The Book of Abraham: Sacred Translation?

abraham_title

In 1835, a man by the name of Michael H. Chandler would have a chance meeting with the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. Little did Mr Chandler know that the meeting would play a large part in altering the course of Mormon theology forever.

Chandler, the owner of some Egyptian artifacts, was touring the American frontier, showcasing his ancient treasures to curious spectators. The artifacts contained writing that Mr Chandler could not decipher. At some point in time, it was suggested to him that Joseph Smith had the ability to translate the mysterious writing on the Egyptian artifacts. Such an ability was absolutely remarkable in mid-19th century America.

Today, translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seems like a relatively menial task – surely any academic who studies such things could provide a translation. However, in the 1830s such a task would have been considered absolutely remarkable.

Why? Because the key that unlocked the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone, had only been discovered about 36 years prior, and an English translation of the demotic (Egyptian) text from the Rosetta Stone in the United States was not published until 1858, twenty-three years after Smith’s acquisition of the artifacts from Chandler (and fourteen years after Smith’s death).

Despite this, Smith began his miraculous translation process sometime after the purchase of the artifacts. It wasn’t long before he discovered, “much to [his] joy” that “one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.”[1]

By some happy coincidence, Joseph Smith happened upon ancient Egyptian writings of Hebrew patriarchs in the frontier lands of North America and was able to translate them twenty-three years before their language was deciphered into English.

The result? The Book of Abraham (Abr), now part of the Mormon scripture Pearl of Great Price. In it, among many things, Latter-day Saints (LDS) are given a parallel narrative to Genesis that introduces new theology such as polytheism and the location of Heavenly Father’s throne, which is nearest to the star of Kolob (Abr 3:3).

Such a coincidence is entirely miraculous or doubtful. Lately, the LDS Church has given reason to suspect the latter.

TRANSLATION, TRANSCRIPTION, OR SIMPLY IMAGINATION?

The LDS Church has recently published an essay officially distancing itself from Smith’s incredible, eyebrow-raising tale of the Book of Abraham’s origins. Formerly, the LDS Church officially promoted the view that the Book of Abraham was “translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith.”[2] However, after years of scholarly scrutiny, it has been adequately demonstrated enough for the LDS Church to admit that Joseph Smith’s supposed translation of the papyrus has nothing to do with it.

The ancient text is not an account of Abraham’s life as Smith taught. Instead, it contains religious ritual instructions belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings, which dates back to the Ptolemaic Era (305–30BCE) well after Abraham’s time.

Facsimile 1

Yet, as the article reminds us, the LDS Church firmly holds the Book of Abraham as scripture. It is scripture regardless of evidence that the original text has nothing to do with the end result.

(Imagine, for a moment, if we discovered that the Gospel of Matthew was not an account of Jesus’ life, but was actually a collection of Roman tax documents, and you’ll quickly realize the issue at hand.)

So, what does the LDS Church do with evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated a faulty translation to produce a text that radically departs from the Bible? One sentence from the article encapsulates their action well.

“The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Abraham based on papyrus belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings. What matters at the end of the day is whether or not it lines up with saving truths.

The Book of Abraham is no longer a sacred translation, but questionable interpretation.

This, of course, begs the question – what are “saving truths”? It is more than safe to assume that these “saving truths” are found exclusively within Mormon theology. So, ultimately, as long as the fabricated “translation” of the Book of Abraham aligns with Mormon theology it is considered Mormon scripture.

This means that, so far as the method of creation is concerned, there is no difference between the Book of Abraham and Doctrine & Covenants, Mormon scripture consisting mainly of spiritual revelation purportedly given to Smith. In both instances, the Mormon prophet simply declared his words as scripture, which made it so.

The question becomes, why not do the same with the Book of Abraham? Clearly, Smith was comfortable creating scripture. Why go to great lengths in “translating” some papyrus to create the Book of Abraham?

SAVING TRUTHS

For whatever reason, Smith decided to create the Book of Abraham in a unique fashion unlike Doctrine & Covenants. (Not so unique when you consider his previous venture in creating the Book of Mormon). Fast-forward to today and the LDS Church is placed in the awkward position of explaining why their founding prophet did not actually do what he said he did.

The solution is just as dubious as the claim Smith made – officially, the Book of Abraham is  scripture based on a text that has nothing to do with the scripture itself, because it aligns with “saving truths.”

Essentially, the LDS Church is saying, “Our prophet Joseph Smith translated the German phrase 'Ich liebe dich' as 'The train station is blue,' even though the actual translation of that German phrase should read 'I love you.' But, that doesn't really matter because the point of the translation is to inform us that the train station is blue.”

The LDS Church's defense of Smith's fabrication is, frankly, absurd.

Frankly, this is absurd. No one would allow such a low standard of translation (if the term translation can even be used here) to apply to the Bible. Again, if the Gospel of Matthew was actually Roman tax documents and a pastor told you that what really matters is whether or not the fabricated information in the Gospel dealt correctly with salvation, how would you react? Hopefully, your reaction would be to reject both the pastor’s authority and the defunct text.

BOOK OF ABRAHAM VS. THE BIBLE

Regardless, I think it's important to look past the obvious (that Smith fabricated his "translation") and examine the LDS Church's essential claim about the message of the Book of Abraham – does the Book of Abraham align with “saving truths” found in the entirety of the Mormon scriptural corpus? Unfortunately, for the LDS Church, it quickly becomes apparent that the answer is ‘no.’

First, there are a few internal issues that must be dealt with, aside from the apparent showcasing of Smith’s newly learned Hebrew language skills.[3] For example, the Bible informs us that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gn 12:4). The Book of Abraham, however, disagrees. It states that Abraham was only 62 years old when he departed Haran (Abr 2:14). This is a striking oversight on Smith’s part. Failing at something as small as getting Abraham's age correct should immediately raise a red flag.

Additionally, the Bible teaches us the folly of Abraham’s decision of identifying his wife, Sarah, as his sister for fear that the Egyptians would kill him to wed her. If you recall, Abraham convinced Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was Abraham's sister, not his wife. Eventually, it ends up going badly for Abraham since Pharaoh figures out what was going on and kicks them out of Egypt (Gn 12:17–20).

The Book of Abraham does not clarify Abraham's life, it contradicts it.

The Book of Abraham, however, actually attributes that folly to God himself, changing the story to God forcing Abraham’s hand in the decision (Abr 2:22–25). In my opinion, in stark disagreement with the recently published article defending the spiritual value of the Book of Abraham, such a flaw does not “support” nor “clarify” the biblical account of Abraham’s life. It contradicts the account, making God out to be the cause of sin in Abraham's life.

Simply brushing off the historical translation difficulties of the Book of Abraham does nothing in addressing the theological inconsistency between it and the Bible. Of course, the article does not address theological issues within the Book of Abraham; however, any attempt at defending its historicity should be coupled with its veracity. It is not enough to simply defend its legitimacy – the greater question is whether or not it is true, whether or not it coalesces with the Bible.

At the end of the day, there is very little difference between ancient pseudepigraphic or Gnostic writings and the Book of Abraham. Both came well after canonization and were formed for the specific purpose of forcing the biblical message and narrative into a system of theology far from what the original Bible authors attested to.

 CLARIFYING THEOLOGY?

In the article, the LDS Church adamantly contends that, despite contradictions like the two examples above, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible." It has been briefly demonstrated that the Book of Abraham does not clarify teachings in the Bible, but contradicts them. Yet, the LDS Church must have taken this stance for a reason. What reason would lead them to hold fast to such a stance?

I believe the LDS Church needs the Book of Abraham in its current form not because it clarifies the Bible, but because it clarifies Mormonism. In that way, the sentence above should read, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that were made obscure in the Bible by Mormon theology.”

What leads me to believe that?

The Book of Abraham came at a convenient point in Mormon history. Early in the Church’s history, we see Mormonism (especially the Book of Mormon) teaching a type of modalism, the belief that the Father and the Son are literally the same god. So, for example, the Book of Mosiah (within the Book of Mormon) declares that the messiah was prophesied to be called "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth (Mosiah 3:8)."

However, by 1833 Joseph Smith no longer held to this early modalistic view. Smith came to believe in two distinct gods (or personages), the Father and the Son, through his studies of the Hebrew language. He made a distinction between two Hebrew words for God – elohim and Yahweh – by assigning them to the Father and Son respectively.[4] By the mid-1830s, Mormonism shifted from modalism to binitarianism, the belief that two Gods, Elohim and Yahweh, were to be worshipped.

Without the Book of Abraham, the doctrine of eternal progression is in jeopardy.

Yet, the theological evolution of God was not complete in Mormon thought. When the Book of Abraham was published in 1842, the LDS Church had made the transition from binitarianism to henotheism, the belief that although many gods exist only one should be worshipped. Not only this, but faithful Mormons may actually join the ranks of these other gods in a process called apotheosis, which is known by Latter-day Saints as the doctrine of eternal progression. This is the position the Church holds today.

It would be extremely difficult for the LDS Church to support polytheism without the Book of Abraham. Even Joseph Smith himself presented a very weak argument for polytheism by appealing to the Bible alone in his famous King Follett Discourse. Without the Book of Abraham, there is no definitive polytheism.

Without a definitive polytheism, there is no apotheosis. Without apotheosis, Smith's words from the King Follett Discourse turn from revelation to heresy. "You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves," Smith declared, "to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done."[5]

Without the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

This is ultimately what is at stake – whether or not Joseph Smith was speaking God's truth when he declared, "God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!"[6]

If that's not true, then not only is Joseph Smith a false prophet but the religious system he left behind is preaching a gospel contrary to the one preached by the apostles of Jesus Christ. So, the question deserves to be asked – do you believe the Book of Abraham is scripture? Much is resting on your answer.

-----

[1] History of the Church 2:236

[2] Introduction to the Book of Abraham, Pearl of Great Price

[3] It is widely known that Joseph Smith received Hebrew language training at Kirkland, Ohio in the School of the Prophets in the mid-1830s near the time when the Book of Abraham artifacts were acquired. Evidence of his training is clearly seen in the finished work. For example, Smith borrows from the Hebrew kowkab (star) for “Kolob” and translates the Hebrew word for ‘eternity’ as “gnolaum,” which is apparently an old transliteration of the Hebrew owlam. Another example is Smith’s “Kokaubeam” for ‘star,’ which is actually the Hebrew kowkab.

[4] Boyd Kirkland, "Jehovah as the Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine" (Sunstone Magazine), 37.

[5] King Follett Discourse

[6] Ibid

Evidence of God from Dr. Judge the Leviathan

WIT

So, there's this article floating around the internet that claims scientists have discovered the first evidence of God's existence. (No need for you anymore, Romans 1...)

The article has been shared almost a quarter-million times on Facebook, where I first came across it. The title was intriguing, so I went ahead and clicked on it. But the more I read, the more things seemed fishy to me. By the time I finished I felt like I was as at a fisherman's wharf.

Why? Because this article is obviously not real. It's completely fake.

Let's count the ways in which this article should raise some red flags:

  1. It's from the Wyoming Institute of Technology... which doesn't actually exist. Don't believe me? Go to their website and try to apply or even get a campus tour. Good luck!
  2. It claims that a fictitious institute joined up with the Human Genome Project and Bob Jones University, but neither of these real institutions make the same claim.
  3. Its author is Dr. Richter DasMeerungeheuer, which means Judge the Leviathan in German – not a real name.
  4. It cites BJU professor Matthew Boulder as being part of the discovery who is about as real as Dr. Judge the Leviathan.

All this reminds us of one simple lesson – you can't always trust everything you read on the internet, even if you want to.

It's not bad apologetics, it's fabricated apologetics.

Not only this, but it's a false witness. Assuming the author of this article wants to promote faith in God through science, he or she is going about it in a very bad way. This article is worse than bad apologetics for the Christian faith.

Why? Because it's not bad apologetics, it's fabricated apologetics.

We are called to defend faith well and honestly. This article is a great example of what it means to bear false witness and misrepresent the very God that the author seems to be defending, which presupposes that God (not faith) needs defending in the first place.

I would say to chalk this article up to bad scholarship, but it doesn't even deserve that.

It's a complete lie.

What's in a Day?

perpeutal_desk

What’s in a day? That’s the big question when it comes to any interpretation of Genesis 1 that is not a literal, plain reading of the text.

Taken at plainest reading, there is little getting around the fact that the author of Genesis recounts the timeframe in which God created the entire universe. Turns out, that’s a week – six days, with a seventh day of rest.

Then, when we add up the genealogies (assuming they don’t skip generations at any point) we are given about 5,700 – 10,000 years of history from Adam to us. This six-day creation with a young earth are central to the idea of Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Yet, there are many who argue that a plain reading of Genesis 1 actually does the text a disservice. They say that the earth is much older than 10,000 years because of scientific evidence. These folks typically subscribe to Old Earth Creationism (OEC), along with Intelligent Design (ID) and Theistic Evolution (TE).

So, how do these last three groups marry an old earth and universe with Genesis 1? Furthermore, how do YEC maintain their belief in a young earth despite scientific evidence?

Simply put, it all comes down to the meaning of day.

WHAT'S IN A DAY

Both YEC and OEC agrees that when we read Genesis 1, we read a consistent pattern and rhythmic flow in the chronology of God's creative work.

There was evening and morning, the first day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning, the second day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning... Well, you get the picture.

At the outset, it is important to remember that Hebrew uses the word day (יום) much in the same manner that English does. In English we have three specific ways we use the word day.

  1. To distinguish between daytime and nighttime
  2. To identify a 24-hour period of time
  3. To point back to an unspecific amount of time int he past

So, for example, we can see each of these three in everyday speech...

  1. "We should only travel by day since it will be dark at night."
  2. "One day this week, we should get together."
  3. "Back in my day, we didn't have the internet."

Hebrew does the same thing:

  1. "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." – Gn 1:5
  2. "In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out." – Gn 8:14
  3. "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them." – Gn 6:4

Hebrew

English Example

12-hour daytime  (Gn 1:5)

יום 

(yowm)

"We should travel by 

day"

24-hour day  (Gn 8:14)

יום 

(yowm)

"One

day

this week..."

Unspecific amount of time in past  (Gn 6:14)

יום 

(yowm)

"Back in my

day..."

Even the story of creation in Genesis itself gives us a hint that a day may not mean a literal 24-hour period of time. Gn 2:4 poetically transitions the creation story by recollecting the "day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens."

This is similar to our modern English usage of the word day when we say that something occurred "back in the day." Of course, we do not mean back in the literal 24-hour period of time, on a Wednesday, but rather we are referring back to a period of time when something occurred.

So, the OEC argument goes, simply because Genesis says day does not necessarily lock us into a literal 24-hour period of time. Obviously, we need context to help us know what the author means by day. Does he mean daytime, a 24-hour day, or an unspecific amount of time in the past?

This is where the conflict between Young and Old Earth Creationists comes to a head. YEC adamantly contends that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time, whereas OEC disagrees by pointing out that the third type of day lines up better with the rest of the creation story as well as scientific evidence.

Let's look at two strong arguments on both side of the aisle in relation to the meaning of a day in Genesis.

OLD EARTH CREATIONISM – A FULL DAY'S SCHEDULE

First, scientific evidence has demonstrated that the earth is older than 10,000 years. Way older. In fact, it's so old that it's kind of hard to even fathom. By modern estimates, the earth is roughly 4.45 billion years old. Scientists have concluded this based on research from radiometric age dating of the oldest rocks and minerals that we can find on the planet.

If the earth is 4.45 billion years old, then is stands to reason that it, along with all its inhabitants and ecosystems, could not have been created in 144 hours just 10,000 years ago. Typically, this conclusion leads OEC to interpret the traditional reading of days in Genesis 1 as epochs or stages of earth's development over unknown periods of time rather than literal 24-hour periods.

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day!

As we saw last week, such a reading lines up well with what science tells us occurred. Both Genesis and science claim that the first creative act was light, followed by the formation of land and sea, followed by the development of an atmosphere, then plants, then animals, and finally humans. The question isn't over the creative order, it's over the creative time.

Second, we tend to think about the sixth day as the day when God created Adam, then called it quits to rest on the seventh day. However, a closer look at Gn 1:24 – 2:22 reveals that much more happened on the sixth day than we typically think about. In fact, it was quite a full day's schedule as Dr. Travis Campbell points out.

On the sixth day, God...

  • Created a host of creatures to live and flourish on the land (Gn 1:24–25)
  • Created human beings (Gn 1:26–29) with the first man (Adam) out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7)
  • Planted the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:8)
  • Caused trees and plants to grow in the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:9; Gn 1:11–12, 2:5)
  • Placed Adam in the Garden to steward and keep it (Gn 2:15)
  • Made a covenant with Adam (Gn 2:16–17; Hs 6:7)
  • Recognized that Adam was alone (Gn 2:18)
  • Introduced Adam to the animals, instructed him to name them all (Gn 2:19–20)
  • Created Eve as Adam's helper and wife (Gn 2:21–22)

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day! This is not to say that God couldn't have done all these things in twenty-four hours, but it seems quite unlikely (especially if Adam needed to name all the animals and still receive Eve as his wife).

So, how does YEC contend that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time?

YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM – A DAY IS A DAY

First, YEC argues that every time the word יום (yowm) is used with a number, or with the phrase "evening and morning," anywhere in the Old Testament, it always means an ordinary day. This happens to be the case throughout Genesis 1.

Each of the creative acts that God performs is associated with a day that has an evening and a morning. This phrase, then, acts as a timestamp to draw our attention to the fact that the author did indeed mean to teach that God used all 24-hours per day.

Second, despite what OEC says about a reinterpretation of days in Genesis, many reputable Hebrew scholars point out that such a revision of the text is grammatically untenable with the original intent of the author.

He could have [created the universe] in six seconds. He is God, after all.

James Barr (Oxford University) summarized it like this – “So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.”[1]

Therefore, not only is a literal 24-hour day the plainest reading of the text, it is the plainest reading for a reason – the author meant it to be. Any scientific evidence that contradicts YEC, then, must either be incorrect or misinterpreted. After all, God could have created the earth in six days to appear as if it were 4.45 billion years old. He could have done it in six seconds. (He is God, after all.)

However, as Exodus 20:11 indicates, God specifically chose to use a six-day creation with a seventh day of rest to set an important rhythm for his creation.

CONCLUSION

So, what should we believe about the days in Genesis? I think that’s a very important question to answer for yourself through your personal investigation and research.

The most important thing to walk away from Genesis 1–3, though, is not how long it took God to create the universe but why God created the universe.

He didn’t do so because he was lonely or bored. Remember, he has perfect, eternal community within himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, he created us out of love. And when we rebelled against him, he displayed that love by promising to reconcile us back to him.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gn 3:15).”

Who is God talking about when he says he shall bruise your (the enemy’s) head?

Jesus.

Right there immediately after the why of creation is the how of redemption. This is the most important part of why Genesis 1–3 was written. Not primarily to give us scientific insight into creation (although it does), but to answer the question of how things should be, why they are not, and how God is going to rescue us.

So long as both YEC and OEC keeps focus on the redemption of Genesis 3:15, the days of Genesis 1 can be discussed and debated with brotherly love.

-----

[1] Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated April 23, 1984. (http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/barrlett.html)

Noah: Yet Another Review

noah

Everyone else is doing it, so why not chime in? Here's my pros and cons from just seeing Noah.

PROS

It was raw, bloody, violent, and not something you would want to decorate your nursery with – just like it should be. Noah's story is not a bedtime tale, it's a campfire sermon. Themes of humanity's fallenness, God's judgement, and covenantal mercy are key. Sometimes, we lose that message while painting smiley giraffes next to a plump, happy Noah in the kid's room.

Noah told his family the creation narrative over campfire, just like the oral tradition of Genesis was passed down from generation to generation. Not only this, but the cinematography was great. It showed God creating the universe in the exact order that science and the Bible tell us. But, was that scene showing a literal six day creation or a figurative six day creation? The movie leaves that up to you to decide.

Noah isn't a good guy. He sees the wickedness of man and in that wickedness sees himself. God didn't choose Noah because the man was righteous. God didn't choose Noah because he saw potential in him. God chose Noah despite his sinfulness, which is something the movie picked up on well.

God (or the Creator) spoke to Noah in dreams and visions. Sometimes people read the Bible and see that God spoke to people. This is a huge sticking point to them – did he audibly speak to them? I liked the director's explanation: dreams, very vivid dreams. Daniel had "night visions" when God talked to him, could Noah have had a similar experience?

The director gives us a great explanation for why Noah got wasted on wine. The answer is simple – he could no longer handle the immense stressors of witnessing humanity's judgment and extremely strained family relations. It makes sense that he took to the bottle, so to speak, because the pressure became too much. Was it right? Of course not. But, then again, Noah wasn't perfect, and neither are we.

CONS

Noah, apparently, took the judgment theme a little too far. Parts of the movie were reminiscent of The Shining – a crazy dad bent on murdering his family. I highly doubt that Noah believed all of humanity (to include he and his family) were going to experience judgement. This add-on to the story is, I believe, a result of the overly-environmentalist Noah that so many others have complained about in reviews. All humans are bad, so all humans must go. Leave earth to itself. Never mind that we were created in the Creator's image and likeness...

Two words: rock people. Yes, yes, that's the director's attempt at tying in the Nephilim, but by doing so he opened up a huge theological can of worms. Can fallen angels be redeemed? According to this movie, the answer is yes. (Also, apparently, rock people are great ship builders?)

As far as I know, Noah's grandpa wasn't called Methuselah the Grey. What was with his magical powers? And his obsession with berries? Just because there wasn't much written about the guy doesn't mean you should go all Lord of the Rings with his character. A wise old sage would have sufficed.

Finally, and most importantly, the movie completely bypasses the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood, which, by the way, was the pinnacle of the story. The movie ends with Noah's birthright being passed on to his offspring and the rainbow of God's promise to never judge the earth by flooding again. Missing something? Yes, the covenant renewal with the altar and sacrifice. Kind of a big deal, since it points forward to Jesus.

Because of this, it was hard for me to see Jesus in the Noah movie, which is not a good thing. The biblical story of Noah points forward to Jesus – judgment, sacrifice, and redemption. Without sacrifice, there isn't any redemption.

The Lost Mormon Language

welcome_utah Mormon history is the fascinating story of America's most successful modern indigenous religion. It is filled with 19th century frontier religion, angelic visitations, the notorious golden plates, and rugged pioneers. But there is one small part to this story that many people are unaware of – the Deseret Alphabet. The Deseret Alphabet was an alternate to the Latin alphabet of English that was formed by the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) under the direction of Brigham Young. Theoretically, it would have replaced Latin character in English in favor of the phonetically uniformed characters of Deseret.

If that sounds strange, it really shouldn't. Forming a phonetic alphabet was not an uncommon endeavor in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, Benjamin Franklin proposed an alphabet to alleviate mispronunciation and standardize an American version of English. (Which, in my opinion, would have been pretty awesome.)

The reasons why early Mormons devised the alphabet remain speculative. Some argue that they desired a phonetic alphabet to unify the English language, especially for immigrants moving into the Utah territory who struggled to learn the language. Others speculate that the alphabet was created in an attempt to uniquely distinguish the Mormon community from the United States during their bid to become an autonomous State of Deseret.

Whatever they reason, it is fascinating nonetheless! Here are some examples of the lost Mormon language. For you glossophiliacs, add Deseret to your collection!

THE DESERET ALPHABET

deseret_alphabet

____

____

____

FIVE DOLLAR COIN FROM UTAH (1860)

deseret_coin

 ____

____

____

MY HUMBLE ATTEMPT AT THE LORENZO SNOW COUPLET

deseret_couplet

 As man now is, God once was; as God now is man may become.

____

____

____

TITLE PAGE TO THE BOOK OF MORMON

deseret_bom

 

The Bible and Chinese Telephone

bible_chinese_telephone

Too busy to read? Check out the podcast.

"We can't trust the Bible because it was corrupted through years of translation."

We've all heard this line before. Recently, I've heard it a lot. It's an argument for why people should not or cannot trust the Bible.

The theory goes that through the ages people copied and recopied the Bible, each time changing it just a bit so as to reflect what they wanted it to say.

It's a bit like a massive game of Chinese Telephone or Chinese Whispers for my British friends. (Either way, what's with the name? Are the Chinese known for a consistent breakdown in long-distance communication or something? What's the deal?)

Usually, people who question whether the Bible is reliable come from a wide array of backgrounds. Anyone from staunch atheists to devote Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses have questioned why we should trust the modern Bible.

For atheists, it is a book of myths passed down from generation to generation, suffering severe alterations due to translator bias or Christian agendas. For Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, it is a damaged scripture missing theological points restored only by their scripture.

So, why the unlikely alliance of biblical distrust between believers and non-believers alike? Is the Bible reliable? Can we trust a book that was changed after years and years of translations?

TRANSLATION VS. TRANSCRIPTION

First, it's important to know at the outset that the Bible wasn't translated through the ages – it was transcribed. When it comes to the unreliability of the Bible, the word translation gets tossed around a lot; however, alterations to the original text cannot be blamed on a bad translation.

When the Bible is translated, scholars render the Bible from its original languages into a foreign language. So, for example, when you pick up an English Bible you're not actually reading the original language, you're reading an English translation of the original Hebrew and Greek.

In the Chinese Telephone analogy, it's as if someone told you a phrase in English and you told the next person in German. But that's not how the game is played. From start to finish the message is in the same language.

Transcription, on the other hand, is when scholars copy the Bible without rendering it into a different language.

We must remember that back in the day there were not copy machines, no scanners, no Kinkos.

Professional scribes, usually monks, would spend hours on end painstakingly copying letter after letter in order to preserve the original message.

So, were there changes made during the transcription process? Yes, of course. It's okay to admit this – the Bible you read is an English translation from copies of copies of ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts with errors.

The question becomes, Are these errors bad enough to render the Bible unreliable? Just how well did the monks play Chinese Telephone?

ISSUES IN TRANSCRIPTION – FOUR TYPES OF ERRORS

One New Testament scholar divides these transcription errors into four types: spelling differences and nonsense errors, minor changes, meaningful but not viable, and meaningful and viable.

1. Spelling Differences and Nonsense Errors

The largest type of errors are spelling differences and nonsense mistakes. Some of these are as small as copying an improper article, such as 'apple' instead of 'an apple'. Others are simple spelling mistakes, like Iōannēs (Greek for John) without the second 'n' (Iōanes).[1]

Another type of error is even a bit humorous. In one late transcript, a scribe copied "we were horses among you" (Gk. hippoi) instead of "we were gentle among you" (Gk. ēpioi) in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.[2] Close, but no cigar...

This would be like copying the Preamble as, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Onion." Obviously, there was a mistake – equally obvious is the correction.

So, just because one scribe misspelled John's name and another thinks were all horses doesn't mean Jesus never resurrected.

2. Minor Changes

The second-most common type of error is minor changes in the original language. If you've never studied the language, the first conclusion you draw about ancient Greek grammar is that it's the Wild Wild West of languages. Sometimes, you can express the same thought up to sixteen different ways by messing with the word order in a sentence.

With that in mind, changes in the text can be something as trivial as the presence or absence of the article "the" before a noun.[3] Is the meaning of that sentence lost? No way, because Greek is awesome and you still have fifteen more variations to go before losing meaning.

Again, just because one manuscript might say that "disciples went to empty tomb" doesn't mean that the tomb wasn't empty. (But it does mean that text sounds a bit cavemanish.)

3. Meaningful, but Not Viable

The third type of errors are those that have meaning, but are not viable. This means that the change made has some type of relation to the original word, but isn't necessarily the same thing. Thus, they are an unviable substitute.

One example is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 where almost all manuscripts render the phrase "gospel of God." However, in one medieval manuscript we are given the phrase "gospel of Christ."

Is Christ God? Yes, of course. So, the difference is meaningful. However, there is still an important difference between the words God and Christ. So, the difference is not viable.

Perhaps a well-meaning trinitarian monk didn't see the difference. Nevertheless, he would have been wrong for transcribing it incorrectly, no matter the motivation.

4. Meaningful and Viable

Finally, the fourth type of errors are those that are both meaningful and viable. Unlike the types before, when the word is change it still makes sense. These are challenging errors to deal with.

However, these errors only represent 1% of all variations in the manuscripts.

This is incredible considering the fact that the New Testament alone is 2,000 years old. Not only that, but this 1% typically involves just a single word or sentence. For an ancient text, this is unparalleled.

So, what is an example of such a 'meaningful and viable' error? The ending of the Gospel of Mark is one of the most widely-known. Bible scholars can't be sure if this actually belongs in Mark's Gospel, but it's not like they're trying to hide this fact from the world.

Most Bibles tell you flat out in a footnote, "Hey, we're not sure if this belongs here, so read at your own discretion!" (In my Bible, ESV Study Bible, there's a huge break before the ending of Mark with a note in all CAPS about this very issue.)

Luckily, we have three other Gospels to help us make a decision on whether or not it belongs. But if you can't trust the Bible based on a potential addition to Mark that is essentially repeated information from the other Gospels, then that's on you.

At any rate, none of these types of errors alter any significant theological meaning at any point.

SO, IS THE BIBLE RELIABLE?

With these errors in mind, we must still ask ourselves whether or not the Bible is reliable. Can we really trust a book that has been transcribed over thousands of years even if the errors are minor and do not alter significant theological points?

Well, let me ask you this – Do you think Homer's Iliad is reliable? You know, the story about the Trojan War and the mighty Greek warrior Achilles?

If you do, you're betting on fairly good odds that what we have today is what Homer meant to say. Why? Because we have a little over 700 copies of the Iliad with a 95% accuracy rating. Pretty impressive, eh?[5,6]

Now, there is a catch with the Iliad. Unfortunately, we don't have early copies of the work – copies that were made around the time that Homer wrote it. The Iliad is said to have been written around 900BCE, but the earliest copy we have is from 400BCE. That means, as far as we know, there is a 500–year gap between when Homer wrote the Iliad and when it was first copied.

Still, 700+ copies all saying pretty much the same thing is a lot. 500 years between the original and first copy is a lot as well, but not enough to keep the Iliad from being a popular epic and cool story line to a Brad Pitt movie. So, let's give the Iliad the benefit of the doubt. Helen's face started the Trojan War.

Now, what about the Bible? If the Iliad is reliable, does the Bible stack up? Actually... no.

The Bible blows the Iliad out of the water.

Instead of 700+ copies, the New Testament alone boasts  5,000+ with an astounding 99% accuracy rate between them.[7] Not only this, but the shortest gap between the originals and first copy is a mere 100 years, compared to the Iliad's 500–year gap.[8]

Here's a visual representation of the differences between the two.

difference

"Alright," you may say, "but that's just for the Iliad. What about other ancient writings?" To date, the Iliad boasts the richest, most numerous amount of copies of any other ancient writing, with one exception – the Bible.

"Well," you may further say, "the longer we march into the future, the further that gap is becoming. So, this evidence won't be as convincing in the future." True. However, much to the dismay of critics, even though we are getting farther from the original date, we are actually getting closer to the original text. This is because we are discovering more and more manuscripts that are closer to the original date.

THE UNLIKELY ALLIANCE

All this to say, we can't really argue about whether or not the Bible says what it originally said. The argument must shift to whether or not we accept what the Bible says.

Now that's a completely different story. It also happens to be the very reason we see that unlikely alliance of believers and unbelievers. What do an atheist, a Mormon, and a Jehovah's Witness all have in common? They all (typically) believe the Bible has been corrupted.

Additionally, each group, generally speaking, are not keen on what the biblical text has to say. Indeed, it's a rough read if you allow it to honestly speak to our own fallen and messed-up state of being in relation to God (although without this bad news, the good news wouldn't be so sweet).

So, there are two options – reject it outright or change what it has to say. In both cases, the easiest way to go about doing this is to claim that the text is corrupt and unreliable. This way atheists can discount it as fairytales and Jehovah's Witnesses can tweak the text in their New World Translation.

Either way, as we've seen, it's fairly dishonest to say the Bible is unreliable as an ancient text. If that's the case – remember, the Bible is the best example of an ancient text – then much of what we understand of history needs to be scrutinized because we rely too heavily on other, less reliable ancient texts.

In other words, we can't have our cake and eat it, too.

-----

A special note to LDS and Jehovah's Witness readers. Do you find your unlikely alliance with many bible critics and some atheists a bit odd? I would humbly ask that you honestly consider why your organizations have altered the New Testament text (Joseph Smith Translation, New World Translation) in order to conform to Mormon and Watchtower Society theology.

[1] J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How the Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead the Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 2006), 56.

[2] Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner, et. al., Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible's Origin, Reliability, and Meaning (Wheaton, Illi.: Crossway, 2012), 115.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 116.

[5] Martin L. West, "The Textual Criticism and Editing of Homer," Editing Texts, ed. Glenn W. Most (Gottingen: Aporemata, Kritische Studien zur Philologie-geschichte, 1998), 102. (Note: Many Christian authors like to throw around the number 643 for the number of extant Iliad manuscripts. This number most likely comes from Norman Geisler's popular work From God to Us, which was published in 1974. However, more manuscripts have been discovered since the 70s bringing the total number to a little over 700.)

[6] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1974), 181.

[7] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1986), 405.

[8] In his debate with New Testament scholar (and critic) Bart Ehrman, Dan Wallace observed that the earliest copy of Mark that we have dates to the first-century.

BREAKING: Camels Disprove God's Existence; Bible Is False

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If you're like me, I'm sure you woke up this morning to a barrage of news articles claiming that the discovery of domesticated camel bones have definitively disproved the Bible.

Alarming? Yes. True? Mmmm not exactly.

Unfortunately, the article titles are a bit misleading because they draw conclusions that the researchers, Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, do not draw. It is a bit frightening to see how irresponsibly the various media outlets have spun Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef's research. Here is just a gleaming of some popular outlets and their article titles.

"Major discrepancy in the Bible" Huffington Post

major discrepancy in the Bible would being finding Jesus' remains, not a camel's.

"‘Direct Proof’ Bible Was Written Centuries After Events Described" International Business Times

This one is especially alarming since it's author, Zoe Mintz, puts 'direct proof'in quotations without actually quoting the words 'direct proof'anywhere in her article. This quote turns out to be from the American Friends of Tel Aviv University, a self-described "worldly and intellectually sophisticated group" dedicated to and associated with the university, but not directly a part of the research(ers) nor the university – a fact that even the Christian Post seems to have missed.

"Camel archaeology contradicts the Bible"The Times of Israel

The camel archeology contradicts the Bible? Really? The whole thing – contradicted. Maybe the Times of Israel should have gone with a little more realistic title, such as...

"Camel discovery may prove Biblical stories false" News 3 Las Vegas

Ah, a refreshingly honest title among all the sensation. At least this title contains the qualifier may. It may prove Bible stories false. However, the title still makes an extraordinary claim that Bible stories are false based on the research. Can we assume, at least from the claim of this title, that a 'camel discovery' proves Jesus never resurrected? If so, there's a baby in some bathwater that needs to be thrown out.

"Camel Bones Challenge the Bible's Timeline" Newser

This is the only title I've seen that is appropriate to the research. Indeed, domesticated camels not found until 900BCE does challenge the biblical timeline; however, it is not a "major discrepancy" that provides "direct proof"  that "Biblical stories [are] false." These titles are sensational, which is exactly their authors were going for.

"Historical ERROR in Bible's Old Testament, REVEALED"Fashion Times

I'll let this one stand on its own, because of all the CAPS and the fact that the illustrious Fashion Times wrote it.

"Camels and foot-stamping denialists"Patheos

Not a news article, but interesting nonetheless. Here we have a writer complaining about "foot-stamping denialists" (of which I suppose I now am) coming out to say nuh-uh! to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef's findings. Others include Al Mohler and Ken Ham, who (as of yet) have not actually spoken on the matter as far as I am aware. Could the author of this article be a foot-stamping denialist denier?

"BREAKING: Camels Disprove God's Existence; Bible Is False"Dear Ephesus

See? Even I can do it.

ALRIGHT, WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH ACTUALLY SAY?

Enough with the sensational titles, what does the research actually say? Does this zooarchaeological find cast doubt on the timeline of the Bible?

First, if you actually read the report, the researchers do not make the claims that many of the media outlets are saying they have. In fact, they only mention the Old Testament once in the entire paper.

In their opening paragraph, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef mention the "Patriarchal narrative" as having lead many researchers to speculate an earlier date for camel domestication. That's it. The rest of the paper is simply their findings.

Basically, Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef have done what all archeologists do – present their findings and allow others to interpret for themselves what that data means. It is clear what many have said, but what is not so clear is why they would attribute a conclusion to these two researchers that they themselves never made.

Nonetheless, the findings do present a challenge to the biblical timeline. Let's take a look at why.

The Bible starts mentioning camels beginning in Genesis 12. This means that starting from the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE) the Bible claims that camels were domesticated and in use by humans in and around Israel.

However, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef's research, camels were not domesticated in Israel until 900BCE. Herein lies the problem – the Bible claims that camels were domesticated hundreds of years before they actually were.

(Is your faith shaken yet? I've already denounced mine...)

So, what are we to make of this? Here are just some points to consider.

POINTS TO CONSIDER

1.) Does this research definitively represent the total area of Israel, from its most sparsely to most highly populated areas? If not, then this research may simply suggest that domesticated camels were not in use at these sites until 900BCE.

To be fair, according to Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef's paper, the study encompassed quite a bit of Israel. In fact, they were confident that it did represent a good portion of Israel's history. However, perhaps later discoveries will show that camels were not in use in some areas while they were in others at various points in Israel's history.

2.) The word for camel gamal (גָּמָל) may be a substitute for the oral tradition's use of a load-bearing animal. Perhaps, according to oral tradition, the load bearing animal was a donkey or mule. When it came time to consolidate and 'canonize' the Torah, the scribes (being people of their time) assigned the word camel to the word load-bearing animal. (This is not unlike when we hear a story of a cowboy riding into town on an animal, we automatically assume the animal was a horse.)

Old Testament scholars have long suggested that the Torah was not finished in the form we have it today until well after the events they describe. Even if we accepted Moses as the author of the Torah, we must also remember that he was not present for a major portion of it (Genesis). Oral tradition must play some type of role in its formation, which is something Christians have believed for a long time.

3.) Could Abraham have acquired camels from Egypt and brought them to Israel without them becoming widely used until much later? Most of the articles claim that Abraham (among the other patriarchs) did not have camels in Israel until Egypt introduced them abruptly, perhaps due to trade. Archeological evidence suggests that Egypt did have domesticated camels

This assumes, then, that when Abraham went to Egypt, he did not acquire a single camel. On the contrary, is it possible that Abraham, during his visit to Egypt, acquired Egyptian domesticated camels? I think so, especially since Genesis 12:16 explicitly mentions Abraham's camels while in Egypt.

Of course, this depends on whether or not Egypt had domesticated camels during the time Abraham was in Egypt. Since Egypt was the trade center of the world at that time, it is entirely possible to see how domesticated camels were present in the first millennium BCE Egypt.[1]

AT THE END OF THE DAY...

This is such a great example of how hungry some people are to decry the veracity of the Bible. After all, a good amount of news organizations have heralded this research as a fatal blow to scripture. (Remember, we're talking about the domestication of camels in Israel. We're not talking about a Jesus ossuary.)

It is interesting to see how many media outlets rushed to declare the Bible false, seemingly without considering that there might be a logical explanation. I'm not sure they would have done the same for other types of archeological finds.

For example, if an archeologist found a modern human skull in a layer with other fossils dating to the Mesozoic Era, would those same news organizations herald the discovery as a fatal blow to evolution? Probably not, because they would most likely assume there must be a logical reason. Unfortunately, they do not grant the Bible this same type of courtesy.

So, the next time you see a camel and it says "Hump Daaaaay!", remember this – many people are always looking for excuses to push away from their loving creator, even if it's sensationally based on scant evidence.

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[1] Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, 'Domestication of the Camel,' The Oxford Companion to Archeology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, ), 215

Will We Become Gods? A Look at Mormon Exaltation

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  • Mormonism teaches that some humans have the potential to become gods
  • LDS employ biblical texts and authoritative quotes out of context as evidence
  • According to the Bible and orthodox Christianity there is the only one God

Among the many unique theological differences between Mormonism and Christian orthodoxy, one stands out among the rest – the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.

According to this doctrine, part of our salvation process is the potential of evolving past a limited existence as a created human in order to become a creator god. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon apostle, recounts this 'revelation' in Doctrine & Covenants.

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them." – D&C 132:20

In this instance, the term gods is meant to be understood literally. Human beings will one day literally become gods like God is now. A number of past Latter-day Saint (LDS) apostles have clarified this uniquely Mormon concept.

  • "Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights." - Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Apostle (1895–1985)
  • "Mortality is the testing or proving ground for exaltation to find out who among the children of God are worthy to become Gods themselves." – Joseph F. Smith, LDS Apostle (1838–1918)
  • "As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be." – Lorenzo Snow, LDS Apostle (1814–1901)

While this is, indeed, a unique idea to Christians, many LDS hotly contest its uniqueness, arguing instead that the idea of exaltation (humans becoming gods) is not a new one. (Of course, it must be said, not all LDS believe in exaltation; however, the idea is still prevalent within Mormon thought.)

In fact, one can find evidence of exaltation in the Bible in addition to the writings of many of the early church fathers and famed Christian thinker C. S. Lewis.

So, is there any truth to these points? Does the Bible teach exaltation? Did the early church fathers and C. S. Lewis hold to the view?

CONSIDERING THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

First, we must notice one important thing – the biblical passages typically employed for support of 'exaltation' are usually taken out of context. Within context, the Bible is emphatically clear that there is no God aside from God.

Here are just a few verses to this effect: Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5,14,18,21,22; 46:9; 47:8; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; Gal. 4:8-9.

Within the framework that the Bible give us, there is no room for polytheism (the existence of many gods). This is a problem for Mormonism. If human beings are destined to become gods one day, then there is more than one god. Thus, Mormon theology is necessarily polytheistic.

So, while a LDS would most certainly affirm the biblical passages mentioned, the problem of polytheism exists nonetheless.

A potential LDS response is that Heavenly Father is a higher god than we’ll ever be, which is why the Bible seems to teach that there is only one God. We are only to worship him even if we are destined to become gods one day. God, Heavenly Father, is our god.

Unfortunately, this explanation does not do away with polytheism. Whether or not the other gods receive our worship is moot – they exist nonetheless. This is why God says in Isa 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

Yet even a verse like Isa 44:6 can be taken out of context by simply adding “…of this planet” to the end of the verse. Still, one must contest, unless the term god means something other than an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being, the doctrine of eternal progress necessarily teaches polytheism.

The biblical evidence for exaltation, and by extension polytheism, is simply not there.

"YOU ARE 'GODS'" – MISQUOTING JESUS

From the New Testament, a common verse used in defense of exaltation is Jhn 10:4. "Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods'?'"

Here, we see a clear instance in which Jesus is rhetorically asking whether or not we believe we are called gods. On face value, it does seem like Jesus would agree with this unique Mormon doctrine.

However, on face value, Jesus also calls himself a door (Jhn 10:7), to which I do not believe he meant to say that he may be purchased at Home Depot for a reasonable price. There must be something more to the text.

A closer look at Jesus’ quotation in Jhn 10:4 gives us a hint at what the Bible means here. Notice Jesus does not say, “you are becoming gods.” Instead, he says, “you are [present tense] gods.”

Certainly, a LDS would agree that they are not currently gods (although they may believe they are in an 'embryonic' state). If Jesus meant to support exaltation in this one instance, why did he use the present tense?

The answer lies in the original source of what Jesus is quoting. Psa 82:6 states, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”

Instead of affirming exaltation, it is much more likely that Jesus meant the term gods in the same way the original psalmist did – to describe earthly beings ("gods") who are being judged for failing in their duties of properly administering justice.

Thus, verses like Jhn 10:4 can be inappropriately taken out of context to support the idea that humans are literally destined to become gods.

"WE MAY BECOME GOD" – THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

At the outset it must be said that any evidence for the early church father's support of the doctrine of eternal progression is shaky and scant at best. The idea seems wholly foreign in their writings.

So, how could they be used in support of exaltation? Simply put, we misunderstand what the fathers meant by the word god.

It was very common for the early church fathers to describe us as “gods” in glorification because we do, in fact, become like (but not ontologically like) God.

There’s a million dollar word – ontological. It simply means "the metaphysical being or reality of something." So, to be ontologically like God means to be made of the exact same stuff as God.

This, however, is not what the early church fathers had in mind when they referred to us as gods. While we may become like God (free from sin, eternal, etc) we will never be ontologicallylike God (e.g., omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc).

Take, for example, a widely quoted line from Athanasius, "He became man that men might be made gods (emphasis added)." On face value, we can be lead to believe that he would support exaltation. However, within context, we quickly see that he would not.

First, this is most likely a mistranslation. This quote should actually read, "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B, emphasis added)."

With this in mind, note Athanasius does not say ‘become gods’ but ‘become God’. Obviously, he is speaking of our glorification to become like/with God in heaven. No LDS would agree that Athanasius means to say that we will become Heavenly Father. Neither, then, does he mean to say we will become gods.

Another popular quote to utilize is from Augustine, "If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods (Exposition on the Psalms, 50.2)"

As before, face value agrees. Like usual, context doesn't.

Just a few sentences later he writes, “For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favour they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. (Ibid).”

Here, Augustine clearly teaches what orthodox Christianity teaches – that we will be perfect like God, but not literally (ontologically, by nature) a god. Unfortunately, for our LDS friends, using this quote from Augustine to support exaltation is unfounded.

(As an aside, it is ironic that this passage would be utilized to support a Mormon doctrine in the first place. Note that it clearly affirms Augustine's view of the Trinity, an idea that Mormonism rejects.)

"WE WERE 'GODS'" – C. S. LEWIS

Employing C. S. Lewis to support the doctrine of eternal progression is a very popular move among the doctrine's proponents. Perhaps this is due to the authority and weight commanded by the theological giant. Nevertheless, were Lewis alive today he would surly disagree with exaltation.

LDS have claimed that Lewis held to exaltation based on a quote from Mere Christianity, “He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words.”

Again, at face value this does seem to indicate Lewis's support. However, as with the examples before, we must keep in mind what the author means by the term gods.

Note that Lewis was careful to place quotation marks around the word ‘gods.’ Like the early church fathers, Lewis meant that we will be like gods in that we will no longer suffer sin and death, not that we will be literally gods who are omnipresent, -potent, -scient.

We can be sure of this by placing the quote within its proper context. Lewis goes on to write, “If we let Him. . .He will make us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature. . .which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.”

Here, Lewis is clearly explaining the process of sanctification and the culmination of our salvation through glorification. We will, one day, become the perfect creatures who perfectly worship the Creator.

If this were not enough context for clarification, Lewis reveals his position perfectly well in the beginning of the chapter when he says, “He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture.”

From this, ontologically speaking, are we to presume Lewis imagines a time in which the machine becomes an inventor or a picture becomes a painter? Obviously, we are not.

Lewis clearly defines the orthodox lines between Creator and creation – an impassible chasm not crossed by any manner of exaltation.

EXALTATION IS IDOLATRY

In conclusion, when it comes to the Mormon doctrine of exaltation context is key. Most support for the doctrine comes from a line or two lifted out of context and distorted to mean what the original author never intended.

But, the issue of exaltation goes deeper than simply misquotations and unorthodox ideas.

The deeper issue begins in a misunderstanding of glorification. According to the Bible, our salvation consists of three stages (or aspects): justification, sanctification, and glorification.

  • Justification is instant, the moment we are declared righteous before God by his grace through faith alone (Rom 3:24-25;5:1, Eph 2:8-9).
  • Sanctification is a continual process of becoming more and more Christlike through the Holy Spirit (2Th 2:13, 1Pe 1:2).
  • Glorification is when we die and enter into God’s presence in a perfected state free from sin for all eternity (Phi 3:21).

Mormonism, unfortunately, blends sanctification and glorification into the same process. If sanctification and glorification can be blended together, it only follows that we work towards salvation (something the Bible fiercely rejects, Eph 2:8-9). Add the doctrine of exaltation to this and we come to something even more dangerous – idolatry.

At the end of the day, to be frank, the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is idolatry. It necessarily takes away the function of our very being (namely the worship of God) and replaces it with a slightly cheaper, albeit tempting, giving of and reception of worship to ourselves.

According to eternal progression, one day we will have people of our own who will worship us. Herein lies the danger – Isa 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Eternal progression necessarily states that we share in God’s glory of worship, which is idolatry.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER FOR LDS READERS

If you are a LDS reader and would like to further consider the doctrine from a critical angle, here are some questions to ponder.

  1. If exaltation is such an important doctrine of salvation, why is there such scant evidence for it in the Bible and historical Christian writings?
  2. Given exaltation's importance, why did it take Joseph Smith so many years to teach it?
  3. Why does the Book of Mormon remain relatively silent on the doctrine of eternal progression?
  4. Is it not strange that the LDS Church, which has historically criticized orthodox forms of Christianity for "adopting" pagan concepts into biblical theology, would adopt such a pagan idea as exaltation?

Did Jesus Plagiarize the Golden Rule?

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Everyone knows Jesus'  teaching, "Do to others what you would have them do to you." This teaching is so famous that it has its own title – the Golden Rule.

While is is widely acknowledge that Jesus taught it, some believe that this is not unique to him. In fact, critics claim that Jesus actually plagiarized the Golden Rule from those who taught before him. They point out that other religious teachers and philosophers had been teaching the rule to their students long before Jesus ever delivered his famous Sermon on the Mount.

One such critic, the popular blogger Friendly Atheist, posted a cartoon poking fun at the fact that Jesus did not come up with the Golden Rule. Rather, it was around long before Jesus (although the cartoon mistakenly references the Hadiths, which came hundreds of years after Jesus.)

The conclusion? Jesus plagiarized from other religious teachers and did not do unto others has he would not have done unto himself.

But therein lies the key to whether or not Jesus actually plagiarized. Do not against do. Negative versus positive.

THE GOLDEN RULE REVERSED

Look back again at the comic from The Friendly Atheist. Ironically, the poor attempt of a humorous jab at Christianity underlies the ignorance by which it depends for the joke to be true. None of the students properly recounted the Golden Rule since they all quoted it in the negative. (Remember, the Hadiths – or "Hadith" as it is rendered – comes hundreds of years after Jesus.)

Each example listed in the comic (prior to Jesus) is all in the negative: Hinduism, Babylonian Talmud, Confucius, Tibetan Dhammapada. Every single one is a "do not." This is because before Jesus came on the scene, the Golden Rule was typically taught as a "do not" rather than a "do." It was negative over positive.

Here is a list of more negative forms of the Golden Rule prior to Jesus.

  • Pitticus (640–568BC)
  • Zoraster (628–551BC)
  • Thales (624–546BC)
  • Isocratus (436–338BC)
  • Plato (428–348BC)
  • Epictetus (55–135BC)
  • Rabbi Hillel (32BC–7CE)

Up until Rabbi Hillel, the world only knew "do not do unto others." But then something changes. Jesus comes on the scene and puts a new spin on an old saying, "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." – Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

Here we have the Golden Rule in its truest and refined form. Do to others what you would want them to doto you. Positive over negative, active over inactive. The teaching is completely reversed.

As he usually does, Jesus takes the common way of understanding the world and flips it on its head.

JESUS PLAGIARIZED

So, what happened to the Golden Rule after Jesus? A funny thing, really. Religious teachers, poets, and philosophers began doing the very same thing Jesus' modern critics accuse him of – plagiarism.

Almost every major version of the Golden Rule after Jesus is positive rather than negative. Here's just a short list.

  • Muhammad (570–632CE)
  • Ibn Ali  (626–680CE)
  • Hadiths (~700CE)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
  • Wiccan Rede (~1900)
  • Baha'i (~1850)
  • Scientology (1960)

See the pattern? Before Jesus, the Golden Rule was mainly negative. After Jesus, the Golden Rule is mainly positive.

Jesus didn't plagiarize the Golden Rule, he revolutionized it.

Here's a helpful chart to visualize Jesus' influence on the Golden Rule. From left to right, the Golden Rule is given by: Hinduism, Thales, Zoroaster, Confucius, Plato, Buddhism, Rabbi Hillel, Jesus, Muhammad, Ibin Ali, Hadiths, Immanuel Kant, Wiccan Rede, Baha'i, and Scientology.

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Jesus didn't plagiarize the Golden Rule, he revolutionized it. In fact, Jesus was the one plagiarized as history shows.

WHY CHANGE THE GOLDEN RULE?

What is interesting about the time in which Jesus revolutionized the Golden Rule is how his audience viewed it before he came. Rabbi Hillel, one of the most influential rabbis in Jewish history, lived just one generation before Jesus.

You have to imagine for a moment that you are a first century Jew. Hillel was a household name, someone very influential in society. Think along the lines of a religious Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemmingway, or (rightly so) Martin Luther King. Very influential thinkers in their day, very near to our own past. You did not disagree with Hillel unless you had a great reason to.

Hillel taught the classic, negative form of the Golden Rule with an interesting twist. “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.” –Talmud Shabbat 31a

Note that Hillel said the negative form of the Golden Rule fulfills the Torah (or Law).

Then comes the revolutionary teacher Jesus who, when he delivers his interpretation of the Torah (or Law), includes the Golden Rule. "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." – Matthew 7:12 (NIV)

The Golden Rule is action over inaction, compassion over apathy.

Here Jesus directly contradicts Hillel's statement. He basically says, "You've been told that the summary of the Law is to not do. That's wrong. The summary of the Law is to do."

First. Century. Jewish. Minds. Blown.

This was radical. And – when you think about it – it still is.

So why did Jesus change the Golden Rule from the negative to the positive? In the negative form, we could fulfill it by never doing anything. In the positive form, we must do in order to fulfill it. Jesus calls us to action over inaction, compassion over apathy.

Where the world says "don't", Jesus says "do!" Where the world says "stay," Jesus says "go!" Where the world says "keep to yourself," Jesus says "reach out to others!" Do to others.

When it comes to the Golden Rule, Jesus didn't plagiarize, he revolutionized. He doesn't call us to inaction, he calls us to action.

Saturday Sunday School

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Every Sunday across the globe, most Christians gather together in order to worship Jesus. That is, most Christians. A small group of Christians known as the Seventh-day Adventists maintain that all Christians should worship on Saturday in order to keep the Sabbath.

Adventism, a term from which the group derives its name, began in the 19th century America under the leadership of William Miller who taught the imminent return of Christ (or advent). Like most religious movements in the young American republic, Millerites sought to restore primitive, simple Christianity in response to centuries of European doctrine and dogma they viewed as an intrusion on true Christianity.

As a result, many Christians focused on what they believed was a plain reading of scripture in exchange for whole systems of theology derived from scripture. One of the unique ideas from this religious experiment was a return to observing the sabbath, since it was clearly given as a commandment in Exodus.

Those Millerites who held this view became known as Seventh-day Adventists. Today, the group contends that Christians should worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, worship included).

So, is this something Christians should consider? Are the Seventh-day Adventists on to something that they rest of Christianity is missing? Should Christians keep the sabbath and worship on Saturday instead?

SATURDAY MORNING SUNDAY SCHOOL?

The short answer is, "No for salvation, Yes if they'd like to." The sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians to follow, although it is certainly something Christians can practice.

Usually, the confusion over sabbath is simply a confusion over covenants. Under the old covenant, Adventists would have a great point. Christians should keep the sabbath because it is a commandment. However, because of Jesus' person and work, we're in the new covenant in which the sabbath is a continual rest found in Christ rather than a mandatory twenty-four hour period of rest.

With that in mind, we should always remember that all but one of the of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament – keeping the sabbath. This is because the sabbath was meant to foreshadow the eternal rest we find in Christ, which is why Jesus declares himself “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8.

Because of Jesus, we don't obey the law for rest, we rest from the law.

Moreover, the Old Testament requirement of keeping the sabbath was satisfied in Christ. Our justification (salvation) in no way depends on our ability to keep the sabbath law. Instead of obeying the law in order to have rest, we now rest from the law in Christ.

All this leads to how the New Testament church treated and wrote about the sabbath. The best places to see this is in Acts 20:7 and Romans 14:5–6. In Acts 20:7, we see the first evidence of Christians worshipping on a Sunday in celebration of the resurrection.

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” – Acts 20:7

The first day of the week for first century Jews was the day we know as Sunday. So, here we have Christians gathering on Sunday, not Saturday, to here Paul preach until midnight. (And you thought sermons at your church were long…)

CHRISTIANS HAVE ALWAYS WORSHIPPED ON SUNDAYS

We also have extra-biblical evidence that points to Christians exchanging the sabbath for worship on Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day.

  • "But every Lord’s day…gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned" (Didache, ca. 70CE).
  • "We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead." (Letter of Barnabas, 74CE).
  • "[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death." (Letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius, 110CE).

Furthermore, Romans 14:5–6 seems to give a closed-cased against the Adventist position, and the reason why many Christians reject their argument.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.” – Romans 14:5–6

Paul is basically arguing that it doesn't matter when we worship. If one person is convinced that they should worship on Sunday, then that's fine. If another person is connived they they should worship on Saturday, then that's fine as well. If a third person is convicted that they should worship at 3:30AM on alternating Wednesdays, it's weird but it's also okay.

So, you could say, evangelicals esteem Sunday over Saturday but Adventists esteem Saturday over Sunday, which is completely acceptable.

KEEPING THE WHOLE LAW

With all that said, there is a danger in believing we must worship on Saturday in order to observe the sabbath – if Adventists desire to keep the Sabbath as apart of their salvation, then they must keep the entire law. (This is an if, since not all Adventists may hold this belief.)

Paul makes a similar point with a different kind of law-keeping in Galatians 5:1–6. He states that if you get circumcised in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law, which is impossible since by attempting to keep the law you’ve fallen away from grace.

The same could be said about sabbath. If you keep the sabbath in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law.

If we keep the Sabbath, we must keep the whole law.

This is why Christians should fiercely reject the Adventist position if they maintain that the sabbath must be kept in order to receive salvation. If, however, they worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath knowing that it has nothing to do with salvation but simply preference, then there really isn't anything wrong.

At the end of the day, Christians are free to worship any day of the week because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. We continually enjoy sabbath rest in him, since we are no longer under the law. If we want to worship on Saturday, that's fine according to Romans 14:5–6. However, if we believe that we must worship on Saturday to keep the sabbath as a part of our salvation, then we must also keep the whole law.

Editorial note: Previously, the article was written to reflect that Adventism practices sabbath rest on Sunday. After a wonderfully insightful comment by a reader (Kristine), the article as been edited to better reflect Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Thanks for the catch, Kristine!

Thou Shalt Not Judge!

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One of the most popular, perhaps most scathing, objections towards Christians today is that we're too "judgy." We hypocritically judge those outside of the church by flying in the face of Jesus' teaching that "Thou shalt not judge." (Yes, always quoted in the KJV language, for some reason...)

In fact, this one verse, Matthew 7:1, is perhaps the most widely known among non-Christians. It is also, I believe, one of the most misunderstood among non-Christians and least practiced among Christians.

Both sides of the fence tend to miss this one. On the non-Christian side, people believe Jesus is telling his followers to never make a judgement about anyone and to just mind their own business. On the Christian side, people believe Jesus is telling his followers to never judge one another but to reserve all judgement for non-Christians.

These two interpretations both fall short of what Jesus was getting at. As a result, it has led to much confusion and heartache for both Christian and non-Christian alike. For that reason, let's revisit Jesus' teaching on judging to find a better way to understand it in three Thou shalt's...

1. Thou shalt not judge! (with a wrong judgment)

2. Thou shalt judge! (with a right judgment)

3. Thou shalt assess your audience

1. THOU SHALT NOT JUDGE! (WITH A WRONG JUDGMENT)

First, let's examine the misunderstanding of Jesus' command. Popular interpretation of Matthew 7:1 is captured well in this cartoon by The Oatmeal. Written by (presumably) a non-Christian, it serves as a great summary of how many people hear Jesus' teaching of "Thou shalt not judge" and see it practiced by his followers.

Unfortunately, this is a very bad way of understanding Jesus' teaching. By telling his followers not to judge, Jesus was not eliminating all forms of criticism, evaluation, discernment, or even judgement. How do we know this? He actually commands his followers to judge!

"Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement." – John 7:24

We need to judge in order to discern between what is right and what is wrong, what is righteous and what is unrighteous. To always turn a blind eye to everything would be dishonest to Jesus' whole teaching. So, if we wanted to succinctly put Jesus' entire teaching on judgement into one sentence, perhaps it would be a mashup of Matthew 7:1 and John 7:24.

"Judge not, that you be not judged, but judge with a right judgement."

Wait... what? That seems a bit contradictory, doesn't it? Not if you consider that Jesus was talking about two types of judgement: a wrongjudgment and a rightjudgment. We know this because he specifically uses the term right judgment.

So, when he says "judge not, that you be not judged" he tells us to curtail our wrong judgments, not to abandon judgement altogether.

2. THOU SHALT JUDGE! (WITH A RIGHT JUDGMENT)

So what does this mean? For Christians, it means many of us have some work to do in how we judge. To a certain extent, the objection that non-Christians bring up about Christians being judgy is true. This is not because we are never to judge, but because they have identified in us wrong judgment. So, what is wrong judgment?

Jesus gives us a great (and humorous) illustration of wrong judgement in his Sermon on the Mount.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." – Matthew 7:1–5

Here we have a guy with a gigantic log (large sin) stuck in his eye going around performing the "kind act" of removing what amounts to saw dust (small sin) from his brother's eye. Kinda funny if you think about it, the joke is still humorous 2,000 years later! Sadly, though, the joke is on us. We shouldn't think of ourself as the guy with the speck – we're the guy with the log.

Here is where we see a wrong judgment.  If we point out the failures and flaws of a brother or sister in Christ while having that exact same (and magnified) failure or flaw, we are hypocritically judging in the wrong. Paul says it like this, "In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same thing (Rom 2:1)."

Jesus doesn't call us to be critical referees; he calls us to referee our own criticism.

If you call someone out for half-truths, do you ever tell half-truths? If you criticize stealing, are you 100% financially honest? If your husband/wife does something you don't like, is there something you've been neglecting yourself?

In the words of that great twenty-first century theologian ICE CUBE, "You better check yo self before you wreck yo self."

At the end of the day, Jesus isn't looking for critical referees. No, he's looking for those who will referee their own criticism.

3. THOU SHALT ASSESS YOUR AUDIENCE

So, are we to sit idly by while we see unrighteousness and injustice all around us? Should we never make a judgement? Granted, we should remove the log from our eyes before removing the speck from our brother's. But that's family language, that's within the church. Surly, as representatives of Jesus on earth, we are called to judge those outside of the church... right?

Jesus finishes his teaching on judgement with a very colorful, hyperbolic illustration.

"Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." – Matthew 7:6

Okay... what's Jesus saying here? In the original audience's ears, they would have known exactly what he was saying. To them, pigs were unclean and dogs were voracious scavengers (not Fluffy or Fido, think hyena or jackal). The picture Jesus is painting for us is shocking – He tells us not to give what is precious (our judgment) to pigs and dogs (non-Christians).

Wow, strong language. Why did he say that? Jesus, being the great communicator that he is, uses over-the-top-language to make a very important point. As Christians, we need to assess our audience.

Giving a right judgment (after you've removed the log) to a brother or sister in Christ is precious (like pearls) because it helps them conform more to Jesus. Giving that same right judgment to a non-Christian may not be received the same way. In fact, it might get a little hostile.

What Jesus is telling us is, "Before you judge, assess your audience. Non-Christians will most likely appreciate your judgment like a pig appreciates a pearl necklace."

Christians appear judgy because we do not assess our audience well.

We see this happening all the time, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Christians blasting out judgment to everyone and wondering why they get hostility in return. Perhaps this is why Paul quipped, "What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge (1Co 5:12–13)?"

Therefore, in a sense, the complaint that Christians are too judgy is true. Why? Because we're not assessing our audience well. On top of that, we seem to have a hard time delivering that judgment graciously (Col 4:6).

So, the next time you're ready to click POST or TWEET, ask yourself these three questions:

1. Is this a right judgment? (Do I have a log in my eye?)

2. Have I assessed my audience well? (Am I giving pearls to pigs?)

3. Is my speech salted with graciousness? (Colossians 4:6)

If we Christians stepped up to the plate and started to referee our own criticism, maybe we wouldn't be so judgy!

Mormon Church Explains Past Racism, But Neglects an Important Part

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An article was recently published by the Huffington Post drawing attention to the Mormon (LDS) Church's explanation for why the organization banned African American males from obtaining the priesthood until 1978. Citing a newly released article titled Race and the Priesthood, columnist Brady McCombs explains how the LDS Church has finally offered the most "comprehensive explanation of why the church previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy, and for the first time disavows the ban."

McComb does a wonderful job explaining the background and importance of such an admission by the LDS Church. He rightly heralds this as a major step forward, something many within the LDS community have undoubtedly already held true. However, the Huffington Post, perhaps unknowingly and to no fault of McComb, neglects to mention an issue that the LDS Church has left out of Race and the Priesthood.

What has not been addressed is an explanation for the Book of Mormon as the potential source of that racism. Maybe the LDS Church feels that discussion of potential racism in the Book of Mormon against Native Americans is inappropriate under an article which deals with race and, specifically, the priesthood.

Nonetheless, it is curious that the LDS Church feels it necessary to address issues related to racism in the church's past without mentioning racism found within the pages of the "cornerstone" of their religion, the Book of Mormon.

Instead, the LDS Church focuses on racism against African Americans, maintaining that it was a direct result of the cultural context that any majority white American church found itself in the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. No mention, not a single word, is lent towards the racism Native Americans met by past LDS members.

This is not to fault LDS members, but to note that something potentially pushed early Mormons towards holding racists views against Native Americans. That something, of course, is the Book of Mormon.

CURSED WITH A "SKIN OF BLACKNESS"

According to the Book of Mormon, many (if not most) Native Americans, or Lamanites, are descendants of a man named Lehi. Lehi, whose family originated from Jerusalem and fled to Mesoamerica prior to the Babylonian captivity (ca 600BC), had a few sons, most notably Laman and Nephi. In short, Nephi was a righteous man who experienced continual indignation from his brothers.

Eventually, they went their separate ways and formed two tribes of people in modern-day Mexico, as speculated by some LDS scholars. The two tribes became known as the Nephites, those who followed Nephi, and the Lamanites, those who followed Laman.

It is at this point when racism enters the picture. As a result of Laman's continual indignation towards Nephi and God, his family was cursed with "skin of blackness"; a crude explanation, I suppose, as to why Native Americans have more melanin than Europeans. From the Book of Mormon:

"Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me [Nephi], saying that: Inasmuch as they [Lamanites] will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." - 2Ne 5:21

To add insult to this injury, Nephi goes on to warn his people not to "mix seed" with the now-cursed black Lamanites as they were to become an "idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24)."

Now, do LDS members today believe this means that Native Americans are an intrinsically inferior race of people? No, of course not. Could this have been used to insight past racism in the early Mormon church? Quite possibly, but this is purely speculative.

Regardless of whether or not this passage was a primer behind racist motivations at any time in the LDS Church's history, be it towards Native Americans or African Americans, these verses' unfortunate existence alone stands as a testament towards either a racist God or, more likely, a racist author.

POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS (OR, BETTER, EXCUSES) FALL SHORT

Let's come to the potential defense from a Mormon perspective for the moment. Can this be spiritualized? Could, perhaps, the "blackness" refer to the Lamanites' (and by extension Native Americans') internal character and not their outward appearance? This may be a tempting route to travel, but I see two problems with "spiritualizing" these verses.

First, the Book of Mormon holds human agency in very high esteem (2Ne 16, also Moses 4:3). For God to cause a people group to be spiritually "blackened" would be out of character.

Secondly, the Book of Mormon clearly states that this "sore cursing" is a "skin of blackness." It is difficult to spiritualize something so plainly written, especially since the author (Nephi) makes it clear later on that he has, "spoken plainly that ye cannot err (2Ne 25:20)."

Of course, Nephi could have simply recorded what happened. This was simply "historical fact" that, when placed within its proper context, tells things in the way that they happened.

Yet again, this leaves us with one chilling conclusion – God uses race to delineate between the value of people. He sees one group as "white and exceedingly fair and delightsome (2Ne 5:21)" whereas he curses another group with a "skin of blackness" who were "idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24)."

We know, however, that this is not the case. God does not use race to delineate the value of people. This is a fact that the LDS Church would agree with and even claims that the Book of Mormon teaches.

After all, 2 Nephi 26:33 states, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile." (A striking, albeit anachronistic, foreshadowing of Galatians 3:28).

Nonetheless, while the LDS Church certainly abandons racism as nothing short of condemnable, and while some aspects of the Book of Mormon do indeed promote equality, there is racist residue leftover from an author(s) who sought to answer why Native Americans have "skin of blackness." The answer is profoundly unchristian, which should give us pause concerning the trustworthiness of the Book of Mormon.

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1Ne - 1 Nephi, Book of Mormon

2Ne - 2 Nephi, Book of Mormon

Moses - Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price

There's Only Room For 144,000

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Of the many unique ideas to Jehovah's Witness theology, perhaps one of the most intriguing has to do with the number 144,000. This number, found in Revelation 7:4–8, describes 12,000 Jews from twelve different tribes of Israel, all of whom have been sealed into salvation by God. Some quick math reveals that number to be 144,000.

The Watchtower Society, the organization where Jehovah's Witnesses receive spiritual instruction, teach their members that the number is meant to be understood as a literal amount, and to interpret the tribes of Israel as an allegorical picture of the Society itself. These tribes are seen later in chapter 14 ruling with Jesus.

As a result, the Society interprets this picture as 144,000 Witnesses (throughout history's past)  enjoying rulership of earth with Jesus for eternity after Armageddon.

So, is this true? Is the Society correct in interpreting the number 144,000 as a literal number of Jehovah's Witnesses? Perhaps the safer interpretation of Revelation 7, among other safe interpretations, is an allegorical image of the collective body of God’s elect throughout the history of redemption.

In other words, the 144,000 does not represent a literal number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even Jews, but the complete and perfect number of those called, both Jew and Gentile, to salvation throughout history by God.

AN ALLEGORICAL FORMULA

If the Society chooses to literalize the representation of the 144,000, namely that it conveys a literal number of privileged Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would be forced to completely ignore the fairly evident symbolism of the number itself. For example, take the fact that 144,000 could be represented as 12 x 12 x 1,000. These two numbers, 12 and 1,000, are common in biblical literature as symbolic.

Earlier in the Book of Revelation we are given a picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four elders. The symbolism in this picture is of twelve elders from the Old Testament (prophets) and twelve elders from the New Testament (leaders of the church, or apostles).

Couple the twelve prophets and twelve apostles with the 1,000 year reign of Jesus spoken of in Revelation 20 and we have a very reasonable interpretation of the number 144,000 – (twelve Old Testament leaders of the saints) x (twelve New Testament leaders of the saints) x (the reign of Jesus Christ for a thousand years) = (the salvation of all the saints, better known as the collective church, both Jew and Gentile) or 12 x 12 x 1,000.

LITERALLY SYMBOLIC

This is but one interpretation of the 144,000 that finds consistency throughout the Bible. Other interpretations include viewing this number as converted Jewish evangelists sent out from Israel towards the end of the world or Jews who were sealed to salvation during the destruction of the temple in 70CE. Either one fits within an acceptable framework of understanding Revelation consistently; however, limiting the number to a literal amount of salvation does not.

Granted, the Society does not claim that only 144,000 people may receive salvation. According to Jehovah's Witness theology, all may receive salvation. However, the number limits those who will be privileged to rule with Christ in the afterlife.

At the very least, what we should conclude is that the meaning behind the 144,000 doesn’t represent a literal number of people who will be reigning with Jesus in the future. Rather, in my interpretation, it is a symbolic number of all the people who have been saved throughout the years and who will be with Jesus for eternity.

4 Major Differences Between the Book of Mormon and the Bibl

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The Book of Mormon, long a lynchpin of the Mormon faith, has both captivated and perplexed people all over the world. Many Latter-day Saints hold this work as the keystone to their entire worldview. In fact, former LDS President Ezra Taft Benson once said, "Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."

One of the central claims to the Book of Mormon's authority is that the work completes (rather than compliments) the doctrines of salvation as found in the Bible. The two are seen as separate works, but working in tandem to provide the gospel message to the world. If this is the case, if coherent truth about salvation may be found in both works, then we should expect to see many similarities between the two.

There are, however, substantial differences between the two which deserve our attention.

The Bible Is Translated While the Book of Mormon Was Transcribed

Differences begin in the very formation of the two works. In 1830, the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith Jr., published the first edition of the Book of Mormon. After weeks of work, the book quietly stepped onto the stage of religious literature. The process of getter there, however, is quite extraodrinary.

Smith claimed to have a series of visions which revealed the location of golden plates. These plates, said to be ancient accounts of Native American–Jewish origin, were buried in a hill near to Smith's home. Having discovered them, he then began a process that many LDS scholars describe as translation.

While competing accounts of how Smith accomplished the task, they all stay within the same basic structure: using two seer stones, Smith watched as "reformed Egyptian" – a language yet to be discovered outside of this area – illuminated into English. Despite LDS scholars arguing for translation, this processes is more aptly described as transcription. Smith had no formal language training, but simply transcribed the miraculously illuminated English into English.

This process is substantially different from the process of Bible translation. Written in three (widely known) ancient languages, men and women who are formally trained painstakingly convert word after word from one language into English.

The Bible has undergone many translations by thousands of translators. The Book of Mormon has, ostensibly, undergone one transcription by one transcriber.

The Book of Mormon "Reintroduces" The Gospel to the World

The entire raison d'être of the Book of Mormon is the restoration of lost aspects of the gospel. From beginning to end, the work makes no sense if the gospel message of Jesus needs no reintroduction. In fact, the very origin of the Book of Mormon is surrounded by the urgency to restore the gospel.

In History of the Church Vol. I, after receiving a vision from two personages (we are meant to understand them as the Father and Son without their names being listed) Smith is visited by an angelic being by the name of Moroni. The angel informs Smith that the "fulness of the Gospel" was contained in the golden plates he was soon to discover.

The Bible, however, vehemently warns against such an angelic messenger. Paul warned that if, “we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:8.

Paul warns that even if he preaches a gospel contrary to the one he himself preached, we should ignore it. Not to mention, Paul practically identifies Moroni by name when he says "we or an angel."

The Bible claims that the gospel preached by the apostles is the one and only gospel message to ever be preached. However, fundamental to the Book of Mormon's existence, Smith claims a "restored" gospel is found in a book made known to him by an angelic being.

The Book of Mormon Asks Its Reader to Pray About Its Truthfulness

If you've ever been visited by LDS missionaries, then you may have been asked to prayerfully consider whether the Book of Mormon was true. This invitation is usually drawn from the Book of Mormon itself.

"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things." – Moroni 10:4–5

The Bible, however, makes no such claim. It does not feel the need to invoke a religious experience in order to persuade the reader of its authority or trustworthiness. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Bible clearly indicates that the heart is not to be trusted in such matters.

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" – Jeremiah 17:9

The Bible never challenges the reader to invoke religious experience to verify its trustworthiness. The Book of Mormon, however, clearly feels an additional witness is required aside from its own message.

Salvation Comes "After All We Can Do"

In Mormon thought, justification comes primarily by faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, there is an additional element to our justification – works. 2 Nephi 25:23 (Book of Mormon) sucinctly presents this idea, "For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." Were in not for the phrase after all we can do there would be no contention between the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

However, adding works to our justification is a wholly foreign concept to the Bible. Most notably, Paul adamantly argues, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." – Ephesians 2:8–9

As far as justification is concerned, the Bible sees no room for the Book of Mormon's addition of after all we can do. We are saved by faith alone through grace alone – nothing more, nothing less.

Of course, one could argue that this is entirely up to one's personal interpretation, that religious experience can draw us to a truthful understanding of this verse. It should also be known that 2 Nephi was supposedly written 600BC, when the relationship between law and grace were still a mystery. Regardless, it seems the author's original intent was a radical departure from grace-based justification in order to introduce a form of obedience into salvation.

The Bible contends for justification by faith and grace alone. The Book of Mormon, however, seems to indicate an additional requirement for works to one's faith.

Why Theses Differences Matter

The differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible are significant. The Book of Mormon neither compliments nor completes the Bible since the two do not cohere to a unified message, especially of the doctrine of salvation. For this reason, we must either reject the Bible as incomplete or the Book of Mormon as false.

This is why such differences matter. If the Book of Mormon is not a restoration of the gospel, then we must conclude that its message does damage to the gospel and must be rejected.

The 3 A's of Apologetics

3a

Apologetics is the art of defending the Christian faith from objection, criticism, and scrutiny. As followers of Christ, Peter gives us wonderful counsel on every believer's participation in apologetics.

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” - 1Pe 3:15

For the concept of ‘giving an answer’ in this passage Peter chooses the word apologia. And it means just that – to give an answer or to make a defense. The defense we make is for Christianity’s place as the only salvation–providing faith, Jesus’ place as the only messiah and savior, and why there is only one God.

Have you ever been told by someone that Jesus is not the only means of salvation or that other ways besides Jesus exist to connect with God? What was your response? If you responded by defending Jesus’ rightful position as the one and only mediator between God and humanity, you made an apologetic argument. You made a defense.

So how do we use apologetics biblically? We simply need to remember three words – always, answer, anyone. In so many words, Peter summarizes the concept of apologia as ‘always answer anyone.’ These are the Three A’s of Apologetics; always being the time, answer being the method, and anyone being the target audience.

ALWAYS

"Always be prepared..."

There is never a time when it is okay to be unprepared, unwilling, or disinclined to defend the person and work of Jesus. Defending the faith is for all seasons and times. This is why Peter says we should always be prepared. The liberation in this is that we do not have to attend Bible college, seminary, or read apologetics blogs to be ready to defend the faith. Although these things are good, they aren’t necessary.

Additionally, the idea that a person needs a seminary degree to engage in apologetics is another factor that tends to make Christians shy away. Peter tears down any wall built by the lie that Christians must be highly educated individuals to participate in apologetic evangelism. Always means just that – always.

Regardless of our life, education, intelligence, social standing, or maturity in Christ, we should always be ready to defend the gospel. Now, if we are called to always defend the gospel, how is it we are supposed to go about defending it?

ANSWER

...to give and answer..."

As Christians defending the faith we are called to always answer questions or objections about Jesus. It is important to realize that when Peter tells us we must answer for the hope that is in us, this implies that people will ask. As Christians, people will inevitably ask about what we believe and why we believe it, which is the hope that is in us. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when.

If our life is bearing spiritual fruit, people are going to ask who the gardener is. Followers of Jesus are like cities on hills in the night. People are going to ask what makes our life different from theirs. That’s the opportunity of evangelism we live for. When they ask, we need to be ready. And as Peter suggests, that seems to be always.

ANYONE

"...to everyone (anyone) who asks..."

The door of apologetics is open to anyone. The type of people we defend the Christian faith against do not necessarily need to be anarchist street punks with a copy of a New Atheist’s latest dribble about how they didn’t like church services as an 8–year–old kid and there were Crusades. They can be everyone and anyone.

Perhaps a Christian friend of yours needs encouragement by hearing a good, solid argument for the deity of Christ. But of course, on the opposite side of the table, apologetics might be used to provide information to unbelievers to further convict the conscience and guide the person to Jesus. It can truly be anyone.

It is good to remember as well that anyone can mean we will be sharing the gospel with people from all different cultures, backgrounds, and presuppositions. This is especially true with members of other religions. Therefore, it’s important to accommodate our conversations to their needs, not ours.

Listen to what they believe, ask them why they believe it, and then present them with the gospel based on their background. Never make assumptions about what they believe and why they believe it. Anyone is just about as wide as a demographic can get, so we must be careful not to lock ourselves into evangelizing based on our own stereotypes.

(Based on an excerpt from the book Robot Jesus And Three Other Jesuses You Never Knew)

Did Roman Aristocrats Fabricate the Jesus Story?

covert

An article has been floating around the internet about Joseph Atwill's upcoming event "Covert Messiah" taking place in London this week. Atwill maintains a theory that the Flavian dynasty (a Roman aristocratic family) fabricated the Jesus narrative as an attempt to quell Jewish rebellion in Palestine during Rome's occupation of the land in the first centuries. Instead of continuing a costly military campaign, the Roman government decided to wage "psychological warfare" in the form of inventing Christianity.

The event this week will most likely follow the same flow of thought found in Atwill's work "Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus." In it, Atwill, a self-proclaimed "successful businessman" and "long-time student of Christianity", lays out a lengthy argument that the Flavian aristocrats "created [Christianity] to serve as a theological barrier to prevent messianic Judaism from again erupting against the empire (Atwill, 333.)" Additionally, he argues that the Gospels were created as a satire of Titus' military campaign throughout Judea.

So, does he have a point? Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the Jesus story in order to pacify the rebellious Jews? There are some major assumptions in Atwill's work that must hold true in order for his theory to work. Let's look just six of them.

1. The Entire New Testament Was Fabricated in Support of the Jesus Myth

In order for Atwill's theory to be correct, the Flavian intellectuals would have needed to fabricate four different Gospel accounts (not including the pseudepigrapha) along with the Epistles, one history book, and a prophetic vision of the future.

This seems highly unlikely. The New Testament is a library of an array of voices, literary types, writing styles, and intellectual expressions. It is apparent that they were written by different authors at different times with different messages in mind. A consistent and fabricated theme is simply not found in the New Testament.

2. A Handful of Parallels Out of Dozens of Narratives Are Sufficient Evidence for Fabrication

Atwill gives a handful of parallels out of dozens of narratives found in the New Testament as proof of a Jesus–Titus parallel connection.

One would expect many parallels between Jesus and Titus to exist in order for Atwill to make such an astonishing claim. However, that's not the case. In fact, when you get into his book there are only seven major parallels (as far as his conclusion is concerned – Atwill, 336-337). Seven parallels out of dozens of episodes in Jesus' life. That does not seem like enough evidence to warrant the conclusion that the entire New Testament was fabricated in support of the Jesus myth.

3. The Pacification of the Jews Was Accomplished Through The Demolition of Their Religion

The Flavian aristocrats must have believed that changing the Jewish religion to Christianity would help pacify them.

This seems highly unlikely. Many foreign cultures attempted to stamp out the Jewish religion, which they saw as a source of rebellion. As history shows, that never worked. The Greeks attempted to replace Jewish culture with their own (Hellenism), but that failed. The Romans attempted to replace Jewish government with their own government, but that also failed (until well after Jesus' life).

Furthermore, we see in the Book of Acts that the early Christian church caused all sorts of problems with the Jewish community. How was this supposed to quell Jewish rebellion?

4. The Romans Traded Warfare for Philosophy

The Romans, who were incredible military strategists, would have cast aside what they were good at for something they weren't.

If there was one thing Rome did well it was warfare. Philosophy, on the other hand, didn't come naturally. They borrowed much of their thinking from Greek culture and expounded on it. It seems unlikely that the Romans, after decades of trying to suppress the Jews, would give up militarily and give "psychological warfare" a try.

siege

5. Atwill Is the First Guy to Make This Discovery in 2,000 Years

No one in 2,000 years has made a Jesus–Titus connection until Joseph Atwill.

Atwill is claiming that he discovered something that thousands and thousands of scholars have over looked for the past 2,000 years. Well... if anything, at least his hubris is in check.

Also, Atwill is not in good company. Jesus mythicists have not found many friends in the academic community. Even New Testament critics such as Bart Ehrman believe Jesus was real person.

6. The Romans Fabricated A Story, Then Persecuted People for Believing It

Roman persecution plagued the early church for believing in something the Romans made up.

This makes no sense at all. Why would the Roman government fabricate a religion, trick everyone into believing it, and then punish them for believing it?

CONCLUSION

Atwill sees parallels where parallels don't exist. He gathers a small pile of questionable evidence and heralds it as a mountain of condemnation for Christianity. He does this alone, having been the only person in 2,000 years to make such connections, but rarely questions why he's the only one who came to the conclusions that he has.

Unfortunately, many people will buy what this self-described "successful businessman" is selling them, which is a convenient lie to disbelieve in the savior who loves them. And by selling I mean literally selling. The cost to hear Atwill share his rocky logic is $40.00 (£25) a ticket. The market is demanding reasons to disbelieve Jesus and Atwill is willing to supply that demand.

Perhaps he should change his seminar's title to "Covert Me$$iah"

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Joseph Atwill, Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus (Berkeley, Cali.: Ulysses Press, 2009).

Associate Contributor: Alan Reynolds (@walanreynolds)

Why Ray Comfort's "Evolution vs. God" Isn't Actually That Helpful

Livingwaters.com

Recently, Ray Comfort released a documentary titled "Evolution vs. God: Shaking the Foundations of Faith." Comfort, an ardent proponent of young earth creationism (YEC), which promotes biblical literalism concerning Genesis 1–3, created the video in hopes of instilling doubt in the minds of the general public about the trustworthiness of evolution.

Presumably, the hope behind such a documentary would seek to bolster the trustworthiness of scripture for evangelism purposes. Having viewed it a few times, there is no doubt in my mind that Comfort is well-intentioned; however, I believe this video is not actually that helpful to the greater Science v. Faith public dialogue.

To be sure, Evolution vs. God will most likely not turn many heads. A quick scan across the internet reveals that it has already become the laughing stock of the non-theist community – a moot point, of course. Yet it is the other audience viewing the video, the Christians, who may well receive a false hope that Comfort's documentary is an extremely effective tool for the gospel.

Why? Because Evolution vs. God just isn't really that helpful whether you're a YEC, intelligent design proponent, theistic evolutionist, or any other flavor of theistic creationism. It is unhelpful because it is poorly executed and falsely advertised as having accomplished something it has not.

GOTCHA JOURNALISM

So what's the big deal? Why isn't this video helpful? Two words: gotcha journalism. Unfortunately, Comfort's video is a classic example of it.

Throughout the entire video, Comfort interviews students and university professors about their belief in evolution. He repeatedly commits that most notorious of philosophical fallacies, appeal to authority, by supposedly stumping evolutionary experts in their own fields of research.

The unspoken message comes across very clear – since studied evolutionists cannot provide observable evidence for evolution, it must be false. However, it should be observed that the authority Comfort appeals to isn't the best pool to draw from. Throughout the video, he speaks with 26 students (presumably undergraduates) while only speaking with 4 professional academics. Not to offend, but this may not be the best sample of evolutionists to draw conclusions from.

Not only this, but there were many students who weren't even biology majors. Some were geology, chemistry, bio-chemistry, environment science, and physics majors. Stumping a geology major in evolution does not disprove the theory, just as stumping a criminal justice major in theology doesn't disprove the existence of God.

(There was just something cringeworthy about watching Comfort question geology and physics majors about evolution, recording their confused reactions, and heralding it as a victory for creationism.)

Furthermore, when questioning his interviewees about evolution, Comfort devotes a substantially smaller amount of attention to professors or academics compared to students.  Obviously, students will not formulate the same calibre of responses that professors or academics will, and Comfort is well aware of this.

All this leads to a documentary full of gotcha journalism. It comes across as tacky, misleading and, frankly, ineffective. So, after watching a documentary laden with gotcha journalism, as Christians we should honestly ask the question, "How is this helpful for Jesus?"

BACK TO WHAT MATTERS

In my opinion, Comfort needs to get back to what matters – the gospel. Of course, he presents a version at the end of the documentary, but gets to the gospel only after wading through a thicket of loaded questions and, presumably, highly edited responses. (After all, we cannot know for sure the extent or persuasiveness to which the interviewees answered Comfort's questions.)

What Comfort is doing through Evolution vs. God is mirroring the same boorish tactics used by New Atheists in order to instill doubt in the minds of Christians. We complain about the ornery antagonism from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, but when it is done in reverse do we cheer? When Comfort corners an undergraduate geology major about the massive implications and issues surrounding evolution, do we not see the correlation of Harris broad stroking Christians are backwards, unthinking fools?

Comfort does apologetics evangelism an injustice with this documentary while heralding it as having shaken the foundations of faith in evolution. The formula we should engage in does not start with "debunking" evolution. What matters in sharing the gospel isn't trying to "disprove" evolution outright.  Sharing the gospel is about getting straight to the point – starting at Jesus – and working your way outwards from there.

Watch "Evolution vs. God" here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0u3-2CGOMQ]