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Latter-day Saint scripture/Supposed contradictions
Alleged Contradictions in Latter-day Saint Scripture
Jump to Subtopic:
- Question: Why are there discrepancies between translations in the Book of Mormon, King James Bible and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?
- Question: Do Doctrine and Covenants 20:37 and 2 Nephi 31:17 or 3 Nephi 12:2 contradict one another regarding the order in which one receives baptism and a remission of sins?
- Question: Are Mormon scriptures full of contradictions?
- Question: Why does the Book of Mormon and Book of Moses describe "God" as creating, while the Book of Abraham describes "Gods?"
- Question: How can one view contradictions in Scripture in a faithful way?
- Question: Does Lehi contradict Jeremiah 27 and prove himself a false prophet?
Question: Why are there discrepancies between translations in the Book of Mormon, King James Bible and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible?
Parallel passages from the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible sometimes disagree not only with the King James Version of the Bible, but also with each other
Parallel passages from the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible sometimes disagree not only with the King James Version of the Bible, but also with each other. Critics ask why Joseph's earlier work (i.e., the Book of Mormon) generally followed the King James Version of the Bible closely while his later work (i.e., the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible) did not. Critics ask which translation did Joseph get right, implying that one is wrong, hence bringing his prophetic calling into question. Critics generally cite any of a number of passages from Matthew 5-7 from the King James Version and Joseph Smith Translation and 3 Nephi 12-14 from the Book of Mormon. A much celebrated example is:
Matthew 6:25-27 (King James Version)
- 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
- 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
- 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
3 Nephi 13:25-27) (Book of Mormon)
- 25 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
- 26 Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
- 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
Matthew 6:25-27 (Joseph Smith Translation)
- 25 And, again, I say unto you, go ye into the world, and care not for the world; for the world will hate you, and will persecute you, and will turn you out of their synagogues.
- 26 Nevertheless, ye shall go forth from house to house, teaching the people; and I will go before you.
- 27 And your heavenly Father will provide for you, whatsoever things ye need for food, what ye shall eat; and for raiment, what ye shall wear or put on.
Joseph had different purposes in mind in his different translations
Joseph had different purposes in mind in his different translations. This is not unique or unusual in scripture -- even the Bible. Hence, neither the Book of Mormon nor the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible can be discounted because of seeming discrepancies with each other or with the King James Version of the Bible.
Joseph Smith had different purposes in mind when bringing forth the Book of Mormon and the Joseph smith Translation. His purpose in bringing forth the Book of Mormon was to witness "the reality that "Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations". Departing from the King James Version, i.e., the translation familiar to those who would become the Book of Mormon's first readers, would have been a stumbling block in achieving its purpose. On the other hand, Joseph's later purpose in bringing forth the Joseph Smith Translation is largely understood to have been one of redaction, or inspired commentary -- to resolve confusion regarding biblical interpretation Hence the different wording, and in some cases, even content.
Gleason Archer, well known Evangelical Christian and the Author of a highly respected book called "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties", addresses the issue of Paul citing deficient Greek Septuagint translations that appear in our New Testaments today in lieu of better translations of the Old Testament he could have come up with. Archer says:
"Suppose Paul had chosen to work out a new, more accurate translation into Greek directly from Hebrew. Might not the Bereans have said in reply, “that’s not the way we find it in our Bible. How do we know you have not slanted your different rendering here and there in order to favor you new teaching about Christ?” In order to avoid suspicion and misunderstanding, it was imperative for the apostles and evangelists to stick with the Septuagint in their preaching and teaching, both oral and written.
"We, like the first-century apostles, resort to these standard translations to teach our people in terms they can verify by resorting to their own Bibles, yet admittedly, none of these translations is completely free of faults. We use them nevertheless, for the purpose of more effective communication than if we were to translate directly from the Hebrew or Greek."
Archer's point is that it is more important in certain settings that Paul's writings be familiar rather than 100% precise.
Question: Do Doctrine and Covenants 20:37 and 2 Nephi 31:17 or 3 Nephi 12:2 contradict one another regarding the order in which one receives baptism and a remission of sins?
These scriptures are not contradictory, for at least three reasons
It is claimed that LDS scriptures such as DC 20:37 (first case) and 2 Nephi 31:17, 3 Nephi 12:2, and Moroni 8:11 (second case) are contradictory about the order in which one receives baptism and a remission of sins and that that "Mormon theologians" have ignored this issue.
As is typical in such charges of self-contradiction, the critics either:
- misinterpret LDS scripture;
- compare verses of scripture which are not speaking about identical issues;
- read Protestant terminology or theology into LDS scripture.
In this case, the critics have committed all three mistakes. As such, it is not surprising if "Mormon theologians" have spent little on the issues. The critics are looking to find fault, and so strain at gnats. LDS thinkers understand LDS doctrine, and so see clearly that there is no contradiction.
These scriptures are not contradictory, for at least three reasons—any one of which is sufficient to disprove the critics' claim. We will first list the scriptural texts, and then discuss each of the three reasons for which they are not properly seen as contradictory.
Scriptures to be considered
The first case
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church (DC 20:37).
The second case
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost (2 Nephi 31:17).
...Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins (3 Nephi 12:2).
And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins (Moroni 8:11).
Reason #1: The scriptures are discussing two slightly different issues
There is a difference between "received of the Spirit of Christ" (which is given to every man—see Moroni 7:16—but may be received or not depending on choices and heed paid to it) and the baptism of "fire and the Holy Ghost" which happens after baptism, as Joseph Smith taught:
There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. 
Reason #2: The audience and presumed intent for the audience are slightly different
Note too that those in the first instance have repented and expressed a desire to be baptized, which desire and sincerity can then lead to a remission of their sins, (i.e., the intent is what matters, and a willingness to follow through on that intent).
In the second case, Nephi is encouraging those who may not have accepted the Messiah to do so, and to obey the commandments and example given by the Messiah—including baptism. So, his target audience is those who have perhaps not yet "desire[d] to be baptized." When they have that desire (by hearkening to the Spirit of Christ), they will then repent and hearken to it, and will choose to be baptized. This decision to repent and follow Jesus will ultimately lead to forgiveness, and the baptism of fire and the purging out of sin that comes with the receipt of the Holy Ghost (after baptism).
In short, the audience in the first case is further along in the process than the audience in the second.
Reason #3: The question presupposes that "forgiveness" is a single, unique event, when in fact it is an on-going process
Here, we see that the critics are viewing this question through the lenses of conservative protestantism.
The critics are assuming that the Book of Mormon matches their view of salvation, in which someone is "saved" once and finally by some type of "altar call" or confession. By contrast, LDS theology sees salvation, repentance, forgiveness, and purification and transformation by the Holy Ghost as on-going processes. The experience begins before baptism, leads us to baptism, and is the fulfillment of the promises and covenants of baptism, which must then be persisted in as we "endure to the end."
As the second case scriptures explain, as we learn of Jesus we are humbled and desire to repent. Repentance requires that we appreciate that we have not kept all of God's commandments, and we regret not doing so. We become resolved to keep God's commandments from henceforth, and the first commandment which we can obey is to choose baptism. The baptism is an outward sign of our repentance and determination to keep God's commandments, and this willingness to covenant with Jesus allows us (as the first case notes) to "receive...of the Spirit of Christ," which begins the process of remitting our sins. If we do not persist in our intention to follow Jesus, however, and were to suddenly choose not to be baptized, we would have returned to sin.
When we have been baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which purifies us as if by fire, as sin and evil are burned out of us, and we walk in newness of life, following Jesus. We must then endure to the end, for if we do not, the remission of our sins (which we have only received because we have chosen to enter a covenant with Christ) will be null and void. The subsequent verses of 2 Nephi 31 explain this clearly:
18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life (2 Nephi 31:18-20).
Question: Are Mormon scriptures full of contradictions?
The supposed contradictions arise from 1) misinterpretation, 2) comparing two verses when are speaking of different things and 3) reading Protestant meanings into scriptural terminology
Many conservative Protestant critics have reproduced a table which purports to show how LDS scripture contradicts itself.
The table below examines the supposed contradictions, presents the scriptures cited in context, and demonstrates that claims of contradiction rest on:
- a misinterpretation of LDS scripture
- comparing two verses which are speaking about different things
- reading Protestant meanings into scriptural terminology
Supposed Contradictions in LDS scripture
|Number||Column A: Book of Mormon...||Column B: "Contrasting" scripture...||Response and Comments|
|One God||Plural Gods||
To learn more:
|God is a Spirit||God Has A Body||
To learn more
God dwells in the heart
God does not dwell in the heart
|One God creates||Multiple Gods create||
To learn more
God Cannot Lie
God Commands Lying
God's Word Unchangeable
God's Word Can Change
No Pre-Existence of Man
To learn more:
|Death seals man's fate
||Chance for repentance after death||
|Heathen Saved Without Baptism||Baptism for the Dead||
To learn more:
|Only options are heaven or hell||Three degrees of glory, with most people "saved"||
'To learn more:
|Murder can be forgiven
||'Murder cannot be forgiven
|Polygamy condemned||Polygamy commanded||
To learn more:
|Against Paid Ministries
||For Paid Ministries
To learn more:
|Corrupt Churches Promise Forgiveness For Money
||Church Members Who Pay Tithing Will Not Burn
|Adam in the Americas||Adam in the Old World||
To learn more:
As we have seen, none of these paired scriptures contradict each other. This list misunderstands and misrepresents LDS doctrine.
Question: Why does the Book of Mormon and Book of Moses describe "God" as creating, while the Book of Abraham describes "Gods?"
Latter-day Saints believe that God is one, but accept the Biblical witness that this is a oneness of purpose, intent, mind, will, and love
The scriptures affirm that there is "One God" consisting of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A great debate in Christian history has been the nature of this oneness.
Protestant critics do not like the fact that Latter-day Saints reject the nonbiblical Nicene Creed, which teaches a oneness of substance. Latter-day Saints believe that God is one, but accept the Biblical witness that this is a oneness of purpose, intent, mind, will, and love, into which believers are invited to participate (see John 17:22-23). Thus, it is proper to speak of "God" in a singular sense, but Latter-day Saints also recognize that there is more than one divine person—for example, the Father and the Son.
This is not a contradiction; it merely demonstrates that the Latter-day Saints do not accept Nicene trinitarianism.
Question: How can one view contradictions in Scripture in a faithful way?
Introduction to Question
It is claimed that the Holy Bible and other scriptures in the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contain contradictions. In some cases, the essential argument being made by critics may have merit and, in others, may not. It may become the responsibility of Latter-day Saints from time to time to defend the high authority of scripture.
There Seems to be Historical Contradictions in Scripture
Some of the seeming contradictions in scripture may be termed historical contradictions.
- The Death of Judas: Did he die by hanging (Matthew 27:5)? Or did he fall headlong and have his bowels gush out (Acts 1:18)? Academic attempts to harmonize these two passages ceased at least as early as the late nineteenth century. Scholars today generally see both accounts as irreconcilably contradictory.
- Jesus Calming The Sea: The Gospels differ in the succession of events when Jesus calms the storm at sea. In the Matthean account, the Lord chastises his apostles for not having enough faith and then calms the storm whereas in the Markan and Lucan accounts he calms the storm and then chastises his apostles. The Johannine account lacks the story.
- The name of Moses’ Mountain: The Pentateuch differs in its naming of the mountain from which Moses received the Ten Commandments. In some instances it is “Horeb” (Exodus 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deuteronomy 1:2; 4:10) and in others it is “Sinai” (Exodus 19:1–2, 11, 18, 20, 23; 34:2, 4, 29, 32; Numbers 3:1, 4, 14). This is one of the reasons that many scholars see the Pentateuch as the composition of multiple authors/redactors.
- The Timing of the Savior's Crucifixion: The Gospels differ in their timing of the crucifixion of the Savior. Was it during Passover? Before Passover? Or after Passover? Scholars believe that the difference is ultimately irreconcilable, and one simply must choose which account to believe. Generally, Mark is favored since it is considered the earliest to be authored.
There Seems to Be Theological Tensions/Contradictions in Scripture
Some of the seeming contradictions in scripture may be termed theological tensions/contradictions.
- High Christology and Low Christology: It has long been observed by scholars that the Markan account of the Savior portrays Jesus as more human—lowly, and mortal—than the Johannine account which portrays Jesus as godlike from the antemortal realm to the end of his life. Scholars generally believe that the Markan account holds what they term a “low Christology” and the Johannine account a “high Christology.”
- Performing Alms: How can we not perform our alms in public (Matthew 6:1) but also let our light shine before the world (Matthew 5:16)?
- Becoming and Not Becoming A Child: How can we set childish things aside (1 Corinthians 13:11) and become as a child (Matthew 18:3)?
This article will outline principles and procedures for reconciling perceived contradictions in scripture. Many of the principles and procedures laid out in this article apply to the uncanonized teachings and revelations of top leadership of the Church. Thus, this article can also be considered a blueprint for defending the teachings of General Authorities.
Response to Question
Now let's lay out some principles and procedures to consider/follow when evaluating any contradiction.
1. Latter-day Saints should defend scripture as much as possible
It is our sacred duty as Latter-day Saints to defend the faith. For those that have entered the temple and received their endowment, you have pledged everything you have or will have in defending and sustaining the kingdom of God. Scripture admonishes us to always have a reason for the hope that is within us and to call upon our enemies to confound them both in public and private. Thus, defending the faith is a duty we take on as we have covenanted with God to do so.
This is our duty as it relates to defending scripture:
- We should seek to defend scripture as logically, historically, and theologically consistent as much as humanly possible. We should seek to defend scripture as morally justifed as much as humanly possible. We should seek to defend scripture as historically real (wherever historicity is asserted) as much as humanly possible.
Why is this our duty? Well first, as already mentioned, we have covenanted to defend the faith. But people also need to know that the spiritual guides that they look to are reliable as spiritual guides. We are not going to be able to retain members or gain converts by being passive to our critics and allowing them to paint the scriptures and prophets as unreliable spiritual guides. We need to uphold the scriptures and the prophets as reliable guides as much as humanly possible.
If we metaphorize every miracle recorded in scripture, we run the risk of making it appear as if God doesn't really intervene in this world and doesn't actually work miracles.
If we condemn a lot of scriptural morals, what morals of scripture can we actually rely on and trust as morals we should actually live by?
If we affirm every possible contradiction/tension in scripture, how does that affect the reliability of scripture?
Of course, this is not to say that the scriptures are infallible. It's only to say that we should defend it as much as possible. There may be times, as already noted, where it indeed is impossible to defend something as consistent. This isn't an issue. What is an issue is making seeing the flaws our first instinct. Our first instinct should be to defend scripture.
One way that Evangelical and Catholic apologists defend the Bible is by saying that a contradiction cannot be termed a contradiction until all other scenarios that make the two or more passages in question in conflict are ruled out. For instance, "Matthew 28:2 says there was only one angel at the tomb of Jesus, while Mark 16:5 [says] there was one young man clothed in a long white garment. Luke 24:4 and John 20:12 tells us there were two angels at the tomb." But this may mean, instead of the passages being contradictory, that some accounts were simply more detailed in their relation of events after Jesus' resurrection from the tomb than others. The young man in the long white garment may just be a description of an angel that Mark decided to give. We can't say that a passage is truly contradictory until all scenarios for resolving the contradictions are ruled out. Latter-day Saints may consider whether this principle will be useful for them in defending the high authority of scripture.
Let's talk a little bit more about infallibility/inerrancy.
2. Latter-day Saints do Not Believe in Scriptural Inerrancy
Latter-day Saints do not believe in the doctrine of Scriptural Inerrancy where the scriptures must be completely historically accurate, contain no theological tensions, and have no contradictions. That said, Latter-day Saints tend to hold the scriptures with a high degree of authority. How can this be the case? We don’t believe that scripture is inerrant, yet we also don’t want others to believe that we seek to create a God after our own image (Doctrine & Covenants 1:16) or that we believe that truth cannot be found in scripture.
Using the principles below will reveal how we can believe in the reliability of scripture.
3. You need to have an intelligent way to study the scriptures and understanding the nature of prophetic revelation
As several Church leaders have cautioned, the scriptures must be read intelligently. You must have a method for getting the proper interpretation and understanding of scripture. We've outlined a method here. You also need to understand how Latter-day Saints understand the nature of prophetic revelation: how it will be given to us, when it will be given to us, and on what subjects. We've outlined that here.
Having this method in line will help you to recognize when two, seemingly contradictory accounts can either not be contradictory at all or both be equally right even if mentioning two different things.
For example, two friends, David and Michael, go the store. David can report this event to his parents as if only he went to the store: "Oh, this afternoon I went to Wal-Mart." Michael can report the same event as if only he went to the store. Both boys are equally right.
It should be remembered that the presence of contradiction in the relation of a historical event does not negate the occurrence of the event. One should focus on the essential reality of the event being described itself rather than the presence of contradictions in the relation of the event or the ahistoricity of one account of that event. The broad outlines of the Bible, Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and Book of Moses can be trusted as historically plausible.
Similarly, scriptural authors may be writing from a historical perspective. Scholar Pete Enns gives the example of God’s opinion of the Assyrians: in the book of Jonah, God really likes the Assyrians and wants them to be saved; but in the book of Nahum, God destroys them. Is God contradicting himself? Or are biblical authors just writing from their distinct, historically-situated perspectives? God may certainly like the Assyrians and want to save them, but that doesn’t mean that his justice won’t be brought down on them if they deserve it.
4. Line upon line and its two features
Citing scripture, Latter-day Saints frequently talk about how revelation comes through the prophets "line upon line, precept upon precept." "Line upon line" has two features or functions:
- It reveals core truths over time directly to the prophet.
- It makes small addenda to previous revelations without threatening the core integrity of the first revelation. It's like reporting to one's parents that they went to the grocery store after school and then, getting futher into the conversation, reporting that one's friend also came with them.
Thus, rather than contradicting a previous passage, a subsequent passage may be complementing or supplementing the first.
5. God commands and revokes as seems good to him
In Section 56 of the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lord states:
- 3 Behold, I, the Lord, command; and he that will not obey shall be cut off in mine own due time, after I have commanded and the commandment is broken.
- 4 Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all this to be answered upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord.
This scripture does not condone moral relativism. The Lord is indeed bound by a moral law that is factual. All this means is that there are sometimes multiple, equally good ways to bring about the same end, and that the Lord will choose between these ways as adaptions to the conditions of the world and his covenant people. Readers should keep this in mind when evaluating "contradictions" in the commandments and covenants God has given us throughout time.
6. What we know about the afterlife is likely contingent upon what will motivate us to repent.
- 6 Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment.
- 7 Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my glory.
- 10 For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore
- 11 Eternal punishment is God's punishment.
- 12 Endless punishment is God's punishment.
Prior to this time, Joseph Smith's revelations seem to indicate that "endless punishment" might refer to something like eternal torment in a burning hell. This revelation shows us that what we know about the afterlife though is likely contingent upon what will motivate us to repent and to turn to God.
Readers should keep this in mind when evaluating what sort of "contradictions" exist about the afterlife in the scriptural record.
7. Apostasies and restorations can bring losses of knowledge. That knowledge may need to be restored gradually
Latter-day Saints believe in the concept of dispensations: periods of time in which God reveals his will through a prophet. A dispensation is inaugurated when God calls a prophet to receive revelation on behalf of the human family. A dispensation is ended when the general populace apostatizes or rebels against God. After the period of apostasy, God has called prophets anew.
With apostasies, knowledge about God can be lost from others. In ancient times, scriptural records were preserved on rolls of papyrus, clay tablets, and "writing-boards—flat boards of wood or ivory cut out in such a way that an inlay of wax could be written upon. The boards were hinged together to become a folding book." These might not have been accessible to the next person that God deemed worthy to be called as prophet. Knowledge to that prophet would then have to be restored "line upon line" just as it was before.
8. The Scriptures in Question May Be Focusing on a Specific Question Rather than Historical Accuracy
The narratives of ancient scripture (especially the Old Testament, Book of Mormon, Book of Moses, and Book of Abraham) are often composed to tell one overriding message. The revelation to tell that message may have been short. "Hey, prophet, I need you to write about the importance of charity." The prophet/author(s) of the different books of scripture may then be composing their narratives around that message and historical consistency may not be their focus when writing. This may explain why some books in the Pentateuch say Horeb and others, Sinai as mentioned above. Indeed, authors of the Old Testament, New Testament, and Book of Mormon are often writing from the third person: talking about revelations received in the past by prophets and recounting them historically rather than receiving a dictated revelation in the style of Doctrine & Covenants. Scripture writers are often doing something closer to the work of historians and recounting what prophets have revealed in the past rather than doing the work of prophets and dictating revelation word for word as they receive it from God. They may be recounting this history based off of oral tradition (like people passing stories or rumors from one person to another) or written tradition (like typical documents that historians work from today to reconstruct the past). Any number of potential discrepancies can arise in a text then since the text is subject to the fallible human processes of historical reconstruction. In cases like these where contradictions arise because of the pitfalls of uncovering accurate history, we can elect to rely on the earliest account and the one with the least amount of bias. Knowing which account of an event is earlier and has the least amount of bias is the main work of scriptural source critics. Their work can be found in commentaries and other scholarly publications on the scriptures. We, as Latter-day Saints, can pay attention to this work in our efforts to learn everything we can from and about scripture.
This may be one of the reasons that the Book of Mormon so strongly emphasizes the importance of preserving records to accurately record how God has dealt with his children.
9. Scripture May Preserve Moral Fallibility So That We Can Learn From It
As an example of this, consider the words of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf regarding a scripture from Solomon:
The ancient King Solomon was one of the most outwardly successful human beings in history. He seemed to have everything—money, power, adoration, honor. But after decades of self-indulgence and luxury, how did King Solomon sum up his life?
“All is vanity,” he said.
This man, who had it all, ended up disillusioned, pessimistic, and unhappy, despite everything he had going for him.
[. . .]
Solomon was wrong, my dear brothers and sisters—life is not “vanity.” To the contrary, it can be full of purpose, meaning, and peace.The healing hands of Jesus Christ reach out to all who seek Him. I have come to know without a doubt that believing and loving God and striving to follow Christ can change our hearts, soften our pain, and fill our souls with “exceedingly great joy.”
One will notice that Elder Uchtdorf 1) declares Solomon wrong; and 2) uses scriptures to establish what he believed was the correct view. Indeed, Elder Uchtdorf uses many scriptures that contradict Solomon's view. But another important element of this is that Elder Uchtdorf didn't state that Solomon was wrong for expressing the view or that the scripture wasn't inspired for having a "wrong" view. Rather, he used Solomon's downtrodden state to illustrate an important principle of life.
Thus, there may be errors of perspective on doctrine and not doctrine itself in the scriptures.
This may be one option to consider when evaluating the contradictions of scripture.
10. There’s a Difference Between a Contradiction and a Paradox
There’s a difference between a contradiction and a paradox.
A contradiction is making a claim and then denying it: stating X and then denying X. If I say it’s raining outside and then say it’s not raining outside I am contradicting myself.
A paradox is making a seemingly contradictory statement but it’s actually just affirming two propositions that can both be true simultaneously: affirming X and then affirming Y. I can affirm that there is an unstoppable force and an immovable object and I won’t necessarily be contradicting myself. If I say there is an unstoppable force and then deny that there is an unstoppable force, then I am contradicting myself.
Scripture may contain paradox that is useful for our instruction.
11. Further revelation from modern prophets may resolve other contradictions in scripture
One of the glorious messages of the Restored Gospel is that the heavens are still open and God still speaks to his children through living prophets. We know that prophets can receive revelation that can then be canonized by the sustaining vote of the Church's membership. We may look forward to future revelation to resolve any uncertainties or seeming contradictions in scripture.
One example of this principle in action may be how the Doctrine & Covenants resolves a contradiction in the Bible. In Exodus 33:11 it is affirmed that "the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend." Just nine verses later, Exodus 33:20 affirms that: "Thou [referring to Moses] canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live." As an even starker contrast from 33:11, John 1:18 affirms that "[n]o one has seen God at any time." 1 Timothy 6:16 (NIV) gives praise to the God who "alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen."
Doctrine & Covenants 84:21–22 reads "And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live." These verses seem to suggest that without the power of godliness intervening and helping man to take in God's glory, no man can see God the Father. This passage makes sense of much of the others from the Bible and may be seen as revelation clarifying previous revelation and resolving an apparent contradiction.
12. There May Be Ideological Purposes Behind Contradictions. There Are a Couple of Principles to Keep in Mind When Dealing With These
There may be certain ideological purposes behind certain contradictions. For instance, some have proposed that David's slaying of Goliath may have actually been done by a man named Elhanan. The contradictions exist, some scholars propose, because writers either wanted to undermine or shore up David's credibility and legitimacy as king of Israel.
Assuming that this is true and that Elhanan was the one that actually killed David (just for the sake of argument), we can extract a several principles that may help us to understand how to deal with these types of contradictions/tensions:
- It may be that one of the writer's position came via revelation from God and the other(s) writer's did not. It may be that the other writer is trying to undermine the first writer's position by arguing against it.
- It may be that neither of the writers' positions came via revelation from God but that they were trying to do something good nonetheless. In this example and assuming that it is true, shoring up David's credibility/authenticity as king of Israel may have actually been a good thing, but the writer that credited Goliath's death to David was doing it the wrong way. One could assume the opposite: that Elhanan was credited with the death of Goliath wrongly but not for a nefarious purpose. We don't necessarily have to see the disagreement as something nefarious.
- The best way to tell which writers' position came from God may be to read the rest of the scriptures and find if other authors agree with one of the writers. Perhaps if more writers agree with one over another, then we can take that position as the true/correct one. Scripture returns to the theme of establishing God's word in the mouth of two or three witnesses many times. If there isn't as good of a consensus, perhaps we can synthesize the two positions somehow.
- It may not be necessary to find consensus nor synthesize. In this case of David/Elhanan, perhaps we can just take the disagreement and find it to be an interesting aspect of the Bible. There really isn't anything major at stake in believing that Elhanan and not David killed Goliath. At most it just means that a tradition about David or Elhanan is wrong. It doesn’t change the more important fact that David was the king of Israel and that the Savior descended from David. The same principle could apply to other controversies: perhaps we don’t need to care whether there’s a contradiction since it doesn’t change more central and important facts about the Gospel.
- We can know that something more important is at stake when the controversy in question centers around a moral/ethical question. Believers are more interested in knowing how to be a good person in the eyes of God. They need clear communication in knowing how to do that. They don't need to fret about every historical controversy about scripture.
13. Scripture Can Still Be Instructive and Valuable as Scripture Even When it Contains Contradictions
This is especially true when dealing with mere historical contradictions rather than moral and theological ones, but scripture can still be instructive and valuable as scripture even when it contains contradictions.
Scholars have argued, and not without merit (and also not without some informed pushback), that the story of Joseph being sold into Egypt in Genesis 37:18–36 can actually be divided into two separate, unified narratives about how Joseph was sold. There seem to be narrative hiccups as one reads the story as currently contained in the Bible and this can be resolved by disentangling the two accounts. Verses 19, 20, 23, 26, 27, 31–35 can function on their own as one account and the rest of the verses—18, 21, 22, 24–25, 28, 29–30, and 36—can function as another narrative. It resolves the contradictions and clunky narrative seams that seem to be present in the current account as contained in our Bibles today.
The two accounts, however, when separated out, can still be instructive and valuable on their own as scripture and teach us true doctrine. We shouldn’t need to demand a pristine text in order to consider the text true and instructive.
Further insights about how to understand contradictions/tensions will come as one understands how the biblical authors constructed narratives and thought about history. Two of the best books on this subject are Philips Long’s The Art of Biblical History and Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative. Suggested reading for any interested.
Using the principles and procedures laid out above, it is the author's belief that virtually all contradictions/tensions are reconciable and lead to a clear picture about God that we can use to become like him and adopt his nature.
Question: Does Lehi contradict Jeremiah 27 and prove himself a false prophet?
Introduction to Question
One critic has claimed that Jeremiah 27 proves that Lehi wasn’t a true prophet and that the Book of Mormon’s authenticity is thus affected negatively.
Jeremiah 27 contains Jeremiah’s pleas before the kings of Israel to not fight back against Babylon. Babylon was forming a then-impending invasion on Israel. Certain prophets like Hananiah in Jeremiah 28 were prophesying that Jerusalem and Israel should fight back against Babylon and that the Lord would carry them to victory over Babylon.
Jeremiah receives revelation that those prophecies are not from the Lord. He is instructed to tell the kings of Israel to surrender willfully to Babylon and allow themselves to be carried away to Babylon for 70 years. As verse 8 of chapter 27 of Jeremiah says:
- 8 And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.
Further, any prophet claiming otherwise should not be listened to. Chapter 27 verses 12–18:
- 12 ¶ I spake also to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live.
- 13 Why will ye die, thou and thy people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord hath spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?
- 14 Therefore hearken not unto the words of the prophets that speak unto you, saying, Ye shall not serve the king of Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.
- 15 For I have not sent them, saith the Lord, yet they prophesy a lie in my name; that I might drive you out, and that ye might perish, ye, and the prophets that prophesy unto you.
- 16 Also I spake to the priests and to all this people, saying, Thus saith the Lord; Hearken not to the words of your prophets that prophesy unto you, saying, Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house shall now shortly be brought again from Babylon: for they prophesy a lie unto you.
- 17 Hearken not unto them; serve the king of Babylon, and live: wherefore should this city be laid waste?
- 18 But if they be prophets, and if the word of the Lord be with them, let them now make intercession to the Lord of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the Lord, and in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, go not to Babylon.
Lehi, the critic asserts, is given revelation to leave Jerusalem. Thus, he remains outside of Jeremiah’s instruction from God via revelation to submit and be slaves to Babylon. Thus either both prophets aren’t actually prophets or one is right and the other is a false prophet.
Response to Question
It’s important to keep in mind exactly what Jeremiah is responding to. Jeremiah is responding to the wickedness of Israel and the city Jerusalem. He believes that Israel and Jerusalem are so wicked that the Lord must punish them and, indeed, he has received revelation from God that God is going to do just that: punish Israel via the Babylonian invasion. If they resist the Babylonian invasion, they face the sword, famine, and pestilence until they die. If they don’t resist, they face the 70 years of punishment via slavery in Babylon. Much nicer.
Lehi heard prophets in Jerusalem saying that “the people must repent, or that great city Jerusalem must be destroyed” (1 Nephi 1:4). He also read a book in vision that said that Jerusalem “should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon” (1 Nephi 1:13). Jerusalem could be saved if they repented. As Lehi exclaimed “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty ! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish” (1 Nephi 1:14). Lehi told his contemporaries of this way out of destruction via repentance, but, according to Nephi’s account of Lehi’s ministry, Lehi was mocked and his people sought to take away his life (1 Nephi 1:20). Lehi is then commanded personally in a dream to take his family and depart into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2).
Thus, Jeremiah is telling people to not actively resist the Babylonian invasion whether by violence or some other means but to submit to their rule. Otherwise they face destruction. Lehi is saying that if the people repent they don’t have to face each other. The two prophets don’t necessarily make it explicit in both of their messages that both of these options were available to the people, but that does not make their messages conflicting.
- Kevin Barney, "The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 no. 3 (Fall 1986), 85-102.
- Gleason L. Archer, An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1982), 31. ISBN 0310435706.
- Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 199. off-site
- Arthur C. Custance, "Abraham and His Princess," Hidden Things of God's Revelation (Zondervan, 1977), off-site ISBN 0310230217.
- See, for example, the examples of the Egyptian midwives and Moses discussed here.
- Kevin Barney, “The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible,” in The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, ed. Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 152–53.
- Thomas M. Mumford, Horizontal Harmony of the Four Gospels in Parallel Columns (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 48.
- Frank Daniels, "When was the Passover? When was the Resurrection?" Friktech, accessed August 10, 2021, https://www.friktech.com/rel/passover.htm.
- James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 1–3.
- Julie M. Smith, The Gospel According to Mark (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2018), 17–20.
- 1 Peter 3:15; Doctrine & Covenants 71:7–9.
- "How many angels were at the tomb of Jesus after His resurrection?" NeverThirsty, accessed September 26, 2022, https://www.neverthirsty.org/bible-qa/qa-archives/question/how-many-angels-at-the-tomb-of-jesus/.
- Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament: Countering Challenges to Evangelical Christian Belief (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016); K.H. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2006); Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing, 2006); ESV Archaeology Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Crossway, 2018); Craig S. Keener, Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019); John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2013); Brant Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015); Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007); John Welch, ed., Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017); Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997). For an overview of evidence for the Book of Abraham, see here. For evidence for the Book of Moses see Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, In God's Image and Likeness (Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2009); Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David Larson, In God's Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Orem, UT: Interpreter Foundation, 2014).
- Pete Enns (@theb4np), “Does the Bible contradict itself? From Pete Enns. #InstaxChallenge #theologytok #bibletok,” TikTok, March 27, 2022, https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdmdLFDA/.
- Isaiah 28:10, 13; 2 Nephi 28:30; Doctrine & Covenants 98:12; 128:21
- Doctrine & Covenants 56:3–4. Emphasis added.
- Lenet H. Read, "How the Bible Came to Be: Part 2, The Word Is Preserved," Ensign 12, no. 2 (February 1982): 32.
- An msn.com poll listed Solomon as the fifth richest person to ever live. “According to the Bible, King Solomon ruled from 970 BC to 931 BC, and during this time he is said to have received 25 tons of gold for each of the 39 years of his reign, which would be worth billions of dollars in 2016. Along with impossible riches amassed from taxation and trade, the biblical ruler’s personal fortune could have surpassed $2 trillion in today’s money” (“The 20 Richest People of All Time,” Apr. 25, 2017, msn.com).
- See Ecclesiastes 1:1–2
- See Ecclesiastes 2:17
- See Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 24:7
- 1 Nephi 8:12
- Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Believe, Love, Do," Ensign 48, no. 11 (November 2018): 46–49.
- Emphasis added. For an insightful critique of the Evangelical interpretation of these verses, see James Stutz, "Can a Man See God? 1 Timothy 6:16 in Light of Ancient and Modern Revelation," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 8 (2014): 11–26.
- Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:5; Matthew 18:15–16; John 8:12–29; 2 Corinthians 13:1; 2 Nephi 11:3; 27:12–14; Ether 5:2–4; Doctrine & Covenants 5:15.