During the past eight months or so, I have spent most of the time I have available for individual research and writing to communicate with others about the 2016 United States election and campaigns. Now that the election and its immediate aftermath is over, I can finally return to writing about my faith…which is much more pleasant. So, here goes.
Over a year ago, I sat on an airplane for several hours beside a young man named Seth VanderVlucht. Seth loves the Savior and was direct and strong in his witness of Jesus Christ. He told me how Christ had changed his life—how Seth has become bold in his testimony of Christ. I in turned witnessed to him of my faith, and in particular, about the Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ and how its message of Jesus Christ had changed the entire direction my life has taken.
It was a wonderful conversation. May God bless my brother Seth as he continues to witness for Christ.
Seth told me about two books that he had found very helpful in developing his faith. The books are “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell (1977 edition) and “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel (1998 edition). I bought both books and read them carefully—in fact I read them both three times. Both are well worth reading. I recommend them to you.
I do have one caveat. On page 114 Strobel unfortunately does not apply the same standard of fairness and equity to Mormons and Mormon teachings that he properly insists we all should apply to Christ and Christian teachings. That standard is that you let the interested party or parties speak for themselves.
Strobel does not do that with the Book of Mormon. In about a half a page Strobel dismisses and comes close to ridiculing the claims of the Book of Mormon. But he does not give any Mormons a chance to speak in defense of the Book of Mormon.
Unless we allow others to speak for themselves, and do not try to speak for them about their faith, we are in grave danger of violating the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Apparently it is easier to demand that the things we hold dear receive fair treatment than it is for us to insist on fair treatment for others with whom we may disagree.
But apart from that, Strobel’s book is very good.
As I read these books I noted a number of common themes or parallels between the experiences of Joseph Smith and the early Mormon leaders, and the experiences of Christ and his early disciples.
I am NOT saying that Jesus and Joseph Smith are equivalent. Joseph Smith was and always claimed to be nothing more than a prophet sent by Jesus Christ. As a disciple of Christ, Joseph could expect to be, and actually was treated as Christ was treated. These words of Christ are prophetic and appropriate for Joseph Smith.
Matthew 10: 24-25 The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?
Strobel and McDowell applied a number of tests to Christ, Christ’s message and Christ’s followers. These same tests can be applied to Joseph Smith, a modern prophet sent by Jesus Christ. There are also many important parallels. This blog post will summarize just a few of the parallels and tests. There are many, many more parallels that I do not cover.
Again, I urge you to read both books. I am sure that faithful and reasonably well-informed Latter-day Saints will see many of these parallels.
I will first discuss a few examples from McDowell’s book, and then a few from Strobel’s book.
Josh McDowell “More Than a Carpenter” 1977 edition.
Pg. 17 “did they [the Jews] stop to consider whether his claims were true or not?”
Like Jesus, Joseph was killed first and foremost because of his testimony, his unwavering claim that God had sent him. Because of this claim, Joseph suffered the same fate as did many of the ancient prophets. As Christ said:
Luke 13: 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Like Jesus, Joseph Smith was accused of blasphemy and murdered for it. Like Jesus, Joseph Smith was not guilty of any crime. (Joseph was jailed 47 times, but never convicted of any crime.) Like Jesus, Joseph was killed to satisfy the blood lust of a mob. Like Jesus, Joseph was given over to the mob by a corrupt and weak governor who knew Jesus (Joseph) was innocent of any crime: Pontius Pilate in the case of Christ and Governor Thomas Ford in the case of Joseph Smith.
Both Christ and his servant Joseph did many wonderful works to provide evidence that their claims were true. Among these, I believe the Book of Mormon to be one of the most important evidences of the truthfulness of Joseph’s claim to be a prophet. Anyone can test that claim by sincerely reading and pondering the Book of Mormon for himself and then asking the question: “Does this book come from God or is it an invention, a work of fiction, a lie?”
Pg. 60 “Who Would Die for a Lie?”
McDowell observes that history is “a knowledge of the past based upon testimony.”
He further states. “Christianity involves a knowledge of the past based upon testimony, so now we must ask, “Were the original oral testimonies about Jesus trustworthy?”… “I can trust the apostles’ testimonies because of those men, eleven died martrys’ deaths on the basis of two things: the resurrection of Christ and their belief in him as the Son of God.”
Likewise, “Mormonism” is a historical faith. We are asked to trust the testimonies of Joseph and Emma Smith, the Eight Witnesses, the Three Witnesses and many other formal and informal witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel. I believe we can trust these testimonies, as I have written in blog posts #18 and #19.
Why trust Joseph Smith?
I have many reasons for trusting Joseph. Here are a couple of them. If Joseph had been a false prophet, Joseph would have concealed the frequent rebukes he received from God. Joseph would not have included so much material that was embarrassing to Joseph personally. He would not have made up a religion that is so very demanding of its followers. He would not have made up so many difficult, often shocking doctrines, and other beliefs that are often difficult to explain.
After all that Martin Harris, in particular, had done to help him, Joseph would not have allowed Martin to be described as a “wicked man” (Doctrine and Covenants, 10:1, 7). Joseph certainly would not have rebuked many men and women so thoroughly.
Since Joseph did not leave out of the record what he could have easily left out, and which would have made his life easier if he had left it out, then I can trust him that the core of his message is also true. He did see the Father and the Son and that they did in fact speak to him.
Most of all, if Joseph Smith was a false prophet, he certainly knew it, and so did his beloved brother Hyrum. Along with Joseph, Hyrum died as a martyr on that June afternoon in 1844 in Carthage, Illinois.
Why would Joseph (and Hyrum) die for a lie, knowing it to be a lie?
I need to be very clear on this absolutely critical point. Joseph knew that he would have to seal his testimony with his own blood. He knew that he would die for his testimony of Christ, as a prophet sent by Christ in these latter days. Many people recorded the fact that Joseph prophesied his own death.
From the book “Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith” by Mark L. McConkie, here are just a few of these people who heard Joseph prophesy of his own death:
- Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (see pg. 149)
- John Neff (pg. 152)
- Bathsheba W. Smith (pg. 156)
- Joseph Smith (pg. 160)
- Brigham Young (pg. 172) (Brigham said that heard Joseph say many times “I shall not live until I am forty years of age”.) Joseph was martyred half way through his 38th
- Sarah T. Clark (pg. 198)
- David Lewis (pg. 327)
- Isaac C. Haight (pg. 380)
- Wandle Mace (pg. 387)
- Oliver B. Huntington (pg. 390)
- Wilford Woodruff (pg. 403)
So why would Joseph die for a lie? Why would he go forward knowing what awaited him?
Knowing it to be a lie, why would Joseph undergo all the poverty and persecutions and beatings and imprisonments he and Emma personally endured? Why would he see the people he loved driven from their homes again and again? Why would he stand by and see one of his own children and his own father die because of mob violence? Why would he see Mormon men and women murdered for their faith, Mormon women raped by the mob and his people beaten, assaulted and robbed time and again of all their belongings? Why?
Because Joseph knew it was not a lie. He really had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ, his beloved son. They really did call him as their witness and prophet in these latter days. And just as many of the ancient prophets were required to do, Joseph was required to give his life as a solemn witness of the truths he had taught.
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.
The intention test #1 “Was it the stated or implied intention of the witness to accurately preserve history?”
What is the intention of the Bible? Why was it written?
From the Bible: Luke 1:1-4 “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”
John 20:31 “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon claims to be factual history. The Book of Mormon traces the history of a family that left Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah under the direction of God. The Book of Mormon is not written as a mystical or allegorical book.
What is the intention of the Book of Mormon? The book itself answers that question, as does the Bible.
1 Nephi 6:4 “For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.”
The Book of Mormon teaches clearly that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is Jesus Christ (for example, see 1 Nephi 19:8). Thus the intention of the Book of Mormon and intention of the Bible are the same. Both books are written to persuade us to come to Jesus Christ, to have faith in him and be saved.
The Bias Test
Strobel also asks (pg. 50): Did the Gospel writers have any biases that would have colored their work? “Did they have any vested interest in skewing the material they were reporting on?”
Professor Craig L. Blomberg, a distinguished evangelical Christian scholar interviewed by Strobel, points out “these disciples (of Christ) had nothing to gain except criticism, ostracism and martyrdom. They certainly had nothing to win financially. If anything, this would have provided pressure to keep quiet, to deny Jesus, to downplay him, even to forget they ever met him—yet because of their integrity, they proclaimed what they saw, even when it meant suffering and death.”
Joseph Smith likewise bears witness to the integrity of the Latter-day Saints as they continued to proclaim what they had experienced, even when it meant poverty, suffering and often death. What did they gain?
“Where can we turn our eyes to behold such another? We contemplate a people who have embraced a system of religion, unpopular, and the adherence to which has brought upon them repeated persecutions. A people who, for their love to God, and attachment to His cause, have suffered hunger, nakedness, perils, and almost every privation. A people who, for the sake of their religion, have had to mourn the premature death of parents, husbands, wives, and children. A people who have preferred death to slavery and hypocrisy, and have honorably maintained their characters, and stood firm and immovable, in times that have tried men’s souls.”12
The Corroboration Test: A Faith Buttressed by Facts
Strobel also asks Blomberg, “When the gospels mention people, places and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified?” Blomberg then summarizes some of the archaeological evidence that corroborates the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament.
As an engineer/scientist evidence also matters to me. But I know that evidence by itself cannot compel or coerce belief. Faith is essential. (Faith also turns out to be essential to science, but that is a blog for another day.)
And people can and do simply refuse to consider the evidence that is right before them. In the New Testament, many people saw the miracles that Jesus did, heard his marvelous teachings, heard John the Baptist and many others bear witness of Christ and saw how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Old Testament prophets…and still refused to believe. They just chose to ignore the evidence.
Such behavior continues today in the case of Joseph Smith and his testimony of Christ.
As far as evidence is concerned, in previous blogs I have mentioned some of the people, places, events and other facts that have been independently verified with respect the revelations given to Joseph Smith.
These points of evidence include the extensive information on archaeology and the Book of Mormon. Recall that in earlier blogs, I have cited 47 specific cases in which what we now know of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are in perfect agreement. These were things not known in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was first published. Professor John Sorenson has noted 400 or so such correspondences.
I have also discussed the many human witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates and the divine calling of Joseph Smith.
Finally, the evidence I cited in past blogs also includes, to give only a few examples: the use of copper-gold alloys in Mesoamerica, the approximate surface area required to inscribe the plates, the use of Hebrew literary forms (eg, chiasmus) in the Book of Mormon, worlds that “pass away” (supernovae), the existence of matter that cannot be seen, that matter is eternal, steel bows, stone boxes, and a standard military unit of 50 men, to name just a few.
Sometime I expect to write blogs concerning other interesting evidence such as the authentic Arabian place name Nahom (in the Book of Mormon), the proper name Paanchi (an authentic Egyptian name in the Book of Mormon—how on earth did Joseph Smith guess THAT one!?), Joseph’s detailed and correct prophecy (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 87), almost thirty years before the fact, of the Civil War, that it would begin in South Carolina and that Great Britain would be asked to support the Southern States in that conflict. Following the Civil War, Joseph prophesied, war would be “poured out upon all nations”.
What a fitting description of the two world wars that consumed the first half of the 20th century. And, sadly, the wars that continue everywhere.
So, I believe that “Mormonism”, more accurately and correctly called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is also abundantly buttressed by facts.
I am going to close this blog with another correspondence, not well-known, between the Master, Jesus Christ, and his servant Joseph Smith.
The Bible states that the great prophet Moses was transfigured and that his face shone after meeting with God on mount Sinai (Exodus 34:9).
The transfiguration of Christ was even more pronounced, as recorded in Matthew 17:2. “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”
Like Moses, Joseph Smith was also transfigured on multiple occasions, as witnessed by various individuals cited in McConkie’s book.
- Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (see pg. 175)
- William H. Maughan (pg. 203)
- Wilford Woodruff (pg. 269)
- Brigham Young (pg. 282)
- Nancy N. Tracy (pg. 285)
Of these, Mary Lightner’s account is the most descriptive and extensive. She wrote “…there was a search light within him, over every part of his body. I never saw anything like it on the earth. I could not take my eyes off him: he got so white that anyone who saw him would have thought he was transparent. I remember I thought I could almost see the cheek bones through the flesh.”
Indeed, Joseph Smith, the prophet and servant of Jesus Christ, was like his Master in many ways.
I post this blog on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, and bear my witness that Jesus is our Savior, the Son of God. I love Him and strive to serve Him.
Because of what Joseph Smith did and taught I am able to worship and serve Christ more completely and more thoroughly and with greater understanding. For me, the service that Gina and I give in the Temple to redeem those who died without a knowledge of Christ or without essential ordinances such as baptism, is particularly satisfying to my soul.
Joseph Smith was a prophet of Jesus Christ in these the latter days.