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Critics Corner

White Indians
BoM Changes
Golden Plates Weight
Moroni an Angel?
Word of Wisdom
3 Hours or Days?
Men on the Moon?
Article of Faith?
Nauvoo House
Aaronic Priesthood?
Man in God's Image
Jesus Born of a Virgin?
Nephite Temple
Joseph Smith & Polygamy
Fig Leaf Apron


Response to Questions from the
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry
by John A. Tvedtnes (FARMS)

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (C.A.R.M.), located on the Internet, has posted a list of "Difficult Questions for Mormons to Answer," taken from a booklet entitled, Ask Your Bishop by Ira T. Ransom.  Here are the questions and some brief responses.  (Actually, none of these are "difficult questions.")

1. If the Book of Mormon is true, why do Indians fail to turn white when they become Mormons? (2 Nephi 30:6, prior to the 1981 revision).

    "White" need not refer to skin color, as is clear from the following passages from the biblical book of Daniel:  "And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed (Daniel 11:35). "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly:  and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand (Daniel 12:10).  In both of these passages, the meaning of the word "white" is most obviously pure; to "make white" is to purify. When Joseph Smith first translated the Book of Mormon, he gave the literal rendering of "white" for the passage in 2 Nephi 30:6.  For the 1840 edition, it was changed to "pure," which better reflected the meaning of the word used by Nephi.  Subsequent editions, however, relied on the 1837 Book of Mormon, which still read "white."  This oversight was not rectified until the 1981 edition.  [For a more comprehensive answer see also 42 Questions, Question # 3]

2. If the Book of Mormon is true, then why has the Mormon church changed it?  Examples are: 1 Nephi 11:21; 19:20; 20:1 and Alma 29:4.  Compare these with the original Book of Mormon. (Gerald [sic] and Sandra Tanner have counted 3913 changes in the book of Mormon, excluding punctuation changes.)

    The reasons for changes in the Book of Mormon are similar to the reasons why the English Bible has experienced changes over time.  Changes can be classified as (1) changes in punctuation, which was added by the typesetter, not Joseph Smith or his scribe, (2) correction of typesetting errors, (3) spelling errors made by either the scribe (Oliver Cowdery) or the typesetter, (4) changes to upgrade the language to make it sound more English than Hebrew, (5) restoration of phrases or sentences left out by the typesetter but later discovered to be in the manuscript.  The addition to 1 Nephi 20:1 is an exegetical explanation and should have been placed enclosed by parentheses.  All the changes listed in the question were made by Joseph Smith and not by "the Mormon church."  As the translator of the record, who would have been better qualified to determine how the Lord intended those passages to be read?

3. How did Joseph Smith carry home the golden plates of the Book of Mormon, and how did the witnesses lift them so easily?  (They weighed about 230 lbs. Gold, with a density of 19.3 weighs 1204.7 lbs. per cubic foot.  The plates were 7" x 8" by about 6".  See Articles of Faith, by Talmage, page 262, 34th ed.)

    The record was not solid gold bullion, but a set of thin metallic sheets held together by metallic rings.  So we're not dealing with a 7x8x6-inch block of gold.  Besides, there's no evidence that the plates were really made of gold.  The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses declares that they had "the appearance of gold."  Joseph Smith spoke of them as "gold plates" (Joseph Smith History 1:34), but this need not mean that they were pure gold; they may have been a gold alloy.  Indeed, the only plates said to have been "of pure gold" were the 24 plates of Ether's record, which were not part of the collection Joseph received (Mosiah 8:9; cf. Mosiah 28:11).  [See also 42 Questions, Response to Question 31, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon (Sjodahl), and Were the Golden Plates made of Tumbaga?(Putnam).]

4. If Moroni devoutly practiced the Mormon Gospel, why is he an angel now rather than a God? (Doc. & Cov. 132:17,37)

    Joseph Smith only once called Moroni an "angel," in the true sense of that word, i.e., a messenger.  And this declaration is not found in a revelation, but in a letter Joseph wrote, which means that it need not reflect information he got from the Lord (D&C 128:20).  It does not preclude Moroni from exaltation.  Moreover, we really do not know whether Moroni appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being or a translated being, though most assume it was the former.  If he has not yet been resurrected (or changed), then he will not yet have entered into his final estate.

5. Why do Mormons emphasize part of the Word of Wisdom and ignore the part forbidding the eating of meat except in winter, cold or famine? (Doc. & Cov. 89:12,13).

    This is like asking why some Mormons smoke.  As imperfect human beings, none of us does everything precisely the way the Lord asks, though we should be striving to do so.  There are, in fact, Latter-day Saints who do observe the injunction about meat.  We could turn this question around and ask why so many Christians emphasize part of the plan of redemption (grace) and ignore other parts (keeping God's commandments).

6. When Christ died, did darkness cover the land for three days or for three hours? (Luke 23:44 and 3 Nephi 8:19, 23).

    This is like asking why the snowstorm on Christmas day lasted two hours in Boston and two days in Denver.  We are, after all, dealing with different geographical regions here.  The answer is that the darkness lasted three hours in the Holy Land but three days in the lands inhabited by the Nephites, where there appears to have been a major volcanic explosion (see John A. Tvedtnes, "Historical Parallels to the Destruction at the Time of the Crucifixion," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1, Spring 1994). (Link not working)

7. Joseph Smith said that there are men living on the moon who dress like Quakers and live to be nearly 1000 years old.  Since he was wrong about the moon, is it safe to trust him regarding the way to Heaven?  (The Young Woman's Journal, Vol. 3, pages 263-264. See reprint in Mormonism -- Shadow or Reality? by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, page 4.)

    Just once it would be nice to see this statement in a document contemporary with Joseph Smith (who died in 1844), rather than in something written in a journal in 1881 and published in 1892, which is the source the Tanners cite.  But even if Joseph Smith did believe this (which cannot be demonstrated), could one blame him?  After all, the press in his day had reported that British Astronomer Royal Sir John Herschel had discovered people living on the moon.  It was a newspaper hoax that was widely believed in the 1830s.  Joseph Smith could believe such a thing and still be a prophet, for prophets, too, have a right to opinions.  It was Joseph who declared "I . . . visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that 'a prophet is always a prophet;' but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (History of the Church 5:265).

8. Joseph Smith prepared fourteen Articles of Faith.  Why has the original No. 11 been omitted?  (Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol. 2, three pages after page 160, among the photos.)

    The Articles of Faith were not received by revelation, but were merely a summation of the beliefs of the Church.  There are only 13 of them in the letter Joseph Smith wrote to John Wentworth in 1842.  The fourteen published by Wood derive from a later source, a pamphlet published in England in April, 1849, by James H. Flanigan.  It is therefore incorrect to associate Joseph Smith's name with that list.

9. Why did the Nauvoo House not stand forever and ever? (Doc. & Cov. 124:56-60).

    The original Nauvoo House is still standing and can be seen by visitors to that city.  It is the Mansion House, Joseph Smith's residence, that had to be reconstructed.

10. How can a man who is not a descendant of Aaron hold the Aaronic Priesthood? (Numbers 16:40; Heb. 7:13,14).

    Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord promised that, in the last days, he would gather Israel and would "take of them for priests and for Levites" (Isaiah 66:21).  If he intended to authorize only descendants of Aaron to hold that priesthood, why would he have to designate priests and Levites?

11. Since Mormonism teaches that only God the Father had a physical body at the time Adam was created, why did God say, "Let us make man in OUR image"?  Why didn't He say, "Let us make man in MY image?" (Gen. 1:26).

    According to Ether 3:15-16, Christ, as a spirit, appeared as he would in mortality, and it was after his spirit that man was patterned (see also Mosiah 7:27).  Consequently, the shape of our bodies is the same as both the Father as a physical being and the Son while yet in his spiritual state. So there is no contradiction here.

12. If Jesus was conceived as a result of a physical union between God and Mary, how was Jesus born of a virgin? (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, page 50).

    Mary was a virgin because she had known no man (Luke 1:34), not because she bore the Son of God.

13. How did Nephi with a few men on a new continent build a temple like Solomon's while Solomon needed 163,300 workmen and seven years to build his temple? (1 Kings 5:13-18 and 2 Nephi 5:15-17).

    Nephi probably did it the same way the small Israelite garrison at Arad constructed a temple patterned after Solomon's in the ninth century B.C.  Like the Arad temple, Nephi's structure could have been rather small.  Half a dozen people could have completed the Arad temple working part-time for less than a year.  [See also 42 Questions, Question # 2]

14. Why was Joseph Smith still preaching against polygamy in October 1843 after he got his revelation in July 1843 commanding the practice of polygamy?  (Doc. & Cov. 132; and History of the Church Vol. 6, page 46, or Teachings of the Prophet, page 324).

    Actually, Joseph Smith had received the revelation more than a decade before it was written in 1843.  He always maintained that, unless commanded to do so by the Lord, a man should have only one wife.  Similarly, the Lord commanded Lehi's family to have but one wife, but reserved the right to command otherwise should he wish to do so (Jacob 2:24-30). Joseph Smith's declarations against plural marriage were aimed at those who claimed to have the authority to perform them within the Church.  He recorded, "Gave instructions to try those persons who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives: for, according to the law, I hold the keys of this power in the last days; for there is never but one on earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred; and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise" (History of the Church 6:46).

15. God rejected the fig leaf aprons which Adam and Eve made (Gen. 3:21).  Why do Mormons memorialize the fall by using fig leaf aprons in the secret temple ceremonies?

    The aprons are mentioned only in Genesis 3:7.  Nowhere does the text tell us that God "rejected" them, only that, in place of the temporary fig leaf aprons (fig leaves dry up and blow away), God provided more permanent skin clothing (Genesis 3:21).  The Latter-day Saints recognize the symbolic nature of the fall, represented by the fig-leaf apron and of God giving mankind a probationary time in which to repent, as represented by the "coats of skins." [For additional discussion see the response to Question 36 (42 Questions).]