Monthly Archives: July 2011

FAIR Issues 20: Book of Mormon geography may be smaller than you think

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Where did the events of the Book of Mormon take place? Is it possible that ancient writers of the scriptures exaggerated their populations and the geographic scope of certain events? How might this possibility help us to better understand the events of scripture? Listen to this episode for some surprising insights.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

FAIR Issues 19: Imperfect Scriptures

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“Once we realize that all prophets who produce scripture do so according to their own world views, we can appreciate that some things we read into the scriptures are different from what the author intended to convey.” The world view of a prophet includes the prophet’s knowledge of science, myths and legends, and general knowledge about the way the world works. Mike Ask expands upon this idea in this episode by focusing on Noah and the flood.

Mormon Times is in a state of transition at this time. Therefore, the full text of this article is not currently available online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

FAIR Issues 18: Can imperfect scriptures lead to God?

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Mormons believe the Bible to be the work of God, so far as it is translated correctly. We therefore readily accept the possibility of error within the Bible on the basis that there may have been mistranslations. But what about the Book of Mormon? As it was translated by a prophet of God, should we consider it to be inerrant? What effect can language have on the transmission of prophesy or in the translation of scriptures? If it is possible for even the Book of Mormon to contain errors, how are we supposed to know what is true in the scriptures? These issues are discussed in this episode.

Mormon Times is in a state of transition at this time. Therefore, the full text of this article is not currently available online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

Best of FAIR 8: DNA and the Book of Mormon

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Dr. David Stewart examines the issues surrounding DNA studies used to condemn the Book of Mormon.  He concludes: “The recent explosion of molecular DNA data has led to a considerable increase in knowledge about our roots. However, some individuals have drawn and widely publicized conclusions far beyond those validated by existing data. The claims of critics that DNA evidence disproves traditional LDS teachings about Native American ancestry are based in a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of science and ignorance of history and scripture. There is still much we do not know about the genetics of ancient and modern populations, but careful study demonstrates that the teachings of LDS prophets are fully consistent with existing DNA data.”

The full text of this address can be found at FAIR LDS.

David Stewart, M.D., was raised in Massachusetts and Maryland. He was a presidential scholar at Brigham Young University, graduating with summa cum laude honors in molecular biology in just two years. He received his medical degree from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1999. He completed surgical internship and orthopedic surgery residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch and completed fellowship training in pediatric orthopedic and scoliosis surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Stewart is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and has received numerous awards for excellence in clinical practice and medical research and for his contributions to international health. He is fluent in several Eastern European languages and is active in international medical charity and education work in Eastern Europe and Asia. He served a full-time LDS mission in Russia and has written on LDS topics including church growth, missionary work, and DNA and the Book of Mormon. He lives in Las Vegas with his wife and young children.

Mitt Romney, Fox News, and the Mormon Question: A Few Questions for Discussion

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Christian, adjective: of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings : the Christian Church.

informal having or showing qualities associated with Christians, esp. those of decency, kindness, and fairness.

noun a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.[1]

A few weeks ago CNN published an interview with Tricia Erickson, a dedicated Evangelical critic of Mormonism, wherein it was repeatedly affirmed that neither Mitt Romney nor the Church he belongs to is authentically Christian. On Sunday, July 17, 2011 the Deseret News printed an article that reported how “‘Fox & Friends’ co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Mitt Romney was not a Christian during her program this morning.” The pertinent statement by Ms. Earhardt, as reported by the Deseret News, is as follows:

“Can (Gov. Rick Perry) get in and raise money with Mitt Romney? That I don’t know,” said host Dave Briggs.

“There are a lot of Republicans who think he can’t,” replied co-host Clayton Morris.

“Well the Christian coalition — I think (Perry) can get a lot of money from that base because (of) Romney obviously not being a Christian,” said co-host Earhardt. “Rick Perry, he’s always on talk shows — on Christian talk shows — he has days of prayer in Texas.”

I am puzzled by this statement. What is it that is so “obvious” that proves Mitt Romney is not a Christian? Presumably Ms. Earhardt has in mind the fact that Romney is a Latter-day Saint and because Latter-day Saints are not Christians ergo Mitt Romney is not a Christian.

This of course brings up the question as to whether or not Mormons are Christians. As Professor Stephen E. Robinson has written[2], there are typically six categories that the arguments of excluding Mormons from being Christian fall under, viz.,

1. The Exclusion by Definition (Mormons are excluded from being Christian because of ad hoc idiosyncratic definitions of “Christian” and “Christianity” offered by sectarians who deviate from the standard English lexical definition.)

2. The Exclusion by Misrepresentation (“Latter-day Saints… [are] judged to be non-Christian for things they do not believe, whether these things are fabrications, distortions, or anomalies.”[3])

3. The Exclusion by Name-Calling (Hurling unsavory epithets such as “cult” at the Church in an attempt to alienate or estrange outsiders and shock members. As with the “Exclusion by Definition”, in most cases the epithets are idiosyncratic definitions that go beyond the accepted standard English definition.)

4. The Historical or Traditional Exclusion (Mormons do not accept certain “historical” or “traditional” Christian beliefs or practices, and thus are not Christian.)

5. The Canonical or Biblical Exclusion (Mormons have an open canon of scripture, and accept additional books as canonical which are not accepted by other Christian denominations. Thus, Mormons are not Christian.)

6. The Doctrinal Exclusion (Mormons do not accept “orthodox” Christian doctrines, and hold to “heretical” views of the nature of God and scripture, to name only two. Therefore, Mormons are not Christian.)

The question as to whether or not Mormons are Christians is a horse that has been beaten mercilessly in recent years, and so I do not wish to launch into a full exploration at this point. Suffice it to say that the Latter-day Saints are positively appalled at this accusation, and have responded vigorously to critical arguments[4]. However, I do wish to ask a few questions for discussion that I feel are pertinent to this debate.

1. First and foremost, what is “Christianity” and who therefore can rightly be called “Christian”?  On what basis/criteria does one define these terms?

1. Who is allowed to define who is Christian and who isn’t? By what authority or on what grounds does this individual/group/Church, etc., claim the right to be the final arbiters in deciding who and who isn’t Christian?

2. Mormons are accused of not being Christian because they do not accept “orthodox” beliefs. What is “orthodoxy” and who is allowed to define “orthodoxy”? On what basis was this definition of “orthodoxy” established?

3. Mormon doctrine is often alleged to be contrary to “biblical teaching”. Who has the right to establish what “biblical doctrine” is? By what authority is such established? What methodological and/or exegetical tools were employed to establish this standard?

4. Is doctrinal difference enough to exclude Mormons from being Christians? What about Jesus’ teaching that his true disciples [i.e. Christians] are those who keep his commandments and love their neighbors (John 13:34-35)? In other words, is any weight to be given to Jesus’ criteria for true and false prophets (or, in this case, disciples) as found in Matthew 7:15-20 when it comes to evaluating who is a Christian and who isn’t?

5. If Mormons are to be excluded from being Christian because they do not conform to “traditional” or “historic” Christianity, then what of those disciples of Christ who antedate the arrival of these “traditional” doctrines (eg. Nicene Trinitarianism, creatio ex nihilo, etc.)? Are they likewise not Christian? [Hint: This is a question about maintaining consistent standards in evaluating who is and who isn't a Christian]

These are some questions that I put forth for discussion. Those who wish to exclude the Latter-day Saints as being Christian must, I contend, first adequately answer these questions.

Notes:

[1]: Oxford American Dictionary, s.v. Christian.

[2] Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian? (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1991).

[3]: Robinson, Are Mormons Christians?, 21, emphasis in original.

[4]: See especially Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Words Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992). This wonderful text is available online at the website of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. See here.

FAIR Issues 17: Challenging Issues and Keeping the Faith Pt 17

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Does God reveal everything to His prophets? What types of things are revealed? How does the way in which prophets receive revelation compare to the way in which the rest of us receive it? Michael Ash discusses these and other questions in this episode.

The full text of this article cannot be found at Mormon Times at this time due to changes to the database.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

Joseph Smith: The Profile of a Prophet

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The following PDF attachment is an exploration into Joseph Smith meeting the criteria of an authentic prophet. It was originally part of my review of Joel Kramer’s anti-Mormon DVD The Bible vs. Joseph Smith. Upon the wise suggestion of Greg Smith, a fellow FAIR volunteer, I excised this portion of my review and rewrote parts of it to stand alone as a separate article. As you may discover upon reading, this article does have a sort of devotional flavor to it. But I hope that the main point behind this article is easily recognizable.

With that in mind, I offer for the reader’s consideration Joseph Smith: The Profile of a Prophet for those interested. Feel free to download and keep a copy if you wish.

Joseph Smith: The Profile of a Prophet

FAIR Issues 16: Challenging Issues and Keeping the Faith Pt 16

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In what ways might a prophet err, and still be considered to be a prophet? Is a prophet required to be morally perfect? Why would a prophet have erroneous views about Book of Mormon Geography or the history of the Bible? Is it expedient for modern-day prophets to have infallible views on the location of the Hill Cumorah or the breadth and depth of Noah’s flood? Should a prophet know everything about quantum physics or chemistry? Listen to this episode for a discussion of these issues. The full text of this article can be found at Mormon Times.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

A Note on the First Visions of Paul and Joseph Smith

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Luke reports three accounts of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts. The first is in Acts 9:1-9. The second appears in Acts 22:6-11. And the third is recorded in Acts 26:12-20. Below are these three accounts reprinted as they appear in the King James Version:

Acts 9:1-9

1And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,

2And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

3And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:

4And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

5And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

6And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

7And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.

8And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.

9And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.

Acts 22:6-11

6And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.

7And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

8And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.

9And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

10And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

11And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

Acts 26:12-20

12Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,

13At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.

14And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

15And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.

16But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

17Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,

18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.

19Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:

20But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judæa, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Notice how Luke attributes additional words to the Lord Jesus to Paul in his third account than in his first two. In the first account, Jesus tells Paul to “arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). In the second report, Luke describes Jesus telling Paul to “arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do” (Acts 22:10). But notice in the third account how Luke quotes Jesus as saying much more to Paul than in the previous two accounts:

And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I  have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee,To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of  Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (Acts 26:15-18).

This added information in the third report from Luke is understandable, considering the context. In Acts 26 Paul is relating to Agrippa the reason behind his imprisonment and the ruckus he had created with the Jews at the Temple. Luke reports that Paul got into hot water with his pious Jewish peers for not only preaching against the Law of Moses but also for allegedly bringing “Greeks also into the temple, and pollut[ing] this holy place” (Acts 21:28). So grievous was Paul’s perceived profaning of the temple that his zealous would-be executioners immediately took him outside the precincts of the temple to summarily dispatch him (Acts 21:30-31). Fortunately for Paul the clatter alerted the Roman authorities, who took him into their custody before he could be killed (Acts 21:32-40).

As such, Paul had a lot of explaining to do on his part. Why was he so hated amongst his Jewish peers to the point of blood lust? Furthermore, as a Jew what business did he have associating with Gentiles? Paul gives Agrippa the answer, as reported by Luke: Jesus had specifically charged Paul to witness unto the Gentiles, and to win them over from their Satanic paganism to forgiveness and sanctification through Christ. Hence, we can infer, Paul gave this additional detail to Agrippa because of its expediency and relevance to his defense before the Gentile king. It certainly would have done Paul no good to relate this revolutionary (not to mention blasphemous) information to his Jewish enemies in Acts 22. As a matter of fact, these same Jewish foes patiently listened to Paul’s story until he described a hitherto unrecorded vision in the Jerusalem temple wherein he was commissioned by the Lord to depart unto the Gentiles. Upon hearing this unbearably shocking detail they cut him off and were driven to madness as they demanded his life (Acts 22:17-22). Furthermore, Luke had no need to provide this information in Acts 9 since he has yet to detail the ministry of the Apostles to the Gentiles beginning in Acts 10. It would throw off the development of the narrative history for Luke to provide a full account of the Lord’s words to Paul before the reader even knows what is going on with the Gentiles in the first place. But, once Luke has firmly established Paul’s role as the apostle to the Gentiles, and given the immediate context of Paul’s account to Agrippa, it makes perfect sense why he would omit this information until the third account in Acts 26.

What does all this have to do with Joseph Smith’s own theophany in 1820? Critics of Joseph Smith are eager to point out that his first recorded account of his vision written in 1832 is not as detailed as his accounts written in subsequent years, especially his 1838 account that was later canonized in the Pearl of Great Price. Surely, these critics contend, Joseph Smith was evolving his story over time to suit his purposes. His story becomes grander and more spectacular with each telling, in what can only be Joseph’s desperate attempt to bolster his prophetic legitimacy in the face of widespread apostasy and doubt within the Church.

However, this argument is unwarranted, and is especially dangerous for sectarian critics of Joseph Smith. I shall allow the esteemed Professor Richard L. Anderson to explain, since he has done a better job in succinctly demonstrating the sectarians’ dilemma than I could ever hope to:

Critics love to dwell on supposed inconsistencies in Joseph Smith’s spontaneous accounts of his first vision. But people normally give shorter and longer accounts of a vivid experience that is retold more than once. Joseph Smith was cautious about public explanations of his sacred experiences until the Church grew strong and could properly publicize what God had given him. Thus his most detailed first-vision account came after several others–at the time that he began his formal history that he saw as one of the key responsibilities of his life (see JS-H 1:1 2, 17 20). In Paul’s case there is the parallel. His most detailed account of Christ’s call is the last recorded mention of several. Thus before Agrippa, Paul related how the glorified Savior first prophesied his work among the gentiles; this was told only then because Paul was speaking before a gentile audience (see Acts 26:16 – 18). Paul and Joseph Smith had reasons for delaying full details of their visions until the proper time and place.[1]

Thus, for me at least, when faced with anti-Mormon allegations against the authenticity of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, the phrase “he who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind.

Notes:

[1]: Richard L. Anderson, Parallel Prophets: Paul and Joseph Smith.

FAIR Issues 15: Challenging Issues and Keeping the Faith Pt 15

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In this episode, Michael Ash asks, what are the consequences of not following the prophet? What happens to those who privately or publicly disagree with the prophets or official church doctrines? The full text of this article can be found at Mormon Times.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FAIR Bookstore.

Tell your friends about the Mormon FAIR-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon FAIR-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.