Mormonism and the Bible/Scripture interpretation

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Biblical scripture interpretation

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Question: How can a Latter-day Saint approach responding to criticism of the Church on biblical grounds?


Introduction to Question

Since its inception, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been routinely criticized on the grounds that it is not Christian. That is, true to the beliefs and practices of early Christians as recorded in the Bible. As evidence of this assertion, members of other Christian denominations will point to scripture contained within the Holy Bible that seems to contradict the beliefs held officially by the Church.

Latter-day Saints are given the injunction to "earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the Saints,"[1] "call upon [our enemies] to meet [us] both in public and in private,"[2] give "a reason for the hope that is within [us],"[3] and, for those who have received their temple endowment, to defend and sustain the Kingdom of God.

How can a Latter-day Saint approach responding to criticism like this? In this article, we aim to identify principles and procedures that Latter-day Saint defenders can follow in order to effectively respond to this type of criticism.

Response to Question

To answer this question, we will center our response around a particular belief of Latter-day Saints and identify how we, as apologists, have approached responding to that criticism. We have elected to use baptism for the dead as our example.

1. Identify the modern scriptures that make up Latter-day Saint belief

The first step that anyone should take when responding to this type of criticism is identify the modern revelation that makes up Latter-day Saint belief and practice.

Joseph Smith left clear revelation that the canonized scriptures should govern the Church.[4] This since they have been revealed by the Lord's duly appointed prophet (the only one authorized to receive revelation on behalf of the entire Church),[5] submitted to and approved by all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve,[6] and submitted to the general body of the Church for ratification.[7] Scripture should be read contextually (that is, in the historical context of the people who would have first heard the revelation) and holistically (seeing everything scripture has to say on the topic at hand) to acquire accurate theological conceptions that members judge every person's doctrine against. This article explains in more detail how to read the scriptures. When one has read the relevant scriptures contextually and holistically, then they can have the most accurate theological conception that they can then use as a productive basis for providing response.

In the case of baptism for the dead, the revelations that we need to read and interpret carefully are Doctrine and Covenants 124, 127, and 128.

2. Identify the ancient scripture that makes up Latter-day Saint belief and practice

Next, we should identify the ancient scriptures that make up Latter-day Saint belief and practice since these are usually the ones that our critics are going to try and use against us. In the case of baptism for the dead, the only scripture that touches on it explicitly is 1 Corinthians 15:29.

For steps 1 and 2, remember to gather all relevant scriptural data to inform your perspective about these practices. Scripture should be read contextually (as explained below) as well as holistically (seeing everything that it has to say on a given topic) in order to understand it correctly.[8]

3. Exegete the text

Exegesis is an interpretation or explanation of scripture. Usually, when we’re speaking of exegesis, we are referring to a historical-grammatical method of exegesis. That is, trying to understand how the first hearers/readers of those scriptures understood the text. When we perform historical-grammatical exegesis, we are looking for the correct interpretation of scripture by assuming that something about the historical background of that scripture can tell us about how to interpret it.

The interpretation of a text is subject to the constraints added on by the three stages of a text's transmission:

  1. The author’s intent or purpose in what he or she wrote. The text exists in the author's mind at some point and they had something that they intended to communicate to us.
  2. What the author actually wrote separate from that purpose/intent.
  3. How we, as readers, interpret or react to that text today.

The historical-grammatical method of exegesis helps us to try and get a more accurate understanding of the first two stages of transmission so that the interpretation made at the last stage of transmission can be best informed.

Latter-day Saints are admonished to seek to understand scripture in its original context. Scripture contains several admonitions to not wrest it.[9]

President Brigham Young stated:

Do you read the Scriptures, my brethren and sisters, as though you were writing them a thousand, two thousand, or five thousand years ago? Do you read them as though you stood in the place of the men who wrote them? If you do not feel thus, it is your privilege to do so, that you may be as familiar with the spirit and meaning of the written word of God as you are with your daily walk and conversation, or as you are with your workmen or with your households. You may understand what the Prophets understood and thought—what they designed and planned to bring forth to their brethren for their good.” Journal of Discourses 7: 333

To perform historical grammatical exegesis, one should seek to establish four types of context for scripture: generical, historical, textual, and linguistic.

  1. Generical: Scripture has many genres of writing. There is legal code, historical texts, narratives, poetry, and more. Understanding the genre of scripture can help us in interpreting that scripture.
  2. Historical: Scripture was written at a particular time and in a particular culture. We often need a lot of tools to help us understand when scripture was written and under what cultural filters. Scholars for many years have used study bibles in order to help them establish this context. This author recommends The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible and the Jewish Study Bible to gain a better understanding of Scripture's historical context.
  3. Textual: Any verse is going to be embedded in a series of other verses where the author is talking about a particular topic. We should read the verses preceding and succeeding our verse in question in order to understand what the author is talking about.
  4. Linguistic: words obviously have meaning. They can have different meanings to different people at different times. Since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Koine Greek, we will need to understand these languages somehow in order to understand what the translated English word might be getting at. Even English words as contained in the King James Bible (the Church’s officially preferred translation for English readers) are going to be hard to understand because they either aren’t in common use anymore or because they are diachronic. That is, they can change in meaning over time.

An example of this is the word “virtue” in the Bible

In Ruth 3:11 we read “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requires: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.”

And in Proverbs 31:10 we read: "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. “

With these verses we might easily conclude that the King James translators were referring to virtue as we sometimes use it today which would be to be chaste. However, a confusing case arises in the New Testament. Luke 6:19 reads “And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.” So, virtue left Jesus’ body after a woman touched him? Or is our definition of virtue perhaps different than that of the King James translators? The definition was closer to power than being chaste.

As we understand both the underlying Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek term and the English term translated into our King James Version, the better we will be able to understand the scriptures as the ancients understood them and how we, today, are commanded to understand them.

For understanding the underlying Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, the author recommends either making an effort to learning those languages or using the features at that allow readers to click on the tab that gives the original Greek or Hebrew text, hover over the text to see the word that was translated, and then use the pop-up dictionaries. For understanding confusing King Jamesian English, the author recommends using the resources found at

The goal of all this work is to establish that one has the superior interpretation of scripture or, in other words, the one that is most likely the correct one. Thus, one should seek for and document as much support for their interpretation of scripture as possible.

As a shortcut to doing their own exegesis, members might simply consult any one of the literally hundreds of scholarly commentaries that have been produced exegeting different books of the New and Old Testament. That is exactly what FAIR did in its article on proving ancient roots for baptism for the dead: collect the written statements of a host of biblical scholars that support Joseph Smith’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:29 and the practice he established based off of that interpretation (and the revelation he received from God) to reinaugurate it in this dispensation.

An example of great exegesis done on 1 Corinthians 15:29 was done by Latter-day Saint scholar Kevin Barney. Readers might follow his example in responding to criticism from the Bible.[10]

4. Seek out other scriptures that your opponent might use in order to strengthen their argument for their particular belief and address those as well

A criticism about our beliefs is often not built on a single scripture but multiple. It is important that we try and respond to all of our opponent's scriptural data/arguments in order to make our own belief as strong as possible. Thus, one should seek out those scriptures (or ask for them from your interlocutor) and perform their own exegesis on them in order to weaken arguments.

5. Organize your findings and send it to FAIR!

We would hope that many people would be involved in responding to criticism of the Church from the Bible. We want to refine our efforts in defending the Church, increase in understanding of Church doctrine and the revelations of God, and ultimately help others in strengthening their testimonies.

FAIR has collected many responses to biblical criticism on its various pages. However, we hope that others would suggest refinements to those pages or, if there is new criticism, write about it and send it to us so that we can post it here on our website in our efforts to defend the Gospel.

FAIR may have some editorial suggestions for your article about which we will communicate.


It is the author’s hope that this article will serve as a decent guide to those wishing to help others and defend the kingdom of God.

More helpful insights about this topic will surely become evident as one engages in the apologetic process here. It is the author’s prayer that those searching for those insights will do so with a patient, humble, and soft heart engaged in prayer always.

Question: When the Bible talks about being "born again," what does this mean?

Latter-day Saints have unknowingly had the same interpretation as those early writers who came after the Apostles

These authors may have had a more clear picture of the apostles' interpretation of Scripture than a modern reader does.

To be sure, baptism must be accompanied by faith in Christ and repentance of sins, or it is of no worth.[11] But, to argue that baptism is unnecessary, or only a formality, does not seem to be in keeping with either scriptural or early Patristic testimony.

A witness of the Spirit pushes those who are truly born again to repent, change their lives, and obey the Lord's commandments insofar as they are able to do so: e.g., be baptized. This witness by the Holy Ghost of the truth of the restored gospel has been shared by millions of people of all nations, ethnic backgrounds, cultures and tongues, and is the primary reason that thousands choose to join the Church even in the face of defamatory material published against it.

1. Baptisms

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.(John 3:3-5)

Latter-day Saints believe this scripture should be interpreted as saying a man must be baptized in order to enter into the kingdom of God, while some conservative Christians often interpret this as saying that one need only believe in Jesus Christ to enter into the kingdom of God.

It is interesting to note that the LDS interpretation concurs with what the ancients taught and believed. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D) said the following:

For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.[12]

Irenaeus wrote:

‘And dipped himself,’ says [the Scripture], "seven times in Jordan." It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.’[13]

The Clementine Homilies reads:

And do not think, though you were more pious than all the pious that ever were, but if you be unbaptized, that you shall ever obtain hope. For all the more, on this account, you] shall endure the greater punishment, because you have done excellent works not excellently. For well-doing is excellent when it is done as God has commanded. But if you will not be baptized according to His pleasure, you serve your own will and oppose His counsel. But perhaps some one will say, What does it contribute to piety to be baptized with water? In the first place, because you do that which is pleasing to God; and in the second place, being born again to God of water, by reason of fear you change your first generation, which is of lust, and thus you are able to obtain salvation. But otherwise it is impossible. For thus the prophet has sworn to us, saying, "Verily I say to you, Unless ye be regenerated by living water into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.[14]

The Apostolic Constitutions says:

Nay, he that, out of contempt, will not be baptized, shall be condemned as an unbeliever, and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says: "Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven." And again: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."[15]

2. A "born again" experience?

In some religious traditions the term “born again” often refers to a strong emotional experience that is interpreted in that tradition as a manifestation that he or she who has experienced it has been saved. Latter-day Saints do not accept the idea that one can enter the kingdom of God on this basis alone; but do not deny the sincerity of those who feel that the experience is sacred to them.

It is not uncommon for a Latter-day Saint to have a personal spiritual experience, or witness, which is often intense but differing from mere emotion. This experience is often life-changing, affirming, and strengthening to those that experience it. Occasionally members of other religious traditions tell a Latter-day Saint who has had such a spiritual witness that he or she has instead had a “born again” experience, inferring that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is false.

On the contrary, an actual spiritual experience affirms to the Latter-day Saint the truth and efficacy of the restored gospel. Latter-day Saints believe in all of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and that these may be experienced by any Latter-day Saint as appropriate to his or her faith and circumstance.

People who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but are investigating its truth may also experience a witness from the Holy Ghost that what they are being taught by missionaries, members, or the Book of Mormon is true. This enables them, by faith, to follow the Lord’s teachings and be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Question: Was the Gospel of Christ a mystery that was unknown until the advent of Christ?

"Mystery" denotes a knowledge available only through revelation: There is clear Biblical evidence that some before Christ knew of Jesus

Members of the Church believe that the gospel of Christ has been known since the days of Adam. However, it is claimed by some Christians that the New Testament teaches that the Gospel of Christ was a mystery unknown until the advent of Christ. (In defense of this claim, they often cite such scriptures as Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 4:1; or Ephesians 3:1-10;

"Mystery" denotes a knowledge available only through revelation. There is clear Biblical evidence that some before Christ knew of Jesus. If Moses, for example, had this mystery revealed to him, then it is fallacious for one to claim that no other pre-Christian prophets could have known of Jesus and his saving gospel.

It is an error to assume that the term "mystery" has the same meaning to the New Testament writers as it does to the modern creedal Christian

As a non-LDS Bible reference explains:

[A "mystery" is] [s]omething revealed by God, at least to a few. The meaning is different from the usual English sense of an unsolved problem....

Its principal occurrences [in the NT] are in Pauline literature, where it is found 21 times....

Paul's use of the term...[connects] it with Jesus' crucifixion rather than with esoteric forms of knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:1-7). For Paul the mystery that has been revealed is God's plan of salvation. In Ephesians 6:19 he speaks of the mystery of the gospel. Similarly, in Colossians 2:2 he calls God's mystery Christ himself. The mystery is ancient. According to Romans 16:25 it was kept secret for long ages, but in the following verse and in Ephesians 3:9-10 Paul indicates that it was revealed int he fullness of time. The mystery relates to the inclusion of the Gentiles as well as the Jews in God's plan of salvation (Romans 16:25-26, Colossians 1:26-27, Ephesians 3:3-6....

The word "mystery" is also used in a derivative sense in several passages where the terms to which it applies are significant in the divine plan of salvation which has been revealed....[16]

The LDS Bible Dictionary gives a similar perspective:

[The word "mystery"] [d]enotes in the N.T. a spiritual truth that was once hidden but now is revealed, and that, without special revelation, would have remained unknown. It is generally used along with words denoting revelation or publication (e.g., Rom. 16:25–26; Eph. 1:9; 3:3–10; Col. 1:26; 4:3; 1 Tim. 3:16). The modern meaning of something incomprehensible forms no part of the significance of the word as it occurs in the N.T."[17]

Thus, a mystery is not necessarily something that is unknown or unknowable. Rather, it is truth that is known only through revelation. As the first quote indicates, one of the mysteries that Paul claims has been hid is the extension of gospel blessings to all, both Jew and Gentile. This does not mean, however, that the entire gospel was hid even from the covenant people of the pre-Christian era.

Indeed, the NT is clear that at least one Old Testament figure knew of Christ:

By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26} (italics added)

How can Moses have chosen the "reproach of Christ" if he did not have a knowledge of Christ? Yet, that knowledge was a "mystery"—a knowledge which could only be known through revelation.

Question: How did the authors of the Bible view the earth and the universe?

The authors of the Bible believed that the moon, sun, and other luminaries are fixed in a curved structure which arches over the earth

The standard reference work, the Anchor Bible Dictionary writes:

The variety in date, origin, and scope of the Hebrew Bible's cosmological materials means that achieving a single, uniform picture of the physical universe is hardly possible. Still, sufficient overlap does obtain between the many accounts of the universe, however these may vary in their details, to allow for a few generalizations. The earth on which humanity dwells is seen as a round, solid object, perhaps a disk, floating upon a limitless expanse of water. Paralleling this lower body of water is a second, similarly limitless, above, from which water descends in the form of rain through holes and channels piercing the heavenly reservoir. The moon, sun, and other luminaries are fixed in a curved structure which arches over the earth. This structure is the familiar "firmament" (raqiya) of the priestly account, perhaps envisioned as a solid but very thin substance on the analogy of beaten and stretched metal. Though some texts appear to convey a picture of a four-storied universe (Job 11:8-9 or Psalms 139:8-9), the great majority of biblical texts assume the three-storied universe so clearly assumed in other, ancient traditions. Thus, the Decalog's prohibition of images specifies "heaven above," "earth below," and "water under the earth" as the possible models for any such forbidden images (Exodus 20:4). If we understand the common term "earth" (erets) as designating at times the "underworld," then the combined references in Psalms 77:19 to heaven, the "world" (tebel), and the "earth" ('erets) are another appeal to the universe as a three-storied structure (for other texts where 'erets may refer to the underworld, see Stadelmann 1970: 128, n. 678). Clearer reference still to the same structure is to be found in Psalms 115:15-17, where we find grouped together "the heaven of heavens," "the earth," and the realm of "the dead" (cf. Psalms 33:6-8 snf Proverbs 8:27-29).

The curving, solid structure which arches over the realm of humanity is sometimes called a "disk" or "vault" (hug; Isaiah 40:22, Proverbs 8:27). That which allows the heavenly abyss to water the earth are occasional interruptions in this solid structure, openings called variously windows, doors, or channels. In some texts, that which suspends the habitable earth above the underworld's waters (see 1 Samuel 2:8 for another reference to these rivers) are pillars or some such foundational structures. These seem envisioned in Job 38:4-5; Psalms 24:2; 104:5; Proverbs 8:29, and elsewhere. Finally, the realm beneath the arena of human activity is not only imagined as one of watery chaos but also given the specific designation "Sheol" (she'ol), usually translated "the underworld." In the different elaborations upon just what one should imagine Sheol as including, again there is little consistency. At times, Sheol is personified, with a belly or womb and a mouth (Jonah 2:3-Eng 2:2); Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 30:16; and Psalms 141:7), while at others Sheol is rather more architecturally portrayed (Isaiah 38:10; Job 7:9-10; Job 14:20-22; Job 17:13; Job 18:17-18), as a dark and forgetful land or city (Stadlmann 1970: 1666-76).[18]

Question: Does the Bible condemn genealogical research?

The Bible rejects the use of genealogies to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings

Critics charge that the Bible condemns genealogy, and therefore the Latter-day Saint practice of compiling family histories is anti-Biblical, often citing 1 Timothy 1:4 or Titus 3:9.

The Bible does not condemn all genealogy per se. Rather, it rejects the use of genealogy to "prove" one's righteousness, or the truth of one's teachings. It also rejects the apostate uses to which some Christians put genealogy in some varieties of gnosticism.

Latter-day Saints engage in genealogical work so that they can continue the Biblical practice of providing vicarious ordinances for the dead

Latter-day Saints engage in genealogy work so that they can continue the Biblical practice—also endorsed by Paul—of providing vicarious ordinances for the dead, such as baptism (See 1 Corinthians 15:29) so that the atonement of Christ may be available to all who would choose it, living or dead. See: Baptism for the dead

The Bible clearly does not reject all uses of genealogy

This can be seen through its many genealogical lists, including two such lists for Jesus Christ Himself. (See Matthew 1:1–24 and Luke 3:23–38.)

The condemnation of "genealogies" in Timothy and Titus likely came because:

  • the Christians perceived a Jewish tendency to be pre-occupied by "pure descent" as a qualification for holding the priesthood. Since only pure descendents of Levi could hold the priesthood, there was endless wrangling about one's pedigree—since Paul considers the Aaronic Priesthood to have been superceded by Christ, the great High Priest like Melchizedek (see Hebrews 5), this probably strikes him as pointless.
  • some Jewish scribes and other teachers claimed that their "traditions" were directly descended from Moses, Joshua, or some other prominent leader, and thus superior to the Christian gospel.[19]
  • some gnostic sects had involved accounts of the descent of the Aeons (up to 365 "generations" in one scheme) and other mystic or pagan variations thereon.[20]

Since all these genealogies were either speculative or fabricated, they could cause endless, pointless debate.[21] Rather Paul wants the faith (in Christ) which builds up ("edifying") testimonies and lives.

Question: Why did Joseph describe the United Order in revelation as "everlasting" and "immutable and unchangeable" until Jesus comes?

The United Order is an "everlasting" covenant because it comes from God, reflects his purposes, and is attended by promised blessings for all who obey

This does not mean—just as with biblical examples which use identical language—that "everlasting" is a prophecy about its practice or implementation.

The relevant scripture reads (color emphasis added for clarity):

1 Verily I say unto you, my friends, I give unto you counsel, and a commandment, concerning all the properties which belong to the order which I commanded to be organized and established, to be a united order, and an everlasting order for the benefit of my church, and for the salvation of men until I come—

2 With promise immutable and unchangeable, that inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings;

3 But inasmuch as they were not faithful they were nigh unto cursing.

4 Therefore, inasmuch as some of my servants have not kept the commandment, but have broken the covenant through covetousness, and with feigned words, I have cursed them with a very sore and grievous curse.

5 For I, the Lord, have decreed in my heart, that inasmuch as any man belonging to the order shall be found a transgressor, or, in other words, shall break the covenant with which ye are bound, he shall be cursed in his life, and shall be trodden down by whom I will;

6 For I, the Lord, am not to be mocked in these things—(DC 104:1-6)

Several points need to be made:

  • the practice of the Order is not prophesied to be "immutable and unchangeable." Rather, the Lord says that the promise is "immutable and unchangeable"—and, that promise is that "inasmuch as those whom I commanded were faithful, they should be blessed with a multiplicity of blessings.
  • the United Order is to be everlasting—that is, it is always the Lord's highest law. Temple-worthy Latter-day Saints promise to observe the law of consecration. They are not, at present, commanded to enter the United Order, but covenant to do so if asked.
  • the Lord makes it clear (verses 3-6) that some might break the covenant, and suffer the penalty. Thus, failure to live the law is not failure of a prophecy, but failure to live a commandment.

Biblical parallels: similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances

There are similar uses of the term "everlasting" that describe the importance and efficacy of certain commandments or ordinances. Yet, Christians do not believe they are bound to continue to observe these ordinances and covenants at all historical times. For example (emphasis added in all cases):

  • Aaron and the Levites are given an "everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Exodus 40:15, see also Numbers 25:13). Yet, modern day Christians (like many of our critics) do not seem to believe that the only legitimate priestly authority persists with Levitical descendants, or that such descendants currently enjoy divine sanction.
  • Circumcision is described as "a token of the covenant betwixt me and you" that "my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." Those who are not circumcised "shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:10-14). Yet, modern Christians do not believe that circumcision continues to be binding or necessary.
  • Likewise, the "bread for a memorial" is commanded to be " order before the Lord continually," since it is "taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant" (Leviticus 24:8). Do the critics likewise believe that this ought to be continued in unbroken succession to the present for it to be a valid commandment from God?

Question: Why do Mormons use the Aaronic Priesthood, since Hebrews 7 states that the Aaronic/Levitical Priesthood was "changed" to the unique priesthood "after the order of Melchizedek" held by Jesus Christ?

The idea that the Melchizedek Priesthood superseded the Aaronic Priesthood is a correct one, but this does not necessarily imply that there is no Aaronic Priesthood

As other Christians see it, the Aaronic Priesthood is like a small glass of water that is replaced by a fruit juice (the Melchizedek Priesthood). They are distinguished from each other, in most Christians' eyes, as quite separate things.

The LDS would use a different metaphor to explain things: they might compare the Aaronic Priesthood to a glass of water that is filled only part way. Instead of being replaced by an entirely different drink, more water is poured into it until it is a full glass (the Melchizedek Priesthood).

From a Mormon perspective, the two priesthoods are really the same substance: the power of God delegated to man

From whence do the two priesthoods originate? The same source—God. What is the purpose of the two priesthoods? They bring mortals to the Lord (note that only the Melchizedek Priesthood can do so entirely—see Hebrews 7:11—but the Aaronic Priesthood was instrumental in keeping ancient Israel holy and pure). The Aaronic Priesthood is merely a limited form of the Melchizedek Priesthood, or (as LDS scriptures call it) an "appendage" to it (D&C 107:13–14).

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles illustrated the doctrine clearly:

Since all priesthood is Melchizedek, the Aaronic Priesthood being a portion of it, one does not lose the Aaronic Priesthood when he is ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood [...][22]

Why does the Aaronic Priesthood persist in the Church?

So, if the Church possesses the Melchizedek priesthood, then why would the Aaronic Priesthood persist today? The Aaronic priesthood serves as a 'preparatory priesthood' (see D&C 84:26.) Just as the Levitical authority in ancient Israel acted as a "schoolmaster" to prepare Israel to receive Christ (see Galatians 3:24–25), in the modern Church the Aaronic priesthood serves to school young men for service in God's kingdom on earth.

The modern Aaronic priesthood's organizational structure follows the pattern established by the New Testament Church, and consists of Deacons (see Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12–13), Teachers (Acts 13:1,1 Corinthians 12:28–29), and Priests (see Acts 6:7), and countless references in the Old Testament to Levitical/Aaronic 'priests').

Each Aaronic priesthood office is trusted with more responsibility, providing LDS young men with the opportunity to progress and mature until they are ready to receive the priesthood in full—the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Aaronic priesthood duties and function similar to ancient Israel

Despite some modern differences from ancient Israel, the Aaronic Priesthood is not much different compared to ancient times.

The Aaronic priesthood performs two ordinances (some Christian groups would call these 'sacraments').

  1. Baptism: John the Baptist held the Aaronic Priesthood, which holds the keys of baptism, and baptism is of course a fundamental part of salvation through Christ (see Acts 2:38).
  2. Sacrifice: The modern Church does not, of course, sacrifice animals because Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself for us, giving us the last great sacrifice (see Ephesians 5:2). Yet, the Church rejoices in and recalls His sacrifice for us by partaking of the sacrament ("communion" or "the Lord's supper" in other denominations) Matthew 26:26-29). Thus, the modern priest repeats a ceremony of atonement and sacrifice through the sacrament of the Lord's supper; this plays a similar theological role to the animal sacrifices offered by Aaronic priests anticipation of Christ's atonement and resurrection.

Separation of priesthood duties in the New Testament Church

It should be noted that all priesthood was not equivalent in the New Testament Church either. For example, many members had been baptized with water (an ordinance of the Aaronic priesthood) but had not yet received the Holy Ghost until one of the apostles laid hands upon them (a Melchizedek priesthood function). (See Acts 8:15–19, Acts 19:2–6).

Question: Is there a "Priesthood of All Believers" which eliminates the need for unbroken lines of priesthood authority?

Peter's reference to the priesthood was drawn from the ancient Israelite views of the priesthood, a view in which only a select group hold the priesthood

It is claimed that there is no need for unbroken lines of priesthood authority since the Bible teaches that all believers hold the priesthood. However, Peter's reference to the priesthood was drawn from the ancient Israelite views of the priesthood, a view in which only a select group hold the priesthood. Neither the Bible nor other early Christian writings support the idea that all Christians hold priesthood authority to govern the Church or administer its ordinances. Instead, this doctrine is a novelty necessitated by the protestant break with Rome.

Here, we examine some of the scriptural passages cited in defense of the concept of a priesthood of all believers.[23]

"A royal priesthood"

  • "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

This was the principal passage cited by Martin Luther in defense of a priesthood of all believers. What Luther failed to note is that Peter was actually referring to an Old Testament passage, in which the Lord told the Israelites through Moses,

  • "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:5-6).

Yet of the Israelites present at the mount of revelation, only the Levites were chosen for priesthood service.

The Gospels and Acts

Based on the belief in the "priesthood of all believers," a Protestant minister often feels that the Bible (or God) has called him to work. But Christ made it clear that this is not the way it works. He said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-24).

Only a believer would prophecy in the name of Christ or, in his name, cast out devils. Yet the Savior said that he would cast out those he never knew. It is wrong to profess to do something in the name of Christ when one does not have the authority to do so. Note that Christ said that there would be "many" who would claim to have performed good works in his name who would be rejected, so this is not just an occasional person.

That specific authority was required to perform ordinances in the early Church is made clear by the story found in chapter 8 of Acts: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (Acts 8:14-20). Simon was not trying to buy the Spirit, but the "power" to "lay hands" on people so they could receive the Holy Ghost. This power is what we call "priesthood." Simon had already been baptized in the name of Christ, but this did not authorize him to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

At the last supper, Christ told his apostles, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you" (John 15:16). This ordination did not take place because they were baptized, but came after they had chosen to follow Christ. In Luke 6:13, we read that "when it was day, he [Jesus] called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles." So only twelve of Christ's followers were chosen to be apostles. Mark gives more details concerning this event: "And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils" (Mark 3:13-15). From this, it is clear that the apostles received, at that time, "power" that other followers of Christ did not have. He later gave that same power or priesthood to seventy others (Luke 10:1-20).

The account in Acts 19:1-6 is also instructive on the concept of authority to baptize and confer the gift of the Holy Ghost: "And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."

These men (twelve in number according to verse 7), said they had been baptized "unto John's baptism," probably meaning by someone claiming authority from the John the Baptist, who had been killed by Herod Antipas long before the time of Paul. But Paul doubted the truth of this statement, knowing that John had told people of Christ who, coming after him, would baptize them with the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11; John 1:29-34). So Paul taught them about Jesus, after which "they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" and Paul "laid his hands upon them" for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Early Christian history

Christians in the first centuries do not seem to have endorsed the idea of a priesthood of all believers either—instead, this was a later idea developed by Luther to justify his break with Roman Catholicism, which claimed priesthood inheritance from the apostles.

Question: Why do Mormon's believe that ongoing divine revelation is necessary?

If revelation was meant to cease, it would have ceased after Jesus ascended to heaven, but the Bible teaches that revelations and visions didn't cease

It is claimed that there is no need for on-going divine revelation; some even charge that claims of visions from God or revelations to a modern prophet is a blasphemous idea. According to one ministry:

Jesus Christ, the final and complete revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3) has made "further revelation" obsolete and unnecessary. To claim to have such a "revelation" is to say that Jesus really wasn't what and who He said He was, and who the Bible describes Him as being. In actuality, it is the simple fact that Mormonism's teachings cannot be supported from the Bible that drives the leadership to find another source of authority. Everything that has ever claimed to be "further revelation" has failed the test of Scripture, including the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price

—Copyright 2005-2006 Alpha and Omega Ministries

If revelation was meant to cease, it would have ceased after Jesus ascended to heaven, but the Bible teaches that revelations and visions didn't cease.

Biblical history has recorded many instances of God speaking to prophets, and it also tells of many instances of apostasy. To end each period of general apostasy, God has shown His love for His children by calling another prophet and giving him priesthood authority to restore and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ anew. In essence, the prophet acts as a steward to oversee the household of God here on earth. Such periods of time headed by prophetic responsibility are called dispensations.[24]

Matthew 28:19-20

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Mark 16:15

15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

John 20:30-31

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

We have the teachings of Jesus in the four gospels, why do we need the Book of Revelation, or the epistles of Paul? LDS scriptures clarify the importance of revelation.

What about Hebrews 1:1-3?

1 GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,

2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

It is true that Jesus' coming in the flesh was the most complete revelation of the divine nature. But, these verses do not say that revelation thereby ceased. None of the New Testament was written until well after Jesus died and was resurrected—the early Christians do not seem to have regarded his coming as a bar to on-going revelation and scripture. Even after Jesus' ascension, he continued to give revelation to those chosen to lead his Church. For example, the Lord revealed to John, "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter" Revelation 1:19

What about 1 Corinthians 13:8?

This scripture is not talking about the last days.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away (KJV)

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away(NIV)

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away(NASB)

Our jobs will not be eternal; much of our formal education will be forgotten; our Church callings will come to an end[25]

Why do we need revelation today?

  1. New revelations and visions are necessary for our progression: time and circumstances always change
  2. So that we can have success in our own time and circumstances
  3. Despite the best efforts of Christian believers, the Bible has not proved capable of answering all questions in a universal way.[26] There are thousands of Christian groups, and each understands some scriptures differently than others. The unity that should prevail among believers does not, despite their best efforts. Clearly more revelation is needed.

Question: Do the Latter-day Saint "Three Degrees of Glory" have a basis in the Bible?

It is clear that Joseph Smith went far beyond the information found in the Bible concerning the degrees of glory in the resurrection

It is claimed that the doctrine of three heavens has no basis in the Bible.

It is clear that Joseph Smith went far beyond the information found in the Bible concerning the degrees of glory in the resurrection. However, it is equally clear that many of those extra details he included are corroborated by the testimony of the early Christian writers—and this to such an extent that it is hard to explain the phenomenon as mere coincidence.[27]

The Bible makes clear that all mankind will be "judged. . . according to their works." (Revelation 20:12) And if so, won't everyone's rewards be different one from another? Jesus insisted that in His "Father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2), and Paul wrote that in the judgment a person's works might be added to his reward or burned up, but either way he might still be saved: "If any man's work abide which he hath built [upon the foundation of Jesus Christ], he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:14-15) Paul also indicated that he had seen a vision of "the third heaven." (2 Corinthians 12:2) Therefore, one might logically conclude from these passages that recipients of salvation will be allotted varying rewards within at least three different "heavens" or "degrees of glory." However, it must be admitted that this fact is not really made explicit in the Bible, so it is understandable that the Christian world has for many centuries been content with the doctrine of one heaven and one hell.

The Mormon doctrine of degrees of glory

While pondering the significance of certain of the aforementioned passages in the Bible, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were given a most striking vision of the fate of mankind after the general resurrection and judgment, which included a description of the three principal kingdoms of glory. (D&C 76) They found that the first kingdom, called the Celestial, will be inhabited by those who have overcome by faith in Jesus Christ (D&C 76:50-70, 92-96), including children who have died and those who would have accepted the gospel in this life, but were not given the chance until they reached the spirit world. (D&C 137:1-10) The second kingdom, called the Terrestrial, will be inhabited by good people who were just and kind, but were not valiant in their testimony of Jesus. Those who rejected the gospel in this life, but afterwards received it will be given a reward in this kingdom, as well. (D&C 76:71-80,91,97)[28] The third, or Telestial, kingdom will be given to the generally wicked masses of the earth who spent their entire residence in the Spirit World in Hell, and so were not worthy of any higher glory. (D&C 76:81-90,98-112)

Another distinction between these kingdoms is that those who receive Celestial glory will reside in the presence of the Father Himself, while those in the Terrestrial kingdom will receive the presence of the Son, and those in the Telestial will have the Holy Ghost to minister to them. (D&C 76:62,77,86)

Sun, Moon, and Stars as Types of the Degrees of Glory

What marvelous light this vision has thrown upon obscure Bible passages! For example, what good does it do to know that there are three heavens if one does not know anything about them? Another example of a passage illuminated by this revelation is Paul's description of the glory of the resurrected body:

There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:40-42)

In the vision of the kingdoms of glory, the Lord revealed that this passage is not just a comparison of earthly bodies with heavenly, but also a reference to the fact that there are three different major levels of glory to which a body can be resurrected:

And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one. And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one. And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differeth from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world. (D&C 76:96-98)

Origen, in the early third century, revealed that the early Church interpreted this passage in essentially the same way:

Our understanding of the passage indeed is, that the Apostle, wishing to describe the great difference among those who rise again in glory, i.e., of the saints, borrowed a comparison from the heavenly bodies, saying, "One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, another the glory of the stars."[29]

He further explained that the highest of the three degrees is associated with the Father, and the second degree with the Son:

And some men are connected with the Father, being part of Him, and next to these, those whom our argument now brings into clearer light, those who have come to the Saviour and take their stand entirely in Him. And third are those of whom we spoke before, who reckon the sun and the moon and the stars to be gods, and take their stand by them. And in the fourth and last place those who submit to soulless and dead idols.[30]

We shall see that Origen's doctrine of a fourth degree for the very wicked is fairly consistent with LDS belief, as well.

John Chrysostom was another witness to the fact that the early Church considered this passage to be a reference to degrees of reward in the afterlife:

And having said this, he ascends again to the heaven, saying, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon." For as in the earthly bodies there is a difference, so also in the heavenly; and that difference no ordinary one, but reaching even to the uttermost: there being not only a difference between sun and moon, and stars, but also between stars and stars. For what though they be all in the heaven? yet some have a larger, others a less share of glory. What do we learn from hence? That although they be all in God's kingdom, all shall not enjoy the same reward; and though all sinners be in hell, all shall not endure the same punishment.[31]

More Ancient Witnesses to the Three Degrees of Glory

This doctrine goes back much further than Origen and Chrysostom, however. Irenaeus preserved the same tradition which had supposedly come from the elders who knew the Apostles. Many think he received it from Papias:

And as the presbyters say, Then those who are deemed worthy of an abode in heaven shall go there, others shall enjoy the delights of paradise, and others shall possess the splendour of the city; for everywhere the Saviour shall be seen according as they who see Him shall be worthy. [They say, moreover], that there is this distinction between the habitation of those who produce an hundred-fold, and that of those who produce sixty-fold, and that of those who produce thirty-fold: for the first will be taken up into the heavens, the second will dwell in paradise, the last will inhabit the city; and that was on this account the Lord declared, "In My Father's house are many mansions." For all things belong to God, who supplies all with a suitable dwelling-place; even as His Word says, that a share is allotted to all by the Father, according as each person is or shall be worthy. And this is the couch on which the guests shall recline, having been invited to the wedding. The presbyters, the disciples of the Apostles, affirm that this is the gradation and arrangement of those who are saved, and that they advance through steps of this nature; also that they ascend through the Spirit to the Son, and through the Son to the Father, and that in due time the Son will yield up His work to the Father, even as it is said by the Apostle, "For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."[32]

Clement of Alexandria also expressed belief in the three degrees, and echoed the Lord's revelation to Joseph Smith that those in the highest degree "are gods, even the sons of God." (D&C 76:58)

Conformably, therefore, there are various abodes, according to the worth of those who have believed . . . . These chosen abodes, which are three, are indicated by the numbers in the Gospel--the thirty, the sixty, the hundred. And the perfect inheritance belongs to those who attain to "a perfect man," according to the image of the Lord . . . . To the likeness of God, then, he that is introduced into adoption and the friendship of God, to the just inheritance of the lords and gods is brought; if he be perfected, according to the Gospel, as the Lord Himself taught.[33]

Clement also preached that the three gradations of glory are procured by virtue of three types of actions:

[Clement of Alexandria] reckons three kinds of actions, the first of which is . . . right or perfect action, which is characteristic of the perfect man and Gnostic alone, and raises him to the height of glory. The second is the class of . . . medium, or intermediate actions, which are done by less perfect believers, and procure a lower grade of glory. In the third place he reckons sinful actions, which are done by those who fall away from salvation.[34]

Other Systems of Multiple Heavens

Actually, there were several schemes for the structure of the heavens, with different numbers of heavens which varied also in their contents.[35] But even where three degrees were not specifically mentioned, it was maintained that various gradations of the elect exist. For example, Similitude 8 in the Pastor of Hermas discusses various types of elect. The editors of one collection of early Christian documents preface the chapter with this summary: "That there are many kinds of elect, and of repenting sinners: and how all of them shall receive a reward proportionable to the measure of their repentance and good works."[36]

Jesus, in the Epistle of the Apostles, made a distinction between the "elect" and "most elect."[37] And consistent with this, the Jewish Christian Clementine Recognitions reduced the number of heavens to two.[38]

One of the most popular schemes was that of seven heavens. Daniélou asserts that the idea of seven heavens was first introduced by certain Jewish Christian groups and "derives from oriental, Irano-Babylonian influences," while the older Jewish apocalyptic tradition and many other early Christian groups held to the three heavens scheme.[39] However, it appears that the seven heavens may originally have been consistent with the three heavens doctrine. For example, we have seen that Irenaeus preserved Papias's doctrine of three heavens, but in another passage he asserted that "the earth is encompassed by seven heavens, in which dwell Powers and Angels and Archangels, giving homage to the Almighty God who created all things . . . ."[40] As Daniélou points out, since the seven heavens were the dwelling places of angels, they probably were thought to have been gradations within the second of the three principal heavens.[41]

Outer Darkness

As we noted in the discussion of the nature of the spirit world, both the Latter-day Saints and the early Christians have taught that the "hell" associated with the spirit world will have an end. It should be noted here, however, that there will be an everlasting hell after the resurrection, and the promise of eternal punishment is very real for those who in this life and the next not only reject Christ and His Kingdom, but who consciously fight against it once they have received a witness of its truth. The Lord revealed to the Prophet that those who deny the Holy Ghost, and thus committing the unpardonable sin, will be given a kingdom of totally without glory called "outer darkness":

Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power--They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity; Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come--Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame. (D&C 76:31-35)

Similarly, both the gnostic Christian Gospel of Philip and the Pastor of Hermas describe the denizens of "outer darkness" as those who have made a conscious and specific choice to rebel against God:

An Apostolic man in a vision saw some people shut up in a house of fire and bound with fiery chains, lying in flaming ointment . . . . And he said to them, "[Why are they not able] to be saved? [They answered], "They did not desire it. They received [this place as] punishment, what is called 'the [outer] darkness,' because he is [thrown] out (into it)."[42]

From the first mountain, which was black, they that believed are the following: apostates and blasphemers against the Lord, and betrayers of the servants of God. To these repentance is not open; but death lies before them, and on this account also are they black, for their race is a lawless one.[43]

Origen taught that the wicked in outer darkness would be devoid of intelligence, and possessed of bodies stripped of all glory.

But the outer darkness, in my judgment, is to be understood not so much of some dark atmosphere without any light, as of those persons who, being plunged in the darkness of profound ignorance, have been placed beyond the reach of any light of the understanding . . . . The wicked also, who in this life have loved the darkness of error and the night of ignorance, may be clothed with dark and black bodies after the resurrection . . . .[44]

Finally, the Lord told Joseph Smith that He never fully reveals to men the punishments of outer darkness, but only brief visions thereof. Consider the wording of this revelation as compared to that used by Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Bartholomew:

And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof; Nevertheless, I, the Lord, show it by vision unto many, but straightway shut it up again; Wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation. (D&C 76:45-48)

And the earth was rolled up like a volume of a book and the deep [hell] was revealed unto them. And when the Apostles saw it, they fell on their faces upon the earth. But Jesus raised them up, saying: Said I not unto you, "It is not good for you to see the deep." And again he beckoned unto the angels, and the deep was covered up.[45]

The Loss of the Doctrine of Degrees of Glory

We have seen that the doctrine of degrees of glory was soon confused so that a number of schemes, notably that of seven heavens, were adopted, but it was always clear to everyone that there were different degrees of glory in the heavens. So how was this enlightening doctrine lost? Its fate is not completely clear, but the example of Jovinian, a monk from Milan who preached around the turn of the fifth century, may be instructive. Clark describes Jovinian's teaching, and Jerome's reaction to it: "Jovinian's view, that there are only two categories, the saved and the damned, is assessed by Jerome as more akin to the philosophy of the Old Stoics than that of Christians."[46] Therefore, once again an older Christian doctrine was replaced by the speculations of a Greek philosophical school.

List of Scholars that Support that Paul Believed in Multiple Heavens

Latter-day Saints have most often appealed to 2 Corinthians 12:2 in order to support the idea of multiple heavens in ancient Christian thought. Below we list a collection of twenty different non-Latter-day Saint, academic sources that support this interpretation. This demonstrates that belief in multiple heavens, and more particularly three heavens with the third being the highest, is firmly rooted in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.[47]

  • William Baird:This means that for Paul the third heaven and paradise are the same place, or that paradise is located in the third heaven. Here Paul’s perception of the celestial order is in harmony with the cosmology of 2 Enoch (8:1-8) and the Apocalypse of Moses (40:2). For Paul, the third heaven may be the highest, though the tendency in later apocalyptic literature is to add heavens. In paradise, Paul should have viewed the final abode of the souls of the righteous (2 Esdr 8:51-52, Luke 23:43); and in the highest heaven, he should have seen cosmic paraphernalia, angelic beings, and the radiant throne of God (2 Enoch 20:1-4; T. Levi 3:1-8; 3 Apoc. Bar. 11:1-9).”[48]
  • Hans Bietenhard and Colin Brown: “Ancient cosmology pictured three, five, seven, ten and various numbers of heavens, though three was a commonly accepted number (SB III 531 ff.). Paul’s use of either this term or that of paradise gives no clear indication of his cosmological views. He may be doing no more than using a commonly accepted image to suggest what by his own account is ineffable (cf. v. 4), though possibly the number three may imply perfection (—> Number, art. treis). Sl. Enoch 8 placed the third heaven in paradise, and Apc. Mos. 37: 5 pictures God commanding Michael to lift Adam up into paradise, the third heaven, and leave him there until the day of judgment.”[49]
  • Adela Collins:By the Second Temple period…it was common to conceive of heaven as having multiple levels or layers. The Pseudepigrapha in particular contains many references to multiple heavens, seven being the most common notion (2 Enoch, Ascension of Isaiah). In the NT, Paul says that he knows someone (though many scholars suspect he is speaking of himself) who was 'caught up to the third heaven' (2 Cor. 12:2).”[50]
  • James H. Charlesworth: "According to 2 Corinthians, Paul describes 'revelations of the Lord' that he has experienced. Note his description and caution:
'I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know. God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.' (2 Cor. 12:2-4; RSV)
Paul is certain that he was taken up into the third heaven, saw paradise, and heard things that can never be revealed. These three concepts are developed within the Jewish apocalypses and apocalyptic writings. Ascension dominates in many apocalypses. Two Jewish apocalyptic compositions place paradise in the third heaven; the most important one is 2 Enoch. And within the apocalypses, there are revealed insights that can be communicated only to the elect ones, if at all. Paul could have known the traditions that were later incorporated into 2 Enoch:
'And the men took me from there. They brought me up to the third heaven. And they placed me in the midst of Paradise. And that place has an appearance of pleasantness that has never been seen. Every tree was in full flower. Every fruit was ripe, every food was in yield profusely; ever fragrance was pleasant. And the four rivers were flowing past with gentle movement, with every kind of garden producing every kind of good food. And the tree of life is in that place, under which the LORD takes a rest when the LORD takes a walk in Paradise. And that tree is indescribable for pleasantness of fragrance.'” (2 En. 8:1-3; recension A58)[51]
  • Raymond F. Collins: “Paul describes the experience as rapture. He was caught up to the third heaven. Apart from 1 Thess. 4:17, Paul uses the verb 'snatched up' only in verses 2 and 4. The passive voice indicates that Paul’s being caught up into heaven was a divine action. The apostle shares with many of his contemporaries the idea that there were several levels of heaven. He says that he was caught up to the third heaven. Most likely that third heaven is in paradise. In 2 Enoch, the longer version of which begins, 'The story of Enoch, how the Lord took him to heaven,' Enoch says, 'And the men took me from there, and they brought me up to the third heaven, and they placed me in the midst of Paradise' (2 En. [A] 8.1). The Apocalypse of Moses says that God instructed the archangel Michael to take Adam 'up into Paradise, to the third heaven' (L.A.E. 37.5).
Seemingly overwhelmed by his experience, Paul immediately repeats himself. And I know such a person—whether in body or outside the body I do not know, God knows—that he was snatched up to paradise (12:3–4a). Some older commentators, among whom Alfred Plummer (1915, 344) should be named, take the apparent repetition as describing a sequential action on the part of God. Paul would have experienced rapture to the third heaven and then rapture from the third heaven to paradise. In light of the cited parallels in Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Semitic literary device of synonymous parallelism in which a separate phrase repeats and slightly moves the thought of the first sentence forward, it is best to take verses 2 and 3a as synonymous. 'Paradise' is a synonym for the third heaven, which is in paradise.[52]
  • James D.G. Dunn: “The picture, then, seems to be very clear. Paul shared a common belief that there were several heavens; he had even experienced a heavenly journey to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4). More to the point he shared what was presumable also a common belief that the lower heavens were populated by various hostile powers or that the hostile heavenly powers mounted a kind of roadblock to prevent access to the higher heavens (paradise being in the third heaven — 2 Cor. 12.3). If this meant that they also hindered or could even prevent access to God (cf. Rom. 8.38-39), that would be serious indeed.”[53]
  • Neal Elliot: “Alan F. Segal understood Paul’s visionary experience of Christ in the context of the apocalyptic-mystical tradition in early Judaism. Indeed, Segal demonstrated in Paul the Convert that Paul was our earliest and best (because first-person) witness to that tradition. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul described an unnamed man’s visionary journey into 'the third heaven,' a passage that is generally recognized to be an oblique reference to his own ecstatic experience. Segal argued that this experience was probably not an isolated event. Rather, here 'Paul reveals modestly that he has had several ecstatic meetings with Christ over the previous fourteen years.' Participants in Jewish mysticism, 'and perhaps apocalypticism as well, sought out visions and developed special practices to achieve them. Thus, we can assume that Paul had a number of ecstatic experiences in his life, [and] that his conversion may have been one such experience.' Hardly 'incompatible' with Judaism in Paul’s day, as language of a 'rupture' or 'irruption' implies, such an experience 'parallels ecstatic ascents to the divine throne in other apocalyptic and merkabah mystical traditions.' While those parallel sources are later than Paul, the close similarity of themes and terminology convinced Segal that Paul was indeed an early participant in a wider stream of mystical-ecstatic experience that included those later sources as well. Indeed, 'Paul alone demonstrates that such traditions existed as early as the first century.'”[54]
  • Matthew Emerson: “The second reference to paradise in the New Testament comes in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, when Paul describes his out-of-body experience. Here, he refers to the place of the righteous dead, where Christ now dwells bodily, as both paradise and 'the third heaven' (2 Cor 12:2). The spatial description of paradise shifts from the underworld to the third heaven, not because it has been physically moved (it is a spiritual, not physical, realm) but because its spiritual reality has changed. While it is not yet the paradise of the new heavens and new earth, the restored Eden, the ultimate paradise, it is nevertheless the place where Christ dwells bodily… Thus the descent once again confirms this three-tiered thinking of the biblical writers and their sociocultural context, but it also inaugurates a shift in cosmography. Paradise, because of the descent and the coming resurrection and ascension, experiences a shift in its reality. It is no longer full of the righteous dead waiting for the Messiah but is now a place where the resurrected and ascended Messiah dwells with his people.”[55]
  • Thomas Francis Glasson: “Some of the noncanonical writings give detailed descriptions of multiple heavens, up to seven more more [,] Paul was not necessarily thinking of these when he wrote of his mystical transport into the third Heaven (2 Cor. 12.2); an alternate explanation is that the expression indicates a high degree of spiritual exaltation.“[56]
  • John P. Harrigan: “The Bible clearly portrays a plurality of heavens. Though the exact number of heavens is not stated explicitly in the Scriptures, Jewish tradition varies from three to ten. As color classifications of a rainbow vary, so also might the delineation of the heavenly realms. A threefold arrangement of lower, middle, and upper heavens preserves plurality while allowing for the possibility of further dissection.
Within this plural framework, the heavens are also described in the Scriptures as continuous, meaning there are no hard delineations between them. They are the abode of birds (Gen. 1:20; 2:19; Dan. 2:38); of clouds, rain, and thunder (Gen. 8:2; Job 38:29; Isa. 55:10); of sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 1:14–18; Deut. 4:19; Ps. 8:3); of idols, spirits, and powers (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 3:24; Isa. 24:21); and of God himself (Deut. 26:15; 1 Kings 8:30; Ps. 2:4). All of these things function together in the heavens, and there are no clear lines of distinction between them. There are delineations between different areas of the heavens, as Paul distinguishes the 'third heaven' (2 Cor. 12:2), but there is not a substantial change of existence between these regions…So Paul references the heavenly paradise: 'I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven...I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter' (2 Cor. 12:2–4).
Paul’s third-heaven experience was not unfamiliar in his day, and by no means would anyone have questioned the reality of a paradise in the height of the heavens. It was common knowledge, since deities were understood to dwell in 'garden-temples.' Most of the ancient world believed the gods dwelled in some sort of idyllic paradise above.”[57]
  • Matthew Goff: "Second Corinthians resonates powerfully with Enochic ascent traditions in other ways. Paul was taken up to paradise and the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). In 2 Enoch paradise, the ultimate abode of the righteous, designed after the garden of Eden, is likewise in the third heaven. In 3 Enoch, the visionary who journeys to heaven is not Enoch, but Rabbi Ishmael. He speaks with Enoch/Metatron in heaven. He reveals divine knowledge to the rabbi. Ishmael’s goal is 'to behold the vision of the chariot' (3 En. 1:1). 3 Enoch is an important example of merkabah mysticism, a late antique phenomenon in the context of which rabbis devised various ecstatic techniques one could use to obtain a vision of the 'chariot,' a reference to God seated upon his heavenly throne. Paul may have used some of these practices to attain the vision mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12 . . . Paul’s assertion about his vision can also be helpfully interpreted in relation to ancient Jewish accounts of heavenly ascents (2 Cor. 12:6). One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, entitled the Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q491c), contains an account of someone claiming to have had some sort of experience in heaven that transformed him. He asserts that he is now among the angels. He boasts about his transformed status. He asks 'Who is comparable to me in my glory?' (line 8) Moreover, the speaker claims that because of this experience, he is able to endure sorrow and suffering as no one else can (line 9)."[58]
  • C.J. Hemer: "3.2 Cor. 12:2 speaks of 'the third heaven'. Some have seen allusion here to a Jewish conception of seven heavens (Test. Lev. 2, 3; Sl. Enoch 3-21). This explanation is questionable: Paul would seem to imply that he was carried to the highest heaven, not to a lower place in a hierarchy of heavens. Nor is it clear that the largely Gentile Corinthians would have understood this kind of Jewish speculation. 'Paradise', however, mentioned in 2 Cor. 12:4, was linked with the 'third heaven' of the series (~Heaven; ~ Paradise)."[59]
  • Craig S. Keener: “Because the Persian loanword 'paradise' meant 'garden,' it applied well to the garden in Eden (Gen 2:8–3:24 LXX; Josephus Ant. 1.37). Jewish people spoke of paradise as in heaven (T. Ab. 20:14 A; 3 Bar. 4:6) and expected a new paradise or Eden in the future (4 Ezra 7:36; 8:52; 2 Bar. 51:11). Jewish texts placed paradise, the new Eden, on earth in the coming age, but in heaven at the present. Jewish texts ranged from 3 to 365 in the number of heavens they imagined; the most common numbers were three (T. Levi 2–3) and seven. Texts often placed paradise in one of these (in the third in 2 En. 8:1; Apoc. Mos. 37:5; 40:1); the lowest of 'heavens' was the lower atmosphere. Paul presumably envisions paradise as in the third of three heavens.
Visions of paradise appear commonly in apocalyptic texts (L.A.E. 25:3). Later rabbis often retold the story of the four rabbis who achieved a vision of paradise, in which only Akiba escaped unharmed (t. Hag. 2:3–4; b. Hag. 14b–15b).”[60]
  • Steven Mason and Tom Robinson: "12. 2 the third heaven: In ancient cosmologies the earth was seen as more or less flat, with ascending levels of heaven above. Paul apparently shares this view; see 1 Thess. 4:13–18."[61]
  • Frank J. Matera: "The mention of the 'third heaven' indicates that Paul like many of his contemporaries, thought of heaven as comprising multiple levels. But how many? Expressions such as 'heaven and the heaven of heavens' (Deut 10:14) and 'heaven and the highest heaven' (1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chr 2:6; 6:18) imply that there are at least two levels of heaven, a notion also found in 1 En. 71:5. Certain intertestamental writings, however, reckon with even more levels. The Testament of Levi (chap. 3), for example, refers to three heavens: the first contains the spirits that will carry out God’s judgement; the second holds the armies of God that are prepared for the day of judgment; and in the third the great glory of God dwells in the Holy of Holies. In Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (7-11), however, Isaiah journeys through seven heavens, and when he arrives at the seventh, he sees a wonderful light, innumerable angels, and all the righteous. Finally, the J Recension of 2 Enoch speaks of ten heavens, identifying the tenth as the place where Enoch views the face of the Lord that is not to be talked about since it was so marvelous (chap. 22). Since Paul is intent upon showing the surpassing character of his own ecstatic experience, and since he appears to identify the third heaven with paradise, he likely thinks of the third heaven as the highest heaven, the place where God dwells. Unlike the writers of the intertestamental books, however, he steadfastly refuses to describe the different levels of heaven or his journeys through them."[62]
  • C.R.A. Morray Jones: “The relationship between the 'third heaven' of 2 Cor 12:2 and the 'paradise' of 2 Cor 12:4 requires consideration. Are verses 2 and 3-4 to be understood sequentially or in parallel? If a seven-heaven cosmology is assumed, either interpretation is theoretically possible, but it seems most unlikely that Paul would have based his claim to apostolic authority on an ascent merely to the third of seven heavens, which would hardly qualify as an 'exceptional' revelation (2 Cor 12:7a). Moreover, our analysis of the Jewish mystical tradition has shown that pardes was a term for the celestial Holy of Holies in the uppermost heaven. The seven-heaven model must, then, imply a 'two-stage' ascent, first to the third heaven and subsequently to paradise in the seventh. There is, however, no parallel for this in apocalyptic or Jewish mystical literature. Normally, the ascent through all six lower levels to the seventh is described (or at least mentioned) unless (as at Rev 4:1-2, for example) the visionary proceeds directly to the highest heaven without mention of intervening levels. Nowhere, to my knowledge, does the elevator stop, so to speak, on only one intermediate floor. Since there is evidence for an alternative, and probably earlier, three-heaven cosmology, it seems most natural to assume that this is the model employed by Paul.“[63]
  • Mitchell G. Reddish: “Postexilic Jewish literature manifests an intense curiosity about the contents of heaven. Various writings describe heavenly visions or journeys of revered individuals such as Enoch, Abraham, and Baruch (1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, Testament of Abraham, 3 Baruch). The topography of heaven, the inhabitants of heaven, the places of judgment, as well as other heavenly secrets are revealed to these persons. Many of these writings describe heaven as containing various levels, referred to as different heavens. The most popular number‎ of‎ heavens‎ was‎ seven.‎ (Compare‎ Paul‘s‎ statement‎ in‎ 2 Cor 12:2 concerning the third heaven.) The various heavens contain not only the throne room of God, paradise (the intermediate reward for the righteous), and the eternal abode of the righteous, but in many cases one or more of the heavens also contain the places of punishment for the wicked.”[64]
  • James D. Tabor: “In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul mentions an ecstatic experience that he had 'fourteen years ago' in which he was taken up into the heavenly realms, and even entered paradise, seeing and hearing things that were so extraordinary he was not permitted to reveal them… The idea of ascending to the third, or highest, level of heaven and gazing upon the glory of God was viewed within the mystical Jewish circles of Paul’s day as the highest and most extraordinary experience a human could have. Moses alone had been allowed to ascend Mount Sinai and communicate directly with God and Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a fiery heavenly chariot (Exodus 24:15–18; 2 Kings 2:11–12). In the two centuries before Paul’s time, texts like the Similitudes of Enoch, 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, and the Ascension of Isaiah, in which Enoch and Isaiah ascend to the highest heaven, gaze upon God’s throne, and experience a transformed glorification, were widely circulated.”[65]
  • James Buchanan Wallace:The third heaven: As Bousset recognized, the three heaven cosmology most likely predated the more elaborate schemas of the heavens. Even 1 Enoch, which has but a single heaven, divides this heaven into three sections. The earliest stratum of T. Levi contains a three heaven cosmology. Although evidence exists for the seven heaven cosmology before 70 C.E., only after 70 does this cosmology became dominant, and even then, it is not the only possibility. Ultimately, internal evidence must provide the final decision, but the evidence favors three.
Paradise: In most cases, Paradise serves as the final abode of the righteous, where they will enjoy the immediate presence of God. In some cases it is on earth, though it appears several times to be a place in the third heaven. Internal evidence will support the tentative conclusion that Paul, too, either equates the third heaven with Paradise or considers Paradise to be a locale within the third heaven.”[66]
  • N.T. Wright: “What about the praxis we vaguely call ‘mysticism’? Paul – we assume he is talking autobiographically, albeit obliquely – had on some occasion found himself being taken, as we now say, ‘into a different space’; each generation, no doubt, develops metaphors for saying something for which we otherwise have no speech, waiting for the time when we shall be tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. Just as the Corinthians dragged out of him practical life-experiences of which otherwise we would know nothing (those other shipwrecks, for instance; what happened to Sanders’s pack-animals in those circumstances, and to the tools of Paul’s trade?), so they finally compel him to reveal one secret at least of what we call his own private ‘spiritual experience’: caught up into the third heaven (the only time he speaks of multiple heavens), hearing unrepeatable words and seeing indescribable sights.”[67]

Question: Does the biblical story of Peleg describe the separation of the continents?

Some Latter-day Saint thinkers have understood the matter as referring to the sudden separation of the continents in a catastrophic event. Others have regarded this as a misunderstanding of the text

Does the biblical story of Peleg describe the separation of the continents? There is a reference to this event in DC 133:.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position.

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.

—LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," (4 May 2007) off-site]

Some Latter-day Saint thinkers have understood the matter as referring to the sudden separation of the continents in a catastrophic event. Others have regarded this as a misunderstanding of the text. The Church has no official position on the matter, and it does not play much of a role in LDS thought or discourse.

Genesis 10:25 contains a passing reference to man called Peleg, who received his name because "in his days was the earth divided". The Hebrew verb פלג (palag) means "separate" or "divide."

Some Latter-day Saints have interpreted this passage with extreme literalness

Some Latter-day Saints have interpreted this passage with extreme literalness, believing that the earth's tectonic plates, which were once a single land mass, all separated into the continents we know today during the life of a single mortal, instead of over hundreds of millions of years as scientists have theorized. Two of these were Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie.

It is more likely that Peleg's name anticipates the division of languages at Babel in the following chapter

But the scripture doesn't require such an extraordinary conclusion: It is more likely that Peleg's name anticipates the division of languages at Babel in the following chapter. (Note that palag appears in Psalms 55:9 to refer to a division of languages.)

In the December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, 1,000 miles of fault line slipped 50 feet, resulting in a 9.3-magnitude earthquake that created seismic sea waves up to 100 feet high. These tsunamis caused the deaths of nearly 230,000 people. The amount of force required to move the major continents thousands of miles apart in the lifetime of a single individual would cause much worse devastation, a global catastrophe on an unimaginable scale. Thus, to accomplish this without a divine miracle which hid all trace of such an event would be extraordinarily unlikely. But, such a miracle cannot be proven or identified by science or observation. Those who choose to believe that this is what happen can only rely on faith.

If the division is one of language, then DC 133:22–23 would refer to the return to a time when languages no longer divide humankind. This will take place during the 1,000 years of peace when the Savior reigns. Such a return to unity might also symbolize the passing of all the temporary, petty, and earthly matters which alienate humans from each other.

Question: What’s the best way to understand the Tower of Babel scientifically?

By all indications, we can believe that something happened. Though we should probably be aware that exaggerations very likely exist in the account

The science behind the Tower of Babel can be separated into two questions 1) Was there a tower that could reach the heavens? 2) Were tongues actually confused? Both of those questions are addressed in this excellent article by Michael Ash who cites Hugh Nibley:

Michael R. Ash - Is the Tower of Babel historical or mythological?

Last week I began discussing the Jaredites and the Tower of Babel, and how the story might be reconciled for those who believe that science and religion do not necessarily conflict. Some people, for instance, believe that the story of the Tower of Babel falls into the realm of fantasy rather than history. There are historical indicators, however, that suggest that the story is a myth in the scholarly sense.

While most people think of myths as fables (which is what the word actually means), scholars loosely define myths as culturally-shared narratives that bind, inspire or help delineate a particular culture. In the academic world, the word myth “is detached from popular associations with falsehood.” They equate to “legends,” which may or may not be based on actual truths. Myths are often pre-scientific stories used to explain why things are as they are. They may represent “types” or models, or they might exaggerate a real event. They may conflate multiple events into a single story, and they typically make erroneous assumptions based on an incomplete understanding of actual facts.

Anciently, oral and written traditions were not “histories” in the modern sense. While such accounts were often based on actual events, historical accuracy was not a high priority. The main purpose was to share cultural events, heroes and villains intentionally selected to relate specific points. Tales of real events could be molded to help convey the moral of the story. As detailed in a past issue, while I believe in actual Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites, I also believe we can better appreciate the scriptures when we realize that ancient societies — including prophets — recorded their narratives according to their own understanding of the world around them.

When we shine the light of science and scholarship on the Tower of Babel, we find some interesting things. First, the word “Babel” comes from an Assyro-Babylonian word that means “Gate of God” and is related to a Hebrew word that means “confusion.” It appears that the author(s) of the Babel account are engaging in some word-play to make a particular point about the story. It’s also interesting to note that the book of Ether never mentions “Babel” but simply the “great tower.”

In the Bible, we learn that some time after the days of Noah the land of Shinar (modern Mesopotamia) was ruled by the wicked Nimrod. In Genesis 10:9 he’s referred to as a “mighty hunter before the Lord.” Early Judaic traditions, however, interpret this as a mighty hunter “in opposition to the Lord.” Nimrod’s name, in fact, comes from the Hebrew word verb “let us revolt.” Once again, we see Hebrew word-play utilized as a teaching tool. Nimrod was not a hunter of animals but of the souls of men. And according to ancient traditions, Nimrod was responsible for building the Tower of Babel.

In ancient Mesopotamia, from at least 3,000 B.C., we find the construction of ziggurats — stepped temple monuments. Ancient cultures believed that gods resided on the tops of mountains, and this belief was even incorporated into Greek mythology, which taught that Zeus lived atop Mount Olympus. Early prophets, including Abraham and Nephi, went up into the mountains to pray or commune with God. Likewise Moses met God on Mount Sinai. Temples were considered to be man-made cosmic mountains. As Dr. Nibley notes, they are the “‘binding-place of heaven and earth,’ where alone one could establish contact with the upper and lower worlds.” The ziggurats of Mesopotamia were temples or towers built to reach the heavens or intended “gates” to God. While Nimrod’s connection to the Tower of Babel can only be inferred from the Bible, other ancient traditions support this inference. According to some of these ancient traditions, Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah, acquired (stole — in many legends) the skin garment that God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden. The garment supposedly gave Nimrod great power — God-like power. Nibley wrote:

“Now I am not insisting for a minute that the legendary Nimrod ever existed. … I am only interested in the type of thing that happened, and after having examined hundreds of legends from all parts of the ancient world, all telling substantially the same story, I think that anyone would find it difficult, in view of the evidence, to deny that there was some common event behind them. It seems to have been a single event, moreover.”

In ancient Judaic thought, Babylon (the ancient city-state of Mesopotamia) represented the wicked while Zion represented the righteous. Since the “priesthood” is God’s power bestowed upon mankind, an imitation God-like power would be a false priesthood and a tower associated with this power would be a false temple. The Tower of Babel, therefore would represent — either historically or mythically — the false temples and priesthoods of wicked men who opposed the true priesthood and the living God.[68]

Further Reading

As further reading, the following is an even more detailed treatment of the issue:

The Ur Ziggurat. Many Biblical scholars have argued that these types of ziggurats could have been the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible. This is one proposed location.

Question: What’s the best way to understand the ages of antediluvian patriarchs scientifically?

There is no consensus among biblical scholars as to how to interpret these ages.

Scholars have generally separated the interpretation of the ages into three camps: the literal view, the symbolic view, and the blended view. The literal view seeks to understand every age as literal historical, the symbolic view seeks to understand why the biblical authors might have used these ages to represent perhaps power or prestige, and the blended view seeks to find somewhere in the middle for their interpretation. All views are laid out in this article by Andrew P. Kvasnica from the Dallas Theological Seminary published in 2005.

Andrew P. Kvasnica: The Ages of the Antedeluvian Patriarchs in Genesis 5


Numbers command attention. Whether it's on a recipe, on a price tag, on a head count, or on a paycheck, numbers make us search for their meaning, and we trust that meaning to be dependable. We hope that number one means first place, and that having twins means there are two new babies rather than five. Numbers have inherent reliability.

Sometimes, though, when sweat is pouring down your face, you might venture a guess and say, "Man, it must be 500 degrees!" Also, why does the 13th floor contain more underlying meaning than just the floor on level 13? Some numbers have inherent meaning that varies from their stated value”numbers given for effect.

The numbers in Gen 5 appear to be actual long ages of the antediluvian patriarchs. However, many have taken note of their atypically extensive size. Living over 900 years?! This has caused many scholars and other curious people to plunge into finding out what these numbers actually mean.

This paper is designed to present the various major issues regarding the interpretation of the numbers in Gen 5. Realistically, the issue must essentially include numerical, literary, rhetorical, cultural, historical, chronological, grammatical, geographical, and authorial issues (besides many more, probably). To interpret Gen 5 without considering all of the factors listed above is simply an incomplete interpretation. So, this paper is meant to reach a conclusion on a small part of the vast whole. It covers the numerical aspect of Gen 5 followed by a brief evaluation of some noted literary factors.

On the Meaning of the Numbers

Contemporary and historical solutions to the numbers in Gen 5 show three categories of general interpretation: literal, symbolic, and fictional/symbolic. Among these solutions, there is also an interpretation that combines the literal and symbolic view. This view, as literal/symbolic, is discussed following the symbolic view.


Historically, the most prevalent way to take these numbers is as literal ages.[69]These numbers are called "conventional" by John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968). Philo seems to accept their accuracy in his Questions and Answers on Genesis, 1:91, The Works of Philo: New Updated Edition, trans. C. D. Yonge (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), 811. Josephus, in his Antiquities, even advises against speculation of these numbers because they are unlike ours, The New Complete Works of Josephus, trans. William Whiston (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 1.3.9§105.</ref> The numbers mean what they appear at first sight to mean. This is reason enough for many. Some add reasons to this and hold that the patriarchs needed to personally pass on to future generations the wisdom and art that they learned”such a duty, it is said, could not have happened during a "normal" life span of 70 or 80 years.[70] Some also propose longevity based on the idea of a water vapor canopy that protected the earth from physically and genetically harmful solar radiation.[71]

Against this, though, factors are brought up opposing a literal reading of the numbers. First, the numbers don't appear to be random. Each number in Gen 5 (except Methuselah's 969 years) ends in either a 0, 5, 2, or 7, which can be thought of as a factor of 5 (0 or 5) and at times adding 7 (e.g. 5 + 7 = 12). Etz implies that the chance of this happening without deliberate alteration is essentially impossible.[72]Some feel that the definition of "year" was different in this context and should rather mean "month" or "day." For example, Methuselah at the age of 969 years would instead be only 969 months, or now, 81 years by the new figuring”a more reasonable age in today's standards. Using this definition, though, places the numbers into even more severe problems than at the outset.[73]This issue loses weight, too, just by the context of Gen 6. Wenham agrees that a year at that time was still about 360 days.[74] Westermann, though, asserts that the basic issue of "greater human vitality" is not reason enough to explain the ages.[75]

Taking these numbers literally would also require reconciling differences between them in the MT, LXX, and SP. The totals of the ages in these are 1,556 (MT), 2,142 (LXX), and 1,207 (SP) years. To solve this dilemma, some suggest that there was an artificial scheme that was developed for these texts.[76] Dealing with this difficulty, Larsson contends that those who redacted Genesis "did not look upon the ages of the patriarchs as historical data but used them to develop systems with different purposes."[77]What then is this system? Larsson proposes a varied use of chronology and different calendars by the scribes of the different text traditions.[78] This, however, doesn't solve any difficulty with the size of the numbers.

Although taking the numbers at face value seems most appropriate (as in our present culture), the general size of the ages leads many to reconsider their validity as actual ages. The solving of the MT/LXX/SP number differences seems to contribute to the difficulty of seeing these numbers as actual ages. However, there are still many proponents of the literal interpretation of these numbers.


Many also propose a symbolic use of the numbers. To lay the foundation, Waltke states that there is enough evidence for this in the Scripture that it couldn't have been coincidence,[79] and Plaut states that there is a "biblical predilection for number symbolism."[80] Some of these matters are in relation to the prevalence of the numbers seven and ten, known respectively in diverse ancient Near Eastern texts for their perfection and completeness. The list of ten names in Gen 5 has caused many to see an "undoubtedly" deliberate construction of the names to fit the scheme of an "optimal ten-generation pattern" which would then "lend an authentic ring" to this genealogy.[81]

Larsson supports the symbolic use of numbers stating that playing with numbers, the magic of certain figures, and the symbolism of certain dates was "nothing new in the chronology of the Bible."[82]However, Hasel contends that some of the foundations of this system are weak. He cites the missing connection between the strength of the historical content of the OT and the use of this system that seems to take that history lightly.[83]

Barnouin suggests a different symbolic use of the numbers. He proposes the scribal use of synodic periods of the planets for some of the numbers in Gen 5. For example, 777 (the years of Lamech) would be related to the cumulative synodic periods of Jupiter and Saturn; 962 (of Jared) would be related in the same way to Venus and Saturn.</ref> He suggests that, according to the Babylonians, there was a connection between age and astrologic periods. Wenham doubts this however, except that it might show the orderliness of life.[84]

There is plenty of literature that proposes number symbolism in the Bible, but the prospect of it being used for all numbers in Gen 5 still isn't convincing to some. The trouble with the symbolism is that among all of the conjectures, no one knows for certain what the numbers symbolize.[85]


Some suggest a system of figuring the numbers based on knowledge of ancient Near Eastern king lists and the use of a sexagesimal number system (i.e., base 60, rather than the decimal base 10). The figuring for this is essentially based on the Sumerian King List, which is a list of kings who reigned before and after the flood. In general, the numbers of some of the Sumerian texts show a predilection to the number 60.[86] Because of the age longevity comparisons between the SKL and the genealogy of Gen 5, scholars searched to find a way to link the Sumerian method of reckoning numbers to the biblical text. Using the number 60 as a starting point, proposals have been made on how the large numbers of Gen 5 were actually to be seen against the backdrop of the Sumerian number system.

Despite the interesting appearance of correlating the numbers between the two texts, heated disagreement exists as to whether or not this system of figuring can be adequately used to explain the numbers in Gen 5. The debate hinges not only on the validity of the math and possible Mesopotamian connection between the SKL and Gen 5, but also on the validity of comparing these two texts. Wenham finds the math interesting, but doubts its appropriate use in understanding Gen 5,[87] and Hasel contends that the whole comparison seems forced to fit together.[88] Bailey, though, has kept the connection alive,[89] also along with Walton.[90]

Because of the continuing debate on the alleged connection between the SKL and Gen 5, here is a basic look at some pros and cons to each position. Bailey sets forth five reasons why the parallel should be maintained,[91] but these are fairly simplistic and have little weight in many of the foundational matters concerning the SKL and Gen 5.[92] Cassuto states that there is "a similarity here than cannot be considered fortuitous." He also claims that there was "undoubted" Israelite knowledge of the Babylonian tradition of genealogies as well as a shared appreciation of the sexagesimal system, the number seven, and the span of five years (which is to be noted, 60 months).[93] Because of this, he feels that the writer of the Torah used the Babylonian tradition, but desired to "purify and refine" the generations and ages and "to harmonize them with its own spirit."[94] Walton states that, since the totals of the numbers in the two texts can be found in the same mathematical way, that there was a "common tradition;" and therefore, possibly there was a time when they were the same text”"coincidence [that these texts were never related] is out of the question."[95]

Against the SKL/Gen 5 correlation, Hasel counters with a diverse array of observations. Gen 5 is a history of mankind, whereas the SKL is a history of a people; Gen 5 is the creation of mankind, whereas the SKL is the establishment of a kingship; Gen 5 is a genealogy, whereas the SKL is a king list; Gen 5 has no hint of a "political ideology or ideal," whereas the SKL is political;[96] Gen 5 is the tracing of ancestors, whereas the SKL is the unification of the land; and, Gen 5 has ten listings, whereas the SKL (in different copies) has from seven to ten.[97] Hess continues the assault by observing that Gen 5 involves kinship relations, whereas the SKL deals with succession of rulership and office holders; Gen 5 numbers are to record lifespan, whereas the SKL's are for length of reign; Gen 5 moves the reader to look to the future, whereas the SKL looks to the past.[98]

Based on the arguments, it seems that to completely connect and interpret one of these texts by using the other appears to be incorrect. This is based on what seems to be the more foundational reasons behind each text. Still, though, as supported by Cassuto, Bailey, and Walton, the solution to understanding the numbers of Gen 5 by using the SKL method seems to amaze most who study the possible correlation.


Lastly, some suggest a completely fictional interpretation of the numbers of Gen 5. Although claiming that there is a good level of historicity with the names and people, Kitchen sees the numbers as "pure myth."[99]Jacobs concurs that these are only legendary numbers resulting from the "fictitious reduction of the enormous numbers" found in other cultures.[100] Others contend that these numbers were only meant to point the reader to a time in an "unimaginably distant past,"[101] or that they were meant to show the "progressive deterioration of everything,"[102] or that the numbers only are meant to signify that the patriarchs were "larger than life" and thus superior to their descendants.[103]

However, the numbers still refer to something. So, some propose solutions by using decimal mathematics. Etz states that the writer of Genesis began with "a set of [invented] plausible numbers." From there, "each lifespan (except Enoch's) was increased by 300 years," and Enoch's by only 100 years. Then all numbers were multiplied by 10, then divided by 4, and "rounded down to whole numbers if necessary."[104] He suggests that the patriarchs had life spans similar to today”these normal life spans make up his originating "plausible numbers."

Another computation is proposed by Young. His figuring is based on Babylonian sexagesimal algebra with which he states you can account for all but three figures in both genealogies of Gen 5 and 11: those figures being 777, 365, and 110, which, he states, have already been solved by other methods.[105]For example, Adam's lifespan could be found by using the formula x² + ax = b where (for Adam) x = 30 and, in this case, a = 1. After computing, the result is 930 years. Young states that this "basic type" of algebra is a "fitting manner" with which to begin a series of numbers regarding the patriarchs.[106] To calculate the ages of other patriarchs, one would use any of a number of different algebraic formulas. He states that his calculations were apparently "the classic examples taught in the classrooms over the centuries" and that, based on persisting cultural mathematical methods, "a Sumerian writer of the late third millennium and a Jewish priest of the sixth century would have been exposed to essentially the same mathematical education in a Mesopotamian school."[107]

Besides the general thought in the scholarly community that these methods are a little too involved, there is additional information shed regarding some views of the ancient Hebrews and math. It is mentioned that the rabbis had a lack of interest in theoretical math unless it applied to "practical applications that would help them to construct the Hebrew calendar."[108]In agreement with this is that there was also a general lack of interest in math within the community unless it helped the people to live better quality lives.[109] In light of this, it would seem difficult to imagine that the math problems above would be used in the chronologies or genealogies of the MT. However, the math does seem to amaze the observer.

A kaleidoscope of scholarly proposals have settled on the meaning of the numbers in Gen 5. Each proposal is met with an antagonistic view. The full meaning of these numbers, in the end, appears uncertain. Josephus (although supporting a literal view) comments on the number and longevity issue by stating, "let everyone look upon [these matters] as he thinks fit."[110]Sarna comments that what these numbers represent individually or collectively, symbolically or schematically, are "presently unknown...If any such exists, it has not yet yielded its secret."[111]

On the Purpose of Gen 5, and other Literary Factors

Aside from trying to figure out the numbers directly, many scholars look simply at the overarching purpose of the genealogy in Gen 5. Out of the majority views, there are two different purposes given. The first is that the numbers, and everything included, are a literary means of communicating the divine blessing directly from God through Adam to Noah. This is termed the theological purpose of Gen 5.[112] Others see the purpose of this genealogy as simply moving the narrative quickly from the story of Cain to the event of the flood.[113] However people think about this second purpose, it is difficult to miss the extensive length of time that passes relatively quickly through this genealogy. Aside from what the numbers mean directly, many propose these purposes as the themes that drive the entire genealogy.

In regard to the purpose of the Gen 5 genealogy, I would briefly like to note what I feel are some significant literary aspects in the text. Many major things happen in the first five chapters of Genesis. Upon reaching the record of the descendents of Cain in 4:16, rhetorically the story speeds through the family line of Cain. Although the details of this family are major, they come across as less-so because of a less structured literary presentation and the author's method of keeping the reader/listener moving. The details seem to have no felt depth, and the roles of the descendents of Cain come across almost as if the author felt obligated to put them in the text.

At Gen 4:25, the scene takes a dramatic shift, which is even heightened by some positive discourse from Adam's wife (directly contrasting the more negative feeling in discourse from Cain's family). The post-script in 4:26 about people beginning to worship the Lord draws the readers attention even more. In 5:1-2 there is a harkening back to the first creation of mankind in the Lord's image and likeness (which is lacking in 4:17), as if the Lord was doing something new again. Again, rhetorically, these things seem to slow down the reader/listener. Lastly, 5:3-31 seems long and deliberate (contrasted with the hurriedness and chaotic structure of 4:17-24) as if this was the place to sit and ponder. Enhancing this feeling, the multiple ages slow the pace of the text, and through its methodical rhythm, we learn about each descendant. The pace continues in a consistent way except when even more positive shifts in the pattern come (as with Enoch in 5:22-24). Then, after a while, the text lands at Noah, and it's on to another story.

Considering these literary factors, the overriding point of the Gen 5 genealogy seems to be a captivation for the reader/listener to see what God is doing. The rhetorical development before and during the genealogy lend to this purpose. In the genealogy, the size of the numbers (whatever they mean) add punch and cause the reader to take more notice of what's happening. To me, the purpose of the parts of the Gen 4 and 5 genealogies seem to contribute to this stark notice of what the Lord is recreating anew. Gen 5 tells of a line of mankind who will have the image and likeness of the Lord present in them to do a good work through the Lord's blessing. This overriding point must not be missed.


In regard to this foregoing glance at the purpose, it would seem that, as the numbers stand, they don't appear to be the point of the genealogy. In regard to their meaning, the field seems quite open. Each view of literal, symbolic, literal/symbolic, or fictional/symbolic interpretation of these numbers appears to carry enough strong evidence for and against each category. By looking at the evidence, it would appear that an assessment would yield inconclusive evidence to convincingly prefer one interpretation over another. However, a lack of determinative interpretation in this area does not cause the reader/listener to miss the point of the genealogy. Literary clues and the sheer presence of the numbers seem deliberately designed to lead us to sense the blessed work of the Lord through Adam and Seth. Levin notes a common view in regard to the structure of a genealogy: "form [of the genealogy] must always follow function" so that if the literary need is different, its presented form is different.[114] The literary and structural factors in the Gen 5 genealogy and surrounding context seem to strongly support a primary point: the Lord's work in blessing this lineage. In light of this, all factors of this genealogy would be subservient to that main point, i.e., all details, including the meaning of the numbers, serve the overriding primary purpose of the genealogy. The form of this genealogy, with all of its details, follows its ultimate function.


A look at the technical information regarding the numbers of Gen 5 yielded various main camps regarding interpretation. Assessment of the technical evidence leads to a lack of convincing conclusiveness on the exact meaning of the numbers, i.e., an interpretation that can explain all of the issues and that rings true with all aspects of the text. The purpose of the genealogy (whether it be a theological purpose or a literary way to speed through time) helps the reader/listener to get a more primary point and not to get hopelessly lost on the details of the presentation.

In light of all this, I don't feel that our lack of conclusiveness of the exact meaning of the text should cause anyone to despair about the truthfulness of Scripture. I think it's fair to state that what the Lord intended to mean by these numbers and this genealogy is still what he intends, whether or not we understand it fully. I hold that the text, even apart from full human understanding, remains completely reliable to give its intended meaning.[115]

Question: What’s the best way to understand the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot turning into a pillar of salt scientifically?

There is no consensus as to how to understand the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife scientifically.

There are a number of rock deposits located close to claimed locations of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, since we do not know the actual location of Sodom and Gomorrah, we cannot be sure about the rock/salt deposits that are formed in the shape of pillars at these claimed spots. Wikipedia offers valuable commentary on the historicity of the locations and of the story of Lot’s wife. [116]

Question: What is the best way to understand the story of Jonah and the Whale scientifically?

The story of Jonah and the big fish is best seen as a beautiful Hebrew poem—the main point of the story coming in the last four verses in the last chapter

From the Latter-day Saint Bible Dictionary:

The present book of Jonah does not claim to be from the hand of the prophet; it describes an episode in his life and is due to some later writer. The key to the book is to be found in Jonah 3:10–4:11 in the reasons the prophet gives for his flight and unwillingness to preach at Nineveh. The writer is opposing a narrowmindedness that would confine the love of God to a single nation. He shows that Jehovah reigns everywhere, over sea and land; even in the gentile world the minds of men are conscious of sin and prepared to acknowledge that Jehovah is God. The book is a beautiful poem, whether it paints the humanity of the gentile sailors; the mourning of the prophet over the decay of the grass of the field; or the divine tenderness in ministering to the prophet with his imperfect conceptions or in pitying the little children of Nineveh. The story of Jonah was referred to by our Lord on two occasions when He was asked for a sign from heaven. In each case He gave “the sign of the prophet Jonah,” the event in that prophet’s life being a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection (Matt. 12:39–41; 16:4; Luke 11:29–30).[117]

Latter-day Saint biblical scholar Ben Spackman elaborates:

Jonah is four short chapters. I’ve done a lot with Jonah in the past, addressing the short book several times, from several angles, including the history question. In brief, if you’re focused on the “whale” instead of the last four verses of chapter 4, you’re entirely missing the point.

[. . .]

Jonah strikes me as very much as a satirical parable, and I explain this in the podcast. But what is ultimately important is the last few verses of the last chapter.[118]

Question: Is it appropriate to celebrate holidays as a Christian?

Ancient Israelites celebrated holidays

It is commonly claimed by members of the Jehovah’s Witness organization that it is inapprorpriate to celebrate holidays. This is sometimes used as a criticism against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jews celebrate many holidays[119]. Among these is Purim which is a day that, among other things, children dress up in costumes and masks as characters from the Book of Esther and exchange food and drink, donate to charity, eat a celebratory meal, have a recitation of the Esther scroll, and so forth[120] There is no issue with seeking to increase devotion by not celebrating holidays. But there is no biblical evidence that definitively outrules the celebration of holidays as a doctrine of Christian living.

Question: Was Moses a real person?

Biblical scholarship still holds the possibility of a Moses-like figure in history, which is backed up by Latter-day Saint scripture

Some have wondered, based upon findings from Biblical scholarship, if Moses is an actual person from history. Biblical scholarship doesn’t rule out the possibility of Moses’ existence or of a Moses-like figure in history—it only doubts that a lot of the miracles ascribed to him occurred (which is a natural skepticism). Biblical scholars generally see several things that can help affirm some sort of existence. Among these are his authentic Egyptian name (“moseh”) meaning “is born”, the evidence for some form of Israelite exodus, and so on. It has been said that even if none of the traditions of the Pentateuch originated from Moses, scholars would still have to posit his existence since Israelite religion seems a deliberate innovation, not a natural outgrowth.[121]

As Latter-day Saints, we have further evidence of Moses in The Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. He appeared in the Kirtland Temple and gave the keys of the priesthood he held to Joseph Smith in April 1836 (D&C 110).

Question: Does the practice of baptism for the dead have ancient roots?

There is considerable evidence that some early Christians and some Jewish groups performed proxy ordinance work for the salvation of the dead

The most obvious of these is 1 Corinthians 15:29:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

There have been attempts to shrug this off as a reference by Paul to a practice he does not condone but only uses to support the doctrine of the resurrection. These claims are indefensible. Paul's statement makes no sense unless the practice was valid and the saints in Corinth knew it. This is easily demonstrated if we just imagine a young Protestant, who doubts the resurrection, who goes to his pastor with his problem. The pastor answers him, saying, "But what about the Mormons who baptize for the dead? If the dead rise not at all, why are they then baptized for the dead?" You know what the young doubter would say. He would say, "Pastor, they're Mormons! What's your point?"

In fact, we know that baptism for the dead was practiced for a long time in the early church. As John A. Tvedtnes has noted:

... historical records are clear on the matter. Baptism for the dead was performed by the dominant church until forbidden by the sixth canon of the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397. Some of the smaller sects, however, continued the practice. Of the [Cerinthians]> of the fourth century, Epiphanius wrote:
“In this country—I mean Asia—and even in Galatia, their school flourished eminently and a traditional fact concerning them has reached us, that when any of them had died without baptism, they used to baptize others in their name, lest in the resurrection they should suffer punishment as unbaptized.” (Heresies, 8:7.) [122]

Thus, baptism for the dead was banned about four hundred years after Christ by the church councils. Latter-day Saints would see this as an excellent example of the apostasy—church councils altering doctrine and practice that was accepted at an earlier date.

Tvedtnes continues:

In early Judaism, too, there is an example of ordinances being performed in behalf of the dead. Following the battle of Marisa in 163 B.C., it was discovered that each of the Jewish soldiers killed in the fight had been guilty of concealing pagan idols beneath his clothing. In order to atone for their wrong, Judas Maccabaeus, the Jewish high priest and commander, collected money from the survivors to purchase sacrificial animals for their dead comrades:
“And when he had made a gathering throughout the company to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent it to Jerusalem to offer a sin offering, doing therein very well and honestly, in that he was mindful of the resurrection: for if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And also in that he perceived that there was great favour laid up for those that died godly, it was an holy and good thought. Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.” (2 Maccabees 12:43–46.) [123]

Collection of Other Sources that Can Support the Latter-day Saint Position

Other sources can give credence to the Latter-day Saint position on this matter. Below we list a selective compilation of quotes from scholars that can demonstrate that:

  1. Vicarious baptism was practiced by the ancients
  2. The practice wasn't condemned by Paul (even though that would be a natural thing to do given the corrective purposes of the first letter to the church at Corinth).
  3. The best translation of the original Greek refers to a practice of vicarious baptism.

The passage in the Bible is, at the very least, very short and cryptic. We can't know much about the practice accept the preceeding three assertions. Thus the following scholars would not affirm that the practice of vicarious baptism matches the modern Latter-day Saint conception of it i.e. that it was done on such a massive scale, for salvific purposes, etc. Some argue on linguistic grounds that this only had to do with catechumens (prospective converts to Christianity who died without baptism) but that is not fully substantiated by the text nor the historical context of the passage. Furthermore, as is noted by several scholars (a couple of which are included below), it is complicated by the fact that Paul spoke approvingly of believing Christians becoming vicarious, sanctifying vessels for non-believing spouses.[124] This could naturally be extrapolated to all kindred, non-believing dead.

There is much that we can't know from the text of the Bible itself following an exegetical approach. At some point, additional revelation is necessary to illuminate and expand on previous revelation. That would be the Latter-day Saint position. As Joseph Smith has said concerning the Restoration, it occured so that "a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times."[125] Latter-day Saints need not feel compelled to defend every last element of their theology from antiquity. Some elements may appear in seed and then be expanded on later by those "things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world[.]" What 1 Corinthians 15:29 can tell us without a doubt is that the practice is ancient and that it wasn't rejected by Paul or others of the earliest Christians. The Greek of the passage is unequivocally said to support the notion that vicarious baptism was performed. Other revelation outside of the Bible can expand on it in the Restoration.[126]

Following is our selective listing of sources.[127] All bolded text has been added by the editor of this article:

  • Søren Agersnap: "It cannot be denied that Paul is here [1 Cor 15:29] speaking of a vicarious baptism: one is baptised for the dead to ensure for them a share in the effect of baptism, and this must relate to a post-mortal life. It is also clear that Paul himself refers to this baptismal practice, and without distancing himself from it (This is the embarrassing perception which is the reason for some (comparatively few) interpreters making an imaginative attempt to ignore that this relates to a vicarious baptism)."[128].
  • Charles Kingsley Barrett: "The primary reference is to Christian baptism: certain people (οί βαπτιζόμενοι suggest a particular group, not all Christians) undergo the rite of Christian baptism—in what appear to be very strange circumstances. They are baptized on behalf of the dead. The second part of the verse follows clearly enough. If the dead are dead and are beyond recall, there is no point in taking this or any other action on their behalf. But what was the practice of baptism for the dead, and did Paul approve of it? An account of the history of the interpretation of this passage is given by M. Rissi, 'Die Taufe für die Toten (1962)'...It is very unlikely that with the adjective dead (νεκρός) a noun such as works (cf. Heb. vi. I) should be supplied. Throughout this chapter (and in Paul usually) ‘the dead’ are dead men. It is equally unlikely that on behalf of (ὺπέρ) is to be taken in a local sense, and that the reference is to baptism carried out over the dead, that is, over their graves. The most common view is that Paul is referring to some kind of vicarious baptism, in which a Christian received baptism on behalf of someone, perhaps a friend or relative, who had died without being baptized. There is evidence for some such rite among various heretics (among other quotations Lietzmann cites Chrysostom, on this passage: ‘When a catechumen among them [the Marcionites] dies, they hide a living man under the dead man’s bed, approach the dead man, speak with him, and ask if he wished to receive baptism; then when he makes no answer the man who is hidden underneath says instead of him that he wishes to be baptized, and so they baptize him instead of the departed), and there were precedents in Greek religious practices, though not close precedents (see Schweitzer, 'Mysticism', pp. 283 f.). Stauffer lays great stress on 2 Acc. xii. 40-5. Apart however from 1 Corinthians there is no evidence that a rite of this kind arose as early as the 50’s of the first century. This does not make it impossible; many strange things happened in Corinth. But would Paul have approved of it? It is true that in this verse he neither approves nor disapproves, and it may be held that he is simply using an argumenatum ad hominem: if the Corinthians have this practice they destroy their own case against the resurrection. This is the view held by some, and it is possible; but it is more likely that Paul would not have mentioned a practice he thought to be in error without condemning it. Of those who accept this position some draw the conclusion that vicarious baptism cannot be in Paul’s mind, others that, if he did not practice the custom himself, he at least saw no harm in it, since he too held an ex opere operato view of baptism that bordered on the magical…The idea of vicarious baptism (which is that most naturally suggested by the words used) is usually supposed to be bound up with what some would call a high sacramental, others a magical, view of baptism. Immersion in water is supposed to operate so effectively that it matters little (it seems) what body is immersed. The immersion of a living body can secure benefits to a dead man (at any rate, a dead catechumen). This however was not Paul’s view. He did not himself give close attention to baptism (i. 14-17), and though it is probable that most of the members of his churches were baptized it is quite possible that some of the Corinthian Christians had not been baptized, and by no means impossible (even if we do not, with Rissi, think of an epidemic or an accident) that a number of them may have died in this condition. There was no question of making these persons Christians; they were Christians, even though unbaptized. But baptism was was powerful proclamation of death and resurrection, and in this setting it is not impossible to conceive of a rite—practiced, it may be, only once—which Paul, though he evidently took no steps to establish it as normal Christian usage, need not actively have disapproved. And what would be the sense of it, if the dead are not raised?"[129]
  • Stephen C. Barton: "…Paul adds further ad hominem arguments against those who deny the resurrection of the dead (cf. 15:12). …the Corinthians’ own ritual practice (of surrogate baptism on behalf of the dead, a suggestive analogy for which appears in 2 Acc 12:43-45) testifies abasing denial of the resurrection of the dead and would be rendered meaningless apart from resurrection faith (15:29)."[130]
  • Richard E. Demaris: "The isolated character of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in its literary context and the lack of indicators in the verse as to the nature of the rite make it all too easy to propose a range of grammatically possible translations. But the highly speculative interpretations that result only underscore the need to place the text (and practice described therein) in the fullest possible context. Behind all attempts to remove vicarious action from baptism for the dead, one senses uneasiness about Paul or the early church’s association with a rite that appears to be 'superstitious' or 'magical' (Raeder 1955: 258–9; Rissi 1962: 89–92). (Understood vicariously, the practice would affirm that the living can ritually affect the dead.) But who is feeling the discomfort? Paul himself maintained that family members could act vicariously for each other (1 Cor 7:14), and he recognized an efficacy in eucharist that certainly appears to be 'magical' (Sellin 1986: 278; M. Smith 1980: 248): 'Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.' (1 Cor 11:28–30)...[The culture of Greco-Roman society was one] in which aiding the dead was all-important and which assumed that the world of the living could affect the world of the dead. In such a culture baptism undertaken by the living for the dead would have made perfect sense…At the very least, the adaptability of funerals to non-funerary situations opens the door to finding baptism other than where we might expect to find it, at the threshold of the church. Furthermore, two extraordinary types of funeral are noteworthy for how they elucidate baptism on behalf of the dead: (1) a replacement or substitute rite performed vicariously for the dead; and (2) funerals for the living. Both applications are imaginary rites, whose context indicates whether we further qualify them as honorary or mock. This, then, is the language for baptism on behalf of the dead that is both contextually and ritually sensitive: it was an imaginary rite of the honorary type...Isolating baptism for the dead, as Meeks did, made it mystifying to him (Meeks 1983: 162), but placing it in context has the opposite effect. Set alongside funerals for the living – those of Turannius and Pacuvius – baptism for the dead does not appear mysterious. In terms of who undergoes them, both rites reverse ordinary practice. Likewise, in light of surrogate or replacement funerals in which a person or community carried out a rite for someone in absentia – for Pertinax and the Lanuvium burial club member whose body could not be recovered – baptism on behalf of the dead falls within the typical range of ritual variation in the Greco-Roman world. In the context of other rites, therefore, baptism for the dead is, contrary to what New Testament scholars claim, not obscure."[131]
  • James D.G. Dunn: "Similarly he accepts a diversity of belief about baptism (1.10-16; 15.29). He does not insist on the sole legitimacy of his own view or of a particular view of baptism. Instead he plays down the role of baptism; it is kerygma that matters not baptism (1.17). And though in 10.1-12 he is probably arguing against a magical view of baptism, in 15.29 he shows no disapproval of the belief in vicarious baptism, baptism for the dead; on the contrary he uses the practice as an argument for the belief in resurrection...I Cor. 15.29 probably refers to a practice of vicari­ous baptism whereby the baptism of one was thought to secure the salvation of another already dead. Here then is indication of influ­ences shaping the theology of baptism and developing views of bap­tism which are far removed from anything we have already examined. And yet Paul addresses those who held such views as members of the Christian community in Corinth – these views were held also by Christians. In other words, as soon as we move outside that sphere of Christianity most influenced by the Baptist’s inheritance the diver­sity of Christian thinking about baptism broadens appreciably."[132]
  • Gordon D. Fee: "First, as already noted (n. 15), this unusual use of the third person plural, when elsewhere Paul always turns such references into a word to the community as a whole (e.g., vv. 12-13, 35-36), suggests that it is not the action of the whole community. On the other hand, there is no reason to deny that it was happening with the full knowledge of the community and probably with their approval. Second, Paul’s apparently noncommittal attitude toward it, while not implying approval, would seem to suggest that he did not consider it to be as serious a fault as most interpreters do. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine any circumstances under which Paul would think it permissible for living Christians to be baptized for the sake of unbelievers in general. Such a view, adopted in part by the Mormons, lies totally outside the NT understanding both of salvation and of baptism.[Fee is an evagelical scholar and thus is less open to scholarship that would support Latter-day Saints. There actually isn't evidence to support this view. See how he hedges in suggestion "(b) below.] Therefore, the most likely options are (a) that it reflects some believers’ being baptized for others who either were or were on their way to becoming believers when they died (e.g., as in 11:30), but had never been baptized; or (b) that it reflects the concern of members of households for some of their own number who had died before becoming believers. What they may have expected to gain from it is not quite clear, but one may guess that at least they believed baptism to be necessary for entering the final eschatological kingdom. In any case, and everything must be understood as tentative, this probably reflects the Corinthian attitude toward baptism in general, since 1:13-17 and 10:1-22 imply a rather strongly sacramental stance toward baptism on their part, with some apparently magical implications. Perhaps they believed that along with the gift of the Spirit baptism was their 'magical' point of entrance into the new pneumatism that seems to have characterized them at every turn. If so, then perhaps some of them were being baptized for others because they saw it as a way of offering similar spirituality to the departed. But finally we must admit that we simply do not know.[Interesting thing to conclude with considering his assertion before about Latter-day Saints.][133]
  • Rolf Furuli: "There can be no question that the most natural rendering of 'baptizomenoi huper tōn nekrōn' would be 'being baptized for the dead' or 'being baptized in behalf of the dead.' In almost every other context, such a rendering would have been chosen."[134]
  • David Bentley Hart: "The practice of Christians receiving baptism on behalf of other persons who died unbaptized was evidently a common enough practice in the apostolic church that Paul can use it as a support of his argument without qualification. And the form of the Greek (ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν [hyper tōn nekrōn]) leaves no doubt that it is to just such a posthumous proxy baptism that he is referring."[135]
  • Scott M. Lewis: "Verse 29 is one of the most vigorously disputed passages in the NT. On the surface, it seems rather simple. Using the statement of the opposition as a springboard—there is no resurrection—Paul points to the inconsistency and futility of a practice of the Corinthians, i.e., being baptized on behalf of the dead. Despite the numerous attempts to explain this passage away, or get out of the difficulties and discomfort it causes, it seems better to accept the obvious surface meaning of the passage: Some Corinthians practiced a form of vicarious baptism. What is meant exactly by that, and when and under what circumstances it was practiced is impossible to answer…"[136]
  • Andrew T. Lincoln: "With regard to the problematic verse 29 it is likely that the Corinthians’ confusion is at the root of the practice which has produced an even greater confusion among later commentators. One could guess that with their bewilderment about the fate of those who had died and their strong faith in the efficacy of baptism, some Corinthians were practising a baptism for the dead which they believed might still somehow ensure a place in the kingdom for deceased believers. An ad hominem argument by the apostle points out the futility of such a practice if the dead are not raised."[137]
  • Steve Mason and Tom Robinson: "The only reference among 1st-century Christian writings to proxy baptism on behalf of those who have died without having been baptized. Myriad alternative explanations that have been proposed reflect more the interpreters’ discomfort with the plain meaning of the words than any linguistic ambiguity. Paul simply uses this example without explanation and quickly discards it (see the angels of 11:10). We have no opportunity to determine what he thinks of the custom."[138]
  • Leon Morris: "This reference to baptism for (hyper) the dead is a notorious difficulty. The most natural meaning of the expression is that some early believers got themselves baptized on behalf of friends of theirs who had died without receiving that sacrament. Thus Parry says: 'The plain and necessary sense of the words implies the existence of a practice of vicarious baptism at Corinth, presumably on behalf of believers who died before they were baptized.' He stigmatizes all other interpretations as 'evasions . . . wholly due to the unwillingness to admit such a practice, and still more to a reference to it by S. Paul without condemnation.'[139]
  • John J. O'Rourke: "Nevertheless many ancient and most modern writers understand this as a vicarious baptism received by baptized Christians on belief of deceased catechumens. The obvious difficulty is that Paul does not appear to offer any objection to this practice, so prevalent later among heretics."[140]
  • William F. Orr and James A. Walther: "The allusion to the idea and/or practice of baptism on behalf of the dead is unique in the New Testament in this passage. . . . Close inspection of the language of the reference makes all attempts to soften or eliminate its literal meaning unsuccessful. An endeavor to understand the dead as persons who are 'dead in sin' does not really help; for the condition offered, if the dead are not being raised at all, makes it clear that the apostle is writing about persons who are physically dead. It appears that under the pressure of concern for the eternal destiny of dead relatives or friends[,] some people in the church were undergoing baptism on their behalf in the belief that this would enable the dead to receive the benefits of Christ’s salvation. Paul remarks about the practice without specifying who or how many are involved and without identifying himself with them. He attaches neither praise nor blame to the custom. He does take it as an illustration of faith in a future destiny of the dead."[141]
  • Stephen E. Potthoff: "Cult of the ancestral dead in classical Greece has been thoroughly documented, and scholars have also identified the early Christian ritual of baptism for the dead mentioned by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15.29) as an outgrowth of the longstanding cult of the departed in Corinth (Garland 1985: 107–120; Johnston 1999: 36–81; DeMaris 1995: 663–671)."[142]
  • Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright: "One of the most controversial and difficult texts in all of Pauline literature is the reference to baptism for the dead. It is not my purpose to canvas the various interpretations proposed, nor does the view argued for in this essay depend in any way upon the interpretation proposed here. What the verse suggests, however, is that baptism was considered to be indispensable for believers. The plethora of interpretations indicates that the original meaning of the verse is not easily accessible to modern readers. The difficulty of the verse is not entirely surprising, for Paul does not explain the meaning of baptism here, but instead appeals to the baptism of the dead in support his theology of the resurrection. Any baptism performed for the sake of the dead is superfluous, Paul argues, if the dead are not raised. Strictly speaking, Paul does not praise or condemn the practice of baptism for the dead, and hence a theology of baptism for the dead can scarcely be established from this verse. It seems most likely, in my judgment, that baptism for the dead was practiced when someone became a believer and died very quickly thereafter—before baptism was possible. What this verse suggests, despite its obscurity, is the importance of baptism. Baptism was considered to be the standard initiation rite for early Christians, and hence some believers at Corinth thought that baptism should be done for the sake of the dead."[143]
  • John Short: "The point is that there would be no sense in the procedure if there were no resurrection. Whatever doubts some members of the church had concerning it, there were others who were such firm believers in the Resurrection that they submitted to this rite of vicarious baptism on behalf of certain of the brethren, probably catechumens, who had passed away before they had been baptized and received into the full membership of the church. Perhaps also they had a feeling, natural enough at that stage of Christian understanding among those who had so recently been pagans, that unbaptized believers at the resurrection would not be so near to their Lord as those who had undergone the rite. Or they may have done it to ensure as far as possible that nothing would be lacking in respect of the eternal bliss of the redeemed. At its best, the vicarious ceremony was a tribute to the spirit of fellowship, of unity, and of solidarity in the community, and as such it would be sure to commend itself to Paul. There are still some survivals of this ancient Christian practice, though in the main it has fallen into disuse. In a sense it might be compared with prayers offered for the dead. They too may for some signify the deep spiritual solidarity of the Christian fellowship in heaven and on earth, in which all are one in Christ Jesus. Whatever the effect of such practices on the joy of the saints in heaven, they do reflect a kindly, generous, and Christian spirit on the part of those on earth in the desire for the continued and increasing wellbeing of those who have passed beyond the veil. Perhaps it is well to leave the matter there. Paul is content to do so, merely pointing to this ancient rite, and incidentally giving us another glimpse into the customary procedures of the early Christian fellowship as they illustrated the truth of the Resurrection. If Christ is not raised, and if therefore no resurrection of the dead, what could such baptism mean?"[144]
  • William Tabbernee: "In mainstream Christian circles, 'vicarious baptism' may have been practiced as early as the time of St. Paul (1 Cor 15:29). It was almost certainly practiced, from the second century C.E. onwards, by the Cerinthians.[145]
  • James D. Tabor: "For Paul baptism is not a symbolic ritual but a powerful spiritual activity that effected real change in the cosmos. Paul, for example, refers to some who 'baptized in behalf of the dead,' evidently referring to a practice of proxy baptism for loved ones who had died before experiencing their own baptism (1 Corinthians 15:29). Whether Paul endorsed the practice or not we cannot be sure, but it would be unlike Paul to refrain from condemning a practice he did not at least tolerate. After all, there is a sense in which all baptism is 'for the dead' since it represents a 'burial' of the dying mortal flesh in preparation for receiving the life-giving Spirit. Whatever the case, this practice of 'baptism for the dead' shows just how efficacious the activity was understood to be as a means of invoking the Christ-Spirit—even for those who had died!"[146]
  • Jeffrey A. Trumbower: "Paul alludes to a practice of some Corinthian Christians in 1 Cor. 15:29, 'Then what are they doing, those who are baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised, why are they baptized on their behalf?' Paul does not here object to this practice, whatever it is, and he uses it to convince the Corinthians that if they are baptized on behalf of the dead, they must also believe in the resurrection as Paul understands it. Enormous vats of ink have been emptied in both pre-critical and critical scholarship speculating on precisely what those Corinthian Christians were doing, why they were doing it, and Paul’s attitude toward it. A thorough 51-page survey of opinion from the second century down to 1962 was assembled by Mathis Rissi; there is no need to rehearse that entire history here. I agree with Rissi and Hans Conzelmann (and, for that matter, with Mormon prophet Joseph Smith), that the grammar and logic of the passage point to a practice of vicarious baptism of a living person for the benefit of a dead person."[147]

Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, "Baptized for the Dead"

Kevin L. Barney,  Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, (August 31, 2020)
This thorough treatment of the mention of baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29 gives a meticulous analysis of Paul’s Greek argument, and lays out the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of theories that have been put forth with respect to its interpretation. Barney concludes that “the most natural reading” and the “majority contemporary scholarly reading” is that of “vicarious baptism.” Therefore, “the Prophet Joseph Smith’s reading of the passage to refer to such a practice was indeed correct.”

Click here to view the complete article

Question: What are the common objections to a belief in God's corporeality?

Most other Christians interpret the Bible differently than we do on this point

Obviously, most other Christians interpret the Bible differently than we do on this point, and they put forward several standard objections to this kind of “anthropomorphism.” However, these objections do not hold up under close scrutiny. This will be shown for several common objections to the LDS doctrine, most of which can be found in a tract published by Catholic Answers, Inc., entitled, Does God Have a Body?[148]

Objection: “Being ‘in the image of God’ means humans have a rational soul.”

“And God said, Let us make man in our image [Hebrew tselem], after our likeness [Hebrew demuth]” (Genesis 1:26). This statement in the first chapter of the Bible seems pretty clear to Latter-day Saints. However, our fellow Christians will often say that this is to be interpreted figuratively, in the sense that humans have “rational souls,” which set us apart from the animals. However, just a few chapters later the author of Genesis repeats "God created man, in the likeness [Hebrew demuth] of God made he him" and then adds some interesting commentary about the birth of Adam's son Seth: "And Adam lived an hundred thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness [Hebrew demuth], after his image [Hebrew tselem]; and called his name Seth” (Genesis 5:1-3).

Adam was created in God’s image and likeness, and one of Adam’s sons had Adam’s image and likeness. Exactly the same words were used to describe both scenarios by the same prophetic author only one verse apart. Either Adam looked like God, or Seth was the only one of Adam’s sons who possessed a “rational soul.” If there is a good reason to interpret one passage in one way, and the other in another way, the critics must provide it. Only a prior commitment to refusing to see man in the form of God (or God in the form of a man) would lead one to interpret the terms differently.

Objection: “The Bible also says God has wings, etc. ”

Of course, it is true that the Biblical writers employed numerous metaphors when talking about God. However, just because some statements about God are metaphorical doesn’t mean that every statement is. When the Psalmist speaks of God covering us with His feathers, and giving refuge under His wings, the metaphor is completely clear. As Jesus said, “How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37.) Exactly what is the metaphorical interpretation of God’s “back parts” that Moses saw? When Stephen reported his vision, the text gives no clue as to any metaphorical interpretation; he simply reported what he saw, as did the others.

Objection: John 4:24 says, “God is a Spirit."

See also: FAIR Wiki article God is a Spirit

There are several problems with this objection. First, Paul wrote, “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). To say that God is “a spirit” is grammatically equivalent to the statement that a man joined to the Lord is “one spirit,” and yet, Christians obviously have bodies as well as spirits.

Second, there are no indefinite articles (“a” or “an”) in ancient Greek, so the passage can be translated “God is a Spirit” or “God is Spirit.” Most modern translations have chosen the latter, because John’s statement “God is Spirit” is parallel to two passages in his first epistle, “God is light” (1 Jn 1:5) and “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). In context, all of these passages seem to be referring to God’s activity toward men rather than to the nature of His “Being,” and of course we would never say that God is “a love” or “a light.”

Furthermore, Christopher Stead of the Cambridge Divinity School (another non-Mormon scholar) explains how such statements would have been interpreted within ancient Judaism:

By saying that God is spiritual, we do not mean that he has no body … but rather that he is the source of a mysterious life-giving power and energy that animates the human body, and himself possesses this energy in the fullest measure.[149]

It must always be remembered that the Bible was written by Hebrews, and the New Testament writers were all Jews. We saw at the beginning of this article that the Hebrews consistently pictured God in human form.

As another commentator noted:

That God is spirit is not meant as a definition of God's being—though this is how the Stoics [a branch of Greek philosophy] would have understood it. It is a metaphor of his mode of operation, as life-giving power, and it is no more to be taken literally than 1 Jn 1:5, "God is light," or Deuteronomy 4:24, "Your God is a devouring fire." It is only those who have received this power through Christ who can offer God a real worship.[150]

Finally, Latter-day Saints do not believe that “spirit” is incorporeal (i.e. “without substance”), and neither did the earliest Christians. The great Protestant historian, Adolf von Harnack, wrote,

God was naturally conceived and represented as corporeal by uncultured Christians, though not by these alone, as the later controversies prove.[151]

For instance, the great Christian writer, Tertullian (ca. 200 A.D.) wrote,

For who will deny that God is a body, although ‘God is a Spirit?’ For Spirit has a bodily substance of its own kind, in its own form.[152]

Why did Christians start believing otherwise? J.W.C. Wand, a historian and former Anglican bishop of London, writes that one of the Greek philosophical schools (Neoplatonism), which was popular in the days of the Roman Empire, exerted a particular influence in this respect. (See below for more information about the influence of the Greek philosophers.):

It is easy to see what influence this school of thought [Neoplatonism] must have had upon Christian leaders. It was from it that they learnt what was involved in a metaphysical sense by calling God a Spirit. They were also helped to free themselves from their primitive eschatology and to get rid of that crude anthropomorphism which made even Tertullian believe that God had a material body.[153]

Objection: Christians have always believed that God is an unchangeable, simple, immaterial spirit essence.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Origen (circa A.D. 225) wrote,

For it is also to be a subject of investigation how God himself is to be understood—whether as corporeal, and formed according to some shape, or of a different nature from bodies—a point which is not clearly indicated in our teaching.[154]

Origen (who did not believe in corporeality) nevertheless admitted there was considerable confusion among Christians of that era about this very question, but why?

Origen gives us another clue in a sermon on the book of Genesis:

The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions.[155]

The Jews, and Christians who followed the standard Jewish interpretations, believed that God had a body in human form. Why did Origen reject this? Simply because the philosophers thought it was silly. For instance, the Middle Platonist philosopher Plutarch wrote the following:

Socrates and Plato held that (God is) the One, the single self-existent nature, the monadic, the real Being, the good: and all this variety of names points immediately to mind. God therefore is mind, a separate species, that is to say what is purely immaterial and unconnected with anything passible [i.e. changeable].[156]

Another Greek philosopher, Empedocles (ca. 444 B.C.) claimed that God

does not possess a head and limbs similar to those of humans…[He is] a spirit, a holy and inexpressible one.[157]

Greek converts to Christianity wanted to make their faith more appealing to people in their own culture, and so they adopted a definition of God from the Greek philosophers, whose thought was widely respected at the time. The temptation is always there to make one’s faith more popular by “modernizing” it, but the Apostle Paul had warned against exactly this kind of thing. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). What was the “philosophy” current in Paul’s day? Greek philosophy. Similarly, Father Jean Daniélou, a Catholic historian and later a Cardinal, wrote that,

If we now examine the forms of thought and philosophical systems current at the time when Christianity first made its appearance in the world, it is clear that they were by no means ready to assimilate this Christian conception: on the contrary, they were wholly antagonistic thereto.[158]

However, within a few generations that had all changed, and philosophy ruled Christian theology.[159] Latter-day Saints understand this process as one consequence of the Great Apostasy.

Objection: John 1:18 says, “No man has seen God at any time.”

See also: FAIR Wiki article: No_man_has_seen_God

Some mainstream Christians object that the passages in the Bible that describe God’s human form must be taken figuratively, because Jesus said, “No man has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). Similarly, God told Moses, “there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Of course, God said that to Moses right before he told him that He would pass by so Moses could see His “back parts,” but not his face (Exodus 33:21-23), and God was angry at the time, so it may have been a special circumstance. Still, this presents an odd problem, considering the number of times the Bible reports that people did see God. Samuel Meier, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Semitics at Ohio State University, writes of this problem:

A deity’s physical manifestation is seen by human beings. The appearance of gods and their involvement with humans are common motifs in ancient Near Eastern and classical mythology. That similar phenomena are found in the Bible seems problematic at first, for a persistent tradition in the Hebrew Bible affirmed that death comes to any human who sees God (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Genesis 24:10-11; Genesis 33:20; Deuteronomy 5:24-26; Deuteronomy 18:16; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:22; cf Exodus 20:19; Isaiah 6:5). In most of these contexts, however, the narration undermines this sentiment by depicting the pleasant surprise of those who survive. The text presents this perspective as a misperception to which human beings subscribe, for no humans in the Bible ever die simply because they have seen God. On the contrary, throughout the Bible God wants to communicate intimately with humans. The problem of how God can adequately show himself to humankind without harm is a conundrum that is never really resolved in the Bible.[160]

Latter-day Saints can harmonize these passages with those that describe visions of the Father by referring to Moses’ vision of God, as described in the Pearl of Great Price. “And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence … [Moses said] For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him” (Moses 1:2,14). An identical solution is offered by Peter in an early (second or third century) Jewish Christian work called the Clementine Homilies:

For I maintain that the eyes of mortals cannot see the incorporeal form of the Father or Son, because it is illumined by exceeding great light … For he who sees God cannot live. For the excess of light dissolves the flesh of him who sees; unless by the secret power of God the flesh be changed into the nature of light, so that it can see light.[161]

In the same document, another conversation between Peter and Simon Magus is reported:

And Simon said: ‘I should like to know, Peter, if you really believe that the shape of man has been moulded after the shape of God.’ And Peter said: ‘I am really quite certain, Simon, that this is the case … It is the shape of the just God.[161]

The point of these passages is not that no one has or will have a vision of God’s person, but rather that men cannot see God as He is. We must be changed and protected by the grace of God to withstand His presence, and even then we cannot fully comprehend His majesty. However, this will not always be the case. As John further wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn:3).

Question: Does the doctrine that God has a physical body contradict the Bible?

A growing consensus of scholars recognizes that God, as depicted in the Bible, is embodied

The overwhelming academic consensus is that God, as depicted in the Bible, is embodied. Several books that you can read bare this out:

  • Kamionkowski, S. Tamar and Wonil Kim, eds. Bodies, Embodiment, and Theology of the Hebrew Bible. New York: T&T Clark International, 2010.
  • Halton, Charles. A Human-Shaped God: Theology of an Embodied God. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021.
  • Wilson, Brittany E. The Embodied God: Seeing the Divine in Luke-Acts and the Early Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
  • Wagner, Andreas. God's Body: The Anthropomorphic God in the Old Testament. Trans. Marion Salzmann. New York: T&T Clark, 2019.
  • Markschies, Christoph. God's Body: Jewish, Christian, and Pagan Images of God. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2019.
  • Sommer, Benjamin D. The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Stavarakopolou, Francesca. God: An Anatomy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2021.

This last book, God: An Anatomy, was helpfully reviewed by Latter-day Saint scholar and apologist Daniel C. Peterson. Peterson commends and gives some cautions regarding the book that may apply more generally to the books just listed. We recommend seeing his review cited below.[162]

It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form, since a fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh

Mormons believe that God has a physical body and human form. Does scripture which says that "God is not a man" (e.g. Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Hosea 11:9) contradict this idea?

These scriptures read (emphasis added):

  • "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man [i.e., a human being], that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" - Numbers 23:19
  • "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent." - 1 Samuel 15:29
  • I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city. - Hosea 11:9

The first passage, in Numbers, not only says that "God is not a man", but it also says that God is not "the son of man." If a Christian were to claim from this passage that God is not a man, they would have to consistently claim that God is also not a "son of man." This of course contradicts many New Testament statements about Jesus (who is God) to the contrary. Though there are many examples, one should suffice. Jesus says, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:40 Therefore, we know that the passage from Numbers is not suggesting that God is fundamentally not a "son of man", but rather that God is not a "son of man" in the sense that God doesn't have need for repentance. The next logical step requires us to conclude that the passage is not suggesting that God is fundamentally "not a man", but that God is not a man in the sense that God does not lie.

These verses say nothing about the nature or form of God—they merely assert that God is not like man in certain ways

God will not lie or change his declared course, unlike humans. As the NET translation of 1 Samuel says, "The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”

It is incorrect to imply that God cannot be in human form—the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is that Jesus is God, made flesh. One would have to assume that these verses also apply to Jesus, when they clearly do not. Jesus may be in human form, but he will not sin, or change his mind from doing his father's will.

Question: Why do the Latter-day Saints believe God has a body?

Latter-day Saints believe God has a body in human form simply because our scriptures and our prophets unanimously testify on this point

One thing that sets Latter-day Saints apart from nearly all of the rest of Christianity is the doctrine that God the Father possesses a body in human form. In fact, many of our Christian brothers and sisters see this belief as positively strange, and some even question our claim to the title “Christian” because of it.

“The Father has a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man’s; the Son also” (DC 130:22).

In other words, if we want to know what kind of being God is, who better to believe than those who have actually seen Him? There are multiple Biblical examples, such as:

  • the prophet Ezekiel, who described his vision of God by saying he saw “high above all, upon the throne, a form in human likeness” (Ezekiel 1:26, New English Bible.).
  • Stephen, whose last words were, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56.).
  • John, who saw God sitting on the throne in heaven (Revelation 4:2).
  • Moses was not allowed to see God’s face in one vision (God was angry at the Israelites at the time), but God said he would “cover thee with my hand while I pass by; and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:22-23).
  • Moses did see God previously, however: “the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
  • Jacob “wrestled a man” one night in the wilderness, and after this encounter “Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [Hebrew for “the face of God”]: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:24-32).

Some of these references may refer to visions of God the Son, but some of them, like Stephen’s and John’s, certainly refer to the person of the Father.

Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier of Trinity College (a non-Mormon scholar) summarizes this phenomenon as follows:

In short, to use the forbidden word, the biblical God is clearly anthropomorphic (i.e. “in the form of man”)—not apologetically so, but proudly, even militantly.[163]

Christopher Stead (another non-Mormon scholar) of the Cambridge Divinity School agrees that

The Hebrews…pictured the God whom they worshipped as having a body and mind like our own, though transcending humanity in the splendour of his appearance, in his power, his wisdom, and the constancy of his care for his creatures.[164]

The LDS doctrine of God’s embodiment rests primarily on eyewitness testimony. We believe God has a body in human form because everyone who has seen Him has described Him in this way.

Question: What Biblical scriptures discuss the doctrine of the deification of man?

Theosis or deification is discussed in the following biblical scriptures

In regard to the Mormon doctrine, non-LDS scholar Ernst W. Benz has observed:

One can think what one wants of this doctrine of progressive deification, but one thing is certain: with this anthropology Joseph Smith is closer to the view of man held by the ancient Church than the precursors of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. [165]

For more quotes about theosis see: Primary sources:Theosis

Question: How is Isaiah 43:10 used as a proof-text by critics of the Mormon doctrines of the plurality of gods and the deification of man?

The context of this passage makes it clear that the issue being addressed is not one of general theology but rather a very specific and practical command to recognize YHWH as Israel's only god and the only god to be worshiped

This is a FAIR Wiki scripture article. It discusses scriptures commonly used by those who attack the Church, as well as references to other FAIR Wiki articles that discuss the issues raised by the critics. For other scriptures, please see the Scripture index.

King James Version

Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. Isaiah 43:10

Other translation(s)

"You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. (NIV)

Use or misuse by Church critics

This verse is used as a proof-text by critics of the LDS doctrines of the plurality of gods and the deification of man. It is claimed that this verse proves that there never has been or ever will be another being who could properly be called a god.


This passage and other similar proof texts from the Hebrew scriptures are misused by critics. When read in context, it is clear that the intent of the passage is to differentiate YHWH from the foreign gods and idols in the cultures surrounding the Jews.

Verses 11 - 13 are a continuation of the statement by God:

I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.

I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses," declares the LORD, "that I am God.

Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?" (NIV)

The context of this passage makes it clear that the issue being addressed is not one of general theology but rather a very specific and practical command to recognize YHWH as Israel's only god and the only god to be worshiped.

In addition to misapplying this passage, critics also fail to recognize the growing body of evidence that shows that the Jewish religion was not strictly monotheistic until quite late in its development, certainly after the era in which Isaiah was written. When this evidence is considered, it appears that Judaism originally taught that though there are indeed other divine beings, some of whom are called gods, none of these are to be worshiped except for the God of gods who created all things and who revealed Himself to Moses.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

Question: Does the fact that the Bible states that nothing should be "added to" or "taken away" from the book mean that the Book of Mormon is false?

Those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position

Some Christians claim that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because nothing should be "added to" or "taken away from" the Holy Bible. However, those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position. Their use of this argument is a form of begging the question whereby they presume at the outset that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures are not the Word of God, which is precisely the point under debate. In its proper context, the passage in Revelation actually supports the teachings of the Book of Mormon that many plain and precious things would be taken away from the Bible. It also shows clearly the need for another book of scripture like the Book of Mormon to restore those lost and sacred teachings. If the Book of Mormon and other modern scriptures are the work of uninspired men or the arm of flesh, then of course one ought not to trust them. If, however, they are indeed the word of the Lord to prophets, then all who desire to be saved ought to carefully heed them.

The verse often cited (as by Martin, above) is Revelation 22:18-19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books

Some claim that this verse states that the Bible is complete, and no other scripture exists or will be forthcoming.

However, the critics ignore that:

  • The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books, and prior the Bible being assembled into a collection of texts. Therefore, this verse can only apply to the Book of Revelation, and not the Bible as a whole (some of which was unwritten and none of which was yet assembled together into 'the Bible'). While the traditional date of the book of Revelation is A.D. 95 or 96 (primarily based on a statement by Irenaeus), many scholars now date it as early as A.D. 68 or 69. The Gospel of John is generally dated A.D. 95-100. (For more information on the dating of Revelation, see Thomas B. Slater's Biblica article).
  • The New Testament is made up of first the four Gospels and then second the epistles of the apostles. Since the book of Revelation is neither a gospel nor an epistle, it was placed at the end of the canon in its own category. Therefore, John cannot have intended the last few sentences of Revelation to apply to the entire Bible, since he was not writing a 'final chapter' for the New Testament and since the Bible would not be completed and canonized for some centuries later.
  • Other scriptures (such as Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, and Proverbs 30:6) likewise forbid additions; were the critics' arguments to be self-consistent, they would have to then discard everything in the New Testament and much of the Old, since these verses predate "other scripture" added by God through later prophets.
  • Further evidence that Rev. 22:19 is not referring to the entire bible when it reads "words of the book of this prophecy" is found if one reads Revelation 1:3,11:

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand...Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

It is self evident that the book referred to at the very beginning of Revelation is the same book being referred to at the very end of Revelation

Everything that John saw and heard in between these two statements are the contents of that book.

Even if the passage in Revelation meant that no man could add to scripture; it does not forbid that God may, through a prophet, add to the Word of God. If this were not possible, then the Bible could never have come into existence.

Noted Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman wrote:

The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning [quotes Revelation 22:18–19].

This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.[166]

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them

This threat was a real threat in John's eyes. Unfortunately, it appears that the threat went unheeded. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them (1 Nephi 14:21-25). He made this interesting prophesy.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book [the Bible] hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God (1 Nephi 13:28).

Nephi is later promised that the Lord would send forth other books such as the Book of Mormon to restore those precious and plain things that were taken away.

These last records [The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, etc], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [The Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and previous things which have been taken away from them... (1 Nephi 13:40)

The ancient Book of Mormon prophet Nephi understood how critics would respond to the Book of Mormon. His answer for the critics is this:

Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:26-31)

Question: How is Genesis 3:5 used by critics to attempt to show that the Mormon doctrine of deification is a teaching of Satan?

The use of Genesis 3 to counter the doctrine of deification/theosis has two problems associated with it. The first is that Satan never claimed that Adam and Eve would be gods, just that they would be "as gods, knowing good and evil."

This is a FAIR Wiki scripture article. It discusses scriptures commonly used by those who attack the Church, as well as references to other FAIR Wiki articles that discuss the issues raised by the critics. For other scriptures, please see the Scripture index.

King James Version (KJV)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:5

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does.

Bible in Basic English (BBE)

For God sees that on the day when you take of its fruit, your eyes will be open, and you will be as gods, having knowledge of good and evil.

Use or misuse by Church critics

This verse is used by critics to attempt to show that the LDS doctrine of deification is a teaching of Satan.


The critics seriously misunderstand and misinterpret this passage of scripture.

Note that the serpent makes two claims:

(1) "ye shall not surely die" and

(2) "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

But if one looks forward to Genesis 3:22:

"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil:"

So the use of Genesis 3 to counter the doctrine of deification/theosis has two problems associated with it. The first is that Satan never claimed that Adam and Eve would be gods, just that they would be "as gods, knowing good and evil."

The second and bigger problem is that Satan was, in fact, telling the truth on this point. We know he was because after the event the Lord God confirms that Adam and Eve did indeed become as gods, knowing good and evil. As usual, Satan mixes lies and truth. In this case he said that Adam and Eve wouldn't die (a lie) but he also said that their eating would make them "as gods, knowing good and evil" (a truth).

So the lie of Satan in the Garden of Eden was that transgressing God's law would not bring death. This chapter isn't even relevant to beliefs about deification, and the text shows that the comment that was made wasn't a lie at all.

Satan didn't promise that Adam and Eve would become gods, and what Satan did say about becoming as gods was true.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

Question: How is John 4:24 used as a proof-text by critics of Mormon doctrine of the corporeal nature of God?

Critics read into the passage what is not there. This passage in John does not assert anything about God's corporeal nature or lack thereof

This is a FAIR Wiki scripture article. It discusses scriptures commonly used by those who attack the Church, as well as references to other FAIR Wiki articles that discuss the issues raised by the critics. For other scriptures, please see the Scripture index.

King James Version

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:24

Other translation(s)

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (NASB)

God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is." (TEV)

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth. (CEV)

Critics read into the passage what is not there. This passage in John does not assert anything about God's corporeal nature or lack thereof. The Latter-day Saint belief that God is an embodied spirit is perfectly consistent with the passage in question and critics are in error to insist that the passage must be interpreted as "God is a disembodied spirit."

Use or misuse by Church critics

This verse is used as a proof-text by critics of the LDS doctrine of the corporeal nature of God. Critics argue that this passage proves that God does not have a physical body.


The context of this verse is that Jesus is explaining to a Samaritan woman how one must worship. Jesus teaches that the place of worship, whether Samaria or Jerusalem, is not important, but rather the way one worships. By teaching attributes of God, Jesus teaches how His children can and should relate to Him and worship Him. Latter-day Saints emphatically agree that God is indeed spirit, just as He is love 1 Jn 1:5, light 1 Jn 4:8, and a consuming fire Deuteronomy 4:24, but He is not only spirit, love, light, or fire.

The Greek language has no indefinite article ("a" or "an") and so the translator must decide whether to include that word in the English text. But for Latter-day Saints, the presence or absence of the article makes no difference. Latter-day Saints believe both that God is spirit (as an attribute) and that God is a spirit (as a statement of His nature). Similarly, Latter-day Saints believe that all people are also spirits, but spirits housed within a physical body.

In the chapter immediately preceding this scripture, in John 3:5-6 , Jesus says the following:

John 3:5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (NASB)

It is clear from the above verse that Jesus considered it entirely possible for a mortal human with a physical body to be spirit. Likewise, it is not inconsistent to believe that God the Father simultaneously has a physical body and "is spirit."

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

Question: Was the temple obsolete after Christ?

There is no evidence that the early Christian apostles abandoned the use of the temple. Indeed, they embraced it, and continued to use it for the appearance of the Risen Lord

Some Christians charge that Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection meant that the temple was to be removed from Christian worship—the Atonement made the temple superfluous. Therefore, they criticize the LDS for persisting with temple worship. Some claim that the veil in the temple becoming rent in twain after the crucifixion of Christ indicates that the temple was no longer to be used.

There is no evidence that the early Christian apostles abandoned the use of the temple. Indeed, they embraced it, and continued to use it for the appearance of the Risen Lord, and the receipt of prophetic calls.

It is not surprising that Christians have since down-played the importance of the temple, since most do not have one. No one would want to admit they are missing an important part of the gospel. But, if Paul and other apostles valued and honored the temple, why do critics attack the Latter-day Saints for doing the same?

BYU Professor William J. Hamblin wrote:

Unfortunately for [critics] it is quite clear that the New Testament apostles continued to worship in the Jerusalem temple after Christ's ascension (Acts 2:46, 3:1-10, 5:20-42). Even Paul worshipped there (Acts 21:26-30, 22:17, 24:6-18, 25:8, 26:21). Paul is explicitly said to have performed purification rituals (Acts 21:26, 24:18), and prayed in the temple (22:17, cf. 3:1); he claims that he has not offended "against the temple," implying he accepts its sanctity (25:8). Indeed, Paul also offered sacrifice (prosfora) in the temple (21:26, cf. Numbers 6:14-18), a very odd thing for him to do if the temple had been completely superceded after Christ's ascension. Finally, and most importantly, Paul had a vision of Christ ("The Just One" ton dikaion) in the temple (Acts 22:14-21), paralleling Old Testament temple theophanies, and strongly implying a special sanctity in the temple, where God still appears to men even after Christ's ascension.[167]

Hamblin elaborated further on Paul's vision of Christ in the temple during which he received his prophetic call:

Ananias says Paul will "see the Just One." (Acts 22:14)
Paul then goes to Jerusalem (Acts 22:17)
"When I [Paul] was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance" (Acts 22:17)
Then he sees Christ/The Just One (Acts 22:18)
Christ tells him to leave Jerusalem (Acts 22:18) and go preach to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21).[168]

Hamblin then illustrates that Paul continued to offer "sin offerings" in the temple after his conversion to Christanity:

Paul’s prosfora was participation in the fulfillment of a Nazarite vow taken by four men (Acts 21:21-26). The sacrifices required to fulfill this vow are described in Numbers 6:13-18. They include making a “sin offering” (Numbers 6:14). Therefore, Paul’s prosfora included a sin offering. (See Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, 3rd ed, p. 443-8.) Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice is called a prosfora in Hebrews 10:10,14,18, and is directly correlated to the temple sin offerings (Acts 10:3-9). Given all this, it is rather blatant special pleading to claim that Paul’s prosfora in the temple did not include a sin offering.[169]

One respected non-LDS scholar notes the connection between certain biblical language and the temple concept:

In general, any cultic activity to which the biblical text applies the formula 'before the Lord' can be considered an indication of the existence of a temple at the site, since this expression ... belongs to the temple's technical terminology.[170]

The phrase “Before the Lord” can be found in 2 Timothy 2:14 and 2 Peter 2:11.

Question: Does Acts 17:24-25 teach that the idea of temple worship is foreign to Christianity?

Christians continued to honor, revere, and worship at the Jerusalem temple

It is claimed that Acts 17:24-25 teaches that the idea of temple worship is foreign to Christianity, [171] when Paul says:

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.

Christians continued to honor, revere, and worship at the Jerusalem temple. Paul's remarks about temples "made with hands" were designed to counter the pagan idea that god(s) could only be worshiped in temples, and that they were confined to such man-made structures.

In the scripture cited above, Paul is addressing Greeks (the Athenians) and their temple "to an unknown god". Paul's point is that God does not swell solely in a physical object, like the temple of Athena at Athens (see Acts 7:48). This is not to say that there is no temple where the true God can be worshiped—Paul respected the temple and even underwent ritual purification after one of his missionary journeys (REF). The early Christians also continued to show great reverence to the Jerusalem temple. Rather, Paul argued that God is the God of the whole world and can be worshiped at all times and at all places.

An analysis of the Greek text also supports this view, since the term, "made with hands" likely refers to idolatrous worship.

The expression "made with hands" is defined as follows: in

4654 χειροποίητος
“made by hands,” in the [Septuagint] applied only to idols, but in the NT used of material temples (Acts 7:48, 17:24): cf. Orac. Sib. xiv. 62 ναῶν ἱδρύματα χειροποιήτων. In the travel-letter, P Lond 8544 (i/ii A.D.) (=111. p. 205, Selections, p. 70), the writer remarks that many go by ship ἵνα τὰς χει]ropοι]ήτους τέ]χνας ἱστορήσωσι, “in order that they may visit works of art made by hands,” on the banks of the Nile. [172]

The term appears, in the same form, in Acts 7:48:

ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ ὁ ὕψιστος ἐν χειροποιήτοις κατοικεῖ, καθὼς ὁ προφήτης λέγει· (BGT)

The NRSV reads:

Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, (Act 7:48 NRS)

Question: Is original sin a biblical doctrine?

Many authors have noted that the modern doctrine of "original sin" is at variance with much of both the Old and New Testament

James Barr wrote:

Our ideas about the origin of evil have an effect on our ideas about humanity and its potentialities and limitations in the present-day world” (59-60)...

For the traditional Christian conception of the origins of evil, the dominant passages are in St. Paul [Rom 5.12; 5.18; I Cor 15.21-22, 47, 49]….

The most noticeable thing about them is the stress they throw upon the disobedience of Adam…. Its effect was instant and completely catastrophic. There is no matter of degree or development. The slightest sin was total and universal in its effect: sin, it seems, completely, and not partially, altered man’s relation to God…. Later theologians worked out, on this basis, the doctrine of original sin” (60-1).

“All this has been the familiar and traditional Christian position. It is so familiar, so deeply implanted in our traditions, that it comes as something of a surprise to realize that it is after all a rather rare emphasis within the New Testament itself; and, in particular, it is an emphasis that seems to be lacking from the teaching of Jesus himself….

There is no doctrine of original sin to be found in Jesus’ teaching…. And, if it is not in Jesus’ teaching, it is equally absent from many other parts of the New Testament…. It is intrinsically Pauline” (61-2).

“Nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible is the disobedience of Adam and Eve cited as explanation for sin or evil in the world. This reference…simply does not occur…. The Old Testament, far from taking the universal sinfulness of man as an obvious and ineluctable fact, seems rather, taken as a whole, to insist upon the possibility of avoiding sin” (67).

“The main Jewish tradition, as we know it since the Middle Ages, has refused to accept any sort of doctrine of original sin…. Moral problems are serious choices for the Jew, and they are serious choices because one has freedom to sin or not to sin. There is indeed the idea of the two yesers, formations or inclinations, the good and the bad, both of which are implanted in man and between which he has to choose…. Adam, like the other men of the first beginnings, was often regarded with admiration: he was a very great man. As Ben Sira put it, looking back over the worthies of the Bible who should be remembered: ‘Shem and Seth were honored among men but Adam is above every living being in the creation’ [Ecclesiasticus 49.16]” ;(68). “all this then raises the serious question: was St. Paul really at all right in his understanding the story of Adam and Eve as the cataclysmic entrance of sin and death?” (69). [173]

A better question may be, is the understanding of St. Paul adopted by the western Christian tradition actually correct? Where did this reading of Paul come from? Why would "Paul's" conception of original sin vary so profoundly from both the Jewish and New Testament tradition?

Interestingly, it all starts with one man, well after the death of Jesus and the apostles—Augustine of Hippo.

Question: Is Mormon insistence on baptism as an essential ordinance of salvation "unChristian" or "unbiblical"?

Biblical data and early Christians are unanimous that baptism was regarded as an essential commandment

Evangelical Christians argue that the LDS insistence on baptism as an essential ordinance of salvation is "unChristian" or "unbiblical." However, the Biblical data and early Christians are unanimous that baptism was regarded as an essential commandment. Baptism manifests an inner state of faith in and repentance through Christ. The physical act does not save, but one cannot be saved without it.

Astonishing as it may seem given the prominence of baptism in the New Testament, some Christian groups deny the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. This usually arises out of a conviction that baptism is "a work," and thus cannot play any necessary role in salvation. [174]

Biblical evidence

Those who hold such views usually provide a variety of proof-texts, and ignore other Biblical commands for baptism. We will look at examples of both below.

Luke 3:3

And he [John the Baptist] came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;

McKeever and Johnson write of this verse

"And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The word for (Greek: eis) in "for the remission of sins" can mean with a view to or because of. Those who responded to John's invitation of baptism had already heard his message of coming judgment and of the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). They responded to baptism based on the convicting message they had already heard. The word eis is also translated at in Matthew 12:41, where it says the men of Nineveh "repented at the preaching of Jonas." Did the men of Nineveh repent in order to get the preaching of Jonas? Or did they repent because of the preaching of Jonas? The latter, of course, is the proper answer. [175]

None of the translations which we have consulted translate Luke 3:3 as the authors suggest it should be. Most all translations use "for" while a few use "unto" or "to the remission of sins." Latter-day Saints agree that a remission of sins only comes by repentance through the atonement of Jesus Christ and baptism itself is just a symbolic ordinance, but a necessary one nonetheless. It should be noted also that the authors make no comment on the fact that much of Christianity—including Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches—disagree with their view regarding the necessity of baptism.

John 3:5-6

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

The same authors comment on John 3:5-6:

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." We must ask what being "born of water" would have meant to Nicodemus. In his commentary on John, Leon Morris writes:
"Nicodemus could not possibly have perceived an allusion to an as yet non-existent sacrament. It is difficult to think that Jesus would have spoken in such a way that His meaning could not possibly be grasped. His purpose was not to mystify but to enlighten. In any case the whole thrust of the passage is to put the emphasis on the activity of the Spirit, not on any rite of the church."
The emphasis throughout the passage is on the Spirit, with no other reference to water. Verse 6 shows that, as each of us has had a physical birth, so we must have a spiritual birth to enter the kingdom of God. [176]

The authors imply that Latter-day Saints de-emphasize the baptism of the Spirit but Joseph Smith taught that "The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use; they are necessarily and inseparably connected." [177] The authors themselves seem to be ignoring the fact that Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." The "and" infers that both are necessary and connected. It is obvious that Nicodemus did not understand what the Lord was teaching him, but just 16 verses later John tells us, "After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing." [178] To infer that baptism was a non-existent sacrament at this point seems unjustified. Notice that John 3:22 mentions Jesus and his disciples baptizing first while the other gospels mention John the Baptist baptizing first. It seems as though the Gospel of John is not as concerned with chronological accuracy at this point. Thus, whether the Lord's encounter with Nicodemus preceded or followed the start of John's preaching is unknown. These verses speak of baptism as if it is not something new—a concept critics who deny the necessity of baptism seem loathe to accept. The fact that none of the Gospels explains the ordinance of baptism and that the name "John the Baptist" is used by Matthew even before baptism is mentioned, seems to infer that baptism was not new. As to the necessity of baptism, it will be shown shortly that there are plenty of other scriptures which emphasize this requirement.

Acts 2:38

The authors comment on Acts 2:38:

"Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Just as in Luke 3:3, so Peter was encouraging his hearers to be baptized in view of the remission of sins they had received when they were cut to the heart by his message regarding the Christ. It is interesting to note that Peter made no reference to baptism in his next recorded sermon (see Acts 3:19). [179]

The authors again impose their own beliefs on this scripture. As with Luke 3:3, no Bible translations were found to justify their conclusion that a remission of sins preceded baptism here. We are told that following this first sermon: "they that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." [180] Why would so many be baptized if this was only an optional ordinance? Our authors infer that if baptism were essential, Peter should preach baptism in every recorded sermon he gave, but what if these sermons are only brief summaries? What if he did preach baptism and this concept was just not included in these 15 verses because a new concept was being emphasized in this chapter? We can go too far using assumptions to justify our beliefs and the authors seem to be doing just that. Their conclusions are built on flimsy assumptions and very little if any scholarship. It is apparent that the authors have made up their minds on this issue and are desperately searching for reasons why the obvious meaning of these passages must be wrong.

Other biblical data

The authors continue to nitpick Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13, and Romans 3:18-20 in the same manner. We will here only note that there are many more scriptures that could be cited on this subject (Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:4; Luke 7:30; Acts 8:12, Acts 10:48, Acts 16:33, and Acts 19:2-6; Hebrews 6:2; and 1 Peter 3:21, to cite just a few) and which the authors ignore.

One LDS author noted:

Scripture strictly associates the ordinance of baptism with the washing away of impurities or sins. John the Baptist affirmed this link by preaching "the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Some Christians have tried to indicate that John's baptism was somehow different from later Christian baptisms, but this is contradicted by the scriptures and later authoritative statements. Peter instructed new converts on the day of Pentecost to "Repent, and be baptized, every one... in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Paul was likewise commanded of Ananias to "be baptized and wash away [his] sins" (Acts 22:16)....

The scriptures clearly state that baptism is a commandment. Luke reports that "the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of [John]" (Luke 7:30). Peter also "commanded" the Gentiles "to be baptized in the name of the Lord" (Acts 10:48). And finally, the importance of this ordinance was emphasized by Christ in his last admonition to the eleven apostles to "Go… and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). If baptism was not essential, why then the command to baptize all nations?

If baptism is for the remission of our sins and is a commandment, it must also be essential to salvation. The scriptures clearly affirms this: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21). Paul affirms that Christ "saved us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5) while adding that baptism is the appointed way to "put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).

The Savior also clearly taught the link between baptism and salvation. Mark concludes his gospel with the Savior's teaching that "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). [181]

The reader should note here that McKeever and Johnson make a very weak argument that,

If belief plus baptism truly equals salvation, then why wasn't this formula used when it says that a person who 'believeth not' would be condemned? To support the LDS position, this passage should read: 'he that believeth not and is baptized not shall be damned.' Taken at face value, this says that a lack of belief, not a lack of water baptism, is what damns a person. [182]

They never address why someone "that believeth not" would ever want to be baptized. Of course anyone who does not believe would never consider baptism. It's obvious that the authors believe this argument totally destroys the necessity of baptism in regard to salvation, but their own logic is just as obviously flawed.

Paul likewise emphasized both the importance of water baptism and the authority to baptize in Acts 19:2-6. Upon finding some disciples who were apparently baptized by an unauthorized individual, Paul rebaptizes them and lays his hands upon them to give them the gift of the Holy Ghost. If baptism were either optional or acceptable under any authority, rebaptism would not have been necessary in this circumstance. The disciples could have proceeded directly to confirmation (i.e. the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost) if this were the case, but instead they were first rebaptized. [183]

Evidence from early Christian authors


Ignatius of Antioch (AD ca. 35 or 50 to 98–117) wrote:

"It is not right either to baptize or to celebrate the agape [i.e., love feast or sacrament] apart from the bishop; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God, so that everything you do may be secure and valid. [184]


Tertullian, in the first century after the death of Christ, stated that "There is no difference whether one is washed in a sea or a pool, in a river or in a fountain, in a lake or in a channel: nor is there any difference between those whom John dipped in the Jordan, and those whom Peter dipped in the Tiber…We are immersed in the water." [185]

On the necessity of the ordinance of baptism, Tertullian also taught the 'sole necessary way' of obtaining Christ's protection against evil was through baptism. [186] In fact it was universally believed in the Early Church that 'we obtain the benefits of Christ's sacrifice by baptism.' [187] Tertullian held that baptism was necessary for salvation. He also suggested that children not be "baptized until they reached years of discretion." [188]

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr (ca. AD 150) said the following regarding baptism:

"Those who are persuaded and believe, and promise that they can live accordingly, are instructed to pray and beseech God with fasting for the remission of their sins, while we pray and fast along with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are reborn by the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were reborn; for then they are washed in the water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ said, 'unless you are born again you will not enter the kingdom of heaven' (John 3:3-4)." [189]

Those who contend that baptism in water is not necessary have asserted that "born of water" implies only the necessity of physical birth from the water within the womb. Justin Martyr made it clear that this was not the true meaning of this verse in the Second Century AD. In describing his practice of the baptismal ceremony, he explains, "After [repentance] they are led by us to where there is water, and are born again in that kind of new birth by which we ourselves were born again. For upon the name of God, the Father and Lord of all, and of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, and of the Holy Spirit, the immersion in water is performed, because the Christ hath also said, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven'." [190] Thus, the early Christian Fathers understood that the "new birth" referred to baptism of water and not to one's physical birth. [191]

Justin also confirmed that "no one was allowed to partake [of the sacrament] except one who believes…and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth." [192]


Origen at about AD 220, taught baptismal candidates, "Go and repent, catechumens [those preparing for baptism by being instructed], if you want to receive baptism for the remission of your sins…. No one who is in a state of sin when he comes for baptism can obtain the remission of his sins." [193]


Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the middle part of the third century, stated that no one outside of the church could administer a valid baptism. [194]

The Didache

An early Christian document known as the Didache (The Teaching) states that baptism was the accepted rite of admission to the Church and "only those who have been baptized in the Lord's name" may partake of the sacrament. [195]


J.N.D. Kelly also notes that Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Hippolytus believed that baptism was very important. "Clement of Alexandria speaks of baptism as imparting regeneration, enlightenment, divine sonship, immortality, [and] remission of sins [where] sonship…is the result of regeneration worked by the Spirit." Origen insisted on penitence, sincere faith, and humility "as prerequisites to baptism as well as gradual transformation of the soul. Hippolytus associated the remission of sins and reception of the Spirit with baptism. [196]

No actions allowed?

McKeever and Johnson conclude their arguments with the following bewildering assertion: "It needs to be remembered that baptism, like partaking of the Lord's Supper, is a work. It is something that an individual must personally perform. As such, it is not a requirement for receiving salvation under the guidelines of Ephesians 2:8-9." [197] By this same logic, we must exclude "calling on the name of the Lord" and repentance as requirements for salvation as well, since these are both "works" "that an individual must personally perform." Are the authors serious about this?

Further Reading

  • For further reading on the evidence of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, see commentary and cited literature at
Robert Boylan, "Baptism, Salvation, and the New Testament, Part 4: John 3:1-7" <>.

Indeed, baptismal regeneration does seem to be the consensus of early Church fathers and the Bible itself.

Modern revelation

Modern scriptures also confirm the role of baptism in the remission of sins (Alma 6:2; DC 13:; DC 55:1-2; DC 68:27; DC 84:64, DC 74:; DC 138:33; JS-H 1:69), though the actual cleansing is accomplished through Christ's atonement (Mosiah 3:11, Mosiah 18:; Alma 7:14; DC 20:37; DC 76:41,69; Moses 6:59and reception of the Holy Ghost. [198]

Question: Is the Mormon doctrine of a "premortal existence" pagan, unchristian, or unbiblical, and therefore false?

Some Christians present alternate interpretations of selected scriptures that fit with their preconceived notions concerning where we came from, yet, they cannot really answer where we came from

Without an understanding of where we came from, it is difficult to understand why we are here and where we are going. While the teachings of sectarian critics may not answer these questions, we are fortunate to live in a time when the answers have been fully revealed by prophets, as in times of old.

The assertion made by critics of Mormonism is that those who believe in the Bible cannot believe in life before life. Such an assertion is evidenced through statements such as the following:

  • "…such teachings are perplexing to the Bible-believing Christian…"
  • "Mormons … are hard-pressed to find any biblical support for the very idea of preexistence."
  • "The Word of God certainly does not support the LDS concept that all humans are literal children of God."

One specific critical work issues the challenging statement "Until Mormons can show better proof of humanity's eternal existence, Christians are unable to agree with this extrabiblical teaching."[199]

Such a challenge, of course, should not go unanswered. Such challenges have been answered many times in the past, though those who raise the issue rarely acknowledge or address responses already made.[200]

The pre-mortal existence of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world is abundantly testified to in scripture

The pre-mortal existence of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world is abundantly testified to in scripture, both ancient and modern, and nothing in the chapter at hand gives rise to any question concerning the acceptance of the doctrine of Christ's ante-mortal existence. We will leave it to the reader to ponder whether Christ was not just our spiritual pattern, but also a literal pattern of the path that each of us tread as we make our way from our home with God, through this earth life, and back once more to the eternal realms.

Questions: What biblical evidence is there for a pre-mortal existence?

Critics cite three scriptures, asserting that the Latter-day Saints use them as biblical proofs for the concept of a premortal life

In the course of proffering a refutation of the LDS doctrine of a premortal life, critics cite three scriptures, asserting that the LDS use them as biblical proofs for the concept of a premortal life. The cited scriptures are Jeremiah 1:5; Job 38:4,7; and Ecclesiastes 12:7. The extent of the critics' rebuttal of these scriptures is to contend that the LDS interpretations are incorrect, and offer differing interpretations. A deeper examination of those scriptures, along with the interpretations of them, is certainly in order.

The Case of Jeremiah: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee"

In the case of Jeremiah 1:5, the critics assert that the scripture is a reference to God's foreknowledge, and not to a personal knowledge of humans. Granting that God has limitless foreknowledge does not preclude a personal knowledge of individual humans, however. The critics do not refute the possibility of such knowledge, instead opting to say (in effect) "No, that can't be it." Such assertions, while they may be comforting to the critics and sufficient in their own estimation, do not preclude the acceptability of the LDS interpretation of the scripture at hand.

It is hard to deny the specificity of words used in the Jeremiah passage:

"Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

Notice three key words here: knew, sanctified, and ordained. The wording itself indicates that God literally knew Jeremiah and was familiar with his spiritual attitudes and abilities. In addition, God sanctified Jeremiah, a description not of foreknowledge but of an actual event with participants present. The process of sanctification, or setting something apart as holy, by definition requires that something (such as Jeremiah himself) be present to be set apart. Likewise, the act of ordaining a person—in this case a prophet—requires that the individual be present. These acts—sanctification and ordination—are not mental exercises, but actual events.

Indeed, other modern Christian scholars have chosen to acknowledge the claim that Jeremiah 1:5 speaks of more than mere foreknowledge. In reference to the concept of premortal life, William de Arteaga stated:

"This question was hotly debated by Christians of late antiquity, and the faction of the Church which was bitterly opposed to preexistence gained the upper hand. By the sixth century belief in preexistence was declared heresy. All of this is quite astonishing in view of the clear and repeated biblical evidence for preexistence."[201]

The event referred to in the sixth century was an edict by Pope Vigilius in AD 543 that rejected the doctrine of preexistence taught by Origen of Alexandria. Historical records indicate that the edict, called Anathemas Against Origen, was actually penned by the Roman emperor, Justinian,[202] and signed by the pope and other bishops present at the Second Council of Constantinople.[203] Tales of the relationships between early popes and Roman emperors make for great reading. The relationship between Pope Vigilius and Emperor Justinian is no exception. Many records indicate that the anathemas declared against Origen had their roots in political posturing regarding doctrines of the early church. Regardless, many scholars regard the papal edict in AD 543 as the reason that the concept of preexistence is generally considered extrabiblical today. It is clear from the record that before this time the concept was freely taught by many within the church.

The Case of Job: ""Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?"

When it comes to the trials of Job and the discussions that God had with Job, it seems that the critics are actually the ones taking scripture out of context. They are quick to cite the rhetorical nature of the questions posed to Job, but slow to understand the concepts being conveyed by the Lord through such literary means. Just take a look at Job 38:1-7:

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

"Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

"Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

"Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?

"Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

"When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"

In the course of reproving Job, the Lord indicates several key pieces of knowledge. First of all, in verse four the Lord asks "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Such a question, by its very nature, implies that Job was somewhere. Why would God ask Job a question which was not instructive, and why would the ancient scribes include the discourse if something could not be learned? The critics indicate that the assertion that Job had to be somewhere (thereby supporting preexistence) presupposes that preexistence is a fact. Such circular reasoning can be just as easily applied to the position taken by the critics: one can only interpret the verse as saying that Job was not present when God laid the foundations of the earth if one presupposes that the spirits of men had no premortal life.

Thus, both interpretations can be seen to be on an equal footing when the singular verse is examined. The Lord, however, does not leave the matter alone for long. In further questioning Job, he asks (in essence) where Job was "when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Here, again, is the assertion that Job had to be somewhere. Not just Job, however, but the morning stars and the sons of God. And these were not silent participants in the framing of the world, but singers and shouters, indicating they were possessed of independent capabilities of thought and action. Taken together, these two verses provide a strong case for the concept of a premortal life.

The Case of Ecclesiastes: "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it"

Finally, the critics indicate that Latter-day Saints see Ecclesiastes 12:7 as a reference to "the second leg of a 'round trip' passage." While this may be an amusing way to discredit the LDS concept, it is not nearly as easy to avoid the specific language of the verse:

"Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."

The simple question remains as to how something could return to a point it had not been to before. If the scripture is best translated, as the authors assert, as only having reference to returning to a God who created the spirit,[204] then the only difference between their understanding and that of the LDS is a matter of timing. We believe that God created the spirit of man—just that it was done long before the mortal birth. Either way, the spirit still returns home to God.

But there is a deeper problem with the interpretation of this scripture offered by the critics. By rejecting the concept of premortal existence, the authors swallow the concept that the spirit of man springs into existence at some time between conception and birth.[205] If the scripture is to be interpreted literally, and as a parallel linguistic construction, then dust returns to dust, as it was without life, and spirit returns to its former uncreated condition, meaning without life as well. Thus, the problem is that the scripture could just as easily be used to justify a doctrine of there being no life after death.

Question: Did Jesus and the apostles believe in pre-mortal life?

"Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Note the exchange between Jesus and his disciples recorded in John 9:1–2:

"And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.

"And his disciples asked him, saying Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"

Was this a rhetorical question on the part of the disciples? No, the question indicated that the disciples thought one possible answer to the blindness of the man was that he had sinned. Since he was born blind—a fact the record indicates that both Jesus and His disciples knew—then the wording of the question indicates that the sinning must have taken place before the birth of the man, by the man himself. How could the man have sinned, resulting in a punishment of being blind at birth, unless he had lived before he was born?

If the concept of a premortal life was in error, then the Master Teacher had a perfect opportunity to correct His students

Jesus' answer is recorded in John 9:3:

"Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."

Jesus then proceeded to heal the man, foregoing any opportunity to correct the concept of the man having lived before birth. Instead, He acknowledged the concept by saying that the man had not sinned.[206] In the words of one non-LDS scholar:

"The question posed by the disciples explicitly presupposed prenatal existence. It will be also noted that Christ says nothing to dispel or correct the presupposition. Here is incontrovertible support for a doctrine of human preexistence.

"It is perfectly reasonable to surmise on the basis of this episode that Jesus and his followers accepted preexistence and thought so little of it that the question of prenatal sin did not even call for an answer."[207]

There are other scriptures in the Bible that can be used to support the concept of a premortal life. Suffice it to say that for the time being, however, the words of God and Jesus may be sufficient to the task at hand. The critics' charges of taking scripture out of context notwithstanding, there is a reasonable basis for at least recognizing a biblical basis for the doctrine of a preexistence.[208]

Question: How do Mormons see the relationship between works and grace?

Differences in terminology

Two LDS authors insightfully described the LDS doctrine of grace and salvation, and compared it to the schema used by many Protestants, as follows:

(1) Latter-day Saints believe that our individual sins (not just the original sin introduced by Adam) are forgiven as a result of God's grace. (2) Latter-day Saints believe that salvation (in the Protestant sense of that term—salvation from death and hell, coupled with immortality in the presence of God) is graciously and unconditionally granted to all but sons of perdition; (3) For Latter-day Saints the real issue of salvation has to do with the individual's continued growth into God's likeness (sanctification) and exaltation, which are the synergistic outcome of divine grace and human striving. It is the Latter-day Saint degrees-of-glory eschatology that does not fit nicely with Protestant models of grace, grafted as they are to a heaven-or-hell eschatology...

Salvation is an all-or-nothing affair for most Protestants, making the distinction between "born again" and "unregenerate" correspond exactly to that between "saved" and "damned." For Latter-day Saints, though, most of the "unregenerate" receive a degree of glory—one which passes all earthly understanding (DC 76:89)—for having chosen to come to earth and for deciding not to deny the Holy Spirit. Moreover, Latter-day Saints hold that the life led by those receiving lower degrees of glory is substantially different than that supposedly enjoyed in Protestant heaven or hell. Those in the telestial kingdom for instance (and thus some of those that are "saved") do not enjoy the full presence of the Godhead as they would in Protestant versions of heaven. However, the absence of the Father and the Son (which in this respect would equate to Protestant notions of hell) is a far cry from the Protestant notion of eternal torment, as they still enjoy the presence of God, the Holy Spirit, and a glory beyond human comprehension. Similarly, the residents of the terrestrial kingdom are neither clearly "saved" nor clearly "damned" according to Protestant definitions: they have accepted the testimony of Jesus (corresponding to "saved") but have not been valiant therein and receive only the "glory" and not the "full presence" of the Father (corresponding in this sense to "damned"). Clearly, given these and other differences, the Latter-day Saint understanding of salvation cannot be directly correlated to Protestant soteriology and eschatology...

Latter-day Saints do not accept the Protestant assumption that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works constitute two separate grammars of discourse. To the contrary, we believe that it is false and that James and even Paul, as well as living prophets, make it clear that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works are actually inseparable.[209]

Question: Do Mormons believe that salvation is based upon works?

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for salvation

Evangelical Christians claim that salvation comes through "faith alone" (sola fide) and they accuse Latter-day Saints of holding to an un-Biblical belief of "works-based salvation."

For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belief and faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely essential for salvation. Just like our Evangelical brethren we may say, "faith without works is dead," and inversely, "works without faith is likewise dead." These two principles are undeniably connected as means to salvation. The conflict for both groups arises from a misunderstanding.

Unfortunately, this misunderstanding demonstrates how very far apart Mormons and Evangelicals are in coming to understand each other and each other's beliefs. The irony of this accusation is that there really shouldn't be any controversy. Because of differing jargon and built-in mistrust between Mormons and other Christians, both sects are generally confused as to exactly what the other sect believes.

The Evangelical position: While each denomination varies slightly in how they define justification by faith, a common place to start is that good works stem from faith

Contrary to what many Mormons believe, justification by faith alone does not mean that one can profess belief in Christ and then run amok with one's life. It is much more intricate than what its title suggests.

While each denomination varies slightly in how they define justification by faith, a common place to start is that good works stem from faith.[210] In other words, if one has the appropriate amount or type of faith, then they will be driven by their love of Jesus Christ to keep His commandments and ordinances.[211]

This position is well supported by scripture:

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:18)

To an Evangelical Christian the word "works" has a negative connotation and is often associated with "works of the law" which Paul roundly condemns (see, for example, Galatians 2:16). In fact, many go so far as to prefer the word "deeds" over "works" because the former is nowhere mentioned in connection with the law.

It is a misconception that Mormons don't believe faith is important for salvation

Because Mormons consider works separate from faith, many Evangelicals assume that Mormons don't believe faith is important for salvation. The implication here is that the atonement is not necessary since a "righteous" enough person can make it to heaven without it.

This misconception does not take into account Latter-day Saint scripture which emphatically states this is not true:

They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given — Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (D&C 76:51,59).[212]

But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3:12)

Question: What can the writings of early Christians tell us about how to receive salvation in Jesus Christ?

Here are a few examples of what the early Church fathers taught on salvation:

Justin Martyr

Justin (110-165 A.D.) said:

“works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:249, chap 100, Dialogue with Trypho)

“by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:185, chap. 65, First Apology of Justin)

"But there is no other [way] than this,-to become acquainted with this Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives." (ANF 1:217, chap. 44, Dialogue with Justin)

“Christ has come to restore both the free sons and the servants amongst them, conferring the same honour on all of them who keep His commandments” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:267, chap 134, Dialogue with Trypho)


Irenaeus said:

“But He taught that they should obey the commandments which God enjoined from the beginning, and do away with their former covetousness by good works, and follow after Christ.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book 4, chap. 12, Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:476)

“God has always preserved freedom, and the power of self-government in man, while at the same time He issued His own exhortations, in order that those who do not obey Him should be righteously judged (condemned) because they have not obeyed Him; and that those who have obeyed and believed on Him should be honoured with immortality.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:480, Against Heresies 15)

“God, who stands in need of nothing, takes our good works to Himself for this purpose, that He may grant us a recompense of His own good things, as our Lord says: "Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you. For I was an hungered, and ye gave Me to eat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me; sick, and ye visited Me; in prison, and ye came to Me."[Mat. 25:34]” (Irenaeus Against Heresies, book 4, Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:486)

“And when we come to refute them, we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole[Christian] faith.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:331, Irenaeus Against Heresies, Chap. 21)

Clement of Alexandria

Clement said:

“Being baptized, we are illuminated. Illuminated, we become sons...This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. Washing, by which we cleanse away our sins. Grace, by which the penalties accruing to transgressions are remitted. Illumination, by which that holy light of salvation is beheld, that is, by which we see God clearly.” (Clement of Alexandria, Ante-Nicene Fathers E 2:215)

“Straightway, on our regeneration, we attained that perfection after which we aspired. For we were illuminated, which is to know God.” (Clement of Alexandria, Ante-Nicene Fathers E 2:215)


Theophilus said:

“The things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also could be a sign of men being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and bath of regeneration-as many as come to the truth and are born again” (Theophilus, Ante-Nicene Fathers E 2:101)

Question: Does the Bible teach that individual works are unnecessary?

The Bible does not teach that salvation comes by faith alone

Critics of the church claim that the Bible teaches that individual works are completely unnecessary, in contrast to the doctrine of the LDS church that an individual's obedience to the commandments of God matters in his salvation.

The Bible does not teach that salvation comes by faith alone, with no dependence on an individual's obedience to the commandments. Granted, several passages in Paul's letters, taken alone, seem to be teaching that our works do not matter in our salvation. These passages, however, are badly misunderstood. They have been carefully clarified by other of the ancient apostles, notable James, and this false interpretation is contradicted by Paul himself in other places in his writings. Most importantly, the Savior is clear that works are critical to determining who will be able to enter his kingdom and who will not.

Question: Do Mormons ignore the doctrine of grace at the expense of "works"?

Some claim that the Church ignores the doctrine of grace at the expense of "works." Critics argue that Church leaders do not teach this doctrine, and as a result most members of the Church do not expect to be saved, since they are not "good enough."

Prophets and teachers must emphasize different parts of that message, depending upon their audience. The repentant sinner needs to hear about Christ’s grace and mercy, so that he or she does not fret about his or her inability to be ‘perfect.’ The arrogant and proud sinner (who does not really believe he or she needs repentance or Jesus) needs to hear about the consequences of continued disobedience. In that moment, a message emphasizing grace may be misplaced, since despite the eventual salvation offered to almost all, the suffering of the unrepentant wicked is terrible beyond understanding.

But, the doctrine of grace is a key part of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, like the Bible prophets, His modern servants teach it. The vocabulary used may vary from other Christian faiths, because the Church does not wish to adopt other aspects of grace theology (such as TULIP) which they do not wish to endorse.

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of grace clearly, and repeatedly

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of grace clearly, and repeatedly. It insists that it is one of the most important of all:

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. (2 Nephi 2:8.)

And, the Book of Mormon's final verses teach a similar key doctrine:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-33.)

Joseph often taught about the principles of mercy and grace

Joseph often taught about the principles of mercy and grace. In one address to the Nauvoo Lyceum, he was recorded as saying:

Joseph said...that...the Lord apointed us to fall & also Redeemed us—for where sin a bounded Grace did Much more a bound 3—for Paul says Rom—5. 10 for if—when were enemys we were Reconciled to God by the Death of his Son, much more, being Reconciled, we shall be saved by his Life[213]

Bruce R. McConkie: "if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved"

Elder McConkie is not known for his "soft" take on doctrinal issues, yet he teaches this doctrine clearly and full of hope:

Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom.

We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. … The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the ‘straight and narrow.’ You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. … Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved.[214]

And, elsewhere, Elder McConkie taught:

As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and, step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed—there is no question whatever about it—we shall gain eternal life. Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we'll continue in exactly that same course. We'll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh. We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we'll get the fulness of our Father's kingdom—and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.[215]

Many recent conference talks address this doctrine specifically

Finally, many recent conference talks address this doctrine specifically. (See below). For example, after describing the many ways in which the term 'saved' is used in LDS theology, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

...all should answer: “Yes, I have been saved. Glory to God for the gospel and gift and grace of His Son!”[216]

Often members of the Church do not use the same type of theological language to speak about grace

Two LDS authors noted that often members of the Church do not use the same type of theological language to speak about grace, because such language also includes concepts with which they do not agree:

...Latter-day Saints reject all five principles of the Calvinistic doctrine of grace enunciated at the Council of Dort and represented by the acronym TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints). To the extent that Latter-day Saints avoid some traditional Christian locutions (such as being "born again" or "grace alone" or even "saved") for expressing their doctrine of grace, it is because objectionable theological baggage has unfortunately become associated with the terms. However, this avoidance does not constitute (nor has it ever constituted) an avoidance of a doctrine of grace nor the rejection of a resource on which church members can rely when they "feel themselves lacking." Any avoidance of "grace" has been merely nominal and not doctrinal...

Latter-day Saints do not accept the Protestant assumption that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works constitute two separate grammars of discourse. To the contrary, we believe that it is false and that James and even Paul, as well as living prophets, make it clear that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works are actually inseparable.[217]

Other Christians may misunderstand the Latter-day Saints because of different language, but the concept and doctrine of grace (as illustrated above) is a firm and vital part of the LDS doctrine of salvation.

Question: Is an evangelist really a patriarch?

Introduction to Question

In a report of a discourse given by Joseph Smith between June 26 and July 2, 1839, Willard Richards wrote that “An Evangelist Is a patriarch even the oldest man of the Blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham, whereever [sic] the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints as it was with Jacob. [sic] in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his Sons &c.”[218]

This quote is often connected to the text of Ephesians 4:11–14:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

Thus, Joseph Smith is assumed to be mapping the organization of the modern Church as it existed in mid-1839 to the ancient Church established by Christ. "[Doctrine & Covenants 107, a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1835,] speaks of 'evangelical ministers,' which is understood [by members of the Church] to refer to Patriarchs. The [Quorum] of the Twelve Apostles has the responsibility of calling and ordaining stake Patriarchs 'as they shall be designated unto them by revelation' (D&C 107:39)."[219]

Some have questioned whether evangelists really are patriarchs, given that the typical referent of the word “evangelist”—including its ancient Greek counterpart in the New Testament—is a missionary rather than one who pronounces blessings on people’s heads like patriarchs in the modern Church.

This article gives at least one bit of evidence that might be used to substantiate the teachings of Joseph Smith on this point.

Response to Question

Assuming Joseph Really Meant that an Evangelist is a Patriarch

Joseph's words can be interpreted to mean that he is saying that an evangelist and a patriarch are the same thing. Some good insights have been offered under this understanding.

S. Kent Brown wrote:

In its earliest sense, on the other hand, from a badly preserved inscription from the isle of Rhodes, the noun euvangelistēs refers to “one who proclaims oracular sayings.”[220] That is to say, this person declared future events that were hidden from those in the mortal world, beyond human view. This is precisely the function of a modern patriarch—to tell individual church members the things they otherwise could not see about their own futures from God’s point of view, thus opening a window onto what that person may experience and become. Such declarations come not to congregations or to the church as a whole but to individuals, one by one, person by person.[221]

To add potential evidence to the view that an evangelist is a patriarch, Richard Lloyd Anderson notes that “Paul, the most successful missionary on record, never calls himself an evangelist…Philip is called an evangelist many years after any of his known missionary journeys (Acts 21:8), and Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist in the context of correcting and guiding the Saints who are in danger of apostasy, not of preaching to outsiders who do not have the truth (2 Tim. 4:2–5).”[222]

It is clear that the evidence we have from the early Church and archaeology on this matter is quite fragmentary. Barry Bickmore rightly observes that the office of evangelist is mentioned but not described fully within the New Testament.[223] As Richard Lloyd Anderson stresses, this reminds us of the need for modern revelation in excavating and restoring to our knowledge the best understanding regarding it.[222]

Assuming that Joseph Meant that Something More Like a Patriarch is an Evangelist

On the other hand, we might take a different interpretation of Joseph's words. Robert Boylan—a Latter-day Saint apologist, scholar, and theologian—wrote:

When Joseph Smith said that an evangelist is a patriarch, he was not claiming that they meant the same thing; instead, within the realm of being a patriarch, one is an evangelist. It would be akin to saying "a bishop is a missionary" or "a mother is a chef." In a special way, patriarchs spread the gospel[.][224]

To provide evidence for his view, Boylan points to the writings of Taylor Drake: a critic of the Church who apparently holds to the belief that Joseph Smith became a fallen prophet during his ministry. Drake writes:

Patriarchs are Evangelists

The great patriarchs of golden times, including Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and many other evangelists (meaning “missionaries”) of the simple gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph himself said that “an evangelist is a patriarch” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 38-39). Don’t be confused by this term. We are not talking about the man called in each stake to give patriarchal blessings to those who request them. Instead, the scriptures describe an evangelist (and thus a patriarch) as one who has the priesthood to minister the gospel unto the inhabitants of the earth. It is a lineal priesthood that is passed down from father to son, as we have previously discussed. This is not to say the great patriarch/evangelists did not ultimately receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. The distinction is that they first had the Patriarchal Priesthood by lineal descent and right and may alter have received the higher priesthood of Melchizedek, being called by God’s own voice form heaven.

Abraham, of course, was the prime example of a patriarch whose responsibility was to bear the tidings of the gospel to foreign lands, both personally and through the posterity. That is the essence of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham was told this directly by God himself:

I have purposed to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after three that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; And I will bless them through thy name for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father; And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for a Give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessing of salvation, even of life eternal. (Abraham 2:6, 9-11. The New Testament is also very consistent in linking the concept of an evangelist with the work of the ministry. See Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 3:5; Ephesians 4:11-12. Likewise D&C 107:39-40 teaches that only those identified as the seed of Abraham through revelation should be ordained as missionaries)

As can be plainly discerned, the Patriarchal/Evangelical Priesthood is synonymous with preaching the gospel to the world[.][225]

We May Not Have to Defend This At All

We might well remember that this teaching of Joseph Smith does not announce itself as coming from revelation and comes from a second-hand source. That does not necessarily mean that it didn’t come from revelation and that it is unreliably documented, but it can give us at least a little reason to be skeptical of efforts to defend the teaching at all costs. It might have been Joseph’s best guess based on reading of the New Testament texts, Doctrine and Covenants 107, and/or other sources.

Even if evangelists aren't patriarchs, they are still clearly missionaries, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clearly tracks well with the New Testament practice of evangelism and the office of evangelists with its strong missionary program and the many modern revelations that stress the importance of missionary work. Assuming that Joseph Smith was wrong in his view would thus likely not be damaging to any core truth claim of the Church.

Further Reading


  1. Jude 1:3
  2. Doctrine and Covenants 71:7
  3. 1 Peter 3:15
  4. Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–13, 56–60; 105:58–59
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 21:4–5; Doctrine and Covenants 28:2
  6. Doctrine and Covenants 107:27
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 26:2; 28:13
  8. Doctrine and Covenants 61:18, 36; 82:5; 92:1; 93:49
  9. 2 Peter 3:16; Alma 13:20; 41:1; Doctrine and Covenants 10:63; 88:77-79
  10. Kevin L. Barney, “Baptized for the Dead,” in To Seek the Law of the Lord: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson (Orem, UT: The Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 9–58. Republished online and in print: Kevin L. Barney, “Baptized for the Dead,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 39 (2020): 103–150.
  11. Articles+of+Faith 1:4
  12. Justin Martyr, "First Apology of Justin," in Chapter 61 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:183. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  13. Irenaeus, "?," in ? Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:574. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  14. Clementine Homilies, 11:25–26. off-site In Ante-Nicean Fathers 8:223–347. off-site
  15. Apostolic Constitutions, "?," in 6:15 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)7:456–457. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  16. Alice Ogden Bellis, "Mystery," in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 931. ISBN 0802824005.
  17. LDS KJV, Bible Dictionary, "Mystery,", 736. off-site
  18. Anchor Bible Dictionary, at 1:1167-68, s.v. "Cosmogony, Cosmology."
  19. George H. Fudge, "I Have a Question: How do we interpret scriptures in the New Testament that seem to condemn genealogy?," Ensign (March 1986), 49.
  20. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, 1811-1817, New Testament, "1 Timothy 1:4" & "Titus 3:9"
  21. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 353.
  22. M. Russell Ballard, cited in Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 72.
  23. Part of this wiki article originally derived from John A. Tvedtnes, "Is There a Priesthood of All Believers?" FairMormon link. Due to the nature of a wiki project, it has since diverged from the source material, due to other editors' additions or alterations.
  24. Preach My Gospel, 31–46.
  25. Jean Knight Pace, "The Joyful Surprise of Motherhood," Ensign (Jan 2006), 54–57.
  26. Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos Press, 2012).
  27. This response is originally from Barry R. Bickmore, "Salvation History and Requirements," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999). It may have been added to or modified since, by nature of a wiki project.
  28. Note also that the paradise of Adam and Eve was in a Terrestrial state, and translated beings dwell in this sphere awaiting the resurrection, as well. See Chapter Note 2.
  29. Origen, De Principiis 2:10:2, in ANF 4:294.
  30. Origen, Commentary on John 2:3, in ANF 10:324-325.
  31. John Chrysostom, Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:4, in NPNF Series 1, 12:251.
  32. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:36:1-2, in ANF 1:567, brackets in original.
  33. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6:14, in ANF 2:506.
  34. ANF 2:506.
  35. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 179.
  36. The Lost Books of the Bible (New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1979), 240.
  37. Epistula Apostolorum, in NTA 1:210.
  38. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 174; However, it is clear from the passages which mention two heavens in the Recognitions that the two heavens spoken of are the visible heaven, which men can see, and the invisible, where the angels, etc., dwell. See Clementine Recognitions 9:3, in ANF 8:183; Clementine Recognitions 3:27, in ANF 8:121; Clementine Recognitions 2:68, in ANF 8:116. There is no mention of any division in the invisible heaven, but the following passage may be an oblique reference to the three degrees: "Be this therefore the first step to you of three; which step brings forth thirty commands, and the second sixty, and the third a hundred, as we shall expound more fully to you at another time." Peter, in Clementine Recognitions 4:36, in ANF 8:143. The footnote to this passage makes clear that whatever it referred to was most likely part of the esoteric tradition.
  39. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 174.
  40. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 9, in ACW 16:53.
  41. Daniélou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity, 176.
  42. The Gospel of Philip, in , James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 140, brackets in original.
  43. The Pastor of Hermas, Sim. 9:19, in ANF 2:50.
  44. Origen, De Principiis 2:10:8, in ANF 4:296.
  45. The Gospel of Bartholomew, in ANT, 173.
  46. Clark, The Origenist Controversy, 131.
  47. FairMormon thanks Jaxon Washburn for his compilation of these sources.
  48. William Baird, “Visions, Revelation, and Ministry: Reflections on 2 Cor 12:1-5 and Gal 1:11-17,” Journal of Biblical Literature 104, No. 4 (December 1985): 655.
  49. Hans Bietenhard and C. Brown, “Paradise,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Collin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 1:763.
  50. Adela Yarboro Collins, “Heaven,” The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, rev. and ed. Mark Allan Powell, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011)
  51. James H. Charlesworth, “Paul, the Jewish Apocalypses, and Apocalyptic Eschatology,” Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle Paul as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini and Carlos A. Segovia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 96.
  52. Raymond F. Collins, Second Corinthians (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 237–238.
  53. James D.G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), 108.
  54. Neal Elliot, “The Question of Politics: Paul as a Diaspora Jew,” Paul Within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle, ed. Mark D. Nanos and Mangus Zeiterholm (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2015), 218–219. Citing Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990), 36.
  55. Matthew Y. Emerson, He Descended to the Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 169–170.
  56. Thomas Francis Glasson, “Heaven,” Oxford Companion to the Bible, ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 271.
  57. John P. Harrigan, The Gospel of Christ Crucified: A Theology of Suffering Before Glory (N.P.: Paroikos Publishing, 2019), 74; 83.
  58. Matthew Goff, “Heavenly Mysteries and Otherwordly Journeys Interpreting 1 and 2 Corinthians in Relation to Jewish Apocalypticism,” Paul the Jew: Rereading the Apostle Paul as a Figure of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Gabriele Boccaccini and Carlos A. Segovia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016), 142–143.
  59. C.J. Hemer, “τρίτος,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology ed. Collin Brown (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1975), 1:688.
  60. Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians: New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 239.
  61. Steve Mason and Tom Robinson, Early Christian Reader: Christian Texts from the First and Second Centuries in Contemporary English Translations Including the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 104.
  62. Frank J. Matera, II Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 280.
  63. C.R.A. Morray-Jones, “Paradise Revisited (2 Cor 12: 1 12): The Jewish Mystical Background of Paul’s Apostolate—Part 2: Paul’s Heavenly Ascent and its Significance,” The Harvard Theological Review 86, No. 3 (July 1993): 277–278.
  64. Michael G. Reddish, “Heaven,” Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992).
  65. James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 190–191.
  66. James Buchanan Wallace, Snatched into Paradise (2 Cor. 12:1-10): Paul’s Heavenly Journey in the Context of Early Christian Experience (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 164–165.
  67. N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), e-book location 1,023–1,024.
  68. Michael R. Ash, "Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Michael R. Ash: Is the Tower of Babel historical or mythological?" Deseret News, 27 September 2010. Accessed 29 March 2019. <>
  69. Quoted from the midrash by Radak in Meir Zlotowitz, Bereishis, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 1986), 168.
  70. Luther states that these patriarchs also had a better diet, more sound bodies, and experienced a less developed impact of sin on the physical creation. Martin Luther, The Creation: A Commentary on the First Five Chapters of the Book of Genesis, trans. Henry Cole (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1858), 449.
  71. John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961), 399-404. The vapor canopy idea has met strong scientific resistance in recent years.
  72. Donald V. Etz, “The Numbers of Genesis V:3-31: A Suggested Conversion and Its Implications,” Vetus Testamentum 43 (1993): 178.
  73. Lloyd R. Bailey, “Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte?” in A Gift of God in Due Season, ed. Richard D. Weis and David M. Carr (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press Ltd, 1996). By the new figuring, a Hebrew year would equal a lunar month. However, applying this idea to all of the numbers in Gen 5, Enoch would have been only 5 years old when his son Methuselah was born!
  74. Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987). cf. Gen 8:3-4.
  75. Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, trans. John J. Scullion S.J. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974), 353.
  76. Cf. J. B. Payne, “Antediluvian Patriarchs,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979).
  77. Gerhard Larsson, The Secret System: A Study in the Chronology of the Old Testament (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973), 59. Hasel concludes that the LXX and SP show schematization, but only the MT has a "non-schematic presentation of figures," Gerhard F. Hasel, “Genesis 5 and 11: Chronogenealogies in the Biblical History of Beginnings,” Origins 7 (1980).
  78. Larsson, The Secret System: A Study in the Chronology of the Old Testament, 8. This includes a lunar year of 354 days, an Egyptian solar year of 365 days and a "standard" year of 365.25 years.
  79. Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 114.
  80. W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: A Modern Commentary: Genesis (New York: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1974), 55. An example he includes is from Gen 6:3: 120 yrs = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5. Bullinger attributes this symbolic use to divine interest as seen in Dan 8:13 with the transliterated "Palmoni," Bullinger's stated angel whose divine function was numbers, Ethelbert W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1894), 20. Christensen also follows such methods as Plaut. See Duane L. Christensen, “Did People Live to Be Hundreds of Years Old before the Flood? No,” in The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions About Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald Youngblood, ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986).
  81. Abraham Malamat, “King Lists of the Old Babylonian Period and Biblical Genealogies,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 88 (1968): 165. See also the discussion of "ten" in the Gen genealogies in M. Abot section 5, Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah: A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 685. Garrett also thinks this is deliberate, thus indicating redaction, Duane A. Garrett, Rethinking Genesis: The Sources and Authorship of the First Book of the Bible (Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 99. Hasel, though, disagrees depending on Noah's role in the Gen 11 genealogy. Therefore, he states that these two lists (Gen 5 and 11) don't show a 10-10 pattern but rather a 10-9 or 11-10 pattern, Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” Origins 7 (1980): 60. Against his view would be a literary argument: Gen 11 is the line of Shem, as stated (Gen 11:10), therefore Noah does not need to be placed in the genealogy of Gen 11. What stands is ten genealogical names in both Gen 5 and 11.
  82. Larsson, The Secret System: A Study in the Chronology of the Old Testament, 16. He holds that there is support for this secret writing in the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, which contain astrological and chronological contents (17).
  83. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 64.
  84. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 134. He states this while agreeing that Barnouin shows impressive math and striking coincidences.
  85. This is the summary of Wenham, Ibid. See also Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 301-02.
  86. For example, some of the lengths of reign in the SKL are listed to be 28,800 yrs, 36,000 yrs, or 18,600 yrs. Basing these numbers off of 60, the solutions are as follows: 28,800 = 60² x 8; 36,000 = 60² x 10; and finally, 18,600 = (60² x 5) + (60 x 10). Bailey has a chart working out all of the calculations of three different texts of the SKL where he uses calculations based off of 60 and the symbolic number 7, in Bailey, “Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte?” 90-91.
  87. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 133. See also Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 301 ft13.
  88. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 65. This writer agrees that the figuring does appear very forced with both authors' figuring.
  89. Bailey, “Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte?” 94. He includes a chart calculating all of the numbers contained in Gen 5 (except the final ages of the patriarchs”the calculations shown could just be added together) by using combinations centered on the use of 60 and 7. All of the calculations yield their answers in months. He suggests that this is valid because 5 years (5 being another significant number) equals 60 months.
  90. John Walton, “The Antediluvian Section of the Sumerian King List and Genesis 5,” Biblical Archeologist 44 (1981): 207-08.
  91. Bailey, “Biblical Math as Heilsgeschichte?” 92-93. These include the divine activity at the outset, the same number of generations, the use of 60, the special 7th characters, and the similar age decrease and increase.
  92. This will be shown later in the presentation of those who don't see a parallel between these texts.
  93. U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One: From Adam to Noah (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1961), 254-59. He sees "very frequent" sexagesimal system use in Talmudic, midrashic, and biblical literature.
  94. Ibid., 263. Also seeing Gen 5 as being influenced by the Mesopotamian tradition in the ten generations, the ages, and the last hero figure, is Robert R. Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World (London: Yale University Press, 1977), 166.
  95. Walton, “The Antediluvian Section of the Sumerian King List and Genesis 5,” 207-08. He details a potential scenario on how the texts were originally related and subsequently came to look rather different. Using unearthed tablets from Ebla, he sets forth a case that the number system at Ebla was "decimal in its operations but sexagesimal in its symbolic notation (208)." Through all further implications of this, the basic end of the scenario is that there was scribal confusion resulting in a misinterpreting of one system of numbers for another. At that point, the numbers appeared radically different though started the same.
  96. For comments on the political nature of the SKL, see William W. Hallo, “Royal Hymns and Mesopotamian Unity,” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 17 (1963).
  97. Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 and Their Alleged Babylonian Background,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 16 (1978): 365-70.
  98. Richard S. Hess, “The Genealogies of Genesis 1-11 and Comparative Literature,” Biblica 70 (1989): 247-53. See also Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, 348.
  99. K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1966), 40.
  100. Joseph Jacobs, “Chronology,” in Jewish Encyclopedia, ed. Isidore Singer (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1903), 66-67.
  101. Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, 354.
  102. K. Luke, “The Genealogies in Genesis 5,” Indian Theological Studies 18 (1981): 228.
  103. Etz, “The Numbers of Genesis V:3-31: A Suggested Conversion and Its Implications,” 176.
  104. Ibid.: 181. For example, Adam's figures would look like this if his "plausible" begetting age was 52 and there were 20 years left until his death: 52 + 20 + 300 = 372, then 372 x 2.5 = 930 years, as is found in Gen 5.
  105. Dwight Wayne Young, “On the Application of Numbers from Babylonian Mathematics to Biblical Life Spans and Epochs,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 100 (1988): 331, 60.
  106. Ibid.: 343.
  107. Ibid.: 322. (Note the late dating”he assumes the priestly writing of Gen 5.) He works through the problem of the number 800 in another article, Dwight Wayne Young, “The Influence of Babylonian Algebra on Longevity among the Antediluvians,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 102 (1990): 326-28. This pivotal number in figuring the ages of Gen 5 can be resolved by understanding the importance of the numbers 30 and 20, which were taught at the elementary level in Mesopotamia. This resolution, then is 800 = (30 + (30 “ 20)) x 20.
  108. Hyman Gabai, Judaism, Mathematics, and the Hebrew Calendar (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 2002), 67.
  109. Ronald H. Isaacs, The Jewish Book of Numbers (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996), 1.
  110. The New Complete Works of Josephus. From Antiquities 1.3.9§108.
  111. Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 41.
  112. Cf. Ibid. Cf. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 35.; Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part One: From Adam to Noah, 253.; Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World, 164.; Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 69.; Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, 354.; Luther, The Creation: A Commentary on the First Five Chapters of the Book of Genesis, 437.; Donald L. Fowler, “History and Chronology of the Old Testament,” in Foundations for Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 237.
  113. Cf. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, 295.; John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989), 295.; Yigal Levin, “Understanding Biblical Genealogies,” Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 9 (2001): 33.
  114. Levin, “Understanding Biblical Genealogies,” 40. He also proposes that this idea was familiar to the intended readers so that there was no question about the use of a form of genealogy. See also Wilson, Genealogy and History in the Biblical World,166.
  115. Andrew P. Kvasnica, "The Ages of the Antediluvian Patriarchs" 2005 Student Academic Conference, Dallas Seminary < (accessed 19 July 2019)
  116. See Wikipedia “Sodom and Gomorrah” [1] and “Lot’s wife” [2]
  117. See "Jonah" [3]
  118. See "Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson 33: Jonah and Micah" [4]
  119. "Jewish Holidays & Celebrations – List” <> (accessed 20 August 2019)
  120. Wikipeda, “Purim” <> (accessed 20 August 2019)
  121. William H.C. Propp, “Moses” in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 921–22. For more on the historicity of Moses see Richard Elliot Friedman, The Exodus (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017); and William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archeology Can Tell Us About the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2001).
  122. John A. Tvedtnes, "Proxy Baptism," Ensign 7 (February 1977): 86. The source erroneously refers to the "Marcionites" instead of the "Cerinthians".
  123. Ibid.
  124. 1 Corinthians 7:14.
  125. Doctrine and Covenants 128:18
  126. This obviously requires a rejection of the doctrine of sola scriptura and the affirmation of continuing revelation outside the Bible. For the best treatments of those from a Latter-day Saint perspective, see Robert S. Boylan, Not By Scripture Alone: A Latter-day Saint Refutation of Sola Scriptura (Charleston, SC: CreativeSpace, 2017). See also Robert S. Boylan, After the Order of the Son of God: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Latter-day Saint Theology of the Priesthood (Charleston, SC: CreativeSpace, 2018).
  127. FairMormon thanks Jaxon Washburn for his compilation of these sources.
  128. Søren Agersnap, Baptism and the New Life: A Study of Romans 6:1-14 (Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 1999), 175–76.
  129. Charles Kingsley Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Harper & Row Publishers Inc, 1987), 362–364.
  130. Stephen C. Barton, “1 Corinthians,” Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, James D.G. Dunn, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 1348.
  131. Richard E. DeMaris, The New Testament in its Ritual World (London: Routledge, 2008), 59, 63–64.
  132. James D.G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament: An Inquiry into the Nature of Earliest Christianity (London: SCM Canterbury Press, 2006), 25, 172.
  133. Gordon D. Fee, "The First Epistle to the Corinthians,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 766–767.
  134. Rolf Furuli, The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Murrieta, CA: Elihu Books, 1999), 289.
  135. David Bentley Hart, The New Testament: A Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 297.
  136. Scott M. Lewis, So That God May Be All in All: The Apocalyptic Message of 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 (Rome, Italy: Editrice Pontificia Universitá Gregoriana, 1998), 70–71.
  137. Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Reference to His Eschatology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 36.
  138. Steve Mason and Tom Robinson, Early Christian Reader: Christian Texts from the First and Second Centuries in Contemporary English Translations Including the New Revised Standard Version of the New Testament (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013), 70.
  139. Leon Morris, The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960), 218.
  140. John J. O'Rourke, "1 Corinthians,” A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Reginald C. Fuller, Leonard Johnston, and Conleth Kearns, eds. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1969), 1159.
  141. William F. Orr and James A. Walter, 1 Corinthians: A New Translation (New York: Doubleday, 1976), 337.
  142. Stephen E. Potthoff, The Afterlife in Early Christian Carthage: Near-Death Experience, Ancestor Cult, and the Archeology of Paradise (London: Routledge, 2017), 3.
  143. Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2006), 130–131.
  144. John Short, "Exposition of First Corinthians," The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, 12 vols., George Arthur, ed. (Abingdon, UK: Pierce and Washabaugh, 1953), 240.
  145. William Tabbernee, “Initiation/Baptism in the Montanist Movement,” Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity, David Hellholm, ed. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2011), 941.
  146. James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 277–278.
  147. Jeffrey A. Trumbower, Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 35.
  148. "Does God Have a Body?," Catholic Answers tract, 1996. Since this article was first written, the title of the tract was changed to “God Has No Body."
  149. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 98.
  150. J. N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, , edited and completed by B. A. Mastin, (New York, Harper & Row, 1968), 147–148.
  151. Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma, tr. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, 1961), 1:180 n.1.
  152. Tertullian, "Against Praxeas," in 7 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)3:602. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  153. J.W.C.Wand, A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500 (London: Methuen & Co., 1937), 140.
  154. Origen, "On First Principles," in Preface, 9 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)4:6. ANF ToC off-site This volume Direct jump off-site
  155. Origen, "Homilies on Genesis," in 3:1 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)?:??. ANF ToC off-site This volume[citation needed]
  156. Plutarch, quoted in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 14:16. off-site Direct jump off-site
  157. Empedocles, in Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1981), 3:51.
  158. Jean Daniélou, The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, translated by N. Abercrombie (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1958), 1.
  159. For more information on this topic, see Barry R. Bickmore, "The Doctrine of God and the Nature of Man," in Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).
  160. Samuel A. Meier, “Theophany,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., The Oxford Companion to the Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 740. The citations of Genesis 24:10-11 and Genesis 32:20 should be to Exodus 24:10-11 and Exodus 33:20.
  161. 161.0 161.1 Clementine Homilies, 17:16. off-site In Ante-Nicean Fathers 8:223–347. off-site Direct jump off-site
  162. Daniel C. Peterson, "An Unexpected Case for an Anthropomorphic God," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 50 (2022): vii–xx.
  163. Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier, "In Defense of Anthropomorphism," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 162, compare G.E. Wright, God Who Acts (London: SCM Press, 1952), 49–50. ISBN 0884943585.
  164. Christopher Stead, Philosophy in Christian Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 120.
  165. Ernst W. Benz, "Imago Dei: Man in the Image of God," in Truman G. Madsen (editor), Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian parallels : papers delivered at the Religious Studies Center symposium, Brigham Young University, March 10-11, 1978 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center , Brigham Young University and Bookcraft, 1978), 215–216. ISBN 0884943585. Reprinted in Ernst Benz, "Imago dei: Man as the Image of God," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 223–254. off-siteNote: Benz misunderstands some aspects of LDS doctrine, but his sketch of the relevance of theosis for Christianity in general, and Joseph Smith's implementation of it, is worthwhile.
  166. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 54–55. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  167. Bill Hamblin, "Veil of Temple Rent in Twain," post to (30 September 2006 15h03), last accessed 3 October 2006. FairMormon link (All quotes have been edited to insert hotlinks to scripture references.)
  168. Bill Hamblin, "Veil of Temple Rent in Twain," post to (30 September 2006 12h47), last accessed 3 October 2006. FairMormon link
  169. Bill Hamblin, "Veil of Temple Rent in Twain," post to (30 September 2006 15h52), last accessed 3 October 2006. FairMormon link
  170. Menahem Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School (Eisenbrauns; Reprint edition, 1985[1979]), 26.
  171. "Dr." James White, "Temples Made With Hands," e-tract. off-site
  172. G. Milligan and J.H. Moulton, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Baker Academic, 1995), 687. ISBN 978-0801047206.
  173. James Barr, “The Authority of Scripture. The Book of Genesis and the Origin of Evil in Jewish and Christian Tradition,” in Christian Authority: Essays in Honor of Henry Chadwick, ed. G.R. Evans (Oxford, 1988), 59-75. Italics added; citations from pages as indicated.
  174. See, for example, McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 200.
  175. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 197.
  176. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 197–198.
  177. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 360. off-site
  178. John 3:22-23
  179. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 198.
  180. Acts 2:41
  181. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),125–126. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.
  182. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 10, 197.
  183. Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  184. The Apostolic Fathers, 113; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  185. See Millennial Star, vol. XXI: 769-770 or James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy, 125; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  186. Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The early Christian Tradition (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, Press, 1981), 100-101; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  187. Russell, Satan: The early Christian Tradition, 103; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  188. De bapt. 1:12-15, 18; see also J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 209; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  189. First Apology of Justin, 61; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  190. Dialogue with Trypho, xiv, l; see also The Great Apostasy, 125; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  191. Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  192. First Apology of Justin, 66; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  193. Jean Danielou, Origin, p. 54, Comm. John, 2, 37; De Princ. 4, 3, 12; Hom. Ez. 1, 1; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  194. Russell, Satan, 106; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  195. Didache, 9:5; see also J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 193-211; cited in Hickenbotham, 125-128.
  196. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),126–128. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.
  197. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 200.
  198. Michael Hickenbotham, Answering Challenging Mormon Questions: Replies to 130 Queries by Friends and Critics of the LDS Church (Horizon Publishers & Distributors, 1995) (now published by Cedar Fort Publisher: Springville, UT, 2004),125–126. ISBN 0882905368. ISBN 0882907786. ISBN 0882907786.
  199. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 68-69. ( Index of claims ) This wiki page was initially prepared as a direct response to the book, though it has since been expanded. (It is interesting to note that McKeever and Johnson presume to speak for the entire panoply of Christianity with all its myriad denominations and sects. Verbiage such as this also accentuates the assumption on the part of the authors that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not Christian.) For a book length discussion of this charge, see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1993). off-site FairMormon link.
  200. For other treatments of this topic, see relevant discussions in: Richard R. Hopkins Biblical Mormonism (Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1994).;Brent L. Top The Life Before (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988).; Truman G. Madsen in Eternal Man (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1966).; Joseph Fielding Smith in Man, His Origin and Destiny (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1954).; Boyd K. Packer in Our Father's Plan (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1984).; Barry R. Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Redding, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999)..
  201. William de Arteaga, Past Life Visions: A Christian Exploration (New York: Seabury Press, 1983), 127, as quoted by Brent L. Top The Life Before (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 25.
  202. Justinian was not a nice man regarding those who disagreed with him theologically. One author reports the following concerning the emperor: "Savage penalties were more loudly advertised by the impatient autocracy of the emperors, to offset the irremediable venality and favoritism of their servants. The means of persecution available to the church thus had more of an edge. Especially so under Justinian (527–565). A brutally energetic, or energetically brutal, ruler enjoying a very long reign, he pursued the goal of religious uniformity as no one before him. … He did not see it as murder if the victims did not share his own beliefs. …Those he disagreed with he was likely to mutilate if he didn't behead or crucify them..." [Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (Yale University Press, 1997), 26-27.]
  203. This Council, sometimes referred to as the Fifth Ecumenical Council, was held in AD 553. It was the council at which the anathemas, penned and signed some ten years earlier, were formally adopted. The official document labeled Origen's teachings heresy and forbid them being taught in the church.
  204. Note, however, that the wording used in the scripture is "gave," not "created." This same translation carries not only in the King James version of the Bible, but in the Amplified, New American Standard, New International, and New Revised Standard versions, as well.
  205. Exact timing is not critical; the issue is whether life exists before life.
  206. This position is supported by other scriptures in which the apostles reference sinning in a period before birth. In 2 Peter 2:4, Peter references "angels that sinned," and Jude alluded to the same even in Jude 6. Both have reference to the concept of the first estate—or premortal existence—as understood in LDS doctrine.
  207. Quincy Howe, Jr., Reincarnation for the Christian (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), 92–93, as quoted by Brent L. Top The Life Before (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 30.
  208. It should also be obvious to the astute reader that critics set themselves up to speak for all of Christendom in their exposition of doctrine. This position, in light of the analysis presented in this document from other Christian scholars (both ancient and modern), may be presumptive on their part. If there are other Christian thinkers who disagree with the critics concerning at least the possibility of premortal life, then how is it possible for the authors to speak for Christians as a whole and set those Christians at odds with the LDS position?
  209. David L. Paulsen and Cory G. Walker, "Work, Worship, and Grace: Review of The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory by Douglas J. Davies," FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): 83–177. off-site wiki, italics in original, see footnote 11 for some of the quoted text.
  210. It should be noted that a few evangelicals do not espouse this view. They believe in "free-grace" which does not even require repentance. This view, however, is not common in Evangelicalism. See William R. Baker, ed., Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 76-77.
  211. An excellent summary is given here by one prominent, though not necessarily Evangelical denomination: Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, "Justification," (accessed 22 September 2006). off-site
  212. Note this is for inheritance into the Celestial Kingdom, but belief in Jesus is likewise essential for the Terrestrial Kingdom: D&C 76:74.
  213. Joseph Smith, McIntire Minute Book, 9 February 1841, cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 63.GL direct link
  214. }Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Salt Lake Institute of Religion devotional, 10 January 1982, 12.
  215. Bruce R. McConkie, "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 400–401.
  216. Dallin H. Oaks, "Have You Been Saved?," Ensign (May 1998), 55.
  217. David L. Paulsen and Cory G. Walker, "Work, Worship, and Grace: Review of The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory by Douglas J. Davies," FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): 83–177. off-site wiki (Key source)
  218. “Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 2 July 1839, as Reported by Willard Richards,” 22, Joseph Smith Papers,
  219. Ariel S. Ballif, "Patriarch: Stake Patriarch," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 6 vols. (New York: MacMillan Publishing, 1992; 2007).
  220. Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 2:736; see also LSJ, 705, “proclaimer of oracular messages.” The inscription was published in the series Inscriptiones Graecae by the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Technology, vol. 12, no. 675.
  221. S. Kent Brown, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2023), 304.
  222. 222.0 222.1 Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2007), 276–77.
  223. Barry Robert Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Redding, CA: FairMormon, 2013), 192.
  224. Robert Boylan, "Patriarchs being Evangelists," Scriptural Mormonism, January 31, 2022,
  225. Taylor Drake, Joseph in the Gap: The Hidden History That Explains Mormonism's Past, Present, and Future (n.p.: s.p., 2021), 236–37.