so-called “Mormonism” is biblical? And (2) Leaving aside the question of whether the fact that Mormonism is biblical matters or not (or, in the alternative, answering the question “Yes” for the sake of discussion), can elements of Mormonism be found in the Holy Bible?
As is discussed below, my answer to the first question (as heretical as this might sound to many of my non-Mormon Christian brothers and sisters is, “No, it doesn’t matter (to Mormons, at least) whether Mormonism is biblical.” The reason why, ultimately, it does not matter, is because while Mormons reverence the Holy Bible; while we find much in it that is good, true, and worthwhile; and while we appreciate the considerable sacrifices entailed in bringing it forth, it is not the ultimate source of our doctrine or of our authority, as it is for most of the rest of the Christian world. And my answer to the second question is, “Yes, at minimum, a prima facie case can be made that there are elements of Mormonism in the Holy Bible”—although that answer must be understood in light of a complete answer to the first question. The answers to each of the questions discussed above are treated in greater detail below. Keep in mind that the purpose of this essay is merely to establish a prima facie case. It is not to discuss all of these matters in exhaustive depth and detail. This essay is an expansion of a discussion which occurred on the Mormon Apologetics & Discussion Board on June 15, 2013 in the thread “Does L.D.S. Doctrine Contradict the Bible?”.
- Does It Matter Whether “Mormonism” is Biblical? To a Bibliolater, It Might—But to Most Mormons, It Doesn’t; Why This is So
In my first post on the above-referenced thread, I wrote:
In answer to your question, “Does LDS doctrine contradict the Bible?” (and I revere the Bible, by the way, and I reverence the considerable sacrifices so many made so that I could have the record of Christ’s Ministry [and that of His Apostles] in the Old World), my response would be, “If it does, so what?” [Emphasis in original.] As much as I revere the Holy Bible, those who contributed to it, those who compiled it, those who translated it, and so on, we don’t believe in a closed canon. We’re not limited to what dead prophets said on any given subject. We don’t believe revelation ceased with the death of the last of Christ’s original apostles. Revelation continues today—to modern prophets and apostles. The heavens, and the canon, are open. As Elder Holland also pointed out in his address of a few General Conferences ago, “We believe that God speaketh; not spake.” As the Lord reminds us in 2 Nephi 27:20, “I am able to do mine own work.”We’re warned that the Earth will be teeming with Bibliolaters in the last days: “And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Nephi 29:3). In verses 8 and 9, the Lord continues:
8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two enations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
9 And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
In summary, if the Holy Bible were all we had, it certainly would matter whether the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conforms to it. But the canon is not closed. Those to whom God has spoken, as well as those to whom he continues to speak today, add to it. As it is with the canon, so it is with the heavens: nor are the heavens closed. And God has neither completed nor ceased His work among men.
- A Prima Facie Case That Mormonism is Biblical
Later in the thread, the poster for whose benefit the thread was started, a skeptical Latter-day Saint, then said, “Very few if any are giving ‘for instances’ of how the bible lines up with LDS doctrine.” Whereupon I posted the following:
Ask, and ye shall receive. Keep in mind, though, that I have already stated that I think the question of whether the Holy Bible supports LDS doctrine is irrelevant because of an open canon, living prophets, and continuing revelation. Thus, I have no intention of Bible Bashing with anyone in response to this post. If you disagree—and I suspect a fair number of you will—I have additional light and knowledge which I believe supports my interpretation. With no disrespect intended, what do you have? Scholarship, perhaps? I think a minute of direct revelation is worth a thousand years of even the best scholarship in the world (since, in fairness, not all scholarship is created equal). For that matter, a minute of direct revelation is worth a thousand years of reading the Holy Bible, as much as I revere it.
1. Premortal Life and Foreordination: Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
2. Man In God’s Image: Genesis 1:26-27 – “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; in the image of God created He them.”
3. Stick of Joseph: If it Isn’t the Book of Mormon, What Is It? Ezekiel 37:6-7 – “The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.”
4. God Still Speaks Through Prophets (Either That, or He’s Taken a Nice, Long Vacation! ;-D): Amos 3:7 – “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.”
5. Tithing & Other Offerings: Malachi 3:8-10 – “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.”
6. Elijah to Return: Malachi 4:5-6 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
7. Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: Ordinances Done Using Them Will Be Honored Both on Earth and In Heaven: Matthew 16:19 – “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. “
8. Physical Resurrection: Luke 24:36-39 – “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” (See also Job 19:26).
9. Necessity of Being Born of Water (Baptism) and of the Spirit (Receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost): John 3:5 – Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
10. We Know Who Christ’s “Other Sheep” Are (and Why They’re Not The Gentiles, as Other Churches Often Claim): John 10:16 – “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be cone fold, and one shepherd.” (See 3 Nephi 15:21).
11. A Mere Proclamation of Belief is Insufficient to Show Our Love for God: John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
12. God, The Father, and Jesus Christ are Separate Beings: Acts 7:55-56 – “But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus estanding on the fright hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
13. Baptism of the Dead By Proxy: I Corinthians 15:29 – “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” Even honest non-LDS scholars have concluded that this verse must refer to some rite formerly practiced in the church but since lost.
14. Degrees of Glory: I Corinthians 15:40-42 – “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.”
15. Apostles and Prophets: Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.”
16. Apostasy to Precede Second Coming: Thessalonians 2:1-3 – “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
17. Priesthood Holders Must Be Called of God: Hebrews 5:4 – “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”
18. In Response to Those Who Discourage Others from Praying to Know, Inter Alia, Whether the Book of Mormon is True: James 1:5-6 – “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”
- Conclusion: No Matter What The Bible—or Anyone or Anything Else—Says, a Witness of the Spirit is Paramount in the Search for Truth
My detractors may accuse me of attempting to “play tennis with the net down” by appealing to extra-Biblical authority. If so, I will return the favor by pointing out, respectfully, that most of them treat the Bible as self-authenticating—as though, if it’s in the Bible, it’s true, ipso facto and res ipsa loquitur. The ultimate source of my authority, of my witness, however, is not a book—no matter how much truth that book contains: it is the Holy Spirit. In the end, the only way I know anything I’ve said is true is because the Holy Spirit has witnessed of its truth to my spirit. I have found the truth of what I’ve said herein by applying the test described in point #18, above, as well as similar tests found elsewhere in Holy Writ.
For instance, Christ invited His detractors to put His words to the test thus: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17, KJV). As it is with Christ, so it is with anyone who claims to be his mouthpiece in modern times. I don’t have to take Joseph Smith’s word, that of his successors, or Thomas S. Monson’s word for anything. I can put that word to the same test. Indeed, I have. In addition to this scripture in John, and the scripture in James cited in point #18, above, The Book of Mormon prophet-historian Moroni invites us to seek spiritual confirmation of the book’s truth—indeed, he invites us to seek spiritual confirmation of truth in general:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
Many who are much better read than I might accuse me of mere sophomoric, naïve proof-texting, and might resort to the original Greek or Hebrew (or to another secular or academic source) to tell me why the interpretation I have put forth of these verses is not correct. (As I told my interlocutors in the excerpts of the thread contained above, I saw more than one or two of my associates as an LDS missionary attempt to “Bible Bash.”) But as I stated in the beginning, I don’t have to depend merely on the Bible alone, or on someone’s interpretation of it, no matter how erudite, to determine whether what I have said is true, even if the text being cited is in the original Greek or Hebrew.
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (I Corinthians 2:11, KJV). The Bible doesn’t stand alone in Mormonism because it doesn’t have to: I have modern-day witnesses, both of flesh-and-blood and in print, of the truth of what I have said. And each of the standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Holy Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, as well as the words of modern prophets and apostles—confirms the truth of what the others have said: they all fit together nicely in a coherent whole.
In summary, while, as one might expect to see echoes and evidences of Mormonism in the Holy Bible (as Mormonism purports to be a restoration of Christ’s Church and of His Pure Gospel in the latter days), what matters most is not whether Mormonism is biblical, but rather whether it is true. And the truth of Mormonism isn’t to be found in the Holy Bible, as useful as the Bible is as a witness of the ministry of Christ and His apostles in the Old World. The truth of Mormonism—of the Church, of its teachings, and of its scriptures (both ancient and modern), is to be found in a witness of the Spirit.