A Response to Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Mormons (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995).
By John A. Tvedtnes
The book by
Rhodes and Bodine is one of the most sophisticated anti-Mormon books I
have seen. It generally
avoids the nonsensical, repetitive approach found in most anti-Mormon
literature. Though the
authors have a better grasp on LDS beliefs than most, they still
misunderstand and/or misrepresent many of these beliefs and exaggerate in
ways that are less offensive than previous attacks on the LDS Church.
organization and content, I presume that the book's
goal is twofold: 1) to prepare readers to resist the temptation to accept
LDS doctrines, and 2) to assist people who want to win “Mormons” away
from their beliefs. Consequently,
it begins with an introductory chapter designed to sensationalize, with
such sub-headings as “The Incredible Wealth of the Mormon Church” and
“The Mormon Media Empire.” Since
people tend to distrust the wealthy, the media, and politicians, these
sections can serve no other purpose than to present the LDS Church in a
negative light. The
information given therein is certainly irrelevant when it comes to
evaluating whether the Church's
doctrine is correct.
doctrinal issue is also addressed in the introductory chapter, in a
section entitled, “Are Mormons Christians?”
To show that they are not, the authors cite “theologian Gordon
Lewis,” who wrote that a Christian needs
“to believe in one personal, transcendent God, one incarnate Christ, the
completed atonement, and one gospel of grace through faith alone,” then
notes that “Mormons do not believe these things, as we will demonstrate
in this book” (p. 14). Actually,
Latter-day Saints believe almost exactly as Lewis states.
We would disagree, however, that grace does not come through faith,
but as a free gift from God. But salvation, as the Bible makes abundantly clear, includes
much more than just faith, as the vast majority of the Christian world
(Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian churches based on
the Middle East and Africa) would agree.
Indeed, it is a minority of the Christian community that believes
that faith alone can bring salvation.
Most believe that ordinances and good works are also necessary.
Indeed, Lewis’s statement is based on Paul’s declaration that,
in the Christian Church, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one
God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you
all” (Ephesians 4:5). But
Lewis, relying in faith alone, would ignore the “one baptism” of which
Paul spoke and fails to note that the Bible declares that “faith without
works is dead” (James 2:17-20). Jesus
himself noted the importance of obedience to God’s commandments when he gave the true definition of a Christian: “If ye continue
in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31).
response, I shall attempt to address, as concisely as possible, just a few
of the questions and criticisms contained in the book.
In some cases, I must reword questions in order that each of the
criticisms reflect a statement. But,
in fairness to the authors, I shall refer to the page on which they deal
with the subject so the reader can judge for himself.
is completely false. The
first Article of Faith of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states, “We believe
in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy
Ghost.” The title page of
the Book of Mormon declares that its purpose is “to the convincing of
the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD.”
While it is true that we teach that there is more than one God, this belief does not contradict “biblical Christianity.” Paul wrote that there were “gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). Psalm 82:1 declares that “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Consequently, “the LORD your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords” (Deuteronomy 10:17; see also Joshua 22:22; Psalm 136:2-3; Daniel 11:36). Some of the fathers of the early Christian Church argued that God could only be the God of true gods, never of false gods.1 Typically, the Church Fathers indicated that the "gods" over whom God was God are humans who have been redeemed.2
Since we are
made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), why should we deny that God
has a body? When Moses asked
to see the Lord's
glory, the Lord told him, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall
no man see me, and live.” But he agreed to show him something else, declaring, that
“while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock,
and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away
mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be
seen” (Exodus 33:18-23). This
is hardly the description of a God without a body.
There are many more Bible passages in which God
is described as having a body. For
example, in Exodus 24:9-11, we read “Then went up Moses, and Aaron,
Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel: And they saw the
God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work
of sapphire stone . . . And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he
laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.”
If God did not have a body, how could he sit on a throne as the
prophets have described (1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekiel 1:26-28)?
is found in a number of Bible passages.
In the Hebrew original of Psalm 8:4-5, we read, “What is man,
that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the gods, and
hast crowned him with glory and honour.”
The Psalmist also declared, “Ye are gods; and all of you are
children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6).
Jesus, when accused of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God,
cited this passage and added, “If he called them gods, unto whom the
word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken” (John
10:31-36). Paul taught that
we can become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans
8:17; cf. Titus 3:7). He also
tells us, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who,
being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God”
Actually, there is no specific LDS doctrine that states this, nor are there
The truth is
that the LDS Church teaches that without the atonement of Christ, which
came by grace alone, there would be no salvation.
Salvation by grace alone, however, would mean that all will be
saved, saint and sinner, just because Christ provided that salvation.
Even the most avid Protestant believers in salvation by grace add
that at least faith is necessary to gain salvation, while most would add
that confession of Christ is also necessary.
In view of these specific actions required of men to be saved, how
can one not believe that our own works play a role in our salvation?
James wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-20),
so it is obvious that good works are a part of the faith that brings
salvation. Moreover, Jesus
declared that “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he
cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
So baptism is also essential to salvation.
That deeds of righteousness are necessary to salvation is attested
statement that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God”
(1 Corinthians 6:9).
response to this is that each account was emphasizing different aspects of
what Joseph experienced. The
authors have a footnote (“Possible Mormon comeback”) addressing this
response, saying that “these accounts do not just present different
‘aspects,’ but set forth flatly contradictory assertions.”
But when one looks at their chart comparing “First Vision
Accounts,” one sees that they have clearly misrepresented them in order
to make them appear contradictory.
Joseph Smith’s accounts of his first vision have less variants than the different accounts of the apostle Paul's first vision, the primary sources of which are chapters 9, 22, and 26 of Acts. According to Acts 9:1-2, Paul (then called Saul) received letters from “the high priest,” while in Acts 26:12 it says he had a commission from “the chief priests,” and Acts 22:5 it is “the elders” who gave him the letters. In two of the three accounts (Acts 9:3; 22:6), we learn that Paul was near Damascus when he experienced the vision; in two (but not the same two - Acts 26:13; 22:6), it happened at or about noon. In each case, one of the accounts omits the information. While Acts 9:3; 22:6 says the light from heaven surrounded Paul, in Acts 26:13, he said it also surrounded the men who accompanied him. Similarly, in Acts 26:14, all of them fell to the earth, while the other two accounts (Acts 9:4; 22:7), only Paul falls to the earth. In two of the accounts (Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8), Paul interrupts Christ at a different point than Acts 26:14-15 to ask who he is. In two accounts (Acts 9:5; 26:15), Christ responds, “I am Jesus,” while in the third (Acts 22:8), he says, “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” In only two of the accounts (Acts 9:6; 22:10) does Paul again interrupt to ask what he should do; in both of these accounts, Christ tells him to go into either “the city” or “into Damascus” to learn what he should do. In the third version, Christ not only does not tell him this, but he gives him instructions not found in the other two accounts (Acts 26:16-18). This third account leaves off after verse 20, so there are no further comparisons to be made with it. But of the other two, it is interesting that the information given in Acts 9:8-18 about the Lord’s instructions to Ananias and about Paul’s recovery from his blindness differs greatly from the much shorter account in Acts 22:12-16, including the words addressed by Ananias to Paul. Acts 9:19-25 also gives information about Paul's sojourn at Damascus that are not included in the other two accounts.
For the most
part, the differences between the stories are not serious enough to cast
doubt on the event, despite the fact that they are more marked than the
differences in Joseph Smith’s accounts of his vision.
To me, the departure of these men, when disaffected with Joseph Smith
(over issues other than the Book of Mormon, to which they continued to
testify!), reinforces their testimony of having seen the angel and the
plates. More important than
anything they ever said about the event is what they did about it.
Both Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery returned to the Church.
These are hardly the acts of men who could have just remained
outside and kept their mouths shut or confessed to having participated in
a great fraud.
gates—even the gates of hell—do not attack and destroy churches (or
anything else), it is clear that Jesus could not have meant that hell
would not destroy the church. Indeed,
gates are either intended to keep people in (prisoners) or keep people
out. But since Jesus gave
Peter keys in verse 19, it seems clear that he intended that the church
should open the gates of hell and release its prisoners.
This is what he meant about the gates of hell not prevailing over
would be an apostasy is clearly stated by Paul, when he wrote that Christ
would not return to the earth “except there come a falling away first”
(2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). This
parallels what Peter said in Acts 3:20-21 about Christ's
remaining in heaven “until the times of restitution of all things.”
The Greek word rendered “falling away” in Paul's
epistle is, in fact, apostasia, from which we get “apostasy.
There is much
more that could be said about the misrepresentations in this book, but a
busy schedule does not permit me to detail all of them.
I hope that this small sampling will demonstrate the problem with
both this book and many other anti-Mormon books.
1. Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John 2.2-3, in Allan Menzies, Ante-Nicene Fathers (1897; reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 9:323-24. Augustine, The City of God 11.1, in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1st series (1887, reprint: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 2:205.
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.6:1, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, Ante-Nicene Fathers (1885; reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 1:419. Augustine, Exposition on the Psalms 136:2-3, in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1st series (1888, reprint: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 8:628. Augustine, City of God 9.23, in Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1st series (1887, reprint: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 2:178. John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.15