Bethany Blankley and the “Mormon Question”

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Introduction

The great German literary demigod Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once remarked: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” My reading of Bethany Blankley’s recent Huffington Post article has confirmed Goethe’s fear as being my own. In the doleful cacophony that sounds forth from the ranks of fundamentalist Evangelical critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ms. Blankley is more than suitable at playing first-chair violin. She is an adept Konzertmeisterin who plays with a zealous gusto that is by no means forced into a decrescendo by facts or evidence.

The accusation that Latter-day Saints are not Christians is not new, and it is not it likely to go away anytime soon. So long as fundamentalist Evangelicals dominate the religious landscape of modern America, the benighted Mormons can anticipate this Hydra to rear its ugly heads incessantly. All of the efforts of the Latter-day Saints to quell this tired assertion will almost certainly be in vain, as misinformation, misrepresentation and outright calumny continue to capture the imagination of an ignorant public with scandalous tales of the moral and theological debauchery and baseness of the Mormons.

Ms. Blankley, thankfully, withholds from her readers lurid and fanciful tales of polygamy and blood atonement and instead refuses to call members of the Church of Jesus Christ “Christians” on theological grounds, viz.:

  1. The Ministry of Jesus: “According to the first four gospels of the Bible, Jesus Christ lived and ministered in the region of modern-day Israel. He never appeared in the Americas.”
  2. The Virgin Birth: “The Mormon Church teaches that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Jesus through sexual relations with God the father.”
  3. The Spirit World: “Mormons believe that God, angels and humans are the same.”
  4. Jesus and Satan: “The Mormon church explicitly teaches…that Jesus Christ and Satan are both sons of God and are not only spirit brothers to each other but are spirit brothers to humans and angels as well.”

Those Latter-day Saints especially attentive to the criticisms usually leveled against their faith will not fail to notice that Ms. Blankley has offered nothing more than a warmed over serving of the sort of cuisine that one might be served by the venerable Ed Decker or the respectable Walter Martin. This is, however, to be expected. I can sympathize with the sentiment put forth by Professor Daniel C. Peterson:

Anti-Mormonism of the evangelical kind has come, with a few exceptions, to bore me intensely. It is not only that it tends to be repetitious and uninteresting. (My friend and colleague William Hamblin and I have laughed about doing an autobiographical film entitled Bill and Dan’s Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell.) It is not merely that the same arguments reappear ad nauseam, no matter how often they have been refuted, and that reviewing essentially the same book for the thirty-second time grows tiresome. (One definition of insanity is that the insane one keeps doing the same thing over and over and over again and expects to get different results.) It is also the deep streak of intellectual dishonesty that runs through much of the countercult industry, the triumphalism that exaggerates and even invents problems on the Mormon side while effectively pretending that no problems remain to be addressed on the so-called “Christian” side.[1]

Notwithstanding, Ms. Blankley has offered her objections and, I assume, expects to be taken seriously. As such, let us take a few moments to review these four protestations and see how firmly they withstand the scrutinizing gaze of the facts.

The Ministry of Jesus

Ms. Blankley provides a summary of the narrative of the Book of Mormon thusly:

Lehi, a Jewish prophet from the tribe of Manassah, left Jerusalem with several others, sailed east and landed in South America. Two of Lehi’s sons, Lamen and Lemuel, rebelled against God. God cursed them and gave them dark skin — birthing the Native American race… [I]n A.D. 34, Jesus Christ descended from heaven, baptized the Native Americans, called and commissioned 12 disciples, instituted sacraments, and taught the message of the Sermon on the Mount.

Besides the suspiciously negative way in which she relates some of the details of the Book of Mormon narrative,[2] Ms. Blankley seems to have offered a fair description of the Book of Mormon. Having given the Book of Mormon her superficial treatment, she continues to announce that “according to the first four gospels of the Bible, Jesus Christ lived and ministered in the region of modern-day Israel.”[3] Because the New Testament is silent on Jesus’ ministry to the Nephites, Ms. Blankley feels safe to conclude that “he never appeared in the Americas.”

I have always been given to understand that an argument from silence is a fallacy. True enough, the New Testament does not relate the details of Jesus’ ministry to the Nephites. But why should it? The authors of the biblical texts, as far as we know, never reached the shores of ancient America. The record of the Apostles of the Old World is just that, a record of Jesus’ dealings in ancient Palestine. It is by no means meant to be a comprehensive evaluation of everything Jesus ever did. “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25). These are considerably potent cautionary words from one of the biblical authors to those who would assume that if something concerning the life of Jesus is not recorded in the New Testament, it therefore did not happen.

As a matter of fact, we are hard pressed to find any details from the Bible pertaining to Jesus’ activities after his resurrection and his initial showing of himself to his apostles, other than a remark by Luke that he spent 40 days teaching his disciples and subsequently ascended into heaven (Acts 1:3-4, 9). Just because the biblical authors do not explicitly say Jesus appeared to other people in other lands that does not rule out the possibility. To argue such would be a textbook example of arguing from silence. Furthermore, one wonders what Ms. Blankley makes of Jesus’ words in John 10:16: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” To the Nephites gathered at the temple in the land Bountiful the risen Lord confirmed that they were those of whom he spoke of as his “other sheep” (3 Nephi 15:16-24).

The Virgin Birth

Our authority informs us that “the Mormon Church teaches that Mary, the mother of Jesus, conceived Jesus through sexual relations with God the father” and therefore does not believe Jesus was born of a virgin. As evidence for this claim, Ms. Blankley invokes the teachings of Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie to the effect that God the Father had sexual relations with Mary to conceive Jesus. As a matter of fact, the “Mormon Church” teaches that “we believe that He was born of a virgin, Mary, in Bethlehem of Judea in what has come to be known as the meridian of time, the central point in salvation history.” According to Ms. Blankley, “The Bible teaches that Mary, a virgin, “was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).” Unsurprisingly, so too does the Book of Mormon:

  • And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white….And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms” (1 Nephi 11:13,20).
  • “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10).
But what are we to make of President Young and Elder McConkie’s remarks concerning the siring of Jesus by God the Eternal Father? According to one Church-released statement: “The Church does not claim to know how Jesus was conceived but believes the Bible and Book of Mormon references to Jesus being born of the Virgin Mary.” President Young and Elder McConkie are perfectly free to give their opinions on how the miraculous conception of the Savior occurred. Until their pronouncements are accepted as official Church doctrine, however, the Latter-day Saints are not obliged to accept their views as binding doctrine.

I hasten to add that I am not inherently opposed to the idea put forth by President Young and Elder McConkie that has mortified Ms. Blankley. Given my acceptance of the profound truth restored by Joseph Smith that God is embodied,[4] their idea seems logical. However, given the dearth knowledge we possess concerning the manner of the conception of Jesus, other than it was done by the power of God through miraculous means, I am not willing to stake out any position just yet. As President Harold B. Lee cautioned:

We are very much concerned that some of our Church teachers seem to be obsessed of the idea of teaching doctrine which cannot be substantiated and making comments beyond what the Lord has actually said. You asked about the birth of the Savior. Never have I talked about sexual intercourse between Deity and the mother of the Savior. If teachers were wise in speaking of this matter about which the Lord has said but very little, they would rest their discussion on this subject with merely the words which are recorded on this subject in Luke 1:34-35: “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary's] conception was a divine personage. We need not question His method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more.[5]

What’s more, Ms. Blankley seems to have overlooked some of Elder McConkie’s other writings on this matter (which, incidentally, come from the same volume that she proof-texts in her article):

Our Lord is the only mortal person ever born to a virgin, because he is the only  person who ever had an immortal Father. Mary, his mother, “was carried away in the Spirit” (1 Ne. 11:13-21), was “overshadowed” by the Holy Ghost, and the conception which took place “by the power of the Holy Ghost” resulted in the bringing forth of the literal and personal Son of God the Father. (Alma 7:10; 2 Ne. 17:14; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38.) Christ is not the Son of the Holy Ghost, but of the Father. (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 18-20.) Modernistic teachings denying the virgin birth are utterly and completely apostate and false.[6]

As is helpfully summarized by the FAIR Wiki:

Critics of the Church like to dig up quotes like those from Brigham Young for their shock value, but such statements do not represent the official doctrine of the Church. Furthermore, critics often read statements through their own theological lenses, and ignore the key distinctions which LDS theology is attempting to make by these statements. Instead, they try to put a salacious spin on the teaching, when this is far from the speakers’ intent. The key, official doctrine of the Church is that Jesus is literally the son of God (i.e., this is not a symbolic or figurative expression), and Mary was a virgin before and after Christ’s conception.

The Spirit World

Ms. Blankley is not impressed with the Mormon ontology of God. “Mormons believe that God, angels and humans are the same.” This description is somewhat misleading. In Mormon thought, God(s), angels and humans are the same in the sense that ice and steam are the same. Sure enough, both ice and steam are composed of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom, but it would not be accurate to say that ice is steam or vice-a-versa. In the same sense, God(s), angels and humans are all beings of matter and intelligence (D&C 93:29; 131:7; Abraham 3:21), but, as Mormon authorities have been clear to distinguish, they are not inherently the same being. They are, instead, beings of the same matter on different levels of progression in eternity.

Ms. Blankley contrasts the heretical Mormon view of the ontology of God with the alleged “biblical” view. “The Bible teaches that angels (immortals) and humans (mortals) are to worship God (the sole eternal being) their creator (Hebrews 1).” We must take exception with Ms. Blankley’s characterization of God as the “sole eternal being” when, as is increasingly being recognized by biblical scholars, the biblical view is actually that of multiple divine beings that are matter-of-factly called elohim or gods.[7] We do not, however, take exception with her stance that humans and angels are to worship God the Eternal Father, since this is also the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ.

“Angels have taken on anthropomorphic characteristics but they are not human,” writes Ms. Blankley. Well, yes and no. The Hebrew word mal’ak, which is usually translated as “angel”, can mean either a supernatural being or a human messenger.[8] As with most ambiguities in biblical Hebrew, context is the key in deciphering a proper translation. It is true, however, that divine beings known as “angels” and human beings are not the same type of being. But this is not an issue, since the Latter-day Saints have never claimed otherwise. Ms. Blankley, I am afraid, has misunderstood Mormon angelology. Although angels and humans share common anthropomorphic natures in LDS (and biblical) thought, and although Mormons do believe that men and women who have lived on this earth may become angels to carry forth God’s will, it would not be accurate to say that angels and humans are the same.[9]

And yet, biblical evidence does given credence to the Mormon position that angels and humans share some sort of similar nature. One example from the Book of Revelation sheds light on this question, as explained by Professor Peterson:

The “angels” of the seven churches of Asia (in Revelation 1–3) may similarly be simply the human representatives of those churches. In both Revelation 19:10   and 22:7–9, an obviously supernatural or superhuman angel describes himself as a “brother” to John the Revelator and even identifies himself as one of the prophets.[10]

Interestingly, as an aside, there are several ancient extra-biblical texts that speak of the “angelization” of biblical prophets such as Enoch, Moses, Isaiah and others into God’s angelic host.[11] Those familiar with the biblical concept of the council of the gods will understand how this is significant to our present discussion.[12] Time does not permit me to dwell much more on this topic, other than to note that the LDS view of the relationship between God(s), angels and humans is demonstrably biblical.[13] Of course, Joseph Smith and his prophetic successors have added their own unique prophetic insights into this matter, which is one contributing factor as to why the Latter-day Saints have a unique ontology of God.

Jesus and Satan

Ms. Blankley’s finally concludes her concert with a familiar refrain: “The Mormon church explicitly teaches in the Pearl of Great Price in both the books of Moses (chapter 4) and Abraham (chapter 3) that Jesus Christ and Satan are both sons of God and are not only spirit brothers to each other but are spirit brothers to humans and angels as well.” This time-honored criticism has been frequently employed against the Mormons. The most succinct answer to this accusation that I could find is from the FAIR Wiki:

Jesus, Satan, and all humanity share God the Father as their spiritual sire. However, moral agency led Jesus to obey God the Father perfectly and share fully in the Father’s divine nature and power. The same agency led Satan to renounce God, fight Jesus, and doom himself to eternal damnation. The remainder of God’s children—all of us—have the choice to follow the route chosen by Satan, or the path to which Christ invites us and shows the way. Divine parenthood gives all children of God potential; Christ maximized that potential, and Satan squandered it.To choose the gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace that attends it will lead us home again. If we choose to follow Satan’s example, and refuse to accept the gift of God’s Only Begotten Son, our spiritual parentage cannot help us, just as it cannot help dignify or ennoble Satan.

Compare this response to one given by the Church in 2007:

Like other Christians, we believe Jesus is the divine Son of God. Satan is a fallen angel. As the Apostle Paul wrote, God is the Father of all. That means that all beings were created by God and are His spirit children. Christ, however, was the only begotten in the flesh, and we worship Him as the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.

This should effectively help clarify why there is no problem with Ms. Blankley’s statement that “the Bible teaches that God has only one son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 17) who came to destroy the work of the devil (I John 3:8).” The Latter-day Saints could not agree more with this sentiment. It would be wholly foolish to somehow imply that Mormons believe Satan is comparable to Jesus in attributes or character, as Ms. Blankley seems to be insinuating here, because they share a common pedigree. Considering that this point has been addressed in a number of times, I will not say much more, other than to direct any readers to some valuable articles located on the FAIR website.[14]

The Larger Issue

We have now reviewed Ms. Blankley’s objections against the Church of Jesus Christ, and found them wanting. She would do well to carefully review some of the salient literature on the faith of the Latter-day Saints before she once again offers her opinions in the public sphere. But what is the overall take-away message that Ms. Blankley seems to be imparting to her readers? Simply this: that Mormons are not Christians because of theological differences between Mormonism and mainstream Christian denominations. Unfortunately, this argument cannot be sustained. Theological differences do not disqualify someone from being a Christian.[15] Consider these two points, which I have raised elsewhere:

  1. Who in the first place gets to define who is and who isn’t “Christian”? By what authority does this person or group make this determination? What were the standards employed in creating this criteria? Why were these standards selected over others? Etc., etc. To merely assert that you get to define Christian and Christianity without offering any compelling justification is not impressive in the slightest.
  2. To disqualify somebody else from being a Christian on theological grounds begs the question that your particular theological beliefs are correct. Before you begin disqualifying anyone from being a “Christian” on “biblical” terms you must first demonstrate what “biblical” theology actually is, and that your particular brand of theology is consistent therewith; no easy feat for traditional Christians who have been disagreeing amongst themselves as to what is “biblical” doctrine is since the inception of Christianity.[16]
Thus, in the end, we leave Ms. Blankley’s arguments undeterred in our conviction that Mormons are Christians. Although her concert has been somewhat enjoyable on account of its Quixotic nature, we, the audience, are left breathlessly underwhelmed. She has failed to summon any convincing evidence to support her gratuitous slams against the faith of the Saints. Ms. Blankley is, of course, free to believe that Mormons are not Christians. And she is free to continue to opine on this and other subjects. I am not troubled by her musings in the slightest, as I take solace in the fact that the authoritative Oxford English Dictionary defines “Mormon” as: “A member or adherent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a millenary Christian sect founded in 1830 at Manchester, New York, by Joseph Smith.”[17]

It is comforting that the time honored reference for the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary, agrees with millions of other people that Mormons are, in fact, Christians.

Notes:

[1]: Daniel C. Peterson, “Reflections on Secular Anti-Mormonism,” FARMS Review 17/2 (2005): 423.

[2]: On the insinuation of racism in the Book of Mormon, see John A. Tvedtnes, “The Charge of ‘Racism’ in the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 183-198; Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:108-123.

[3]: At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would like to point out that the “first four gospels of the Bible” are, in fact, the only four gospels of the New Testament.

[4]: David L. Paulsen, “Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), 239-294.

[5]: Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 14.

[6]: Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), 822.

[7]: See generally E. Theodore Mullen, Jr., The Assembly of the Gods: The Divine Council in Canannite and Early Hebrew Literature, Harvard Semitic Monographs No. 24 (Chico: Scholar’s Press, 1980); See John Day, Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000); William Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005); Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

[8]: H. W. F. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament, reprint (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 475.

[9]: See the discussion on LDS angelology offered by Matthew B. Brown, All Things Restored: Evidences and Witnesses of the Restoration, 2nd ed. (American Fork: Covenant Communication, 2006), 115.

[10]: Daniel C. Peterson, “Ye Are Gods: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind,” in The Disciple as Scholar: Essays on Scripture and the Ancient World in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, ed. Andrew H. Hedges, Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000), 504-505, see also 505-506.

[11]: John Lierman, The New Testament Moses: Christian Perceptions of Moses and Israel in the Setting of Jewish Religion (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 238-253; Crispian H. T. Fletcher-Louis, Luke-Acts: Angels, Christology, and Soteriology (Tübigen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1997).

[12]: David Bokovoy, “‘Ye Really Are Gods’: A Response to Michael Heiser Concerning the LDS Use of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 299-300.

[13]: Daniel C. Peterson, “Ye Are Gods: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind”, 471-594.

[14]: See especially Michael Hickenbotham, “Do Latter-day Saints Believe Jesus and Satan are Brothers?”, online here.

[15]: On this, see the excellent treatment offered by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen R. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992). Also helpful is the very recent offering of Kent P. Jackson, “Are Christians Christian?,” in Robert L. Millet, ed., No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues (Provo: Religious Studies Center, 2011), 43-59.

[16]: See generally Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths we Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), for an introduction to this subject.

[17]: Oxford English Dictionary, online version, s.v., “Mormon”.

22 thoughts on “Bethany Blankley and the “Mormon Question”

  1. Theodore Brandley

    Excellent article!!! It is too bad that so few of those who really need it will ever read it.

    As to the supposition that God the father had sex with Mary, as Stephen Smoot has pointed out, the scriptures are clear that Mary was a virgin at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah wrote:

    Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    We may assume, therefore, that the word virgin here refers to a woman who has never had sex with a man, as it would not have been a sign from God if simply a “young woman” were to conceive. That happens every day. As God the Father is also an “exalted man” we may safely conclude that He did not have sex with her, as she would therefore no longer be a virgin. Additionally by God’s own law at the time, this would have caused Mary to commit fornication and be subject to the death penalty as a harlot; a highly unlikely situation for the Father to place the mother of His Only Begotten Son.

    Artificial insemination was unknown in Brigham’s day so we may forgive him for not knowing that there may have been another way for Mary to have become pregnant. For all we know it could have been done with a beam of light, the Holy Ghost being the attending physician.

  2. Shelama

    Theodore Brandley:

    As to the supposition that God the father had sex with Mary, as Stephen Smoot has pointed out, the scriptures are clear that Mary was a virgin at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. As Isaiah wrote:

    Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

    I have nieces who are virgins. They will also conceive and bear sons. Why do they not fulfill Isa 7:14?

    Even more specifically and to the point, my great-great-great grandmother was a virgin. She conceived and bore a son. Unlike Mary, the mother of Jesus, she actually did call his name Immanuel, my great-great grandfather. Why do they not fulfill Isa 7:14? (Is the “sign” of Isaiah 7 contained in v14, or in v15-16 and following? For instance, how were v15-16ff fulfilled in Jesus?)

    While Mormons view the BoM’s inclusion of a virgin-conceived/born messiah as confirmation of both the OT and the NT, do they understand why other honest, curious, interested students and investigators, who actually really are interested in correct translations, do NOT view Isaiah 7:14 as “clear” at all regarding a virginal conception? Even as they do accept that the ‘almah’ spoken of by Isaiah was a virgin at the time he spoke? But, rather, view it as a huge red flag for both Joseph Smith and the BoM? And, ultimately, not only for Mormonism and the BoM, but also for the Matt & Luke and Christianity as well?

    Brownie scouts are virgins. If someone said correctly that “a brownie scout shall conceive a child,” would it be fair and accurate to convey this as “a virgin shall conceive a child”?

    (Although I disagree and find it odious, it has been claimed by some that these Mormon vs. Christian arguments are like fighting for the class dunce cap.)

  3. Josh

    I just wanted to say that I loved your writing style, and thank you so much for providing sources and academic materials. I’ve noticed it’s something that so many who speak on the subject of religion fail to do.

  4. Theodore Brandley

    Shelama,

    In Isaiah the Lord was giving a sign. When the Lord gives a sign it is going to be something entirely out of the ordinary. What kind of sign would it be if a virgin had sex and conceived a child? As you have pointed out, it happens quite regularly. But when a virgin conceives without having sex, that is a sign! (prior to artificial insemination)

    Matthew writes that, “a virgin shall be with child” (Matthew 1:23) She was still a virgin when she was pregnant. Nephi referred to Mary as a virgin after the child was born (1 Nephi 20), and several verses refer to her as being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost (Alma 7:10; Luke 1:35).

    Those who do not believe in God and his power for miracles must find other meanings and understandings in the scriptures. The only alternative for these folks is to become a believer. Belief in God is a gift of God, and only comes by direct revelation from God. When Peter correctly identified Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus answered, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:16-17).

  5. Shelama

    But the conception and birth of the child was not the sign. There is nothing out of the ordinary for either the conception or the birth in the prophecy. The manner of conception (usual, customary and normal) is not the sign at all. The sign is in verses 15 & 16. The sign is what was going to shortly happen to Israel and Aram during the innocent infancy of the child, while he was still so young as to be eating only soft foods and too young to know right from wrong. If v14 refers to Jesus, then so also must vs15-16. Again, how are they fulfilled in Jesus?

    Matt and Luke were obviously making non-contextual use of Isa 7:14 to write political and theological story. For them, Jesus became “the Son of God” at a totally different point from when he did for Paul; or for when he was first declared so in Mark; or within John where Jesus’ special status was from “In the beginning…” (Of course, what did “Son of God” even mean in the Jewish thought-world and scripture of Jesus and his followers?… “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” Or the LORD speaking to David: I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.)

    Do you understand why increasing numbers of Christians (including some Mormons) recognize the “virgin born” Jesus is an extraneous, non-literal story, totally unnecessary for Christianity (and essential Mormonism)? And originally meant for an ancient, story-telling culture in which heroes and other great and important people, including ‘lord and savior, Caesar Augustus’, were born of a conjunction of the human and the divine? Neither Mark nor John cared about the story. Nor did Paul. Matt & Luke had to know they weren’t writing actual history. They also had to know, well after Paul’s death and the ascendency of Pauline Christianity, that they needed a story acceptable to pagan Greco-Romans ignorant of Hebrew scripture and messianism. There’s good reason why the Jews didn’t buy into it then and don’t buy into it now. And no good reason to believe it has anything to do with either stiff-necked or hardhearted. There’s no good reason to believe the original Jerusalem community of Jesus Jews even heard of it, let alone believed in it. Or to believe that it was any more essential for them that it was for Paul. I can’t even see, if it had been excluded from the BOM and Mormonism, where it would have any significant impact on essential Mormonism.

    Do you understand why, for many people, Joseph Smith’s inclusion of a literal, virgin-born Jesus based on Isaiah 7 is a huge red flag? On the other hand, FAIR is pretty good at doing what it’s supposed to do. Including, I believe, the open acknowledgement by some that the non-messianic Isa 7:14 was used non-contextually (but prophetically) by Matt, Luke and the BOM, without the need to resort to a standard Christian Bible apologetic that an out of the ordinary conception is demanded as part of a prophetic sign.

    Anyway, it’s endlessly and marvelously interesting and challenging, don’t you agree?

    Cordially, Shelama

  6. Stephen Smoot

    “Matt & Luke had to know they weren’t writing actual history.”

    That’s a rather bold assertion. So you somehow know what two people 2000 years ago knew themselves? You could argue that Matthew and Luke were not writing actual history, but I would urge caution before saying you know what they were thinking.

  7. Stephen Smoot Post author

    “But what if I had a burning bosom and a testimony?”

    Is that supposed to be a serious reply? Because I can’t help but note a hint of sarcasm.

  8. Shelama

    Totally serious. In any case, I didn’t so much say that I knew as I argued that Matt & Luke had to know.

    Surely, this is not the most substantive part of my post that you can find a reply to.

  9. Stephen Smoot Post author

    “Totally serious.”

    In that case, I would still urge caution.

    “In any case, I didn’t so much say that I knew…”

    Your words were…

    “Matt & Luke had to know they weren’t writing actual history.”

    “…as I argued that Matt & Luke had to know.”

    Which is just another way of saying…

    “Matt & Luke had to know they weren’t writing actual history.”

    “Surely, this is not the most substantive part of my post that you can find a reply to.”

    It’s the only part I really care to address at the moment. I am a stickler when it comes to people claiming the ability to clairvoyantly read the minds of people dead for 200 years (like Fawn Brodie did with Joseph Smith) or 2000 years (like you did with Matthew and Luke).

  10. Shelama

    “In that case, I would urge caution.”

    So are you saying that a burning bosom, and a testimony, and a feeling of peaceful, calm, certainty is NOT a reliable indicator of truth and knowledge? And that caution in interpreting them as such is warranted? If so, I acknowledge being cautioned.
    ___________

    Arguing that they “had to know” is not the same thing as arguing clairvoyantly that I know that they did, unless a burning bosom and testimony is clairvoyance. If you want to make that your argument, and if that’s really the most substantive issue that you can find to address, I understand and shan’t argue. If not, I again acknowledge that I’ve been cautioned.

    Meanwhile, Theodore Brandley has been introduced to the Christian/Mormon non-contextual use of Hebrew scripture in their portrayal of Jesus as Jewish messiah. I suspect that he might be interested, as I am, to know more about the range of beliefs on that topic among Mormon intellectuals. As always, an erudite, annotated bibliography would be welcome.

    Cordially, Shelama

  11. Shelama

    (Stephen Smoot, a reply has been lost and this may end up as a duplicate. Unless the first was deleted by FAIR as unacceptable?)

    ==========

    “In that case, I would still urge caution.”

    So are you saying that a burning bosom and a testimony are not reliable indicators of truth and knowledge and that caution is warranted in interpreting them that way? Either way, I acknowledge being cautioned.
    ______________

    Arguing that Matt & Luke “had to know” is not the same as claiming for myself clairvoyant knowledge. If you wish to dismiss it as such and leave things there, I understand. Either way, I again acknowledge being cautioned.

    But now that Theodore Brandley has been made aware of non-contextual use of Hebrew scriptures by the Evangelists perhaps he, like myself, would be interested in hearing the range of beliefs among Mormon intellectuals on the matter.

    Cordially, Shelama

  12. Shelama

    I understand your need to protect the less capable Mormons who frequent these boards, but I have to admit disappointment about being mislead by claims in the SLTrib that Mormon Intellectualism is No Joke.

    >>> DELETE ! ! ! <<<

  13. Shelama

    (It’s fine with me either way, but disregard the above if you chose: I posted it when all of my previous posts – here and on the other thread – disappeared altogether from the “Your comment is awaiting moderation” que. They’ve now reappeared. Given inappropriate and unnecessary defensiveness, misquoting and misconstruing what I actually said, and defensive mis-characterizations of me as sounding “incredibly arrogant” and “smug self-assurance that you are right about everything and everyone else is either too stupid to realize you are right about everything or just can’t bring themselves to admit it,” I reasonably concluded that you had just deleted them and a reason why.

    Btw, attributions of “stupidity” have never entered into either my beliefs or my posts. No “acknowledgement” I ever suggested would or should have any untoward implication for Mormon beliefs or apologetics. You guys and others on FAIR openly acknowledge that, regardless of the evidence, it ultimately all depends on personal revelation and testimony. And what’s wrong with that?)

    ________________________

    _ I stated a conclusion that Matt & Luke “must have known,” including, as you will note in that original post, some of the evidence and reasoning, although, admittedly, not in a consecutive stream. Nowhere does that imply a claim of certain knowledge, clairvoyant or otherwise. You can disagree with the conclusion, or you can argue that nothing in all the common evidence even warrants that conclusion, but you cannot honestly characterize it as a claim of “knowing.”

    Sincerely, Shelama

  14. S Goodman

    I quit responding to Shelama several months ago when I realized he was more interested in crafting a clever argument and sharpening his debating skills than in any real dialogue or search for truth.

    Nothing wrong with a clever argument or debating skills in the right venue. This just isn’t the place for it.

  15. Theodore Brandley

    Paul explained it this way:

    For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God…But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:11,14)

  16. Shelama

    Did God create Man with the ability and intelligence to search the evidence honestly & truthfully and then conclude, reasonably and rationally, that “manifestations by the Holy Ghost” and other varieties of religious experience are not really of divine origin? And that God is not as Mormons and Christianity believe him to be? That the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Abraham are not of divine origin or literal history?

    Cordially, Shelama

  17. SteveDensleyJr

    Shelama,

    You are of course aware that the answer to your question is yes. Otherwise, there would be no freewill. However, I’m certain you are not interested in what members of FAIR think about this but rather are interested in picking a fight. This is not the proper forum for a contentious debate in which you attack the foundations of the Church. Your continued posts in this vein will therefore not be published.

  18. Shelama

    Is it not possible to show my actual post to which you are responding? Which should not be construed as an attack on foundations or anything else. It’s an honest search for both context, and for what FAIR members think about what they think.

    Thanks, Shelama

  19. Shelama

    What are the range of beliefs among Mormons concerning the non-contextual use of Hebrew scripture by Paul and the Evangelists? Or by the BoM or by Mormons themselves? For instance, Isa 7:14?

  20. Jarkko

    I saw this argument about Isaiah 7:14 and thought that maybe some early christian interpretations outside of the new testament might shed some light on the matter heres Justin martyrs expose:

    Chapter XXI.—A vindication of the prophecy in Isa. vii. 14 against the misinterpretations of
    Theodotion, Aquila, the Ebionites, and the Jews. Authority of the Septuagint version.
    Arguments in proof that Christ was born of a virgin.

    1. God, then, was made man, and the Lord did Himself save us, giving us the token of the
    Virgin. But not as some allege, among those now presuming to expound the Scripture, [thus:]
    “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bring forth a son,”3708 as Theodotion the Ephesian
    has interpreted, and Aquila of Pontus,3709 both Jewish proselytes. The Ebionites, following these,
    assert that He was begotten by Joseph; thus destroying, as far as in them lies, such a marvellous
    dispensation of God, and setting aside the testimony of the prophets which proceeded from God.
    For truly this prediction was uttered before the removal of the people to Babylon; that is, anterior
    to the supremacy acquired by the Medes and Persians. But it was interpreted into Greek by the
    Jews themselves, much before the period of our Lord’s advent, that there might remain no suspicion
    that perchance the Jews, complying with our humour, did put this interpretation upon these words.
    They indeed, had they been cognizant of our future existence, and that we should use these proofs
    from the Scriptures, would themselves never have hesitated to burn their own Scriptures, which do
    declare that all other nations partake of [eternal] life, and show that they who boast themselves as
    being the house of Jacob and the people of Israel, are disinherited from the grace of God.

    2. For before the Romans possessed their kingdom,3710 while as yet the Macedonians held Asia,
    Ptolemy the son of Lagus, being anxious to adorn the library which he had founded in Alexandria,
    with a collection of the writings of all men, which were [works] of merit, made request to the people
    of Jerusalem, that they should have their Scriptures translated into the Greek language. And they—for
    at that time they were still subject to the Macedonians—sent to Ptolemy seventy of their elders,
    who were thoroughly skilled in the Scriptures and in both the languages, to carry out what he had
    desired.3711 But he, wishing to test them individually, and fearing lest they might perchance, by
    taking counsel together, conceal the truth in the Scriptures, by their interpretation, separated them
    from each other, and commanded them all to write the same translation. He did this with respect
    452
    to all the books. But when they came together in the same place before Ptolemy, and each of them
    compared his own interpretation with that of every other, God was indeed glorified, and the
    Scriptures were acknowledged as truly divine. For all of them read out the common translation
    [which they had prepared] in the very same words and the very same names, from beginning to
    end, so that even the Gentiles present perceived that the Scriptures had been interpreted by the
    inspiration of God.3712 And there was nothing astonishing in God having done this,—He who, when,
    during the captivity of the people under Nebuchadnezzar, the Scriptures had been corrupted, and
    when, after seventy years, the Jews had returned to their own land, then, in the times of Artaxerxes
    king of the Persians, inspired Esdras the priest, of the tribe of Levi, to recast3713 all the words of the
    former prophets, and to re-establish with the people the Mosaic legislation.
    3. Since, therefore, the Scriptures have been interpreted with such fidelity, and by the grace of
    God, and since from these God has prepared and formed again our faith towards His Son, and has
    preserved to us the unadulterated Scriptures in Egypt, where the house of Jacob flourished, fleeing
    from the famine in Canaan; where also our Lord was preserved when He fled from the persecution
    set on foot by Herod; and [since] this interpretation of these Scriptures was made prior to our Lord’s
    descent [to earth], and came into being before the Christians appeared —for our Lord was born
    about the forty-first year of the reign of Augustus; but Ptolemy was much earlier, under whom the
    Scriptures were interpreted;—[since these things are so, I say,] truly these men are proved to be
    impudent and presumptuous, who would now show a desire to make different translations, when
    we refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God.
    But our faith is stedfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures,which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without
    interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree
    with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For
    Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did
    set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as3714 the interpretation of the elders contains them.
    4. For the one and the same Spirit of God, who proclaimed by the prophets what and of what
    sort the advent of the Lord should be, did by these elders give a just interpretation of what had been
    truly prophesied; and He did Himself, by the apostles, announce that the fulness of the times of the
    adoption had arrived, that the kingdom of heaven had drawn nigh, and that He was dwelling within
    those that believe on Him who was born Emmanuel of the Virgin. To this effect they testify, [saying,]
    that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, “she
    was found with child of the Holy Ghost;”3715 and that the angel Gabriel said unto her, “The Holy
    Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also
    that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God;”3716 and that the angel
    said to Joseph in a dream, “Now this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah
    the prophet, Behold, a virgin shall be with child.”3717 But the elders have thus interpreted what
    Esaias said: “And the Lord, moreover, said unto Ahaz, Ask for thyself a sign from the Lord thy
    God out of the depth below, or from the height above. And Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not
    tempt the Lord. And he said, It is not a small thing3718 for you to weary men; and how does the Lord
    weary them? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and
    bear a son; and ye shall call His name Emmanuel. Butter and honey shall He eat: before He knows
    or chooses out things that are evil, He shall exchange them for what is good; for before the child
    knows good or evil, He shall not consent to evil, that He may choose that which is good.”3719
    Carefully, then, has the Holy Ghost pointed out, by what has been said, His birth from a virgin,
    and His essence, that He is God (for the name Emmanuel indicates this). And He shows that He is
    a man, when He says, “Butter and honey shall He eat;” and in that He terms Him a child also, [in
    saying,] “before He knows good and evil;” for these are all the tokens of a human infant. But that
    He “will not consent to evil, that He may choose that which is good,”—this is proper to God; that
    by the fact, that He shall eat butter and honey, we should not understand that He is a mere man only, nor, on the other hand, from the name Emmanuel, should suspect Him to be God without
    flesh.
    453
    5. And when He says, “Hear, O house of David,”3720 He performed the part of one indicating
    that He whom God promised David that He would raise up from the fruit of his belly (ventris) an
    eternal King, is the same who was born of the Virgin, herself of the lineage of David. For on this
    account also, He promised that the King should be “of the fruit of his belly,” which was the
    appropriate [term to use with respect] to a virgin conceiving, and not “of the fruit of his loins,” nor
    “of the fruit of his reins,” which expression is appropriate to a generating man, and a woman
    conceiving by a man. In this promise, therefore, the Scripture excluded all virile influence; yet it
    certainly is not mentioned that He who was born was not from the will of man. But it has fixed and
    established “the fruit of the belly,” that it might declare the generation of Him who should be [born]
    from the Virgin, as Elisabeth testified when filled with the Holy Ghost, saying to Mary, “Blessed
    art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy belly;”3721 the Holy Ghost pointing out to
    those willing to hear, that the promise which God had made, of raising up a King from the fruit of
    [David’s] belly, was fulfilled in the birth from the Virgin, that is, from Mary. Let those, therefore,
    who alter the passage of Isaiah thus, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive,” and who will have
    Him to be Joseph’s son, also alter the form of the promise which was given to David, when God
    promised him to raise up, from the fruit of his belly, the horn of Christ the King. But they did not
    understand, otherwise they would have presumed to alter even this passage also.
    6. But what Isaiah said, “From the height above, or from the depth beneath,”3722 was meant to
    indicate, that “He who descended was the same also who ascended.”3723 But in this that he said,
    “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign,” he declared an unlooked-for thing with regard to His
    generation, which could have been accomplished in no other way than by God the Lord of all, God
    Himself giving a sign in the house of David. For what great thing or what sign should have been
    in this, that a young woman conceiving by a man should bring forth,—a thing which happens to
    all women that produce offspring? But since an unlooked-for salvation was to be provided for men
    through the help of God, so also was the unlooked-for birth from a virgin accomplished; God giving
    this sign, but man not working it out.

    Justin continues this topic further but I just thought to bring up a little bit of info that maybe might have been overlooked.

    Peace.

    -Jarkko

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