Month: November 2006

Bearing False Witness Against LDS

I have recently read two papers.

1. “Spotting An Anti-Mormon Book” by Davis Bitton (The FARMS Review, Vol. 16, Number 1, 2004)

In this paper, Davis gives five “things to look for in books about the Latter-day Saints.” Inaccuracy, Telling Us What We Believe, Principle of Selection, Interpretation, and What We Know of the Author.

To all LDS friends, if I write inaccuracy, put words in your mouth, select only the extreme, interpret Scripture unfairly, or live a hypocritical life, please comment on this blog.

2. “Cowan on the Countercult” by Louis Midgley (The FARMS Review, Vol. 16, Number 2, 2004)

Secondly, if I am engaged in what Midgley labels “rancid Caliban mischief,” please post.

In all the upcoming reviews from an evangelical perpective that I would like to give of contemporary LDS books and DVDs, I do not want to bear false witness. I especially don’t want to bear false witness against the Lord Jesus Christ.

Letter to Newsweek (November 27, 2006)

Did you catch one the letters to the editors of the latest Newsweek?

Maggie Croft of Idaho Falls, Idaho responded to the recent series of articles on “The Politics of Jesus” by writing,

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“New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus Christ show a gentle, humble, loving, tolerant, kind man. Some Christian religious leaders don’t resemble Christ at all, and they want to run our government. It was Christ who said, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ I take that to mean separation of church and state.”

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I do believe in the separation of church and state, also that we should submit to government officials, that we should pay our taxes in order to not be a stumblingblock to a secular world, and that we should pray for political leaders.

But how does the paragraph, John 2:13-17, fit in with Maggie’s description of Jesus? We will be looking at this text next Sunday morning.

The Joseph Smith Translation of John 1

I highly treasure the words of Scripture. So please don’t fault my sincere questions for why Joseph Smith crossed out English words and likewise inserted new words in the King James Version translation. The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament (Deseret, 2005), edited by Thomas Wayment, almost invites the reader to explore possible motivations behind the changes in the text.

I just finished John 1 yesterday in our Sunday morning study in Idaho Falls. Out of the possible interest that this might be to my LDS and evangelical readers, I would like recap some of my personal observations and questions in evaluating the JST in a side-by-side comparison with the KJV on John 1. Joseph Smith looked at this chapter close enough to cross out 83 words in the translation but also to add 301 words (numbers obtained only from a quick count). Why? How does this promote religious unity?

Some of the changes were to update the language with modern rules and expressions of English like changing “that” to “who” or “saith” to “said.” I don’t mind this. But some of the alterations in this first chapter of John’s Gospel are fundamentally significant, creating huge theological wedges between Mormon and evangelical neighbors.

For example, here is a sampling of seven (bold words are added by Joseph Smith to the text):

1. John 1:1 – Joseph removes the title of “Word” for Jesus and instead of saying “the Word was God,” revises the text, “and the Son was of God.”

2. John 1:13 – Joseph crosses out the first two words of the verse, “Which were,” and substitutes “He was.” (No wonder LDS friends don’t see gracious election of sinners in the chapter. It has been removed). Ogden and Skinner write in The Four Gospels (Deseret, 2006), “The Joseph Smith Translation indicates that Jesus Christ was born not through the normal process (‘not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man’—meaning, not through two mortal parents) but of God, with divine paternity of his mortal body” (78).

3. John 1:16 – Joseph scratches out the second two words of the “grace for grace” phrase in the KJV (yet the phrase is picked up and reiterated fully and repeatedly in D&C 93). If this seems a fluke, Joseph erases the first word of “grace and truth” in the next verse of John 1 but fully translates “grace and truth” in the description of the Only Begotten Son in Moses 6:52. In my estimation, this looks like a deliberate eradication of Scriptural phrases picked up in latter-day writings. How can latter-day revelation claim restoration of truth when it crosses out the truth already there?

4. John 1:18 – Part of the verse, except the last three words (which are really crucial to the doctrine of the unseen God), is scrunched back into verse 17. The JST of John 1:18 reads, “And no man hath seen God at any time; except he hath born record of the Son, for except it is through him no man can be saved.” Ogden and Skinner teach, “In other words, no human has ever seen God the Father in this telestial world except when he has come to earth to testify of his Son” (99). To LDS, the Son must not be the exclusive, visible exegesis of the Father (John 1:18) because the Father is the Man in the Messianic title, “Son of Man” (John 1:51).

5. John 1:27 – Actually, it appears in John 1:20-27, that Joseph Smith is trying to make sense of who Elias is. JST of John 1:27 has John the Baptist declaring, “He it is of whom I bear record. He is that prophet, even Elias, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose, or whose place I am not able to fill: for he shall baptize, not only with water, but with fire, and with the Holy Ghost.” My first reaction was if Joseph changed these verses than he would need to change Matthew 11:14. Sure enough, my speculation proved accurate. Joseph Smith translated the verse first in Matthew as, “And if ye will receive me, I am Elias, which was for to come” (NT1). But the JST NT2 reading (considered more accurate by LDS) is “And if ye will receive it, verily he was the Elias, who was for to come and prepare all things.

According to the JST, John is Elias but not the Elias of Malachi 4:5. But according the King James Translation, of course, John the Baptist is not Elijah (John 1:21), but he is the Elias predicted in the Prophets for he came “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17). Do contemporary LDS actually claim error or at the least, contradiction, in the KJV text?

6. John 1:31 & 33 – The JST takes out the “not”. Why? Does the “not” create a problem? It shouldn’t. John the Baptist did recognize his human kinsmen (Matthew 3:14). Which family member would not observe the daily righteous living of Jesus of Nazareth growing up? It would be hard not to be envious. But John did not know that his kinsman was the Christ until His messianic anointing at the baptism. The baptism of Jesus was a pivotal event for John’s ministry.

7. John 1:42 – The JST translation adds, “And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A seer, or a stone. And they were fishermen. And they straightway left all, and followed Jesus.” Does Kephas, or without the terminal suffix, kepha, really mean seer? Which Greek lexicon gives seer as the meaning of petros? Hmmmm. Things are really getting suspicious about what to believe in The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of John 1.

The modern perspective of JST bibliology in John 1 alters theology, christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. Does this advance our trust in the reliability of Scripture and build our individual consciences in godly and ethical hermeneutics?

Please sense my spirit. I am praying that I can “engage without rancor.”

Neighborhood Survey 2 on John’s Gospel

Each Thursday, I will attempt to share with you the results of my conversations with Ammon and Idaho Falls neighbors over questions that I ask from the book of John. For some of you just beginning to lurk on this website, I will reintroduce myself. My name is Todd Wood, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls. I have lived in this great town for most of my life; and I have a passion to go beyond the superficial, religious conversations that take place and really engage with all my LDS friends on biblical heart issues. With the introduction to each new verse, I hunger to discuss the interpretation, the application, and the relevance for godly, righteous living in 2006.

On Sunday mornings, our church family has been studying John’s Gospel, verse by verse. It dawned on me that I could use this internet blog as a tool on Thursdays to cast out John’s words to more of the community and to let you peer into the thoughts of an evangelical pastor. But let me emphasize to you that when my thoughts don’t match up with the biblical text, just throw them out. The purpose of the website is not to sell you some new church program or innovative idea. My sincere desire is to look at the revelation of God through John’s Gospel and to humbly evaluate how this fits within the large LDS cultural bubble wherein I live. Does this sound like fun?

The content of my Thursday blog entries swirl around questions that I have been asking door to door in the neighborhood. For many homes, I do not find anyone at home, so I just leave at the door a booklet of John & Romans with my website business card stapled to the front cover. If you are in this category, though I had not the chance to meet you, I heartily welcome you to linger for a moment with me, to explore the first two entries posted on this website for more of an introduction to me, and to pose any question or comment that comes to your mind.

During this past, blistery cold Monday, I spent time chatting with neighbors at fifteen homes asking only two questions.

After reading John 1:38, “Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou?” I asked each neighbor question number 1: “Do you believe that Jesus is more than just a Rabbi?”

Secondly, tracing my way through the paragraph, I would come to verse 41, “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” After reading this verse, I would stop, look up at my neighbor and politely share question number 2, “What do you think Messias or the Christ means?” Understandably, this inquiry brought a little more contemplation before an answer.

Among people in 16 homes that I personally spoke to, six were non-LDS (No active faith – 2, Catholic – 1, Episcopalian – 1, Methodist – 1, and Calvary Chapel – 1). The two individuals of “no active faith” were not interested in answering any questions on the Bible about Jesus, and surprisingly neither was the Episcopalian. The Methodist was a female senior citizen, expecting medical care to arrive shortly for her husband, so I just talked briefly with no questions of my own and mentioned I would pray for their family. The Catholic answered yes to the first question and “I don’t know” to the second. And finally, when the evangelical invited me inside his home, he immediately identified himself as “a born again Christian” who awhile back “in Illinois had been excommunicated from the Mormon Church because of his new faith in the Lord.” (He told me he still has the letter after all these years.) He answered “Absolutely” to the first question and “Son of God” to the second. After a warm talk and a hearty handshake from this senior gentleman, I plunged back outside into the winter air.

The other nine homes were LDS, and let me emphasize to you—all of them exemplified warm courtesy at the door. One mentioned she had no time because of her abbreviated lunch break. Another young husband invited me to come back after explaining he had to take off. So that leaves us with the remaining eight LDS responses to my questions.

All of them except one (didn’t know) said yes to my first question, many of them without even a hesitation.

And here is a breakdown of how they defined “Messias” or the translation for Greek readers, “the Christ,” when I asked my second question.

“Peacemaker” – 1

“One & only,” “Pure Love” – 1

“Savior of all Mankind” – 2

“Taking away sins” – 1

“God” – 1

“Son of God” – 1

“Chosen One” – 1

I really enjoyed talking with everyone on this particular afternoon. One house was having a mothers/princess daughters’ tea party. You should have seen all the little princesses fixed up with soft curls and satin dresses. In another home, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir filled the living room with the most exalting hymns. Knowing these particular words and listening to the massive vocal melodies and harmonies, I felt I was being translated right to heaven.

But getting back to the question of what Messiah means, the ancient King James Translators have the answer right in the margin next to John 1:41, “the Christ: or, the Anointed.” Christos is taken from the Greek verb, chrio, meaning to anoint.

There were anointed individuals in the Old Testament—kings, priests, and even prophets (well, this last reference is more in the context of patriarchs, Ps. 105:15). But the Scripture definitely makes clear that kings and priests were anointed. In the O.T., prophets anointed kings with oil. The anointing symbolized men being endued by God with the necessary ability to carry out their public, official tasks before the people.

But where men anointed men with oil in the O.T., God the Father anointed His Son, Jesus, with the Spirit (Acts 10:38). This grand event opened the eyes of John the Baptist at Jesus’ water baptism in the Jordan (John 1).

Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed, par excellence. He is Isaiah’s Servant of the LORD, the absolutely unique triumvirate of prophet, priest, and king. In John 1:41, Andrew, the Jew, found gold, yelling eureka to his brother!

But do Gentiles like you and me need a Jewish Messiah? Most assuredly. First, do you need “that Prophet” (John 1:21), who is the final Word (John 1:1) from heaven? With all the various religious ideas floating around, I need a perfect Prophet. Secondly, does your sinful, guilt-ridden heart call for a High Priest, the ultimate sin-bearer? Look to the unblemished Lamb of God (John 1:29). His vicarious atonement is sufficient, preparing you for a life of good works. Thirdly, are you weary of placing trust in fallible political leaders? Jesus is the “King of Israel,” triumphantly reigning over all. What earthly human king will ever compare in substance to the LORD’s anointed in Psalms 2? Don’t be desirous of your own future kingdom but “Kiss the Son.” He is the King of kings.

An all inclusive temple of holiness

Yesterday, I read Richard Winkel’s article in Ensign (Nov. 2006), “The Temple Is About Families.”

Though this was his main emphasis, he did list some other auxiliary functions for LDS temples.

* “The house of the Lord is a refuge from the world.”

. . . “The celestial room in the temple is especially a place of peace, tranquility, and beauty. It is a quiet haven where one can reflect, ponder, pray, meditate, and feel the love of Heavenly Father and the Savior. As we ponder and meditate in the temple, our thoughts naturally focus on members of our family.”

* “The temple is a place of personal revelation that will bless us in our stewardships.”

“President Hinckley has told us that ‘just as our Redeemer gave His life as a vicarious sacrifice for all men, and in so doing became our Savior, even so we, in a small measure, when we engage in proxy work in the temple, become as saviors to those on the other side who have no means of advancing unless something is done in their behalf by those on earth.’ ”

* “The temple is a place to know the Father and the Son.”

“It is a place where we experience the divine presence.”

This is just a partial snapshot. Again, let me suggest that you read the article for yourself.

While I have been studying with exuberance “the house” in Ezekiel, the topic of “families,” as wonderful as they are, did not even remotely come on the radar screen in the biblical text. But there is one big idea that comes through large and lucid – an utterly unique and faithful God who must be set apart among His people.

Look what God says about Israel, “When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD” (Eze. 39:27-29).

Following these words from heaven are the blueprints of the temple (Eze. 40-42), dimensions that have never yet been actualized. A very high mountain. A seven-step staircase. Approximately ten and half feet thick walls. Outer gate buildings (each having six guardrooms). Pillars towering into the air. Pavement. An eight-step staircase. Inner gate buildings. Ninety storage rooms, three-tiered high. The holy place. The most holy place. Palm trees. The Gizrah. Two-faced cherubim. The holy chambers. The holy garments.

When reading the chapters, did you notice the perfect symmetry? The controlled access . . . the ascending . . . the narrowing of doorways?

What is one of the purposes of the temple? God thunders to Ezekiel, “Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities” (Eze. 43:10). Ouch. Ezekiel’s vision of this future temple is not too politically correct for our day and age.

But thank God for that which is symbolized directly center in the very heart of this temple complex. You need to reverently walk 100 cubits from the outer gate to the inner gate. Then you must humbly approach the very middle of the 100 cubit square inner court. The requisite event before knowing the abiding presence of the Father sits there (Eze. 40:47). No temple is inclusive without this. Right? Check it out.

In this temple, God eclipses all earthly, familial relationships. Families, earthly pictures of heavenly things, are nice gifts to us from God. But God is paradise.

Atonement & Buried Garbage along the Snake in Idaho Falls

For LDS Blog
Shayne Bowen of the Seventy writes the following in his article, “The Atonement Can Clean, Reclaim, and Sanctify Our Lives” in Ensign (Nov. 2006):

“In Idaho Falls, Idaho, there is a beautiful airport. One of the largest in the region, this airport allows easy access to the Upper Snake River Valley. I remember as a young man returning from Chile to this very airport and greeting my family after two years of missionary service. Similar scenes have taken place thousands of times in this airport as the faithful Saints answer the call to serve. It is a very useful, integral part of the city and region.

“Near the airport is another very useful and beautiful part of the city—Freeman Park. The Snake River runs along this park for about two miles. There is a walking path that goes through the park and follows on around the river for miles.

“Freeman Park has acres and acres of green grass filled with baseball and softball diamonds, swing sets for children, picnic shelters for family reunions, beautiful lanes filled with trees and bushes for strolling sweethearts. Looking down the river from the park, one can see the majestic Idaho Falls temple, white and clean, standing on high ground. The sound of the rushing waters of the Snake River as it works its way through natural lava outcroppings makes this park very desirable. It is one of my favorite places to walk with my sweetheart, Lynette; relax; contemplate; and meditate. It is very peaceful and inspiring.

“Why do I talk about the regional airport and Freeman Park in Idaho Falls? Because they are both built on the same kind of ground; both of these beautiful, useful places used to be sanitary landfills.”

Shayne goes on to say in his article that just as he wouldn’t start digging up personal buried garbage, neither should LDS “choose to remain in sin” (please read the entire article.)

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In responding to Shayne, the apostle Paul teaches us, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness life” (Rom. 6:1-4).

If one remains in sin, how can that individual even be a Christian? I knew my situation was bad. I needed more than just personal sins buried (this is too mild), everything that I new about my life needed to come to an end. I am thankful for the powerful atonement of Christ—His work entirely slew and buried the old Todd Wood, my whole past way of life as a sinner. But don’t shrink back over what is dark and drastic about this description, because what follows death is complete resurrection. Now as I joyfully stroll along the greenbelt of the Snake River in Idaho Falls, I “walk in newness of life” because of His super engulfing grace. His efficacious grace, not my fear of God’s disapproval, makes it simply impossible for me to remain in the old sinful way of life.

The daily life of progressive sanctification is believing the gospel that already justified you. If you are “through [in] Jesus Christ,” then come to a verdict about your own death to sin (6:11). The “old man” (6:6) is gone (buried). A true Christian is alive, vibrating in tune with God.

When I walk along the greenbelt near the white LDS temple, I think of the temple work of Christ in Hebrews 9 that purged my “conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” As I meditate on these truths, I don’t just consider ambling down the path, I am ready to run the annual Scenic River Classic 10K on the Snake and break a new record!