Friday, 29 June 2007

Alternative Technology Centre

The Revised History of Joseph Smith - Not by his Mother (Sung to the tune of "Oh How Lovely Was the Morning")

Bleak and ugly was the morning
Rain was coming down in pails
Joseph Smith had been out drinking
Quaffing moonshine and local ales
As he wandered home inebriate
To his knees he gently fell
And a vision induced by liquor
Arose from the depths of hell

"Joseph, if you will believe it,
I’m the father he’s the son.
As we tried to explain to Adam,
We are gods and you can be one.
Look out for a guy named Nephi,
He’ll come if he can, but look,
If he can’t I’ll send his mate Moroni,
And he’ll talk to you about a book."

Joseph ran to tell his mother,
"Mother, God appeared to me."
And his mother said, "Oh, Joseph,
Your tales will be the death of thee!"
So he went and told his father,
And his father said, "My son!
There’s some money to be made from this one.
We’ll be rich before the year is done."

"There’s no money in a vision",
Joseph reasoned with his dad.
Joseph senior then recounted
An encounter that he’d had.
"Look out for a man named Sidney,
He’s an educated man.
Sidney has a theory about Indians,
And we’ll utilise it if we can."

Sid and Joseph became Mormons,
"Wrote" a book and preached the word.
And their message won them converts
Even though it was quite absurd.
Priesthood quorums came from Sidney,
He was keen on firm control.
While for Joseph it was polygamy
That would define his prophetic role.

As the years have passed the Mormons
Have evolved and changed a lot.
Some would say this is their genius
Others think that it is a plot.
There are those who say that vision
Didn’t happen, not at all.
But the salutary lesson, surely,
Is drink comes before an upward fall.

Alternative Technology Centre

You Know Your Having a Bad Day...

You know you are having a bad day when you wake up to find:

National Geographic have published a major article on the recently discovered city of Zarahemla.

The Smithsonian Institute has announced that the Book of Mormon is now their key reference text in exploring Meso-American archaeology.

Mitt Romney and a council of fifty are resident in the Whitehouse.

DNA has proved that Native Americans are descended from Jews.

The Book of Mormon is number one in the New York Time bestseller's list.

An underwater boat with holes in the bottom is discovered washed up on the shore of central America.

The Pope has issued a bull entitled Deus Corporeum declaring that God has a physical body.

A collection of prophecies that should have been added to the Doctrine and Covenants since 1845 have been discovered.

Among the prophecies were, the ending of polygamy, the Wall Street crash, two world wars, the assassinaton of president Kennedy, and Amy Winehouse winning the 2007 Brits music award.

Polygamy has become legal.

Your pastor has invited the local Mormon bishop to preach on Sunday morning.

Your pastor sits in the front pew - with his wives.

Sovereignty of God and the Free will of Man

The Bible makes clear three things about the fall. The first is that God is all knowing, i.e. he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Therefore, the fall had to have been anticipated by God and, therefore, it is no surprise that provision was made “from the foundations of the earth” (Rev.13:8 KJV) to reverse the effects of the fall and consummate God’s plans.

Secondly, it is clear that God, in giving Adam a command regarding a prohibition on what fruit he could eat, was giving Adam a choice. Every argument regarding the sovereignty of God and the “free will” of man since has its foundations here. God is most certainly sovereign yet man is given a choice.

Thirdly, the Bible makes clear that man’s choice in the garden had disastrous and not providential consequences (Gen.3:23-24; Romans 5:12-13,18).The Mormon notion that, “Adam fell, but he fell in the right direction. He fell toward the goal…Adam fell, but he fell upward” (Sterling W Sill, First Quorum of Seventy) is bizarre!

This does not mean that God is not sovereign since it is God who gave man choice in the first place. But man is accountable for his choices. In God’s sovereignty he has provided a Saviour for all that turn to him in faith (John 3:14 c.f. Num.21:8-9).

Two things were in play here. Firstly the sovereignty of God which declares that God’s plan cannot be thwarted. Secondly, the sovereign will of God that man should choose to obey or disobey and experience the consequences of his choice. God’s sovereignty would not be compromised by man’s choice because God had ordained that man should choose and God’s plan could not be compromised or thwarted by man’s choice because God had already provided a Saviour.

Now all are saved who put their trust in him. Mormons present the rather hackneyed Mormon argument that, since you believe in Jesus all other things notwithstanding, therefore you must be “saved”. The problems with this argument are twofold.

First there is the problem of whether you have the right Jesus. The Bible tells us that there is a different Jesus and a different gospel (2 Cor.11:4; Gal.1:6). Do you have the right Jesus? Do you have the right gospel?

Secondly, there is the plain fact that putting your trust in anything in addition to the finished work of the Cross is adding to the gospel and, by adding, taking away from the gospel. If you trust in baptism, tithing, confessing Joseph Smith, temple worship, celestial marriage (all essential to Mormon salvation) then you are adding to the finished work of Christ and disqualifying yourself for the very reason that you are trusting in yourself and not in the Jesus of the Bible.

Scripture, Prophets and Apostasy

A Mormon correspondent recently put the following argument:

A lot of people are keen to express their own opinion on scripture, offer interpretations etc. The problem is, how do we know which one of us correct.

For those who argue what they say is in keeping with the Bible, well welcome to a orld with hundreds of denominations all arguing the same thing yet still disagreeing on interpretation.

Further, for those open minded individuals that accept that looking for truth requires stepping back and examining the facts, how do we know for sure that any particular version of the Bible is sufficiently correct in it' translation to facilitate a definitive answer to the many questions we face (I'm speaking collectively here as we will all be accused of trusting a book that cannot be verified independently).

Finally, even if we overlooked the inherent risk in translation, edition, interpretation, punctuation etc, can anyone honestly claim that they can offer the definitive interpretation of a single passage let alone the entire complex book?

So it is hardly surprising that after 2000 years we find ourselves in a world were 80% of the western population think religion is poppy cock, and 20% believe it in some form but cannot agree between themselves what that form is.

Who can offer a solution to these questions? This is why modern day prophets make absolute sense. The sheer lack of a authoritative figure to guide our interpretation, correcting errors etc is invaluable.

I found that argument quite compelling for years until I realised its fatal flaw. It basically presents two possible positions for the truth seeker. Either you investigate and discover for yourself what is the truth, or you abrogate that responsibility and trust to another man to do it for you. Either you take full responsibility for looking into these things for yourself, determined to go wherever the truth leads, or you complain that it is just too hard and ask someone else to do your thinking for you.

God says in His word, “I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me” (Prov.8:17 c.f. Matt.7:8)

The argument about wheat and tares is well made (Matt.13:24-30). The fact that there is error doesn’t mean that there is no truth and it seems to me that God intends each one of us to take responsibility and look and seek and find for ourselves. It is our responsibility, it seems to me, to seek that truth “with all our hearts” and not leave it to another to tell us what the truth is. Anyway, we are still making a judgement in choosing to follow a prophet and must, therefore, give an account for our choices.

It seems to me that we would be better finding for ourselves what the Bible has to say rather than looking to someone else to tell us what it says, or ought to say, or once said (I am not here discounting the good help of others. I am simply insisting that no other man can take responsibility for my choices).

Which brings me to my second point, which concerns the Mormon attitude to the word of God, the Bible. I find it curious that Mormons will passionately declare their trust in the Bible but refuse to trust what they see in its pages. They claim that it is open to interpretation and readily give up any attempts at understanding it as a hopeless task. Yet the psalmist declared, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Ps.119:105) and, “The words of the LORD are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth seven times; You, O LORD, will keep them” (Ps.12:6-7) Was he lying?

In the New Testament we find an astonishing and yet encouraging statement:

“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs and wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb.2:3-4)

Take each clause and study it. You will find each confirmed in history and in the lives of those who seek him.

  1. This salvation was announced by the Lord - (Luke 4:16-21)
  2. Confirmed by those who heard him – (1 John 1:1-5)
  3. God testified to it by signs and wonders and miracles – (Where do we start? Acts!)
  4. And gifts of the Holy Spirit – I can only testify that some 2,000 years later I saw sure and certain evidence of such gifts in church last Sunday morning!

It would seem that God intends us to take his word very seriously, understand it for ourselves, take the testimony of his Son, his Apostles, and his Spirit and act on what we see with our own eyes. I don't think that is asking too much.

The "Mormon Bible"

It is not uncommon for people to believe that the Mormons have their own Bible. Usually people have in mind the Book of Mormon when they refer to the “Mormon Bible”, either because they feel that the Book of Mormon replaces the Bible (a moot point in any discussion with a Mormon), or because they can’t remember that it is called the Book of Mormon. The Mormons we usually meet, those based in Salt Lake City, actually use the King James, or Authorised, Bible. In 1979 they published their own “Authorised King James Version with explanatory notes and cross references” to other Mormon works of scripture. However, it is still the King James Bible. Interestingly, there are footnotes which reference something called the “Joseph Smith Translation” (JST), along with a collection at the back of the book of “excerpts too lengthy for inclusion in the footnotes”, again taken from the JST. What is the Joseph Smith Translation and, if Joseph Smith did produce his own translation of the Bible, why do Mormons continue to use the King James Version?

The Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Independence, Missouri, Mormons printed the first edition of the so-called Inspired Version (JST) in 1867. This is the biggest break way group following the death of Joseph Smith, although they would protest that the Salt Lake Church is the breakaway group.

In the foreword to the JST much is made of 1 Nephi 13:28-29 from the Book of Mormon (BOM). In the RLDS BOM it is 1 Nephi 3:168-169 according to the same foreword because, of course, they have a different numbering system for most Mormon “scripture”. I will use the commonly available Salt Lake City BOM for the purpose of this article. This BOM reference is one of the earliest Mormon references to a corrupt and inadequate Bible.

“Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest--because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God--because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”

The book referred to is the Bible, a fact made plain in earlier verses:

“The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.

And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.

Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men." (1 Nephi 13:23-27)

The JST foreword further quotes the BOM (2 Nephi 3:12) in promising that,

“The fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins (the BOM) and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah (the Bible), shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” (Words in brackets added)

Anyone familiar with Mormonism at all will be aware that their fundamental claim is that, through the prophet Joseph Smith, God restored lost truths and re-established the true church. Joseph Smith started with the Book of Mormon, which he claimed was “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion…” , and a Bible having had “many parts which are plain and most precious” taken away . If the promise of 2 Nephi 3:12, that these two works shall “grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions…” is to be fulfilled then surely something must be done about the corrupt Bible. It seems wrong to think of confounding false doctrines with a Bible suspected of teaching false doctrines because of errors in translation.

In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 6:27 we read:

“And now I command you, that if you [Oliver Cowdrey] have good desires – a desire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven – then shall you assist in bringing to light, with your gift, those parts of my scriptures which have been hidden because of iniquity” It seems, then, that there should be a restoration of the plain and precious truth, which was taken away, and that this restored truth should be “to the confounding of false doctrines”.

Further on in D&C 35:20 (which is referenced in the footnote to 6:27) we read:

“And a commandment I give unto thee [Sidney Rigdon] – that thou shalt write for him; and the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect.”

In the footnotes here it is made clear that it is the Bible that is being referred to and the Bible for which Sidney Rigdon is called to be scribe . There is, then, to be a restoration of the Bible in the grand work of Joseph Smith and, indeed, after giving specific instructions regarding what is to be taught in the church we read in D&C 42:15:

“And all this ye shall observe to do as I have commanded concerning your teaching, until the fulness of my scriptures is given”

Later in the same section we read the following:

“Thou shalt ask, and my scriptures shall be given as I have appointed, and they shall be preserved in safety; And it is expedient that thou shouldst hold thy peace concerning them, and not teach them until ye have received them in full.

And I give unto you a commandment that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.

Thou shalt take the things which thou hast received, which have been given unto thee in my scriptures for a law, to be my law to govern my church;

And he that doeth according to these things shall be saved, and he that doeth them not shall be damned if he so continue. If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” (Vv.56-61)

There is a clear intention here for the Lord to give scriptures in their fullness (v 57); preserve them safely (v 56); that they should then be “taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people”; and that they should be “for a law, to be my law to govern my church”. Most dire consequences follow for those who do not do these things (v 60).

It seems that there was every intention that the JST should replace the King James Bible. It is difficult to imagine anyone reading the above quotes and coming to any other conclusion. There is the argument that so long as truth is restored it doesn’t matter where we find it, i.e. in other Mormon scriptures. We would certainly all agree that truth is truth. But the issue here is the clear mandate to restore the scriptures, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect . There can be no ambiguity concerning the intention of Joseph Smith since he clearly started the work he claimed God had given him, i.e. to translate scripture and restore it to its pristine wholeness. So where is the Mormon Bible? The work seemed to have every bit the urgency of the Book of Mormon in the need to have it translated (the translation work began as early as June 1830). How else would the “fulness” (sic) be sent out to the nations if the work is shelved? How could the plain and precious truth, which was lost, be restored? How could leaders hope to avoid damnation if the work is not completed (v 60)? And yet the Salt Lake Church has no restored Bible.

What adds to the puzzle is the way the Mormon Church continually downgrades our Bible, from the 8th article of faith , through the rabid anti-biblical polemics of early Mormon leaders , to the extensive list of biblical faults and failings Mormons are eager to discuss with Christians today. They suspect it and yet happily use it, whatever might be missing, whoever might have compiled it and however many corrupt hands it may have passed through.

Mormons will tell us that the work was not finished before Joseph Smith’s death in a gunfight in a Carthage jail. However Gordon B Hinckley, the current Mormon president, is acknowledged as a Prophet, Seer and Revelator. He supposedly carries the mantle of Joseph Smith. Furthermore, there have been no less than fourteen such prophets from the time of Joseph to the present. Could none of them complete this work? What happened to the promise that, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things--that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.” ? Surely, in light of such a promise, there should be no corrupt Bible in the Mormon Church today?

The simple answer to the puzzle is that the family of Joseph Smith led the breakaway group in Independence, Missouri. His widow, Emma, claimed that in law she and her family owned the JST, and the law agreed with her. Today the Independence group, the Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, owns and publishes the Mormon Bible (JST). The Salt Lake Church pays the Independence Church for the right to reproduce parts of that work in their own King James Bible.

Of course, the issue here is not simply one of which Bible we use. There is the more fundamental question of which Bible we trust. For all the criticism levelled against the Bible it simply stands, and continues to stand, unassailable, irreplaceable, bringing countless millions to faith for generations. Surely this book that has stood the test of time deserves more respect and is worthy of our trust. The miracle of its preservation and incredibly accurate transmission down to the present generation is itself testimony to its trustworthiness as an instrument of God in bringing men and women to faith. The questions for every Mormon are, if the Bible is as corrupt and unreliable as they claim why do Mormons continue to use it? On the other hand, if the Bible is all Christians claim it to be shouldn’t I think again about the truths Christians claim it teaches? If indeed the Bible is so reliable surely its truths, as understood by generations of Christians, and rejected by more than 170 years of Mormonism, should be re-evaluated. Our very eternal destiny hangs on getting this right and so we must, surely, get beyond the arguments about what Mormonism has failed to do, i.e. restore the Bible, and look at what the Christian Church has miraculously succeeded in doing, i.e. preserved the Bible.

I say miraculously because I think the focus of Bible critics, such as the Mormon Church, is on entirely the wrong aspect of Bible translation/transmission. Mormons make much of profane translators and wicked priests but the wonder is not simply that we have a Bible but that we have such an accurate and trustworthy Bible despite the failings, even of the best intentioned men down the years. The miracle is God’s in preserving it and not man’s in transmitting it. It is a question of having the faith to believe in God’s providential work in preserving his word and not in man’s competence. To Mormons it seems that God had to wait for the right man to come along, Joseph Smith, to achieve his ends. To Christians God is capable of working with and through the most unpromising materials (disciples who betrayed and denied him, followers who failed him) and yet achieve his ends. Which raises another question of trust. Every Mormon should ask, not just do I trust the Bible, but is my trust placed in a God who can preserve his Word? For surely only a God who can preserve his Word can preserve our lives. For if he cannot save his Word from the universal failings of fallen mankind, how can we trust him to save us from ourselves?

Brief Thoughts on Bible Translation

Mormons have an underlying distrust of the Bible. It is popularly believed that some 2,000 years of Bible translation work is simply bound to issue in a corruption of the original text. 'Translation' is a dirty word, which is curious when you consider that there is no way to test whether the Book of Mormon is 'translated correctly since the fabled gold plates from which it is purported to have been translated are unavailable. Of course, it is 'transmission' that is the issue and it is worthwhile thinking about how translation/transmission work is done and what challenges face the typical Bible translator.

The first thing to realise is that if you are reading a Bible in your own language you are already involved in Bible translation because the work you are reading is a translation. You are also already involved in interpretation because translation work is not simply an exercise in linguistics; i.e. the translator does not simply look for the nearest equivalent in the language into which she is translating. Translators must ask themselves what is the original intention of the author. To give a simple example, the Welsh word Hiraeth can be translated as “longing”. A Welsh person, however, would probably want to tell you that it is not simply longing. You can long for a cup of tea but that would not be Hiraeth. To a Welsh person the word conveys the idea of longing for home and hearth. Would a better translation then be “homesickness”? Perhaps, but it is more a sort of nostalgia than a simple yearning to get home. To translate Hiraeth as “longing” would not be wrong; to translate it as homesickness might be better, however to translate it as “a nostalgic longing for hearth and home” might be better still. A suspicious person might be tempted to conclude, however, that something was going on because one word has become seven!

The truth is that any translation work has to take into account the fact that what is easily grasped in the context and language of one culture has to be “explained” in the context and language of another. Translators are perfectly capable of doing this but will not always agree in every respect on how best to do it. One might wish to stick with “longing” because it is brief and close enough to the original. Another might want to go for the seven words because, after all, it is the closest to the original meaning – a dynamic equivalence. A third might wish to go for “homesickness” as a worthy compromise.

All three, however, are saying the same thing and the reader must simply be prepared to do some work in reaching an understanding of what is being said. That is why having several translations available is helpful. Not so you can pick the one you like best but so you can understand the nuances in the message being translated. Whichever you choose, the translation is accurate and should not be doubted simply because it involves a lot of work on the part of the translator and more than a little on the part of the reader.

The only time to complain is when a so-called translator goes to the opposite meaning to the original in translation, i.e. making Hiraeth translate to loathing instead of longing. Such shoddy work must be treated with suspicion and rejected. To give an example from the New Testament using one of my own favourite verses, Romans 8:1&2, Here are several translations of the this verse:

King James Bible There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.

New International Version Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Jerusalem Bible The reason, therefore, why those who are in Christ Jesus are not condemned is that the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus set you free from the law of sin and death.

Phillips Modern English The truth is that no condemnation now hands over the head of those who are “in” Christ Jesus. For the new spiritual principle of life “in” Christ Jesus lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death.

American Standard Version There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.

They all express these verses slightly differently.

The KJV reflects the times in which it came forth, C.1611, and the language and work of the major translator on whose work it is largely based, William Tyndale. Readers of the KJV must take into account the fact that it was specifically designed to be read aloud, and it is certainly true that you get the best from it by reading it aloud. Perhaps that is why the frontispiece contains the words Appointed to be Read in Churches.

The NIV is a more modern translation designed both for group study and worship as well as personal study and devotions. It is what is termed a dynamic equivalence, which means the translators asked themselves what is the equivalent English word or phrase that best conveys the meaning of the original and not just a transliteration.

The Phillips is a more free translation produced by one man who clearly wishes to convey the dynamism of the message in these verses. He is as much “preaching” and teaching as translating. Nevertheless, it is still a good translation and still conveys the same message.

If you are reading anything, from the Bible to the sayings of Buddha or the wisdom of the Dalai Llama, or a Japanese Manga comic, in your own language rather than the original you are reading a translation. You should ask why it is you trust any translation and then apply that standard consistently.

Modern scholars translate modern Bibles from the earliest and most reliable documentary sources and have tried and tested methods for determining how reliable the process is. The old Mormon chestnut about modern Bibles being 'a translation of a translation of a translation of a...' is a blatant, ignorant and shameful lie though they still peddle the lie around our doors to this day.

Modern translation work is incredibly accurate and reliable but the serious Bible student must make an effort to understand the process if they are going to understand the existence of different translations and other paraphrases.

Mormons, on the other hand, adhere to the myth of Joseph Smith as properly 'inspired' Bible translator and Gordon B Hinckley as a man dressed in the prophetic mantle of Joseph. The problem is why don't Mormons use the so-called Joseph Smith Translation and, IF as is often claimed the translation work is 'not completed' (a moot point), why haven't subsequent prophets finished the work begun by Joseph? Now the serious Bible student must choose between a tried and tested, proven and accurate process of translation from the earliest and most reliable documents or the JST which is so suspect that even the Mormons don't use it.