Recently, I was checking my email and was reading a daily email from one of my favorite websites, TownHall.com. In the email, I noticed an odd banner ad.
“I gotta see what this is all about,” I thought as I clicked on the link.
I was taken to what is clearly a new and improved website for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormons.
One side note: the URL for the site is “beta.mormon.org” whereas their regular site is “www.mormon.org.” The information security geek in me wonders if this is purposeful. There are a few differences between the two sites, but I wanted to look around on the new “beta” site.
The video “The Bible in 60 Seconds” is a very nicely done animation with a professional (British accented) voice-over. It’s done a style of animation with flying text, graphics, and lots of moving elements very similar to others done by the likes of Reasonable Faith, Cross Examined, and others. The LDS church has clearly stepped up their marketing game. Their website is well done, easy to navigate, and has a “chat” feature if you want to talk with someone. These new videos provide a snapshot of Mormon doctrine in easy to follow, bite sized (60 to 90 second) chunks. This is a very effective technique. Their site clearly communicates the message they want to communicate.
So….what about that message?
The Mormon Church loves to use Christian words and phrases to describe their beliefs. They use words and terms like, “God”, “Heavenly Father”, and humans as being “created in God’s image.” They describe Jesus as the “King of Kings”, “Lord of Lords”, the “Messiah”, and “the Son of God.” But are their use of these terms, and their portrayal of Mormonism the same as classical Christianity?
I watched the first video “The Bible in 60 Seconds.” The main graphic makes the statement, “The Bible is a sacred book of scripture that serves as an important pillar of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” On the face of it, that sounds ok, no? Well, two problems. First, they have a photo of the “Holy Bible” next to a photo of “The Book of Mormon” (BoM). This implies the BoM is on par with the Bible. Second, the statement is the Bible is “an important pillar.” But it is not the only pillar. This is an important difference between classical Christianity and Mormonism. Christians believe that the canon of scripture is closed, and the Bible we have today is God’s final revelation to man. The LDS believe that the BoM is another revelation from God.
The video itself provides a general overview of the Bible, noting it is scripture, inspired by God, written from about 4,000 BC to about 95 AD. The video states that the crux of the whole Bible centers on Jesus Christ. It speaks of the OT foreshadowing Jesus, and the NT being about his birth, ministry, dead, and resurrection. (Aside from a minor disagreement about the OT being written in about 4,000 BC)…So far so good. I didn’t see anything that would give me great concern.
Ah, but at about 58 seconds in, the narrator says that the Bible also describes how Jesus “organized his church on earth…” Here I have a problem. Jesus didn’t come to form an organization; he came to provide a way to salvation. As the video progresses, it implies that Mormons are Christians (graphic: “Mormon = Christian”) with the cool sounding British voice-over say that Mormons “likely believe the same things you do.” (Not likely). Finally, at 1:23 the video says that Mormons, “love the words of God found in other books of scripture.” Queue graphic (again) of the Bible next to the BoM.
So is the BoM actually “scripture”?
The English word “scripture” comes from the Greek γραφή or graphé. This word graphé is used some 50 times in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (NRSV). The ESV translates this passage, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” So what are we to make of the LDS claim that the BoM is “scripture” on par with the Bible? I want to offer two (and there are many more) reasons why I reject the claim that the BoM is “scripture.”
First, the BoM is the alleged story of Joseph Smith, a prophet of God, who translated the BoM from several solid gold plates he dug up in a hill in New York in the early 1800s. These plates (the Plates of Nephi) were supposedly taken back by the angel Moroni, and no longer exist on earth (contrast this with the thousands of surviving copies of the New Testament manuscripts that are 98+ percent consistent). While there is no consensus on the size and weight of the plates, Smith’s contemporaries have claimed they weight between 30 and 60 pounds. But here’s the problem: The dimensions described by Smith are “six inches wide and eight inches long, and not quite so thick as common tin” and the “volume was something near six inches in thickness”. This is a simple math problem: 6 x 8 x 6 = 288 cubic inches, or .16 cubic feet. Pure gold weighs 1,204 pounds per cubic foot, so (assuming the plates were pure gold) they would weigh in at a hefty 200 pounds. One is hard pressed to accept the various stories of Joseph Smith carrying these some 3 miles from the place of discovery or Smith’s supposed assault whilst carrying the plates home (running “at the top of his speed”).
Second, one of the major claims of the BoM is that ancient Hebrews came to North America from the Middle East, settled, and eventually became the Native Americans found in American continents. This claim is made in several places in the BoM:
- “…Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel..” (Book of Mormon:Title Page 1:2)
- “…the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” (Book of Mormon:Introduction Preface:1-2)
- “…I speak unto you [Lamanites], ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words which I speak:
- Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel.” (Book of Mormon:Mormon 7:1-2)
- “Which is my word to the Gentile, that soon it may go to the Jew, of whom the Lamanites are a remnant…” (Doctrine and Covenants: Section 19:27)
The problem with these claims is there is no scientific, biological, or DNA evidence that the peoples native to the Americas are related to the Hebrews of the ancient Near East. There’s a very in-depth article that discusses this on the God and Science website.
Again, these are only two reasons I reject the BoM as scripture. Clearly the Mormon church has spent significant resources on marketing their beliefs with a new website, flashy videos, and other technologically sophisticated techniques. But that still doesn’t change the fact that Mormonism is not supported by historical evidence.