Admission and Omission: What Is the Church’s Position on the Book of Abraham?

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“Printing Plates of Facsimiles of Papyrus Drawings, Nauvoo, IL, early 1842″ (http://josephsmithpapers.org)

[This post originally appeared at Ploni Almoni.]

In his March 2015 letter to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appealing his excommunication, John Dehlin claims there has been a “recent admission” on the part of the Church “that the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the Egyptian papyrus, as Joseph Smith claimed that it was.” Dehlin quotes the Church’s 2014 Gospel Topics essay “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” to wit:

None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham. Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham, though there is not unanimity, even among non-Mormon scholars, about the proper interpretation of the vignettes on these fragments. Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.

Dehlin raises this point again later in his letter. One of the many “disturbing facts” he “stumbled upon” in his studies is that “by the LDS Church’s own admission, the Book of Abraham is not a translation of the Egyptian papyrus.” This, among other things, Dehlin says, was “deeply disturbing and destabilizing for [him].”

Dehlin’s allies Nadine R. Hansen and Kate Kelly also raise this point in the same letter. “The Church’s own essays openly and truthfully acknowledge this difficulty,” they write, “by stating, ‘None of the characters on the papyrus fragments mentioned Abraham’s name or any of the events recorded in the book of Abraham.'” Consequently, “While the Church may continue to maintain that the Book of Abraham is inspired, canonical writing, but it must do so while acknowledging that Joseph Smith’s early statement that it is Abraham’s writings, ‘by his own hand upon the papyrus,’ is not factbased.” (On this last point, see my article here.)

These authors are not alone in claiming the Church has made this “recent admission” about the Book of Abraham. Jeremy Runnells, in his anti-Mormon screed known conventionally as the CES Letter, remarks, “The Church conceded in its July 2014 Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham essay that Joseph’s translations of the papyri and the facsimiles do not match what’s in the Book of Abraham.”

With these statements from Dehlin and Runnells in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the Gospel Topics essay actually says about the Book of Abraham.

I. The nature of the surviving papyri fragments. On this matter, the Gospel Topics essay matter-of-factly states that the surviving papyri fragments do not contain the Book of Abraham. “Scholars have identified the papyrus fragments as parts of standard funerary texts that were deposited with mummified bodies. These fragments date to between the third century B.C.E. and the first century C.E., long after Abraham lived.” However, this is by no means a “recent” admission or concession by the Church. In fact, what these authors fail to inform their readers is that the Church immediately identified the Joseph Smith Papyri fragments as copies of funerary texts when it received them from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967. In the January 1968 issue of the Improvement Era, the Church identified the recovered fragments as “conventional . . . Egyptian funerary texts, which were commonly buried with Egyptian mummies.” The Church has reaffirmed this simple fact in subsequent publications.

  • “Mormon Media” (1975): “Brother Nibley marshals a considerable array of talents in fulfilling the second and major purpose of the book, which is to discuss the meaning of the Joseph Smith papyri. Identifying Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI with the Egyptian Book of Breathings becomes a point of departure for Brother Nibley, rather than, as with other scholars, a final pronouncement.”
  • “I Have a Question” (1976): “Q: Are the three facsimiles related to each other? A: Definitely, by all being attached to one and the same document, namely, the Joseph Smith Papyri X and XI, which contain a text of the Egyptian Book of Breathings. Facsimile No. 1 is followed immediately on its left-hand margin by Joseph Smith Papyrus XI, which begins the Book of Breathings. Someone cut them apart, but the fibre edges of their two margins still match neatly. Facsimile No. 1 thus serves as a sort of frontispiece.”
  • “I Have a Question” (1988): “[Facsimile 1] can be connected with several of the other papyri fragments that relate to the text of an ancient Egyptian religious document known as the “Book of Sensen” or “Book of Breathings.”. . .  [F]rom paleographic and historical considerations, the Book of Breathings papyrus can reliably be dated to around A.D. 60—much too late for Abraham to have written it. Of course, it could be a copy—or a copy of a copy—of the original written by Abraham. However, a second problem arises when one compares the text of the book of Abraham with a translation of the Book of Breathings; they clearly are not the same.”
  • “Book of Abraham: Facsimiles From the Book of Abraham” (1992): “Only for Facsimile 1 is the original document known to be extant. Comparisons of the papyrus fragments as well as the hieroglyphic text accompanying this drawing demonstrate that it formed a part of an Egyptian religious text known as the Book of Breathings. Based on paleographic and historical evidence, this text can be reliably dated to about the first century A.D. Since reference is made to this illustration in the book of Abraham (Abr. 1:12), many have concluded that the Book of Breathings must be the text that the Prophet Joseph Smith used in his translation. Because the Book of Breathings is clearly not the book of Abraham, critics claim this is conclusive evidence that Joseph Smith was unable to translate the ancient documents.”
  • “News From Antiquity” (1994): “[Critics of the Church] point to the fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri that we now possess and claim that since the contents of these papyri bear little obvious relationship to the book of Abraham, the book is a fraud.”
  • Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual (2003): “In 1967 eleven fragments of the Joseph Smith papyri were rediscovered by Doctor Aziz S. Atiya, in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Studies of them have confirmed that they are mainly ancient Egyptian funerary texts of the sort commonly buried with royalty and nobility and designed to guide them through their eternal journeyings. This has renewed the question about the connection between the records and the book of Abraham.”

One might quibble here or there with the wording of these passages. For example, the Pearl of Great Price Student Manual mentions the late date of the papyri, but doesn’t explicitly mention that the papyri are fragments from the Book of Breathings and the Book of the Dead. Nevertheless, when these sources are combined, the basic point cannot be negated: the Church has straightforwardly taught that the surviving papyri fragments do not contain the Book of Abraham, but instead contain late copies of Egyptian funerary texts. Dehlin and Runnells are misleading their readers by claiming this “admission” is recent, or has just now been recognized by the Church in the 2014 Gospel Topics essay. In fact, the Church has acknowledged this fact since at least 1968.

II. On why the Book of Abraham is not contained in the surviving papyri. Dehlin and Runnells both conspicuously fail to alert their readers to the part of the Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Abraham that explicitly addresses reasons why the Book of Abraham text was not recovered in the surviving papyri fragments. The essay clearly identifies at least two potential reasons. “It is likely futile to assess Joseph’s ability to translate papyri when we now have only a fraction of the papyri he had in his possession,” the essay notes. “Eyewitnesses spoke of ‘a long roll’ or multiple ‘rolls’ of papyrus. Since only fragments survive, it is likely that much of the papyri accessible to Joseph when he translated the book of Abraham is not among these fragments. The loss of a significant portion of the papyri means the relationship of the papyri to the published text cannot be settled conclusively by reference to the papyri.” In other words, the essay clearly recognizes the so-called “missing papyrus theory” as a possible explanation for why the surviving fragments don’t match the Book of Abraham.

The essay also mentions the so-called “catalyst theory” for the Book of Abraham as another possible explanation.

Alternatively, Joseph’s study of the papyri may have led to a revelation about key events and teachings in the life of Abraham, much as he had earlier received a revelation about the life of Moses while studying the Bible. This view assumes a broader definition of the words translator and translation. According to this view, Joseph’s translation was not a literal rendering of the papyri as a conventional translation would be. Rather, the physical artifacts provided an occasion for meditation, reflection, and revelation. They catalyzed a process whereby God gave to Joseph Smith a revelation about the life of Abraham, even if that revelation did not directly correlate to the characters on the papyri.

From this we see that Dehlin and Runnels have misled their readers by selectively presenting what the Gospel Topics essay claims about the relationship between the papyri and the Book of Abraham.

III. What about Elder Holland’s BBC Interview? Although not explicitly mentioned by Dehlin in his letter to the First Presidency (although it is mentioned and, not surprisingly, distorted by Runnells), it is worth quickly looking at Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s remarks on the Book of Abraham made in a 2012 interview with BBC reporter John Sweeney. When Sweeney pressed Elder Holland on the matter of the translation of the Book of Abraham, Elder Holland responded, “[W]hat got translated got translated into the word of God; the vehicle for that I do not understand.” What does this statement reveal? First, notice carefully that Elder Holland calls the Book of Abraham a “translation.” He also calls it the “word of God.” So Elder Holland, it appears, both accepts the Book of Abraham as an authentic “translation” and as inspired scripture. Second, notice that Elder Holland simply remarks that he doesn’t know the mechanism (“vehicle”) of the translation of the Book of Abraham. In other words, he doesn’t know precisely how the translation was performed. This is different from how Runnells and others have characterized Elder Holland’s remarks. Due to some obviously heavy editing of the original footage into what became the broadcasted program, it is impossible to know precisely what, if anything, Elder Holland said in addition by way of clarification. Notwithstanding, at the risk of speaking on behalf of Elder Holland, I believe it is safe to assume that he merely meant he didn’t know the precise nature of the translation (e.g. “missing papyrus,” “catalyst,” or something else), and wasn’t obfuscating in some way about the Church’s position.

IV. The Facsimiles. Dehlin and Runnells also omit the Gospel Topics essay’s comments on the interpretation of the facsimiles. The essay explains,

Of course, the fragments do not have to be as old as Abraham for the book of Abraham and its illustrations to be authentic. Ancient records are often transmitted as copies or as copies of copies. The record of Abraham could have been edited or redacted by later writers much as the Book of Mormon prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni revised the writings of earlier peoples. Moreover, documents initially composed for one context can be repackaged for another context or purpose. Illustrations once connected with Abraham could have either drifted or been dislodged from their original context and reinterpreted hundreds of years later in terms of burial practices in a later period of Egyptian history. The opposite could also be true: illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure.

The essay therefore provides an explanation for why images illustrating the Book of Abraham could’ve ended up attached to an Egyptian funerary text, and why there is otherwise disjunction between Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the facsimiles and Egyptologists’ interpretations. In fact, the essay goes on to further explain, “Some have assumed that the hieroglyphs adjacent to and surrounding facsimile 1 must be a source for the text of the book of Abraham. But this claim rests on the assumption that a vignette and its adjacent text must be associated in meaning. In fact, it was not uncommon for ancient Egyptian vignettes to be placed some distance from their associated commentary.” Thus, in order to fully appreciate the Church’s explanation of the facsimiles, one needs to keep this commentary in mind. To omit it is to ultimately distort a critical aspect of the Church’s apologia for the Book of Abraham.

V. The 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. Before concluding, it is worth highlighting the changes made to the 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price. The pre-2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price identified the text as “[a] translation from some Egyptian papyri that came into the hands of Joseph Smith in 1835, containing writings of the patriarch Abraham.” By comparison, the 2013 edition characterizes the Book of Abraham as “an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham. Joseph Smith began the translation in 1835 after obtaining some Egyptian papyri.” Some have argued that this is another admission by the Church that the Book of Abraham isn’t really a translation. This seems unlikely, however, since the 2013 edition still retains the (slightly modified) header that has accompanied the Book of Abraham since its 1842 publication: “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” If the Church really was ceding ground on the Book of Abraham as a translation, one has to wonder why they left in this rather explicate superscript to the text.

Another overlooked change in the 2013 edition of the Pearl of Great Price comes at the beginning of the introductory page. The pre-2013 edition explains that “[t]hese items [i.e. the contents of the Pearl of Great Price] were produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith and were published in the Church periodicals of his day.” The 2013 edition, however, reads, “These items were translated and produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and most were published in the Church periodicals of his day.” Notice here the word “translated” was deliberately added in reference to the materials found in the Pearl of Great Price, which would presumably include the Book of Abraham. Thus, far from backing away from the Book of Abraham as being a translation of some sort, the Church, it could be argued, has in recent years actually reinforced an understanding of the Book of Abraham as a “translation.” The new edition of the Pearl of Great Price simply affirms that the Book of Abraham is an “inspired translation of the writings of Abraham,” while omitting details of the exact process, which remains up for debate.

In conclusion, one would do well to eschew the mishandled and misleading presentations of the Church’s position on the Book of Abraham offered by Dehlin and Runnells. The 2014 Gospel Topics essay hasn’t “conceded” or “admitted” anything about the Book of Abraham. The contents of the essay have, by and large, been circulating in both Church materials and other Mormon publications for decades. On the other hand, Dehlin and Runnells have omitted important material that helps us better understand this remarkable scriptural work.

1 and 2 Nephi as a Temple Text

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[This post originally appeared at Studio et Quoque Fide and is reposted here with the author’s permission.]

A common criticism I used to hear on my mission was that, as one counter-cult ministry put it in 2009, “there is NO evidence to suggest that the peoples in the Book of Mormon practiced ANY of the temple ceremonies that modern day Mormons practice.”[1] Personally, I always thought this criticism was pretty silly. The Book of Mormon mentions the presence of temples in virtually every major city, and of course they don’t describe the ceremonies—like us, they would have held them too scared to share in a text they knew would be public!

Nonetheless, this kind of criticism persists, at least in some corners of the anti-Mormon world. I thus find the intersection of Book of Mormon studies and temple studies that has emerged and gotten quite popular over the last few years rather fascinating. Turns out the temple really permeates the Book of Mormon record in ways few of us ever could have guessed. And, for those who have been to the LDS temple, the patterns found in the text are suspiciously familiar. This starts with the very first writer in the book—Nephi, son of Lehi.

Donald W. Parry has identified a chiasm right at the beginning of 1 Nephi,[2] as Nephi is introducing himself:

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There is a lot of interesting things that can be commented on in this chiasm, but for my present purposes I want to point out what he does with “knowledge” in lines A and A’. By arranging the passage chiasticly, Nephi connects his “knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God,” with the “knowledge” he is basing his record on. As Andrew Miller explains in a recent publication from FairMormon, the Greekμύστηριον (mystērion), or plural μύστηρια (mystēria) originally referred to esoteric rituals connected with temple worship.[3] That Nephi connects his making a record with his knowledge of the mysteries merges with a common ancient practice that,

At the end of the mysteries, you were required to record this before you could leave the cave, or the temple or whatever it was. You would leave a record of your experiences in the mysteries—whatever visions it was you had.[4]

So we see that it starts to become pretty interesting that Nephi connects his knowledge of the mysteries with his making a record. But we are really only getting to the tip of the ice-burg here (and, regrettably, we won’t be able to explore too much in  this little blog post). Joseph Spencer, in his volume An Other Testament (a must read, seriously—it will completely change the way you read the Book of Mormon, I promise!), notices a structural pattern that bridges across 1 and 2 Nephi:

These structural divisions order Nephi’s record as a four-part progression, from (1) the journey to the New World (1 Nephi 1–18) through (2) a series of theological sermons (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5) to (3) the culminating, commanded heart of Nephi’s record (2 Nephi 6–30) and (4) a brief conclusion (2 Nephi 31–33).[5]

Having identified the four-part progression, Spencer then identifies the theological pattern embedded within this structure.

The basic theological pattern at work is relatively straightforward: (1) 1 Nephi 1–18 recounts the founding of the Lehite colony in the New World; (2) 1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5 relates the breaking up of this colony into two rival factions, one of which is cut off from the presence of the Lord; (3) 2 Nephi 6–30 consists of prophecies and sermons focused on the eventual return of that cut-off faction to the Lord’s favor; and (4) 2 Nephi 31–33 offers summary reflections on baptism as a crossing of a limit.[6]

From here, Spencer categorizes the four sections as Foundation (1 Nephi 1–18); Division (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5); Redemption (2 Nephi 6–30); and Conclusion (2 Nephi 31–33).[7] Using only a little imagination, Spencer quickly recasts these categories into a pattern readily identifiable with the temple:

  • Creation (1 Nephi 1–18)
  • Fall (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5)
  • Atonement (2 Nephi 6–30)
  • Veil (2 Nephi 31–33)[8]

This dovetails nicely with the theological pattern that Margaret Barker has sketched out for the pre-exilic temple: (1) creation; (2) covenant; (3) atonement; and (4) wisdom.[9] Though (2) and (4) might seem different at first, they are quite connected. Covenant and fall go hand-in-hand. The fall can only come through thebreaking of the covenant (no covenant, nothing to “fall” from), and it is the breaking of the covenant that necessitates the third stage, atonement. And in the mysteries, wisdom is what is imparted to the initiate at the veil.

Thus, we see that Nephi really does craft his record in accordance with his knowledge of the mysteries, even embedding them into the very structure of his narrative. Really, though, since Nephi states that he had his people build a temple around the same time he started crafting his text (see 2 Nephi 5:16, 28–32), it should come as no surprise that temple theology permeates the text.[10] It is perhaps even possible that Nephi made this record as a temple text—that is, as the liturgy to used during the performance of the mysteries at his newly built temple. Regardless of whether that is the case, though (and I am not sure it is, though it is interesting to contemplate), it certainly puts to rest the assertion that there is “no evidence” for anything like the temple ceremonies in the text. The book is literally littered with allusions to the temple drama, it just requires astute reading, and awareness of what you are looking for, to notice.

[1] “The Bible and LDS Temple Ceremonies,” online article from concernedchristians.com, no longer available; screenshot in my possession.

[2] See Donald W. Parry, ed., Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007), 1.

[3] Andrew I. Miller, “‘Able to Know Heavenly Things’: The Anti-Nicene Mysteries and their New Tesament Sources,” FairMormon Papers and Reviews 2 (2015), online at http://blog.fairmormon.org/2015/03/23/able-to-know-heavenly-things-the-ante-nicene-mysteries-and-their-new-testament-sources/ (accessed March 23, 2015).

[4] Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988–1990, 4 vols. (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications and FARMS, 2004), 1:13.

[5] Joseph M. Spencer, An Other Testament (Salem, Oregon: Salt Press, 2012),  36.

[6] Spencer, An Other Testament, 41–42.

[7] Spencer, An Other Testament, 42.

[8] Spencer, An Other Testament, 42.

[9] See Margaret Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction (London, Eng.: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004).

[10] See John W. Welch, “When Did Nephi Write the Small Plates?” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), 75–77.

RiseUp Podcast – Freetown Movie – Interview with Garrett Batty and Melissa Larson

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Click here to find showings of Freetown at a theater near you.


Films have an impact on how we view the world. But in some cases, films have an impact on the way the world views us. Freetown is the latest film from Garrett Batty, the director of The Sarratov Approach, With this film, the film makers wanted to help the world to see the power of faith with the story of young missionaries in Africa who had to trust in God, and teach the gospel, while their lives were being threatened in the midst of a bloody civil war.

In this episode of RiseUp, we interview Writer and Director Garrett Batty about his work with the film, why he included topics like race and the priesthood, as well as the impact films like this can have on the way individuals throughout the world and their perception of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We also interview Melissa Larson, the screenwriter of the film about what it meant to take a real life story of faith and hardship and translate that to the big screen.

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“Able to Know Heavenly Things”: The Ante-Nicene Mysteries and their New Testament Sources

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The following issue of the FairMormon Papers and Reviews was written by Andrew I. Miller.

The Greek word musterion (most commonly plural: musteria) had a specific meaning in the ancient world during the early Christian era. It is, of course, the etymological source of our English word “mystery” which denotes something that is secret or hidden. But musterion had another meaning in the ancient world. Being derived from the verb muo, “to shut the mouth,” musterion was used to refer to an esoteric ritual wherein silence was imposed upon the initiates.

These esoteric rituals or musteria were used to impart knowledge and hidden wisdom in the Greek mystery cults, and, as we shall see, the musteria were also well and alive in the early Christian Church.

“Able to Know Heavenly Things”: The Ante-Nicene Mysteries and their New Testament Sources

Articles of Faith Podcast: In The Gospel, Faith Must Come First – Interview with Taylor Halverson

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taylor-halverson-60Bio: Dr. Taylor Halverson received a B.A. from Brigham Young University in Ancient Near Eastern Studies in 1997, an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Yale University in 2001 and an M.S. in Instructional Technology from Indiana University in 2004. He completed Ph.D.s in Instructional Technology and Judaism & Christianity in Antiquity—both from Indiana University in 2006.

Dr. Halverson currently works at BYU full-time at the Center for Teaching and Learning. He is also the founder and co-chair of the Creativity, Innovation, and Design group, acting associate director of the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, and has taught a variety of courses at BYU including: “Old Testament,” “Book of Mormon,” “History of Creativity,” “Innovation Lab: The Design Thinking Experience,” and “Illuminating the Scriptures: Designing Innovative Scripture Study Tools.” Dr. Halverson is a contributor to the popular LDS Bible Videos project and the LDS Scripture Citation Index site and a columnist for the Deseret News. He and his wife Lisa lead travel tours to Israel, the Mediterranean, and Mesoamerica.

Questions addressed in the interview:

In preparation for this interview I went to TaylorHalverson.com, and in reading over the many things you are involved in, various chair positions at BYU, a tour guide for LDS themed travel, writer of multiple text books, articles for various publications and media outlets, this may seem like a judgmental question, and it is not meant to be, but where do you find to study the scriptures, and give time to your own personal faith development?

You are multi-lingual, Spanish, Biblical Hebrew, Greek, and a slew of others considered secondary languages. How has learning and knowing multiple languages changed your approach to learning the scriptures?

The article you wrote for the Deseret News, addresses a challenge or at least a shift in approach that we have seen with the world at large, and that is an evidence first approach. Disbelieve until proven logically true. At first, it seems like this is a prudent approach, but you call it difficult if not outright outlandish. Could you expound on that conclusion?

This relates to an exchange you had while attending Yale as follows:

Yale student: Where is the original Book of Mormon today? Where are the gold plates?

Taylor: They are gone.

Yale student: What do you mean that the original plates are gone?

Taylor: When Joseph Smith completed the translation of the gold plates into the Book of Mormon, he returned the plates to the angel Moroni. So we no longer have access to them. All that remains is Joseph Smith’s translation of the plates.

Yale student: I mean no disrespect, but this sounds both incredible and convenient for the story of the Book of Mormon. (Remember that the word “incredible” means unbelievable.) We have no way of source checking Joseph Smith’s story because the plates he claims to have worked with are no longer available. How can anyone even believe Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon?

Taylor: Great questions. I have several questions for you.

Yale student: Sure.

Taylor: Are you a Christian?

Yale student: Yes.

Taylor: Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Yale student: Of course. That is the fundamental foundation of Christianity! Without the belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ there is nothing for Christianity.

Taylor: OK, then show me Jesus’ body.

Yale student: (Pausing to think with dawning comprehension) Oh, I see.

Taylor: What is more implausible: That someone claims to have translated a book and now the original book is missing, or that a physically dead body is now alive again? Just as Christians throughout the centuries have exercised faith in the claim that Jesus Christ died and rose again, so too members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exercise faith in that original claim as well as in the claim that God has brought forth additional scriptural witnesses, such as the Book of Mormon, for the life and mission of Jesus Christ

Sometimes people find themselves in a faith crisis, not simply a position of unknowing something, but that they feel they know something that has caused some cognitive dissonance. How does faith apply to someone in this intellectually conflicted position?

The article title asserts that faith must come first, that it is a matter of approaching spiritual matters with faith first. What tends to be the end result if faith comes second, or third or somewhere down the line?

This idea that we wait to act till we have knowledge is the opposite of what you inject at the end of your article, “As we act in faith, our knowledge increases and our views enlarge.” What sorts of things can we ONLY learn through faith as opposed to traditional empirical learning models?

Taylor Halverson is the author of the article In the Gospel, Faith Must Come First published by the Deseret News.

Front Page News Review Podcast #6

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FairMormon’s Front Page News Review is a show that provides context and analysis of the past week’s media coverage of Mormons and the LDS church. Hosted by Nick Galieti manager of the FairMormon Front Page news service, Cassandra Hedelius.

We hope this will be an edifying and entertaining experience. What we present is not to be understood as being the official position of FairMormon or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We speak for ourselves, and sometimes not even then.

Past weeks Top Stories:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/13/a-great-utah-compromise-on-lgbt-equality-there-s-no-such-thing.html

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/utah-legislature-passes-mormon-backed-lgbt-nondiscrimination-law

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/11/us-usa-mormons-excommunication-idUSKBN0M705920150311

http://www.sltrib.com/home/2229999-155/new-mormon-mission-how-to-teach

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/03/07/258998/water-grab-pits-las-vegas-against.html

Facebook page hit 3,000 likes.

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Faith and Reason 41: Thieves and Robbers

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From  the book:

Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

In the Book of Mormon, we find the terms thieves and robbers. To modern Americans, the words are interchangeable  (which is what we find in the King James Bible). Under ancient Near Eastern law, however, there is a significant difference between the two types of criminals and how the law should punish them. Without exception, the Book of Mormon uses the terms thieves and robbers correctly, according the specific type of criminal as well as what we now know about ancient Near Eastern law.

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

4th Watch 19: Why are Mormons prejudiced?

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4thWatch SmallLike all human begins we have our own personal preferences about everything in life.  There are things, people, ideas and places that we may like and prefer that others dislike that have nothing to do with being prejudiced.  When it comes to real prejudice we need to define what we are talking about.

In this podcast Brother Scarisbrick relates how our understanding of different times and cultural norms can change as we gain further light and knowledge.

As always the views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect or represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon.

Rise Up Podcast – What Is Your Mission in Life?

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Rise Up is a show for the youth and young adults looking for answers and encouragement to the difficult and critical questions that some may face about the doctrines, teachings, and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This episode is presented by Nick Galieti and uses portions of two devotionals from Patricia Holland, and Elder John H. Groberg, both given at BYU in 1989 and 1979 respectively.

What is your mission in life?

Some difficult questions about the Church arise from critics. While other difficult questions come from just living life. This week we approach the difficult question, “What is my mission in life?”

With this question comes several other, let’s call them “sub-questions,” that we often ask at the same time. “What job should I get?” “Where should I go to school?” “Is this a person I should date or marry?” Maybe even, “Is this Church true, or is the Book of Mormon true, and if so, then what?”

Because each individual is given the gift of agency, or the ability to spend the time we have been given in this life for what we choose, it would seem like a good idea that we use that agency in the best possible way. For that same reason, discovering and determining our mission and purpose in life is all the more intimidating.

I want to share with you some thoughts that I hope will reinforce the importance of finding our mission. Not because I want to make the question all the more intimidating, but because I think that the more we realize just how important the decision is, the more we will come to understand that because of this high priority, God has put in place all that is needed for us to discover our mission, but also to succeed in that mission. Knowing how important this is to God, may help us have more confidence to approach Him in prayer, knowing He is anxious to bless us with this knowledge.

As with the all the quotes that I share, I will leave you the link for to the full presentation for the posting of this episode at blog.fairmormon.org, so that you can spend time researching the main source, as well as the context in which the quote is given.

To start off, I want to share some parts of a presentation given by Sister Patricia Holland at a BYU devotional entitled Filling the Measure of Your Creation given back in 1989 when her husband, Jeffrey R. Holland was president of the University. She said the following:

YPDEV-1-45_LargeAll of us face those questions about our role, our purpose, our course in life—and we face them long after we are children. I visit with enough of you (and I remember our own university years well enough) to know that many of you, perhaps most of you, have occasions when you feel off-balance or defeated—at least temporarily. And we ask, ‘What will I be, when will I graduate, whom will I marry, what is my future, how will I make a living, can I make a contribution?”—in short, “What can I be?”

Take heart if you are still asking yourselves such questions, because we all do. I do. We should concern ourselves with our fundamental purposes in life. Surely every philosopher past and present agrees that, important as they are, food and shelter are not enough. We want to know what’s next. Where is the meaning? What is my purpose?

When asking these questions, I have found it extremely reassuring to remember that one of the most important and fundamental truths taught in the scriptures and in the temple is that “Every living thing shall fill the measure of its creation.”

Every one of us has been designed with a divine role and mission in mind. I believe that if our desires and works are directed toward what our heavenly parents have intended us to be, we will come to feel our part in their plan. We will recognize the “full measure of our creation,” and nothing will give us more holy peace.

I once read a wonderful analogy of the limitations our present perspective imposes on us. The message was that in the ongoing process of creation—our creation and the creation of all that surrounds us—our heavenly parents are preparing a lovely tapestry with exquisite colors and patterns and hues. They are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully. And each of us is playing a part—our part—in the creation of that magnificent, eternal piece of art.

But in doing so we have to remember that it is very difficult for us to assess our own contributions accurately. We see the rich burgundy of a neighboring thread and think, “That’s the color I want to be.” Then we admire yet another’s soft, restful blue or beige and think, “No, those are better colors than mine.” But in all of this we don’t see our work the way God sees it, nor do we realize that others are wishing they had our color or position or texture in the tapestry—even as we are longing for theirs.

Perhaps most important of all to remember is that through most of the creative period we are confined to the limited view of the underside of the tapestry where things can seem particularly jumbled and muddled and unclear. If nothing really makes very much sense from that point of view, it is because we are still in process and unfinished. But our heavenly parents have the view from the top, and one day we will know what they know—that every part of the artistic whole is equal in importance and balance and beauty. They know our purpose and potential, and they have given us the perfect chance to make the perfect contribution in this divine design.

This is where faith comes in: learning to trust God to guide our lives in such a way that we will actually get a to a point where our greatest potential is realized. While this may seem scary and even intimidating at times, starting with a simple desire to know our mission and purpose in life is huge step in the right direction. Sister Holland continues in talking about the importance of starting with the right desire.

The Lord. has promised us in D&C 12:7 that the only qualification required to be a part of this magnificent plan is to “have desires to bring forth and establish this work.”

Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God.

Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you. [D&C 14:4–5]

Sometimes in our sowing and reaping and sifting, it may seem that God says “no” or “not now” or “I don’t think so” when what we want for him to say—what we wish our tapestry to receive—is an affirmative “yesor “certainly, right now” or “of course it can be yours.” I want you to know that in my life when I have had disappointments and delays, I have lived long enough to see that if I continue to knock with unshakable faith and persist in My patience—waiting upon the Lord and his calendar—I have discovered that the Lord’s “no’s” are merely preludes to an even greater “yes.”

I have a five year old daughter who is incredibly headstrong and is very determined to get what she wants, when she wants it. But she is also learning that asking Mom and Dad the right way increases her chances of getting what she wants when she wants it. But, just as we may find with our earthly parents, our Heavenly Parents know what is best for us and when is the best time for us to get experience those blessings. In the times in my life when I have sought to find answers to prayers, wether they be prayers for answers to questions about gospel topics, or for what to do with my life, I forget that answers come in a couple different ways. They can be a yes, do that. They can be no, don’t do that, or they can be a not yet. That answer, “not yet.” is probably the hardest for me to get because when that answer comes I feel as if I have to guess as to when that answer turns into a yes. To further complicate things, sometimes, the answer that was a “not yet” can turn into a “not anymore-it is no longer the right thing to pursue.” I can echo Sister Holland’s statement, the Lord’s “no’s” are merely preludes to an even greater “yes.”

Because of this, the quest to discover what is our mission in life, is an ongoing and repeated effort. Elder John H. Groberg gave a really good presentation at BYU back in 1979 entitled, “What Is Your Mission?” He also talked about the importance of finding our mission, and implied the importance of re-discovering or reconnecting with our divine work over and over again throughout our lives. He ushers in this process of discovery with this quote:

Groberg,JohnH-bwLet me begin by asking you a very simple question. The question is this: What is your mission? You might think, “Well, I served in Japan,” or “I served in Virginia,” or wherever, and that is fine; but it is not what I am asking. I mean—what is your mission now? What is your mission in life? What does God expect you to accomplish during your sojourn here upon the earth? And, are you doing it?

I hope that in the next few moments, with the help of the Spirit of the Lord, we can all realize, if we have not realized it before, or, if we have known it, reaffirm in our lives the importance of at least three things: first, that God, our Father in Heaven, does have a specific mission for all of us to fulfill and perform while we are here upon this earth; second, that we can, here and now in this life, discover what that mission is; and third, that with His help we can fulfill that mission and know and have assurance—here and now in this life—that we are doing that which is pleasing to our Father in Heaven. These are all very important concepts; and they are all true.

If we do not know what our mission is, if we are not sure, if we are uncertain as to whether we are in fact fulfilling it, or if we do not have the positive assurance in our lives that our actions and our performance are pleasing to our Father in Heaven, then it does not really matter what else we are spending our time doing—it is not as important as finding out what we should be doing and having the assurance that we are doing it. Or to put it another way, if we are really interested in doing our Father’s will we had better pay the price—whatever price is necessary. We had better pray however fervently, study the scriptures and listen to the Brethren however intently we need to, or in short do whatever is required so that we can have the assurance that we are doing what our Father in Heaven wants us to do—that we are moving in the general area of the mission he has for us to perform. Obviously, that mission will be different for each of us.”

I want to share my testimony that God can and does reveal His will for our lives to individuals all over the world. I know that he has done that for me in my life at different times. I have also witnessed that people will encounter trials, they may even experience trials of their faith, that will cause them to question their life path. Others may be searching for an answer to other difficult questions, and feel that they are not able to find answers to those questions or overcome those trials. When this happens some feel that the option to give up, to stop trying to live gospel standards, is their best option given the circumstances.

Others may even consider that they must not be loved of God, or that maybe there is no God because he is being silent in their lives. I have felt similarly in some trials that I have experienced and in its own way those feelings can be very scary. When this happens some come to a decision that much of what they believed in their life prior to that is either a lie, or some kind of wasted effort. However, the level of doubt I felt during those times of trial, has been exceeded by the level of assurance and peace that I know feel after having heard the voice of the Lord confirm to me, my life’s mission.

There are things that need to take place in order for us to be receptive to God’s voice, to the influence of our Divine Parents. We need to first, have the willingness mentioned earlier, a willingness to not just want an answer, but, as Moroni put it in Moroni 10:3-5, we must listen to God’s voice with real intent. In this case, real intent is not just really wanting to know, but really wanting to follow the answer that is given. Only doing what God wants if it matches what we want is not obedience, nor is it wise. I can say with surety, that God lives, and that he does guide us back to him if we are willing to follow the path that he will place in front of us, regardless of the challenge that may lie in that path.

Next, look to the unique talents with which the Lord has blessed you. Look at who you are, and the experiences you have, no matter how tragic they may appear. These experiences can be utilized in the work of blessing others, and bringing comfort to those who stand in need—to bring others unto Christ.

For some, our purpose may have little to do with career, or education. For some it might be that, for a time, God may need us to simply be there for someone else. To be a disciple of Christ, to be a comfort to those who stand in need of comfort. This is not a diminished calling, or mission in life. We don’t have to be famous, we don’t have to be rich, sometimes the opposite is what the Lord has in place for us at any given time. The answers are different for each person, therefore, it is important that each person spend time in prayer and meditation to discover what the Lord has in store for each individual. Consequently, this also makes it difficult to pass judgement on the choices of others. This is also why we should not rush the process of coming to know our mission in life. The answers will come. They may not come right away, but they will assuredly come to all who seek with real intent. God is not a revelation vending machine. We don’t just pay a price and get the revelation as soon as we ask for it.

There is much more to consider with this subject, so I would recommend listening to the full talks from both Sister Holland and Elder Groberg as those talks will offer additional insights in this effort to find your mission in life, and to live in such a way so as to fulfill it. For now, Sister Holland shares these thoughts with which we will conclude.

When my daughter, Mary, was just a small child, she was asked to perform for a PTA talent contest. This is her experience exactly as she wrote it in her seven-year-old script.

I was practicing the piano one day, and it made me cry because it was so bad. Then I decided to practice ballet, and it made me cry more; it was bad, too. So then I decided to draw a picture because I knew I could do that good, but it was horrid. Of course it made me cry.

Then my little three-year-old brother came up, and I said, ‘Duffy, what can I be? What can I be? I can’t be a piano player or an artist or a ballet girl. What can I be?’ He came up to me and whispered, ‘You can be my sister.’”

In an important moment, those five simple words changed the perspective and comforted the heart of a very anxious child. Life became better right on the spot, and as always, tomorrow was a brighter day.

The Lord uses us because of our unique personalities and differences rather than in spite of them. He needs all of us, with all our blemishes and weaknesses and limitations.

So what can I be? What can I be? We can be what heavenly parents designed us and intend us and help us to be. How does one fill the measure of his or her creation? We do so by thrusting in a sickle and reaping with all our strength—and by rejoicing in our uniqueness and our difference. To be all that you can be, your only assignment is (1) to cherish your course and savor your own distinctiveness, (2) to shut out conflicting voices and listen to the voice within, which is God telling you who you are and what you will be, and (3) to free yourself from the love of profession, position, or the approval of men by remembering that what God really wants us to be is someone’s sister, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend.

I bear my testimony that each of you has a purpose. It is different, it is distinct, it is divine. God lives. God loves you. And I do, too. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lending Clarity to Confusion: A Response to Kirk Van Allen’s “D&C 132: A Revelation of Men, Not God”

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temple_night2By Brian and Laura Hales

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has generally not addressed the practice of plural marriage, but increased attention on the subject apparently prompted the Church to release several essays on the topic last year. The postings created a frenzy in the media with coverage by major national newspapers, television news, and countless blogs. While the essays were unexpectedly candid, they did not seem to assuage all of the concerns of members as evidenced by the questions and concerns that continue to be expressed. On February 2, 2015, Kirk Van Allen posted a blog titled, “D&C 132: A Revelation of Men, Not God.” In it, he brings up some valid questions, which have previously been voiced by members and non-members in their quest to try and understand this “strange doctrine.” However, he also advances arguments that seem to superficially examine the topic without taking into account important theological and historical contexts. Since this essay is traversing the blogosphere and stirring up a whirlwind, an alternative view of his assertions seems useful.

Lending Clarity to Confusion: A Response to Kirk Van Allen’s “D&C 132: A Revelation of Men, Not God”