Why Mormonism is not Christianity– the Issue of Christology

While there are many reasons why Evangelical Christians of all stripes might disagree with Mormon theology, perhaps the most important of these is Christology and the related matter of soteriology.

I would encourage you to read carefully through the statement at the link below by a practicing Mormon scholar, presented at Harvard Divinity School a few years ago. Here is the link—http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ (in order to actually find this page you will need to do a Google Search of ‘What Mormons believe’ and then scroll down to the entry from 2001 when Millet spoke at Harvard. It has been taken down from the Mormon website).

Please note that these views, as expressed by Mr. Millet are not unusual or eccentric, rather they are typical. While it is true that in some respects, Mormons have more disagreements with Catholics and Orthodox Christians than they do with Evangelicals they certainly have major differences with Evangelicals as well. They could not, for example, in good conscious sign a faith statement that the Evangelical Theological Society might present to them for membership in that society. What are these major differences? Here it will be worth listing just a few in this post:

1) Mormons are polytheists, not monotheists. That is, they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings, thus denying the essential monotheistic statements of both the OT and NT that God is One.

2) Mormons, thus, not surprisingly, deny the doctrine of the Trinity, calling it an amalgam of Greek ideas with Biblical ideas. Their basic view is that the original doctrine of God and of the ‘priesthood’ and key ideas about sacrifice, and leadership of the NT era were lost, as the church became entirely apostate and needed to be renewed, and that the NT church was not renewed until Joseph Smith came along in the 19th century (who btw, had an interest in Methodism whilst he was in Palmyra N.Y. and apparently took part in some of the revivals in the ‘Burnt Over District’ there in the first part of the 19th century). Mormons see the ecumenical councils which produced the Nicean creed or the Apostle’s Creed or the Chalcedonian creed as in essence contradictory to what Scripture teaches.

3) Mormons believe that even God the Father has, and apparently, needs a body, denying that God in the divine nature is spirit. Indeed they believe that God the Father is an exalted man!

4) Just as they believe that the early church became apostate, they also believe the Bible as we have it is not inerrant or always truthful and trustworthy, even on major issues like Christology, and therefore needs to be supplemented (and corrected) by subsequent prophetic revelation in documents like the Book of Mormon, or even The Pearl of Great Price.

5) in terms of soteriology, Mormons deny the sufficiency of Christ’s death for salvation. They suggest, as the linked article says, that each of us must do all we can and then trust in the mercy of God. In other words, the de facto position is that Mormonism is to a significant degree a works religion even when it comes to salvation.

6) The goal of Mormon soteriology is that we all become as ‘gods’ become both immortal and divine, blurring the creator/creature distinction which was already badly blurred by a theology that suggested that God is actually a sort of uber-human being, with less flaws. One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.

I bring this issue up now, because of the general ignorance of the American public about whether or not Mormons are actually Christians or not. If they really embrace the official positions of their religious group, they are not Christians, though they often present themselves as such, for example, calling their meeting places churches sometimes (but notice— no crosses to be found on top, or worn either).

What of course makes this whole deal slippery is that Mormon doctrine is a constantly evolving thing due to a belief in the living voice of prophecy. For example, the head of the Mormon Church in my lifetime corrected what had previously been taught by Mormonism’s original leaders (e.g. Brigham Young) that black people were the descendents of the least favored race of the big three (Shem, Ham, and Japeth), and as such could not become priests in the Mormon church. Not so, any more.

It is of course true that there are Christians who are a part of the Mormon religion. I would call them confused Christians who know neither church history very well (including the history of the origins of Mormonism in America and the actual origin of the Book of Mormon), nor do they know what the NT actually teaches when it comes to things like Christology and salvation and the nature of the Scriptures.

It is typical of groups like the Mormons (any of the branches) or the Jehovah’s Witness that they are actually split offs from some orthodox Christian group, in both cases from Protestantism. Not surprisingly then, they have more in common with Protestants in some respects than they do with Catholics or the Orthodox, except in regard to the matter of an all male priesthood and therefore the nature of worship.

Mormonism certainly is a highly patriarchal religion, modeled more in its praxis on Leviticus than say on what is said in the NT letters about male and female apostles, prophets, teachers, and this also extends to the Mormon view of the physical family which is far from egalitarian in character.

I am not suggesting for a moment that there aren’t many Mormons that would pass the test of being decent and honest and loving human beings. There are. I know some of them. Nor can one fault their zeal for their form of religion, indeed their missionaries often put actual Christian missionaries to shame. Nor would I suggest that these folks are deliberate deceivers of other people. The ones I know are not. They are sincere and committed to Mormonism, and truly believe it is the true religion.

What I would say is that they are deceived about what the Bible really teaches about the nature of God, of Christ, of salvation, and of true humanity, not to mention the nature of the Scriptures which are indeed the sufficient rule of faith and practice for all true Christians and do not require supplements or corrections from Joseph Smith’s works.

Why have I posted this now? Because of the many times I am asked these days, the question– Can Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? I have done a previous post, some time ago for Beliefnet about Mitt Romney in regard to his previous campaigns for high office. I will not repeat that here. I think deciding on who to vote for as President should involve a consideration of many different factors, many different pros and cons of the two candidates.

I think each person must make up their own mind who they will vote for, but the point of this post is that such important decisions should not be made on the basis of false assumptions, and particularly not on the basis of false assumptions about a person’s actual religion.


1) ‘You’re just prejudiced, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s just your opinion’.

Wrong. These are the facts. I have taught classes on both world and American religions, and what I have said is based either on what Mormons themselves have said about their beliefs, and/or what their source documents say about the same.

2) ‘This is unkind and untimely. Everyone should have the right to their own religious beliefs and should not be criticized for them. If a person wants to call himself a Christian, then he or she must be a Christian.’

Yes…and no. Yes, a person has an American right to freedom of religion. No, a private individual does not get to decide for themselves what is and isn’t true or is or isn’t orthodox Christianity, and that includes me. Christian beliefs need to match up with what the Bible in fact claims, and what the historic creeds and confessions of the church have understood the Bible to say and mean. Furthermore, even if we were talking about genuine Christian groups, no single group has the authority to add additional books to the sacred canon of Scriptures, whether it be the Book of Mormon or something else. The Bible is both the necessary and sufficient revelation of God and God’s character and God’s will. All three great monotheistic religions recognize the Bible or some part of it as God’s Word. None of them recognize the Book of Mormon as the necessary appendix to the Bible.

3) ‘Aren’t we disputing about words and minor issues here.’

No we are not. The attempt to trivialize important theological issues, and make them a mere dispute about words is frankly an insult to the earliest Christians, many of whom died for their monotheistic and Trinitarian beliefs. Yes indeed, it does matter what the content is of your religious belief.

4) ‘But look at all the energy and zeal and earnestness and deep commitment of Mormons. Isn’t that to be commended?’

Yes and no. Zeal that is not according to knowledge does not honor the real God, and is misguided. Sincerity is not the same thing as true faith. A person can be sincerely wrong, indeed badly wrong however convinced they are of what they believe. So, yes some of these traits are commendable, if they are properly directed and guided and serving the God of the Bible and the good of humankind.’

I could go on, but this is more than enough for you to chew on. Think on these things.

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’–The Interview Part Six
Finding Jesus– Review of Part One
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 5
Finding Jesus— Reboot
  • Coach Bob Del Castillo

    have you read…the Book of Mormon? I am a practicing Roman Catholic…and have read the Book of Mormon many times over…again have you??? and that allows me to make a real judgment on the veracity of modern day revelation…and not what other Mormons have to say….we are made in the image and likeness of God…we are all called to priesthood…the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…glory in heaven…among many other things that the spiritual richness Mormonism brings to the table…including the outstanding goodness of the majority of Mormons I personally KNOW…THEY ARE CHRISTIANS!!!

  • Graham

    I have often thought that I would collect together a list of the various scriptures that those who believe for and against the trinity use and present both interpretations on each verse.

    For example, Jesus prays (the famous Lord’s prayer):
    Those who believe in three separate say – who was Jesus praying to.
    Those who believe in trinity say – he was just showing people how to pray.

    Another example, Jesus is baptized and a voice says “this is my son”:
    Those who believe in three separate say – was Jesus speaking to himself.
    Those who believe in trinity say – in short, yes he was.

    I could go on, but I think the scriptures can be argued anyway you want.

  • Tony Startup

    Hey Ben….you’re correct, the teachings of the LDS church are different than current Christianity. Some of your points are half truths and I think you know that.

    Your point #1 that Mormons “deny” the OT and NT teachings that God is “one.” Totally false, on the title page of the Book of Mormon, it contains the testimony of the 3 witness’s; their one paragraph testimony concludes with this final sentence….” And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, WHICH IS ONE GOD. Amen.

    Also, the first main prophet character of the Book of Mormon taught, “ And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, WHICH IS ONE GOD, without end. Amen. “2 Nephi 31:21. There are many other examples throughout Mormon scripture.

    You know the half truth which I speak; Mormons believe the Godhead is one in purpose. Your disagreement with the Mormon Church is their interpretation of the Bible. Let me ask you, when Jesus prayed in the garden and asked His Father…..” O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt]. Matthew 26:39. Did Jesus and the father have different “wills?” Was Jesus negotiating with Himself?

    Your point #5, “Mormons deny the sufficiency of Christ’s death for salvation.” Again totally false, at best you convey a half truth. Mormons believe Christ’s sacrifice is SO sufficient, that every man, woman and child will be resurrected and live in immortality as a free gift because of His sacrifice. This principle is taught by every young missionary throughout the world! Mormons teach each man is accountable for his own sins if he knows right from wrong. Hence the many teachings throughout the Bible about keeping the commandments and doing good for your fellow man. Doing good or doing bad are called “works” . Everyone will be judged……” 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS.
    13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS. “. Revelation 20: 12-13.

    Your point #6…” One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.” Do you believe in and teach the New Testament? Of course you do, so what is wrong with this phrase. The whole story of the NT is a story about God being born a baby, growing up with brothers and sisters, having friends, working as a carpenter, priest, and prophet! This great Man eventually died and yes dare I say…..resurrected Himself and then spent another 40 days among His followers. When he ascended to heaven in Acts, two angels declared to those watching…..” Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, SHALL SO COME IN LIKE MANNER as ye have seen him go into heaven. Acts 1:11. The last known personal account of God is in the form of a physical body and in like manner he will come again.

    Ben, the God you worship was once a man who lived and died. He is now a glorified resurrected God. The New Testament so testifies.

  • http://classicmomscorner.blogspot.com/2011/11/jesus-is-not-trinitarian.html SixMom


    Not overly accurate or scholarly.

    #1 The Bible must not be Christian either, since it is repeatedly “polytheistic”. The link to my website (probably linked through my screen name) lists a myriad verses as examples. Neither Christ nor Paul are trinitarian, and the trinity concept didn’t arrive on the scene until the fourth century. Since it is extra-bliblical…making trinity a qualifier for “Christian” is both arbitrary and unconvincing. The word “christian” has an entirely different meaning. http://classicmomscorner.blogspot.com/2012/08/gold-medal-christianity-part-2.html

    #2 The word polytheistic is mis-used here. Polytheism refers to a collection of competing gods/goddesses – not the Godhead concept of three united in one purpose as the Mormons believe. The loosely applied label is an attempt at condescension and a failed one at that.

    #3 Since the scriptures teach Christ is an Exalted man over and over…it sounds like Bible-reading is not something the author does. http://classicmomscorner.blogspot.com/2012/04/jesus-exalted-man.html

    We may not be “Christian” according to you, but I’d rather be denied the name and act christian than clobber others over doctrinal differences in the name of “Christianity.”

  • Stu

    Ben, how accurate do we have to be?

  • Joel

    Thanks for a very fair and honest representation of what Mormons believe. Having spent my first 17 years in this group, I think you were kind. Mormons are not mainstream or fringe Christianity, they are outside the camp. They do a great job of utilizing “christianese”, but they rarely define terms like “salvation” the way we do. Thanks.

  • Dan


    I think you fail to understand that before Jesus was a man, he was the Creator (Colossians 1). While Jesus came to earth as a humble infant, that wasn’t his primary nature. He emptied himself in order to take on that state (Philippians 3). When he was a man on earth, he was much more a ‘humbled God’ than an ‘exalted man.’

    I also think it’s insulting to suggest that Dr. Witherington doesn’t read the bible. He’s recognized as one of the top New Testament scholars in the world. Disagree as you will, but accusations like that are ridiculous.

  • jb3883

    I wish people like the author would actually read the Bible instead of just listening to what other people say it says. A recent survey found that Mormons know the Bible better than Evangelicals. I think part of that is because we actually read it. I studied the Old Testament every morning before high school for a year and then the New Testament every morning the next year. I have read the entire Bible. Much of what Evangelicals say is in the Bible is simply not. They would know that if they read it.

  • http://capro.info Paul

    Good article, Ben. I’ve shared it on my Facebook page. Your last four rebuttal answers to typical Mormon responses is especially good.

    One question to Coach Bob. If Mormons are Christians, are they Christians because of what Mormonism teaches or in spite of it?

    Because, if Mormonism subscribes to polytheism, a denial of the biblical Trinity, an infinite regression of finite gods (which ends at no god at all), the Bible is erroneous or “missing many plain an precious truths,” a works-based salvation (which is really divided into General and Individual salvations), and that man may become a god (ala Genesis 3), then that isn’t what the Bible teaches, must less what Christians have lived and died for, for the past two thousand years.

    Hence, you might want to reconsider your adamant response to Ben, in light the obvious contrast. One cannot be a Christian and believe non-Christian things, unless, of course, they are thoroughly “confused,” as Ben points out.

  • Brian

    The logic in this article is as accurate as saying that if you don’t like bananas, then you deny the existence of fruit.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06428011965171090537 CurtisKnows0

    This is an exceptionally bad article. It is full of strawmen and confused thinking. I am a Lutheran, yet I didn’t find much theologically offensive in the article. I’m not sure of the author’s motivation, but if they want to portray Mormonism as non-Christian, they are better served by sticking to the facts and not painting Millet’s words inaccurately. We are called as Christians to tell the truth, not invent it for our own ends.

  • Chris

    Thanks for this Ben. I eagerly await your comments about Obama’s denomination and his most recent use of his faith where he determined that his Christianity leads him to believe that Gay marriage should be legal. Hear me people, this is not about gay marriage as a social issue but about Obama citing his Christianity as the driver for his belief that it should be legal.

    1. What in Christianity would lead one to this conclusion and is this not at least similar to what you post above with regard to Mormonism’s confusion with Christianity?

    2. How can Obama ever again be concerned about church/state issues after having made such a statement? Gay marriage has much better footing in secular courts than in Christianity.

  • Seth

    Mormons are not Polytheists. They are Henotheists. that is a belief in multiple gods, but the worship of only one God. Mormons see the term God sort of like a title, just like father or son is a title. A person can be both a father and a son at the same time. That doesn’t mean that a person is both your father, and your son at the same time.
    Additionally if the definition of a Christian is to give credence to the ecumenical counsels, then Christ was not a Christian, neither were any of his apostles. Nowhere in the bible does it say that one must accept these dogmas in order to be Christian, nor to be saved.
    It is true that these counsels helped unite various christian factions into a single body, but it didn’t do that under the direction of God, it did it under the direction of scholars. When Christ was on the earth, he was critical of the philosophies of his day. Christ Himself warned of following such men. Perhaps if He were on the earth today, He would do the same with current christian philosophy.
    Being a Christian is not a matter of approval by others. Catholics, Evangelists and others do not have the authority to vote on who is Christian, and who isn’t. There is no precedence for that in the bible. However there is the admonition to love others like ones self, the teaching that they who are not against you are with you, and the warning that a house divided cannot stand. Mainstream Christianity is on shaky territory, and call into question its own validity when name-calling becomes the focus of the defense of the faith.

  • Dandini

    Ben obviously is not aware of the teachings of the NT and the history of the first Christians…
    “…For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be 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)

    …not to mention the OT and the early Israelites and their “God of gods”….

  • J

    I also am looking forward to the day when you retract what you wrote in this post: “Barack Obama is most certainly a self-professed African American Christian” …


    Since what he says is…

    “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

    “What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die.”

    “Sin is being out of alignment with my values.”


  • Ben Witherington

    As I suspected we would be, we are off to a roaring start on this discussion with comments ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous (the latter being the comment that I don’t know the Bible. Clearly, those who said this don’t know me and what I do for a living). Here is a comment by Rob Gagnon a professor at Pitt. Seminary…..”Ben Witherington’s take on an important question. To me the main divergence from Christian faith is the view of the Creator of this world as a figure who started off as a human who became God only over this world, has parents who are over other worlds, and we become like the Creator of this world in becoming God over other worlds.” To me the saddest comment was from Coach Bob who clearly doesn’t know his own Catholic faith (hardly anyone emphasizes the Trinity as one God expressed in three persons more than Catholics) or the Bible. BW3

  • Ben Witherington

    P.S. 1 Cor. 8.4-6 is Paul’s re-parsing of the Shema ‘Hear o Israel, the Lord our God is ONE.’ In the NT passage cited, Paul applies the term God in the quotation to Yahweh the Father, and Lord to Jesus. The point is, Jesus is part on the singular godhead…. not a second deity along side of the Father. It might be useful for the commenters to read a few commentaries on the NT before citing texts randomly thinking they know what it means.

  • Peter Marlow

    So what is Christianity? Perhaps it can be summed up best in this one scripture: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) I believe in this same Jesus Christ, that He is the only begotten Son of the Father, that He was given to us by His Father as a sacrifice for our sins because the Father loves us, and that only by believing in Him do we have eternal life. So, why this need to disparage and mock me, a Mormon? I know God loves me. He allows me to continually experience – to feel deep within my soul – the greatness of His love and a very real and joyful forgiveness of my sins through Jesus Christ.

    How can traditional Christianity be considered more Christian or biblical than Mormonism? In their Nicene Creed – created over 300 years after Christ, not a part of the Bible, but worshipped with equal fervor as the Bible such that those who do not accept it are hated as non-Christian heretics – in this creed, the true nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son is undone. In it, the Father is the Son and the Son is the Father. They are a “Trinity” of “one substance” – words not found in the Bible.

    This is where traditional Christianity (or what we should call, “Nicenianism”) fails. Instead of believing the true teaching of the Bible (and Book of Mormon) that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” they wrongly believe that He gave Himself as His Son. Therefore, they cannot understand the true nature of God’s love for His Son and for each of us, also His children. Their inability to believe in the Son as the Son may actually disqualify them from everlasting life.

    What are the fruits of this failure of Nicenianism? The most pernicious fruit is their bigoted intolerance of those who believe differently, the desire to silence them, even by murder. Of course, Nicenianism became the prevailing religion! For well over a thousand years, anyone who dared oppose it was killed. It started in Europe with the burnings at the stake by the Catholics, then the Protestants. Such murders were common in this country, too, even through the early part of the 20th century, with Mormons and others still being killed for nothing more than their beliefs.

    That bigoted mentality is still evident today in their anger at the LDS Church, their desire to tear down Mormonism on the basis of nothing more than their flawed interpretations of the Bible and their flawed understanding of the teachings of the LDS Church (which they could easily rectify by consulting mormon.org instead of their wildly misleading sources of misinformation).

    The fruit of true Christianity is love and trust in God, peaceably allowing all to experience the freedom He gives each of us to believe according to the dictates of our own conscience, and to love all as a brother or sister, regardless of what they choose to believe. The true Christian accepts that he is imperfect, and that his understanding and interpretation of the Bible is also imperfect. Therefore, he esteems as his equals all those who profess faith in Jesus Christ, even if they interpret the Bible differently. He doesn’t want to kill anyone.

    If God had wanted the Bible to be narrowly interpreted, He would have written it in a way that would have made more than one interpretation impossible. He clearly wants each of us to also rely upon His Spirit for understanding. This is not something you can lazily ask someone else to do for you. If you love God, plead with Him for His guidance as you study the Bible. Let each be responsible to God for their own interpretations, whether they choose to humbly follow the direction of the Holy Ghost in applying the teachings of the Bible, or whether they seek to twist its words to justify themselves in their sins. By their fruits you will know them.

    I testify in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I know by the unmistakable power of the Holy Ghost, as sure as I know of my own existence, that Jesus Christ is the Lord, our Savior and Redeemer, that the Bible and the Book of Mormon are both true, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the work of the Lord, His restoration of His original Christian church, restored by Him through a man He had called as a prophet, Joseph Smith, and led by Jesus Christ today through living prophets and apostles through whom He reveals His beautiful truths. Imagine that! How can any true Christian not want to be a part of this great work being done today by our resurrected Lord!

    Don’t believe because of my words. Likewise, don’t turn away because of the words, traditions, opinions, philosophies, creeds or flawed interpretations of another. Seek the word directly from God. If you humble yourself before Him, trust Him and present to Him a loving desire to follow Him and do His will, He will give it to you by His Spirit. And it will be wonderful and beautiful beyond what you can imagine!

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Peter: Thank you for this. The issue is not whether God the Father or his Son loves you. That’s absolutely true, but beside the point. The issue is whether you know God and the character of God or not. Leave the creeds out of it if you like. Just read the NT by itself, and not through the lens of the Book of Mormon. Let it have its own say. Unfortunately, there are many contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the NT. They could both be false, but they can’t logically both be true on various points. For example, let’s talk about the native Americans and the so-called lost tribes of Israel. Native Americans are not, and are not descended from any Jewish group at all. Genetically this is clear enough. They are gentiles of some sort, just like you and me. God didn’t make any special promises to native Americans in the Bible any more than he made any special promises to Englishmen like myself. Nor did we need a further revelation for such peoples. The Bible itself and salvation itself is for all people, and always was. No need for any supplement.

    On the issue of henotheism brought up by another commenter, I must disagree. It seems clear enough to me that Mormons pray to and worship both the Father and the Son. Since they believe these are separable deities that’s not henotheism.


  • Ben Witherington

    Chris this is not a post about Obama, or even about Mitt Romney per se. It is about the nature of Mormonism and its ever evolving belief structure. BW3

  • Brad Greenwood

    The best description of the Book of Mormon ever made was by Mark Twain, describing the dull and poorly-written book to be “chloroform in print”. Many parts of the Book of Mormon are ignored/abandoned due to later “revelations” (Brigham Young, especially).

    It can truly be said: “If you don’t like an LDS Church teaching, wait around for a “revelation” that discontinues an LDS practice”. God’s “revelations” seem to occur at suspiciously convenient times. Most Mormons I know are “ethnic” Mormons, and just go along to keep the status quo; they don’t believe the theology at all.

  • Ben Witherington

    Tony the concept of the Trinity is clear enough, and you do not seem to grasp it. It involves three persons sharing one divine essence or nature, hence one God. The word God refers to the divine nature shared by the three persons. So yes, the Son could potentially, as a person and personal agent have a different will than that of the Father, though in the end he submits to the Father’s will. The problem for you is that the NT is quite clear on the pre-existence of the Son of God. He did not start out as a human being. See for example Phil. 2.5-11— ‘being in very nature God, he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant (a human being). Jesus was never merely a glorified human promoted to deity. He was as John 1 says God the Word from before the foundations of the universe.



  • Paul

    Surely there is a way for people of goodwill who love God and have taken upon themselves the name of Christ to stand together for the cause of Christ and against the forces of sin. In this we have every right to be bold and believing, for “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

    You serve and preach, teach and labor in that confidence, and so do I. And in doing so, I believe we can trust in the next verse from Romans as well: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” I truly believe that if across the world we can all try harder not to separate each other from the “love of Christ,” we will be “more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:32, 35, 37).

  • Nayajja

    Yes, my brother Witherington, we members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe differently than you. We also believe that Christ’s mercy is big enough to provide salvation to you, if you sincerely follow him, even though now, many of your beliefs about him are mistaken. That is why we perform the essential saving ordinances for deceased people who are not even members of our Church–to give them that opportunity to choose even if the opportunity comes after their death. (This is a Biblical practice, by the way: 1 Cor. 15:29.)

    Do you, who believe we are the mistaken ones, also believe that Christ’s mercy is big enough to save us?

    You never tell us in your article what defines a Christian. However, the definition that is implicit in your logic is that a Christian is one who believes as you do in a number of doctrinal points, primarily about the nature of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. I believe my understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ is much more consistent with the words of the Bible than are yours. However, this is not how the Bible defines a Christian. You say you believe in the Bible—do you believe in the Biblical definition of the word “Christian”?

    The Bible defines the word “Christian” to mean a disciple of Christ: “And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” Acts 11:26. And how did Jesus Christ identify a disciple? “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35

    I thank you for writing an article that was not filled with hate and scorn, as are so many that I have read. Although your and my beliefs differ on many points, you seem to want to follow Christ and you seem to love, not hate. Because of this, I am most willing to consider you my fellow Christian.

    As stated by Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the highest leaders in our Church: “But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?” I invite you to read or listen to this entire talk at: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/the-only-true-god-and-jesus-christ-whom-he-hath-sent?lang=eng

  • Paul

    We must unite in defense of religious liberty or we may lose it. Christians should stand together in unity, not try to seperate each other from the Love of Christ
    Furthermore, we are always looking for common ground and common partners in the “hands-on” work of the ministry. We would be eager to join hands with our evangelical friends in a united Christian effort to strengthen families and marriages, to demand more morality in media, to provide humane relief effort in times of natural disasters, to address the ever-present plight of the poor, and to guarantee the freedom of religion that will allow all of us to speak out on matters of Christian conscience regarding the social issues of our time. In this latter regard the day must never come that you or I or any other responsible cleric in this nation is forbidden to preach from his or her pulpit the doctrine one holds to be true. But in light of recent sociopolitical events and current legal challenges stemming from them, particularly regarding the sanctity of marriage, that day could come unless we act decisively in preventing it.2

    The larger and more united the Christian voice, the more likely we are to carry the day in these matters. In that regard we should remember the Savior’s warning regarding “a house divided against [itself]”—a house that finds it cannot stand against more united foes pursuing an often unholy agenda (see Luke 11:17).

    Standing Together for the Cause of Christ
    By Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
    Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

  • Nayajja

    At August 27, 2012 at 10:30 am, Ben Witherington said:

    “The problem for you is that the NT is quite clear on the pre-existence of the Son of God. He did not start out as a human being. See for example Phil. 2.5-11— ‘being in very nature God, he humbled himself and took on the form of a servant (a human being). Jesus was never merely a glorified human promoted to deity. He was as John 1 says God the Word from before the foundations of the universe.”

    We Mormons agree with you, Ben, that “he did not start out as a human being.” He existed, and indeed was God, before he took upon him human flesh on this earth. He was the Word as spoken of by John:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3.

    You may want to read the references about Christ’s antemortal existence that are included in the topical guide printed with the King James Bible that we study in our Church: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/tg/jesus-christ-antemortal-existence-of?lang=eng .

    Your brother in Christ.

  • Ben Witherington

    First of all, thanks to the Mormons who are replying and would actually like a dialogue on these things. I am not interested in taking pot shots at anyone, I am however interested in honesty, and honest discussion. With all due respect I must tell you honestly if you take the Book of Mormon as an exercise in interesting mythology, it is an interesting read and we could discuss that. If you take it as history or a revelation from the same God who spoke to Moses or Isaiah or spoke as Jesus or to Paul, then unfortunately there is a problem, because one thing is true about God— God doesn’t lie, indeed God, as Jesus put it is the truth.

    God certainly did not say one thing to Moses (namely God is One) and then something completely the opposite of that in the Book of Mormon. Sadly, trying to unite the Books of the Bible with the Book of Mormon is like a marriage with irreconcilable differences. It’s bound to end up with one or the other silenced or split apart.

    To our Mormon commenters you will be interested to know that I have made common cause with Mormons in some worthy causes and projects, such as the recent film The Story of Jesus. I was glad to do it in spite of our strong differences in belief, including our beliefs about Jesus himself.


  • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

    Dr. Witherington,

    Great, clear article. I’ve done some reading on it myself and this was a helpful, useful characterization, especially in light of the original article by the Mormon scholar. I’ve got nothing much to add beyond the fact that I thought it was interesting how the whole “the early church was corrupted by Hellenism” thesis we’ve been dealing with since before Harnack is a part of their rhetoric, as well as the congeniality of Open Theist apologetics.

    Anyways, blessings on dealing with people who wonder about your credentials as a competent reader of the Bible. Maybe you should them free copies of your commentaries on the ENTIRE NEW TESTAMENT. That might convince them. Or not.


    Derek Rishmawy

  • Paul

    Another plea for unity from the voice of the Savior himself:

    29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

    30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

    31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

    32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear brecord of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

    33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

    35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso aelieveth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

    36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

    37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

    38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little achild, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

    39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my adoctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
    3 Nephi Chapter 11

  • Dave

    A few corrections I would like to see the author note if another article is written like this again.

    First should be that Mormons are not Evangelicals, or Mormons are not Protestants. This idea that only Evangelicals or Protestants can be Christians is as ridiculous as stating that only Mormons are Christians.

    Second, items 1 & 2 on you list are the same thing and should be set as #1. Stating that we are polytheists and that we do not worship the trinity is the same thing.

    Third, Stating that we do not believe in the Apostle’s Creed or the Chalcedonian creed is absolutely correct. Stating that we do not worship the Gods of the Bible is not. There are too many scriptures in the Bible to show here that talk about God having a body and there being three Gods. As Paul, in the New Testament, clearly states – we worship God the Father by worshiping Jesus Christ. My personal favorite scripture showing all three deity in different places at one time would be Jesus’s baptism. How can God the Father praise Christ from above as the Holy Ghost descends if they are the same god? Christ explains it clearly at the last supper when he tells the apostles to be one, even has he and the Father are one. He didn’t tell them to be the same person. He told them to work together for the same purpose.

    Lastly, the first book in our cannon is the Bible, not the Book of Mormon. It wasn’t until more recently, maybe 50 years ago, that we really even started focusing on the Book of Mormon equally to the Bible. Yes, the Bible has errors in it, as does the Book of Mormon. Both books were written by men for God, but men are not perfect. The authors did their best, as did the translators of both books (the Bible and the Book of Mormon). But they were still men and only Jesus us perfect. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring souls unto Christ, not to correct the Bible. Yes, the Book of Mormon can make Biblical teachings clearer, but likewise the Bible can make teachings in the Book of Mormon clearer. They work together as the prophets that wrote the books in both were working with the same God.

  • Ben Witherington

    Actually no. Many of you Mormons misguidedly think that the Son of God is not co-eternal with the Father. I am glad to know at least one Mormon or two has figured out that the ‘Jesus was an exalted man’ theory doesn’t make any sense in light of Colossians 1, John 1, and Philippians 2, to mention but three texts. Now if we could just get straight the notion and nature of the incarnation as well. BW3

  • Randy Hildebrand

    Some portions of the Millet address bother me as a Christian (and former LDS member). First, “we do not believe the Bible to be inerrant.” This is a far cry from “we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, insofar as it is translated correctly,” which is something I am still comfortable saying about some of the liberal paraphrases of the Bible. Why not “we do not believe the Book of Mormon to be inerrant” as well? 1 Nephi 13:40, Mosiah 21:28, and 1 Nephi 11:28 have all been changed since 1830.

    Second, Millet states “Jesus was fully human in that He was subject to sickness.” What? Where in the four “historical and truthful” Gospel accounts is he quoting this from? Sickness is a symptom of sin, so the Sinless One could not have sickness. How could He heal the sick if He was sick Himself?

    Third, for a group that purports to believe in continuing revelation, the last one in the official LDS Scriptures dates back to 1978 (Official Declaration 2 granting priesthood to men “without regard to race or color”). Prior to that, the latest revelation was given in 1918 by polygamist prophet Joseph F. Smith (D&C 138), regarding the alleged work of the spirits of the dead. If God continues to speak through prophets, why do continue the old rehash of the last hundred years?

    I reference Millet above because his comments are on one of the official LDS websites and they differ enough from what I was taught as to constitute new teaching. In addition, the source Millet uses to describe Evangelicals (“The Openness of God”) contains a view known as “Open Theism” which is full of historical simplification and is in no way representative of Evangelical views on biblical revelation. Like the authors in “The Openness of God,” Millet disregards views inconsistent with the ideas he is promulgating. Else, why would he source a little-known, nearly 10-year-old book?

  • Paul

    What Are the Core Beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

    The founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, wrote, “The fundamental principles of our religion are … concerning Jesus Christ that He died was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”

    In addition to the above, Latter-day Saints believe unequivocally that:

    1. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of our loving Heavenly Father.

    2. Christ’s Atonement allows mankind to be saved from their sins and return to live with God and their families forever.

    3. Christ’s original Church as described in the New Testament has been restored in modern times.

    1. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and the Son of our loving Heavenly Father

    Latter-day Saints believe God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to save all mankind from their sins (see John 3:16). God is a loving Heavenly Father who knows His children individually, hears and answers their prayers, and feels compassion toward them. Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are two separate beings but along with the Holy Ghost (Spirit) are one in will, purpose and love.

    Latter-day Saints worship Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer. He is central to the lives of Church members. They accept His grace and mercy; they seek to follow His example by being baptized (see Matthew 3:13-17), praying in His holy name (see Matthew 6:9-13), partaking of the sacrament (communion) (see Luke 22:19-20), doing good to others (see Acts 10:38) and bearing witness of Him through both word and deed (see James 2:26).

    2. Christ’s Atonement allows mankind to be saved from their sins and return to live with God and their families forever.

    Latter-day Saints believe that God has a plan for His children to return to live with Him and become “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). For members of the Church, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is central to God’s plan for our happiness. Although humans make mistakes and sin, Mormons view this mortal life as an opportunity to progress and learn. By following Christ’s teachings, embracing His mercy and accepting baptism and other sacraments, Mormons believe they are cleansed from sin through Christ’s grace and can return to live with God and their families forever.

    3. Christ’s original Church as described in the New Testament has been restored in modern times.

    Members believe that Christ established His Church anciently on the “foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20; see also Ephesians 4:11-14) with “one faith, [and] one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). They believe this foundation of “one faith” was gradually undermined after the death of Christ’s apostles. As a result, the original foundation of authority to lead the Church was lost and needed to be restored (see Acts 3:21). Today, members preach that the Lord has indeed restored His Church with living apostles and prophets, starting with the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith.

  • Nayajja

    At August 27, 2012 at 11:05 am, Ben Witherington said: “God certainly did not say one thing to Moses (namely God is One) and then something completely the opposite of that in the Book of Mormon.”

    You are right. He did not. There are probably dozens of passages in the Book of Mormon confirming that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are one. For example:

    “And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.” 3 Nephi 11:6

    “And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.” Mosiah 15:4

    I choose to believe the words of Jesus Christ explaining how they are one:

    “1 These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:

    “20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;

    “21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

    “22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

    “23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

    John 17

    Christ is praying for you and for me–we who “shall believe on [Him] through their [the Apostles'] word”–”that they [you and I] may be one, even as we [Christ and his Father] are one.” If find Christ’s words inconsistent with trinitarianism, for I can never be one with you in the trinitarian sense, yet Christ prays that you and I may be one even as He and his Father are one.

    Christ, in his glorious prayer to his Father, taught us deeply the nature of his unity with his Father. This teaching I believe.

    In Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words: “We testify that He is one with the Father and the Holy Ghost, the Three being One: one in spirit, one in strength, one in purpose, one in voice, one in glory, one in will, one in goodness, and one in grace—one in every conceivable form and facet of unity except that of Their separate physical embodiment (see 3 Nephi 11:36). ” http://www.lds.org/ensign/print/2012/08/standing-together-for-the-cause-of-christ?lang=eng&clang=eng

    And Christ prays that we his followers may become one with each other and with Him and His Father in the same way. It is indeed a glorious hope.

  • Ben Witherington

    Let me say clearly, I certainly do not think only Evangelicals are Christians. There are plenty of Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well, indeed several billion on the planet. And none of them are Mormons. My prayer would be that the Mormon religion would continue to evolve, and have more and more prophecies until it sheds the Book of Mormon altogether, and indeed all teachings that do not comport with Biblical Christianity. Joseph Smith was sadly a false prophet. He even claimed the golden tablets were written in reformed hieroglyphics, even though he knew perfectly well there is no such language and never was. But with the living voice of prophecy in the church, it’s not impossible to get beyond the misunderstandings of the past. I have actually seen this happen with the World Wide Church of God founded by the Armstrongs. Today, it’s simply another orthodox Christian group— praise God. It would be a blessing, and a small miracle, if this happened to Mormonism as well. It’s something worthy of prayer since God can do much above and beyond what we might expect or ask. Blessings BW3

  • Ben Witherington

    The problem of course with what Mormons mean by God is one is that it has nothing to do with ontology, or the divine nature of God. It has to do with one in will or one in purpose. In other respects, you folks do indeed affirm multiple deities. BW3

  • Stephen


    I think you are fighting a losing battle. Your words are sound and wise, but convincing people who have believed one thing their entire life is something far more difficult. It is ironic that as soon as you posted something about Mormonism all of a sudden people who have never read your blog before are criticizing everything about you.

    On another note one thing I lament about protestantism is that we have done a poor job in teaching the Trinity. I find Evangelical churches teach Jesus. Mainline Protestant churches teach God. Pentecostal churches teach Spirit.

  • Ben Witherington

    Stephen you are probably right about the response, and certainly right about the inadequate teaching about the doctrine of God in various Protestant circles. BW3

  • JT

    Ben – Interesting post. I have a great respect for you as a biblical scholar and your contributions to the field are immense. Thank you for all the insight that you have brought to this important subject.

    However, as a bit of an amateur scholar of Mormonism, I have to say that your post here and the subsequent comments seem a bit superficial on the Mormon side of the equation. As one small example, you make reference to contradictions between the Book of Mormon and Moses or the New Testament, but your example is that the Bible doesn’t include any promises to Native Americans (?). First of all, if silence in one source but not in another is contradiction, then wouldn’t it follow that the entire Bible (including the gospels) contradicts itself, because each book contains something that the others do not? Second, as Professor Terryl Givens points out in his book _By the Hand of Mormon_ (Oxford University Press, 2003), if the average Christian read the Book of Mormon, he/she would find very little to disagree with. Most of Mormons’ distinctive doctrines do not come from the Book of Mormon. Instead, you’ll find many passages like these:

    8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

    9 Wherefore, he is the firstfruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved. (2 Nephi 2:8-9).

    A response to every point that you make here would be beyond the scope of this already lengthy comment. I agree with you that Mormonism has several beliefs that are distinct from most other Christian denominations. However, I think you miss the mark on several of them.

    This, of course, does nothing to change my opinion on the great contributions that you have made to Biblical scholarship. If you’re interested in discussing further, I would be happy to do so offline.

  • Dieter Schulze

    Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his diary when visiting America.
    Here they don’t finish the discussion if thy don’t understand something or disagree thy start a new church.

  • Shirley Martin

    The author of this blog reveals his true motivation in contrasting what he believes about Obama and Romney in order to persuade readers to vote for the real Christian, Obama, instead of the Mormon Romney. Although he does not use the names of Obama or Romney in his blog, he states that he writes the blog to answer the question can Evangelicals vote for Mormon Mitt Romney. The author also states that he does not want his readers to vote for someone based on false assumptions about that person’s religion; hence, the implication that evangelicals must vote for Obama, not for Romney, whose religion does not follow Christian doctrine and theology. The false assumption, however, is that we cannot know a man’s “religion” by his character and his actions. Only God judges a man’s heart, but we can discern for ourselves by examining a man’s words, actions, and character what kind of president he will make. Can Evangelicals vote for the Mormon Mitt Romney? Absolutely!
    Can Evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney? Absolutely!

  • Ben Witherington

    Hi Shirley: It’s nice to know you are a mind reader. My intention was not to enter the fray of the political debate, nor to be a closet stalking horse for Obama. He has his own flaws to be sure. My intention is to make clear that one should not think, if one chooses to do so, that one is voting for just another Christian person in electing Mitt Romney. This says nothing against the man’s character at all, or even his positions. It’s simply the issue of truth in advertising. Mormonism is not Christianity, though it is based in part on the Bible. That’s the point. BW3

  • Ann Jones

    I don’t even know where to begin…….. I cannot count Mormons as Christians. I do not find much of anything to be the same in Mormon doctrine and Christian doctrine. We can’t even agree about who God is. At first, the LdS taught as orthodox Christianity, that God was One in Three Persons, as the intro to the BoM says. God was believed to be eternal and unchanging. Then Joseph Smith taught that the orthodox view was wrong – that god had been a man in a previous existance, had a body and now has a glorified body. God was no different than us, just more advanced. I do not believe that. My God is from everlasting to ever lasting – He is and always has been God and had never been a man.
    Then we can’t agree about Jesus. My Jesus, the one in the Bible, was God from the beginning. He was not born of God the Father, and God the Father did not make Jesus. He lived a perfect, sinless life because He is God. He gave Himself as a complete and total sacrifice for once and for all on the Cross at Calvary. The atonement did not happen in Gethsame. Jesus’ time in the garden did not earn us all a free path to Heaven. However, His death on the cross gave us a way to find our way to an eternity with God the Father, if we accept His great gift.
    When we die, we do not go to a spirit prison, hear the gospel from mormon missionaries and hope that someone will be baptized in our name to enable us to move on to some level of heaven. No, we die once, and this life is the only time we have to come to Christ. We decide between rejecting and accepting Jesus. God doesn’t send us to hell – we choose it. God has made Himself manifest in His creation and says that everyone can understand who He is, and He will judge those who have never had more witness than that by their hearts. He never says that there is a second chance, or that everyone goes to Heaven. The only sin we are not forgiven for is when we do not respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit to come to Jesus. Even murder is forgivable, unlike the LdS teaches.
    Christians believe that salvation is by faith alone in Jesus, and not by our works. It is a free gift of grace. We do not believe that it means that we can there after sin all we want. No, we want to please our God and Savior and we love to do things that help others, because we are new creations in Him. We don’t HAVE to do certain things, there are no required rituals. We respond to Christ’s love in love returned. Our salvation doesn’t depend on grace after we have done all that we can do. It depends on grace. Period.
    I can sit here as I write and know without one doubt that if I were to die right now, that I would be with Heavenly Father. No questions, no wondering if I had done enough, no worrying about was I worthy. God will see Jesus when I stand before Him at the judgement. He won’t see my sin. He will see Christ in me.
    No, I cannot accept Mormons as fellow believers. I believe that they are good hearted and God minded people who do wonderful things. But I believe that they are mislead and deceived and are among some of the most tragic of all. They walk so close to the narrow path, but will not wind up at the same place. I love these people and pray for them, talk with them, respect them. But I do not accept them as brothers and sisters. It was their own prophet who taught that all other churches are abominations. I don’t understand why they want to think that they are the same as those churches. They are not. And we are not the abominated. It is very sad to me.

  • Ben Witherington

    JT I’d be interested in knowing what exactly would be your disagreement with what Millet says about Mormonism. As for the Book of Mormon, I must say, I am really surprised you think there is so little in it that disagrees with the Bible or Biblical Christianity. Really? Have you been fraternizing with the angel Moroni lately? I sure hope not. BW3

  • Karen Booth

    I’d like to enter this discussion by sharing some life stories rather than debating theological points, though I believe the stories do have theological relevance. Back in the early 1980s, before my conversion to “adult” Christian faith, I almost became a Mormon. I grew up as Methodist/Evangelical United Brethren, but abandoned the Church after high school and lived as a happy pagan for many, many years. In my mid-thirties I moved back home with my parents after a sports injury that resulted in a job loss. I started attending church again—mainly as a “bargain” to get well and get life back together. In the midst of my spiritual searching, the local Mormon missionaries showed up at our door.

    They promised to give me all the answers to my questions, and assured me that I would know the “truth” when I felt a warm, fiery sensation in my chest near my heart. They didn’t explain, however, how I would be able to distinguish the feeling from a mild case of indigestion. That’s the problem when using subjective experience to determine truth.

    Instead, I became more and more confused the longer they met with me. They had no answers, however, when I finally started to ask the hard questions: why wasn’t there any archeological evidence for the so-called “lost tribes” existence in America? why did these early native Americans (and Jesus) speak in formal King James English that was lifted wholesale from that version of the Bible? why are only those believers who are “worthy” enough —have perfectly followed all the Mormon regulations and proscriptions—allowed to take the “sacrament”? Nor did they have answers to the concerns I had about the Pearl of Great Price, an authorized LDS holy writing that I discovered through some independent study.

    I’ve been interested in Egyptology from a very young age, so I was particularly drawn to the POGP’s Book of Abraham, a Joseph Smith “translation” of papyri that Abraham supposedly composed while he was in Egypt. The book establishes or supports some foundational LDS doctrine, including the Abrahamic or Patriarchal high priesthood and the believer’s pre-earth existence.

    The book is also a complete sham. Even before reading some of the many critical pieces about it, I could tell just by taking a quick look at the papyri “facsimiles.” (On line at the official LDS site http://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp?lang=eng) All three of them are simple Egyptian funerary pictographs, magical writings meant to accompany the dead to the afterlife, But it was #3 that leapt out at me. Because I am also a fan of historic costume, I knew immediately that this papyrus depicted both male and female figures. According to Smith, two of the female figures, which I later learned were the goddesses Isis and Ma’at, represented Pharaoh and his son, the Prince. Immediate conclusion—either the high kings of Egypt were cross-dressers or Smith was prophetically mistaken, concocting whatever from his overly vivid imagination.

    Mormon theology is fundamentally rooted in Joseph Smith, NOT the Bible. It stands or falls on the integrity of his life and messages. And I agree with Dr. Witherington—Smith was a con man.

  • http://www.twodifferentgirls.com Geek Godess

    Having read several books on the Councils of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, the Arian “heresies”, the rise of the cult of the Virgin, the political manuverings of the earliest leaders, the fact that Paul seemed to know nothing about The birth, life or crucifixion, the lack of independent confirmation other than a (now known to be forged) comment by Josephus, and the dozens of splinter groups that formed WITHIN THE FIRST CENTURY, it’s amusing to see all this argued about yet again.

  • Ben Witherington

    Thanks for sharing Karen. On top of all that, a reasonable case can be made that much of the Book of Mormon, and the unique ideas of Joseph Smith found there and elsewhere came from a 19th century novel about the American Indians that was popular in his day. I can only say—- wow. If there is a lesson to be learned here it has to do with the capacity of all human beings, including honest ones, to be gullible and duped about something because none of us have exhaustive knowledge and therefore have to take some things on faith, rather than doing the heavy lifting of doing detailed research and critical assessment of claims. BW3

  • JT

    “I’d be interested in knowing what exactly would be your disagreement with what Millet says about Mormonism.”

    My disagreement is not with what Millet said. In fact, I hope that every one of your readers reads the excerpts from Millet. My disagreement is what you extrapolated from that and, perhaps more importantly, what you didn’t share from his remarks. One does not get a very good understanding of Mormon Christology from your descriptions. Given the short list of distinctive LDS doctrines you put forth (some of which were not even in Millet’s remarks) and Millet’s very long list of Mormon beliefs about Christ, am I to understand that you agree with most of what he said?

    “As for the Book of Mormon, I must say, I am really surprised you think there is so little in it that disagrees with the Bible or Biblical Christianity. Really?”

    Yes, really. Have you read the Book of Mormon? The whole thing? Truly studied it? There is not much in terms of distinctive Mormon doctrines that come from it. Of the six (somewhat-skewed) distinctions that you mention above, 1-3 and 6 are not in the Book of Mormon and part of 4 (not the untrustworthy part) is obviously inferred by the Book of Mormon’s very existence. 5 is a little misleading, because while the Book of Mormon does make it clear that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ, repent (i.e., be born again – born of the Spirit), be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and endure to the end (i.e., remain faithful to the new covenant with Christ) to receive the full benefits of Christ’s atonement (call these “works” if you will), one can easily make the argument that the Bible requires the very same things. Christ’s mercy is not unconditional, but when it is applied, it is sufficient.

    Btw, the idea that the Book of Mormon does not put forth very many distinctive Mormon doctrines is not a novel insight of mine and should be fairly clear to anyone who has actually read it. Furthermore, I was quoting a book published by Oxford University Press, so if you have issues with that statement, take it up with probably the most reputable academic press in the world.

    “Have you been fraternizing with the angel Moroni lately? I sure hope not. BW3″

    To quote Bryce Harper, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

  • Ben Witherington

    JT: I publish with Oxford U. Press. So does Bart Ehrman. So do a lot of folks. It doesn’t make that book necessarily a good critical analysis of Mormonism. The big problem with what you say is that Mormons do not mean the same thing as Christians mean whilst using the same terms, and this is just as true of the Book of Mormon. The obvious example I have already cited is the issue of in what are the Father and the Son one? Indeed, many of the Christian buzz words used by Mormons have very different meanings than in the Bible. For example, the idea that Christians will be conformed to the image of Christ does not mean they will become gods, as Mormons suggest. The fact that believers are or will be partakers of the ‘divine character’ does not mean they will become divine, or God’s. We are talking about union with the almighty through knowing God as 2 Peter says. So, it is not very relevant that many of the same things seem to be said in the Book of Mormon as in the Bible, when most of the lexicon has been redefined by LDS concepts. Another good example would be taking Paul’s reference to the Corinthians practicing proxy baptism as if Paul endorsed such a practice, which he does not. Indeed, what he says about baptism in 1 Cor.1, namely he is glad he didn’t baptize more of the Corinthians, makes clear he has no magical views of baptism, because he could certainly never say ‘I thank God I didn’t save more of you’. My point again is Mormons read the Bible, interpret it in light of existing Mormon ideology, and then run with the ball down the wrong field when it comes to theological reflections or baptismal practice etc. BW3

    Of course the comment about Moroni was intended to produce a wry smile. You also failed to notice I mentioned the very popular book The Pearl of Great Price.

  • JT

    “the issue of in what are the Father and the Son one” – not explained in the Book of Mormon

    “become gods” “partakers of the ‘divine character’” – not in the Book of Mormon

    “proxy baptism” – not in the Book of Mormon

    “My point again is Mormons read the Bible, interpret it in light of existing Mormon ideology” – isn’t this what every reader does with the Bible, including you? By accepting subsequent creeds, aren’t you doing the same thing? And don’t most readers of a book within the Bible interpret it in light of other books in the Bible? I’d hardly paint Mormons as a unique group in this regard.

    “run with the ball down the wrong field” – something about truth and eyes of beholders

    “It doesn’t make that book necessarily a good critical analysis of Mormonism.” As one who knows a thing or two about critical analyses of Mormonism, I can assure you that it is. I would recommend reading it sometime.

    “If there is a lesson to be learned here it has to do with the capacity of all human beings, including honest ones, to be gullible and duped about something . . . .” And you teach comparative religion courses? I truly pity the student in your class who is led to believe that all religions but yours (or even just some) are filled with duped, gullible adherents. Especially when you demonstrate a clear lack of understanding with regard to that religion.

    Before this post, my respect for you was quite high. Let’s just say it has plummeted significantly.