Using the Bible to Test Joseph Smith's Revelations

(July 28 2021)

Intro

Occasionally, I meet people who are part of the Church of Latter Day Saints, often called Mormons. I'll say LDS here. They are people who seek God, believe the Bible is the Word of God, and want to follow its teachings to be righteous. Many seem like good folks. On top of the Bible, they believe in extra revelations from Joseph Smith, various writings, and the teachings of LDS Chuch. Their beliefs are very different from those of even the earliest Christians. Their church claims to be the true church having finally gotten things sorted out. The Word of God says to carefully test any new claims to see what's from God. Although initially disagreeing, I was happy to test them.

Detour: Straight to Jesus

It's much easier to just read the Gospel. The Gospel is God's core message to us that He made simple enough for everyone to understand. It tells us who He is, what our problem is, how Jesus solves it, and how to restore our relationship with God. The link is an easy-to-read, 3-min version. The Gospel broke into 196 countries, was translated to over 2,000 languages, and helped define Western civilization. Individuals believing in it experienced life transformations from inside out, inner peace, and sometimes miracles. Pray God speaks to your heart about its truth before you read it. Then, this essay might not even be necessary.

Back to Testing Joseph Smith

We both believe the Bible is the Word of God. We'll use it as our foundation. On a few topics, we're going to look at what the Bible teaches vs Church of Latter Day Saints ("L.D.S." from here) teaches. When comparing, remember that God's unchanging character means that no new revelations contradict previous ones. If the topic is open-ended, then the new revelations would only add detail in a way that's consistent with prior revelations. If not open-ended, then the Bible is either already clear on the topic or the Bible itself is finished. Then, no new revelations would even be allowed into the Bible itself. They'd all be false teachings by default.

My method is simple. To save time, we'll narrow the discussion down to just what is essential and appears to disagree. I'm calling original claims Christianity. Then, I'll do the new claims (LDS beliefs). On doctrine, I'm going to exclusively use the Bible with no new claims or revelations so that readers see it already covers these topics. Both English Standard and King James are literal, accuracy-focused translations. ESV is more readable today but I heard LDS prefer KJV. I'll default on KJV. I'll do KJV and ESV where I feel Modern English helps. I might include external links as supplements where they help. Let's do it! :)

Heads up: Like Wikipedia, I put all my references into paragraphs as links. If they look overwhelming, remember that you don't have to read them all. You can just check the ones you're most skeptical about or interested in.

Comparisons between Christianity and L.D.S.' Claims

About the Bible:

Christianity says the Bible is God-breathed, a living thing (ESV) that pierces our hearts, sent for a specific purpose, and that's to tell us about Jesus. That includes Old Testament that He fulfilled. Unlike all other works, the Old Testament has prophetic material predicting Jesus' life and character. Unlike fake gospels, the generally-accepted works of the New Testament constantly reference the Old Testament. We see a combination of God establishing His character and plan via His Word, making future predictions in His Word, leveraging His Word in fulfilling them, and total consistency across His Word (esp God's plan and character). Like many artists, these patterns are how the Spirit of God signs His work so we know it comes from Him.

Far as prophets, the Bible says real ones are inspired by God's Sprit. There's many warnings about false prophets, though. Here's a pile of verses that includes those. We're told to test/prove all teachings. A quick hint is any that come from God focus people on Him (i.e. Jesus Christ). His main apostle, Paul, said avoid teachings built on wordly principles or deceitful spirits (i.e. demons). He said Satan even disguises himself an angel of light. Many demons will pretend to be godly with distorted gospels. Others will focus you on just being "good." Neither will save you because Jesus said only following the true Gospel will save us.

Like in Acts, new claims are compared to existing Scriptures to ensure they match. That's because God's character and truth are unchanging. He isn't good one day, wakes up to a bad morning, and throws us in hell after writing a new Bible. His consistent character is exactly why we can rest in His promises. It's also why His Word says toss what contradicts it even if it comes from an angel or the source performs signs and wonders. Finally, John writes Revelation as if it's the end of the Bible. He left a huge warning that nothing in it can be changed or have new additions.

L.D.S. believe what the eighth LDS Article of Faith states: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." That means they have to accept its claims above. Per their web site, The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the teachings of Mormon Prophets are on the same level of authority as the Bible. Joseph Smith said they received it on golden plates from an angel around 1830, almost two thousand years after Bible was written. It introduces new doctrines that Christians say contradict previous ones.

Test and discern: Do these verses already answer your question about the claimed appearance of an angel adding new, contradictory claims to His Word? And after and about same topics as the Book of Revelation? If not, we're still going to test new claims against what's already in the Word of God.

About God:

To start with, the Bible says there is one God. He's a Spirit. When comparing to Jesus' body, Scripture adds that spirits have no body and that God is invisible (again). He says He is one Lord/God here, here, and here. He adds being our Father here. There is no one else (no other God) and "none beside me". He clarifies in Isaiah here there was no God before Him, none like Him, and no God will come after Him. God Himself is also the Savior. He's the singular, most-perfect Being in existence who created us to glorify His name Himself saves us for His name's sake. After warning everybody, He also disciplines Israel and punishes foreign nations (example) for worshiping other gods or multiple gods.

L.D.S. doctrine claims there's three, separate beings (or three gods). They all have physical bodies, not just Jesus. Sections like Gensis talk like God takes human form either literally or metaphorically. Readers might debate that point. However, Scripture is very clear, from Moses to the Prophets, that there's only one God. The LDS beliefs about multiple gods contradicts that. We've seen the one God might consider that a grave offense.

About Man:

Scripture teaches that God created the first man in mortal form on Earth. He breathed life into him. We are initially created in the womb (ESV) for an eternal relationship with God. The first humans turned against God, He issued a death sentence on humanity as a result,  and made the earth harder to live in. Scripture teaches we have wicked hearts that, combined with temptation (ESV), lead to the evils of men. "Not one does good," God says. Our sin puts us in bad standing, or separation, from a holy, pure God. It also leads to His eternal wrath.

Although agreeing on sinful nature, L.D.S. doctrine says we're created as spirits in another realm before taking on a body. We are to come to Earth to be tested, only one (Jesus) would make it, and through Him we return to God. That contradicts Genesis and other verses where our existence starts in bodily form. The only spiritual beings mentioned in Old and New Testament are the one God and angels. They are correct that Jesus existed before the world and it was created through Him. We'll understand that better later.

About Our Good Works:

Most false religions say we can save ourselves by being extra good (aka good works). Scripture says our good works can't save us because they're tained by our sin. God likens it to us offering Him filthy rags. Also, remember that all nations are a drop in the bucket (aka worthless or "vanity"). With a thought, God could instantly create a million times more good works. He's offended when we act like anything we've done makes Him owe us something. Everything we are and have is a gift from Him to us to begin with. He might give more to those He's very pleased with. He might not. Our sovereign God does as He pleases.

The lesson of Scripture is clear that He doesn't need us: we need Him! We need His forgiveness and love. Since all sin is paid in blood, atoning for it would cost blood of a man innocent and perfect enough to make that sacrifice. Prior verses showed us every man to ever live disqualified themselves by choosing to sin. God Himself will have to save us somehow. He promised He'd send someone, Christ, to atone for us.

L.D.S. doctrine agrees that we're doomed by both the sin of Adam and our own. They agree God will save us through a mediator, Christ. This starts with grace. All Christian denominations believe that. Then, our works keep up the relationship on our end. Some Christian denominations believe that. We'll say L.D.S. and Christians mostly agree on this point at least from that link.

About Jesus:

Scripture describes Jesus as fully human. He was supernaturally born of a virgin to fulfill a prophecy by Isaiah. He was a carpenter. Like us, He got worn out, prayed in tears to God, experienced tempation, and was grieved by others' rejection of Him. This link describes how they tortured and murdered Him. That blood and water-looking fluid came out His side confirms He was both very human and very dead.

Scripture also says Jesus is the God. John says "In beginning was Word, He was God, and all things made through Him." Jesus said He's God here ("I AM" is God's name), here by saying they've seen the Father, that the Son only does what the Father does, and here by forgiving sins (only God can). From a Jewish perspective, the Jews say they're trying to kill Him specifically because He's claiming to be the one God. Jesus also confirmed Thomas saying He was the one God ('my God' - singular). They worshipped Him here as Son of God and here. That's important since God says here and here that only He gets worship.

Jesus' Apostles, or founders of the church, added extra points. Paul says all things were created by and for Jesus. Also, he says the Godhead dwells in Him fully. That's the entirety of God. He's also the one mediator between man and God.

L.D.S. doctrine says Jesus is not equal to the Father, He was one of God's spirit children, that he was preeminent among them, and offered to become our Savior in the testing ground. We've already countered spirit children as non-Biblical. Even so, the rest isn't in the Old or New Testament. Remember prior verses say there's one God. John 1 says Jesus was God Himself in Spirit form before the world existed. He, our one God, eventually takes flesh to atone for us since no natural-born human was capable of pulling off a perfect life.

One set of verses show He's fully man. Then, Jesus says He's God and acts like Him in other verses. This is why Christians say Jesus must be both fully man and fully God. He limits His divine nature to be more like us. It's probably because God required a man to be the living sacrifice. I believe He also did it to show the rest of us humans how it's done (i.e. ideal servant).

About the Holy Spirit

The third reference to God is the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, Scripture makes the Spirit seem like an acting force of God. He moves across the waters in Genesis, comes down on people, and gives them gifts. The gifts include guidance, dreams/visions, knowledge, and the words to say. Other times, He does things only people can do. He teaches, speaks audibly here in Revelation, and can feel grieved by how we treat God. Another trait, which can go either way, is that He dwells in us to help us. Well, is he a force or a person?

There might be a simple way to know. An impersonal force can't do personal things. Your coffee cup can't speak to you or feel bad about how you talk to it. However, a person can perform impersonal actions on the world. A person can give you a cup of coffee, drink out of one, and so on. The Holy Spirit does both types of actions. Therefore, I believe He logically must be a person. He's a quiet, gentle, and supportive person whose always there with you. Since He's a team player, we get more done if we keep in mind that He's with us in everything we do. If that still seems strange, I might have an analogy to help you.

In the military, the Navy SEAL's are known for being effective teams. It starts in their testing process (BUDS) when each person is physically tied to another person, their "swim buddy." They do everything together. Since that's unnatural, they learn to get in sync in how they think and act. They become an extension of each other. The Holy Spirit in us is like God becoming our swim buddy. He's tied to us, ignoring Him hurts our efforts, and thinking/acting like He does makes everything smoother. If you know SEALs' reputation, how much more awesome is it that the God of the universe has tied Himself so closely to us to work His Plan in and through us?!

L.D.S. say similar things in that link. What looks like differences might be a misunderstanding on my part. So, we'll just skip this topic to focus on those where the differences are more clear.

About the Trinity

Let's get to the tough one some have wondered about. I've only given you Old and New Testament Scripture. I haven't appealed to anything else. It's shown us repeatedly that there's one God who alone saves us, forgives sins, and receives worship. Jesus calls Him the Father. We see Jesus, although a man, also does what only God the Father does. He even says He is the Father (somehow). Again. Yet, Jesus talks and acts like a totally separate person that follows the orders of God the Father. He's separately seated at God's right hand in Heaven (if that's even literal in meaning). Then, the Holy Spirit seems to be a separate person from each. Yet, He doesn't come to us until Christ leaves and is called "the Spirit of Christ" in Romans. In some ways, they're described separately like different people with different minds. Other times, they're described as if they're the same, one God.

In a nutshell, Scripture claims they're both one and three somehow. The how is a mystery Scripture doesn't fully spell out. Eventually, people called this mystery the Holy Trinity. That just puts a name on what details Scripture already has. Let me tell you how I work this out. Jesus is the "way, the truth, and the life." Jesus proved it by fulfilling prophecies, working miracles, and using the Holy Spirit to pull us toward Him. We've seen He's also God in the flesh. He says in many ways God is a Trinity. Who are we to argue with our Lord Jesus Christ about who God is? Do we have faith in Jesus but not what He says about God? Since I have faith in Jesus, I believe God is one and three. He's triune.

It shouldn't really surprise us that some aspects of a living God might be incomprehinsible to mere mortals like us. If trying to understand, I think of it like one being that manifests itself as multiple persons. Kind of like multiple personalities but if it wasn't something broken (a disorder). I speculate, but can't prove, God might also reveal Himself this way to set an example for us. You see God the Father directing everything, Jesus as a perfect servant obeying Him, and the Holy Spirit facilitating that obedience. It might just be a beautiful picture of how we walk with God. As if God's own nature illustrates the relationship He created us to have with Him.

Again, just my feelings after a year or so dedicated to Him. I can't prove that last part. Your guess is as good as mine so long as it's consistent with Scripture. If this hurts your head, I have more good news: you don't need to understand the Trinity to be saved. We'll get to how God saves us in a moment. It's much simpler. The Trinity doctrine is just us trying to understand God better. It's more an act of devotion and worship than a necessity. All you need to know is there's one God, He is Father/Son/HolySpirit, and pray to the Father in Jesus' name. If you say Jesus, He'll still respond because He listens to anyone truly seeking Him who is trying to follow His Word. During stressful situations, sometimes all you'll be able to think is, "Jesus..." and He'll hear you. :)

L.D.S. say they are three, distinct beings with a shared purpose. That there's three gods or god-like entities. They're in no way one. That contradicts verses that say there's one God, the three are the one God somehow, and the Father and Jesus are the same somehow. So, we should reject the "multiple beings" interpretation in favor of Trinity. Again, don't sweat the confusion since God doesn't require everyone to have a Ph.D. in theology. God requires faith in and obedience to foundational beliefs that are much simpler.

About How We're Saved

Instead of reciting some pamphlet, we're going to summarize salvation across the New Testament. Let's look at what Jesus said, people He saved directly, and people the church saved. When preaching, Jesus said we had to repent and believe the Gospel. We believe in Jesus, turn away from our sins (repent), follow Him at any cost, sometimes says be baptized, and try to obey His commandments.  Let's look at examples of people Jesus said or implied were saved. After demonstrating His power, the demoniac was sent out and the Samaritan woman went out like evangelists telling others who He is. The paralytic was forgiven after they showed lots of dedication to basically just ask Jesus for help (a gift). Another woman showed heart-felt repentance with Jesus saying her faith saved her. The thief on the cross just publicly proclaimed his faith to be saved. Notice there's no baptism or lifetime of good works in those. They just have a strong faith in who Jesus is, that only He can forgive/save them, repent, and act on their faith (obedience) within their circumstances.

Before Jesus leaves, He commissions His church. His message is repent and be baptized. The church preaches this with many believing and being baptized. That might make you wonder if baptism is part of salvation or a public confession symbolic for our faith. The people before the church were saved without baptism. In Romans, the Gospel's theology is laid out (ESV) in a thorough way describing salvation as God's gift that our works don't earn. Ephesians confirms that. We accept the free gift from Jesus. Then, we're commanded to publicly confess who we serve in a way that visually symbolizes (ESV) what His death and resurrection did for us. Water baptism is a beautiful picture of how He washes our sins away. That His good works and sacrifice made us clean and righteous before God.

One more thing: proof you're saved (aka a real Christian). I'm adding this since people are often told they won't make it unless they do rituals, church activities, speak in tongues, or whatever. The Word of God presents a testable claim that He adopted us as His sons and daughters. When we get the Holy Spirit, it will quickly or gradually start changing us to be more like Christ. That's our inner selves, including thoughts. We can't do it on our own because our flesh/minds are antagonistic toward God. These changes are supernatural events that come from the Spirit. Jesus said His people will bear His fruit, Paul describes that fruit here, mentioned it here in proving His presence, and consistently talks about Spirit's effects on us in his letters. In false gospels, people are pushed by their church and what they think it will earn them to do good works. They appeal to our ego, like what we can earn for ourselves. The genuine, obedient faith will focus on God just because He's worthy of it with fruits overflowing out of that. The church assists that by keeping people focused on Christ, in His Word, and loving others.

We see all these things in all groups believing in faith and obedience to the real Gospel. That's because salvation comes through faith in and surrender to Jesus Christ as God, Lord, and Savior. He saves us through His perfect life, sacrifice, resurrection, and God-given authority. Our works are just us serving Him in gratitude. He'll reward us for them, too, but He's already paid our sin debt.

L.D.S. describe salvation here. The process looks similar to Bible's claims. The first difference is that Romans (ESV) and Ephesians teach us salvation was entirely a gift our works didn't earn. Another is that our renewal happens continually ("daily") in Scripture, not "each Sabbath" upon a sacrament. Their "Eternal Life" section adds an eternal covenant of marriage that's not in Scripture. Scripture does picture the church as a bride, though, as a metaphor. After mentioning spirit realm and bodies, they mention spirit offspring in this one. Jesus said people won't marry in heaven. So, they won't have offspring. L.D.S. teach here in "spirit prison" that people can get the Gospel and be saved after death. Scripture says we have one life whose consequences we are stuck with. Although the Bible's books harmonize, these contradicting changes all come from the new books Joseph Smith introduced. He fails the test of prophet again because his new claims contradict previous revelations.

What Happens to Us

Scripture describes our fate well. We eventually die or Jesus returns before our death. Eventually, Jesus will raise all the dead to judge everyone for how they lived. Those who remained faithful to Him are already cleared by His blood of their sins. He rewards them for acts of obedience and love. Those who denied His name are punished for their sins. God will destroy most of the old creation, we won't even remember it, He'll give us new bodies, and create a new heaven and earth. We'll live there with He and His angels forever. I'll leave it at that since it's all we need for a comparison to L.D.S. beliefs.

L.D.S. say here in "...ideas about deification" section that we basically become gods. That contradicts Scripture that says there is one God, will only be one God, we're created as flesh, still have bodies, and are treated more like adopted children of a royal family.

Comparison Summary

We've just used the Old Testament to check New Testament and LDS beliefs. We found the New Testament never contradicted the Old Testament, it confirmed the Old Testament prophecies (esp about Jesus), showed Jesus acting as God Himself, and commissioning the Apostles to perform miracles similar to His to establish their authority. We find the LDS claims contradict the Old Testmament, contradict the New Testament, have no prophecies in either predicting the new claims, seem to be prophecied against with how Revelation closes the Bible, and lacked the credible miracles of the New Testament. That's already collectively a reason to label Joseph Smith a false prophet with full rejection of LDS claims and written material.

On top of that, other people report a lot of problems. We already reject him and his new books on Scriptural grounds before any of this is even considered. These are supplemental. There was Smith's scrying (a Biblical no-no), a story of revelation that's unlike anything in the Bible (remember God's consistency), and archaeology that didn't match real life (unlike the Bible). I'm just using the Wikipedia article since it has references you can track down to confirm or refute these.

After praying for gift of discernment, here's what I'm feeling about all of the extra stuff. Moses, David, Solomon, the Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles got mostly straight-forward revelations that were consistent with God's character and Word without any moments making you think they're playing games. The Bible even documents many human flaws of its characters. If anything, their failings make the authors look more honest. Joseph Smith's story and work are nothing like that. It's probably because he lied for selfish gain, esp fame and money.

Choose the Real Gospel

You've already read much of the Gospel here. I put up both a Bible Summary (7+ min main; rest depending on verses) and Gospel Summary (3-4 min) for anyone that wants it. What you need to know is we're unworthy sinners who chose to rebel against a Holy God. We'll face eternal consequences for that. In His love for us, He sent Jesus to live a perfect life, die horribly for our sins, be raised to the highest place of authority, and impart His righteousness He earned to His followers as a gift we can't earn. Jesus Christ promised to save anyone who surrenders their life to Him. You start by talking, or praying, to Him. Here's what you believe, tell Him, and do:

1. You believe in God, that Jesus was God in the flesh, that He died for your sins, God raised Him from the dead, and will raise all who follow Him, too.

2. Confess you're an unworthy sinner who deserves justice for your sins. That this salvation is a gift you don't deserve.

3. Tell God you'll try to repent of your sins. That you'll turn your life around to follow Him instead.

4. Tell God you accept Jesus Christ as Lord of your life. You surrender everything to Him. You will now live for and in obedience to God's Word.

5. Tell God you know He saves all who have faith in and try to follow Him. Tell Him you know by faith He heard you and is entering your life now. Thank Him for saving you. Ask Him to help you with the next steps.

If you really meant it, you're now a Christian. You can know this because God Himself calls us to Him, Jesus' sheep hear His voice, our faith is itself a gift He helps with, and those that truly believe receive the Holy Spirit. To help you and boost your confidence, God gives us His Spirit to reside in us, begin transforming us from within to be more like Christ Himself, and work inside and outside of our lives to help us accomplish God's plan for us. Although not exactly knowledge or a feeling, His Spirit will tell you deep inside that He's with you thick and thin. Like I said, though, you know because the Word of God said He helped you get here in the first place. :)

Now, you must follow Jesus. You will need to spend time with God daily, studying His Word and praying, to grow as a believer. Get a study Bible with notes that help you understand His Word better. Join a local church with strong focus on His Word and holy living. They'll help you and give you opportunities to serve Him and others. The more you follow Him, the more persecution you'll endure in a world that hates God and righteousness. His Spirit will help you endure it to the end with a peace and joy that comes from the hope He gives us. When you're tested, just put our Lord Jesus Christ first since He is worth it no matter what it cost. He also promises to reward us forever for every sacrifice or Christ-like deed we do in this life if our hearts stay focused on loving Him and others.

(Read the Gospel, learn to share it, read other essays, or back to home.)