Greg Bahnsen’s Critique of Mormonism

Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture series, Biblical Introduction to Apologetics, and revision of my friend’s transcript.

It’s been demonstrated from the county records of Bainbridge, NY, that prior to claiming to be a prophet and founding the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith was tried and convicted as “Joseph Smith the glass looker.” A glass looker was a con-artist who looked into an object, such as a crystal ball, glass bottle, hat etc., and pretended to be able to find hidden treasure, look into the future, or see into the spirit world in return for money. In Joseph Smith’s case, he looked into his hat and pretended to be able see where treasure was buried. He also looked through a peep stone to find good places to dig wells. Smith admitted to having done this in both of his trials in 1826 & 1830. His defense was that he never sought out customers, rather he was approached by customers instead, however, this was dis-proven.

Joseph Smith Jr. was born in 1805 in Vermont. His family settled in Palmyra, New York when he was 11. He did not join the Presbyterian church when his family did a few years later. He was perplexed as to which denomination to join, so he went to the woods to pray at the age of 14. Allegedly two personages appeared to him in the woods, and one said “This is my beloved son, hear him” . Joseph Smith was told to join no church since they were all corrupt, and their creeds were an abomination. In September of 1823, he had another vision which was repeated twice in the same night. Moroni (messenger of God’s presence) came to his bedside and said God had work for Joseph Smith to do. Morini said that a book that was written on golden plates, giving an account of former inhabitants of North America, and the gospel that Jesus preached to these ancient inhabitants, were deposited on a hill outside his village. The next day, Joseph Smith went out and found them in a stone box with the urim and thummim. He couldn’t take them with him, but he was to return to the same place, on the same day of the week, for the next four years. Finally, in 1847, he was given them for safekeeping. Several months before this, he ran away in love with a woman named Emma Hale of Harmony, Pennsylvania, because her father had refused to consent to a marriage with a peep stoner. Later, he returned to his father-in-law’s house due to persecution he was facing, where he began copying characters and translating those by means of the urim and thummim. Martin Harris, who was a New York farmer, proposed to publish the book that Joseph Smith was writing, but he wanted assurance that the plates from which Joseph Smith was translating were genuine, and that they were being properly translated. Smith gave the copied characters and translation, which he said was in reformed Egyptian, to Harris, who allegedly had them confirmed by a certain professor, Charles Anton, in New York City. What he confirmed is that those characters were Egyptian, Chaldean, Syriac, & Arabic.

In 1829 a former schoolteacher, Oliver Cowdrey, became a writing assistant as Smith was translating. Cowdrey was not allowed to see the plates. They had to put up a sheet with Smith on one side doing the translating, and Cowdrey on the other side writing down what Smith said. A month later they went to the woods to pray and were conferred with the priesthood of Aaron by John the Baptist, who descended as a heavenly messenger. They then began to prophesy and understand the Scriptures. Later Peter, James, and John conferred the Melchizedek priesthood on them at the banks of the Susquehanna River. On March 26, 1830 the book of Mormon finally went on sale. On April 6 the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints was officially organized and incorporated. At first they had six members, and within a month they had 40 members. They did missionary work among the Indians in Kirtland, Ohio, and it was at this point that it is said that Joseph Smith received the revelation of the Doctrine and Covenants. He also revised the King James version of the Bible. Then he received a revelation that Jackson County, Missouri was “the land of promise and the place for the city of Zion” . For that reason many followers settled in the city of Independence, Missouri. However, mobs attacked them, which led them to change to the city of Far West, Missouri. The state militia intervened after a number of battles between settlers and the Mormons. Smith and a few other Mormon leaders were imprisoned. They escaped, and then moved to Illinois. In 1839 the city of Nauvoo, on the Mississippi River, was founded. The “Nauvoo legion” (a small standing army) was organized, and when an anti-Mormon newspaper published material that was unfavorable to the Mormons, Joseph Smith ordered the press to be destroyed and its copies burned. The complaint was brought to the governor of the state, and this led to Smith’s arrest. He was later released and then later rearrested with his brother. A mob attacked the jail in Carthage, Illinois and he was killed.

After that, there was a struggle for leadership within the Mormon church. That struggle was won by Brigham Young, who became president of the “12 apostles” . In February of 1846 the state of Illinois expelled the Mormons. They left and had a very troubled journey, and finally in July of 1847 they founded the city of Salt Lake in Utah. In 1877, when Brigham Young died, there were 144,000 Mormons. In 1962 there were about 2 million Mormons.

Why was there such violent reaction against the Mormons? There is a counterfeiting interpretation of the reality of the plates that Joseph Smith used, and then there’s a religious interpretation of them. Joseph Smith advocated polygamy, which was an abominable teaching to all the Christian sects. In Joseph Smith’s time Mormons were a very violent people. I read a book that described in great detail the story of the massacre that was ordered by the Mormons of some travelers through the state of Utah, because those travelers were coming from a state were Mormons were persecuted.

What is the authority for their teaching?
Article 8 of their Articles of Faith says “We believe the Bible to be the word of God insofar as it is translated correctly” . What that really means is that it’s not going to be an objective matter of linguistic translation; according to them it’s going to have to be their group that does the translating. According to them, the book of Mormon’s translation is inspired. “We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God” . Do you notice that there is no reservation given as to the book of Mormon’s translation? They believe that Joseph Smith was inspired when he translated, and that that kind of puts it one step ahead of the Bible, because there is no inspired translation of the Bible. But Smith’s translation of the Bible is far more than a corrected version of the Bible. In fact, his version of the Bible is a simple rewriting of it in the light of his new “revelations”. Genesis 3 now includes Satan’s offer to God to redeem mankind, and his subsequent rebellion. Genesis 6 now includes Adam’s baptism by immersion. There’s a long prophecy given by Enoch. Smith’s translation of Genesis says that man’s ability to propagate sexually rests on his fall into sin. And in the 50th chapter of Genesis, we have the prediction of the future appearance of Joseph Smith in his “translation” of the book of Genesis.

The book of Mormon gives the account of two great waves of immigration to the American continents. The first is the Jaredites, who supposedly came here about 2250, BC. from around the tower of Babel in eight barges. But after a savage battle in Central America there were only two survivors who recorded the history and then died. You’re going to ask yourself “Well, what happened to the Jaredites? Why are we being told all this stuff?” Later on it would be shown that Joseph Smith has plagiarized these stories from the novels of other writers. And then there’s the story of Lehi and his descendents. Lehi was supposedly a Jewish prophet of the tribe of Manasseh around 600 BC, who was forced to leave Jerusalem due to persecution arising from his indictment of the wickedness around him and his prediction of destruction coming from God. So he went to the Red Sea area. His sons were sent back to get brass plates of the Pentateuch, various prophecies, and Lehi’s genealogy, all recorded on breastplates. His son Nephi build a ship in response to divine revelation, and he and his cohorts landed on the coast of South America. Here we see a problem already in the story. They couldn’t have gotten to the coast of South America from the Red Sea. Laman was the son of Lehi, and Laman was rebellious and his skin was turned black by the Lord (Mormons claim that dark skin is the Mark of Cain, and that all of Cain’s descendents have dark skin. This is where they claim the African race came from). Nephi was made king by others who came to South America. They migrated to central, and then North America. According to Nephi’s prophecies, Jesus Christ came to the earth in A.D. 34. He prescribed baptism by immersion, he called 12 disciples, he instituted red wine, and gave the sermon on the Mount. After this prophecy by Nephi, all were converted and peace ensued between the Lamanites and Nephites. A period of hostility later arose, and then constant warfare, and then in 385 A.D., the final battle took place at the hill Cumora in what is now New York state. All of the fighters were killed except for one by the name of Moroni, whose father was named Mormon. The next time someone asks why they’re called Mormons, you can remember that it’s because Mormon was the father of Moroni, who was the one guy who was left after that battle. Mormon had been recording the history of the Nephites on Golden plates. This process began with Nephi himself and was carried on by other Nephite historians. Mormon summarized the secular history from the large plates, and added an entire spiritual history on the smaller plates, and then hid them in that hill prior to the battle.

Later his son Moroni added the books Ether and Moroni and, in 421, reburied them. 1400 years later Moroni, who has now been changed into an angel, appeared to Joseph Smith, who later said “I told the brethren that the book of Mormon was the most correct book on the earth and the keystone of our religion, and that a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book” . The distinctive doctrinal teachings of the Mormons are found in their translation of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Many of the prophecies that Joseph Smith gave are about rather mundane things. One of them says “Harris pay the printer” . He also gave revelations about houses in Ohio. In revelation 132 of Doctrine and Covenants Smith claims that his wife was under orders by God to receive Smith’s additional wives on pain of eternal destruction. Doctrine and Covenants teaches baptism for the dead, celestial marriage, and polygamy. The Pearl of Great Price contains what is called the book of Moses, covering Genesis 1-6 in Smith’s “inspired” version of it, and also the book of Abraham, which teaches polytheism (the belief in many gods), the preexistence of souls, the plan of God to prepare an earth for these souls, a plan for their probation, the organization of pre-existent matter for forming the heavens and the earth, and, for some reason, Matthew chapter 24 in Joseph Smith’s “translation” of the King James version (KJV). There’s also a History of Joseph Smith and the Articles of Faith. Mormons believe that further revelation can be given through the church president. Since the book of Mormon claims to take the Bible and expand on it, what tests are we going to apply? The tests of Deuteronomy 13 and 18. If a prophet comes speaking a new revelation, what he says is going to happen must come true, but beyond that, what he says must be in conformity to previous revelation. I’m now going to try to prove that Mormon doctrine contradicts the Bible. According to Mormons there are a plurality of gods. Each god has his own universe, and yes it is his own universe. Women who engage in celestial marriage will have the privilege of bearing children for all eternity; that’s what they’re good for on Mormonism. And these baby souls that they bear will then come into human bodies that they are provided. It turns out that the name of the God of this world is Adam according to Brigham Young. And all gods are material, rather than spiritual, beings, and gods undergo change. Does the Bible teach that God is a material being? “God is a spirit” according to Jesus (John 14:24), and spirits don’t have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). Does God change? Jehovah declares “I change not. That’s why you are not consumed, O house of Israel.” (Malachi 3:6). Is Adam the God of this world according to the Bible? In the Journal of Discourses 1:50-51, dated April 9th, 1852, in, Brigham Young said….“When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is Michael, the Archangel, the Ancient of Days! about whom holy men have written and spoken— He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later……….When the Virgin Mary conceived the child Jesus, the Father had begotten him in his own likeness. He was not begotten by the Holy Ghost. And who is the Father? He is the first of the human family; and when he took a tabernacle, it was begotten by his Father in heaven, after the same manner as the tabernacles of Cain, Abel, and the rest of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve; from the fruits of the earth, the first earthly tabernacles were originated by the Father, and so on in succession………..It is true that the earth was organized by three distinct
characters, namely, Eloheim, Yahovah, and Michael, these three forming a quorum, as in all heavenly bodies, and in organizing element, perfectly represented in the Deity, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Okay, so there’s Elohim, Yahweh, and Michael, who also is the Holy Ghost, who also is Adam, who also is the one who impregnated Mary the mother of Jesus.

“Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. Now, let all who may hear these doctrines, pause before they make light of them, or treat them with indifference, for they will prove their salvation or damnation.”

If you don’t believe this you’re going to be damned, according to Brigham Young. Is any of this consistent with the Bible?

Try to find an original edition of the book of Mormon. The Mormons have done a very good job of destroying all the originals. And not only that but there have been many of revisions since then, because though they claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book ever written, and inspired of God, it nevertheless ended up saying some things that were very embarrassing to them. Joseph Smith claimed that when he looked into his peep stone he could see people, who dressed like Quakers, grew to about 12 feet tall, and who lived to be about 1000 years old, living on the moon. The book of Mormon made a number of claims that were really outlandish, but you won’t find them in the later editions. So my guess is that they’ve been destroying the older copies and cleaning up the text to make the Mormon religion look better.

Mormon Doctrine #1: Mormon view of Christ: According to them Christ is not equal with the Father. He is the Messiah, but was not begotten by the Holy Spirit. And they believe that Christ is our Messiah because he was a polygamist. No one would know that until they read Mormon literature.

#2: Holy Spirit: They claim the Holy Spirit is not a person, and is not equal to the Father.

#3: Man: The Mormon doctrine of man is that man can become God–indeed, that men are “God’s in embryo”. If you engage in celestial marriage and be a good Mormon, then eventually you can become God and have your own universe. You can almost see crass car salesman ads “Have your own universe! Join our group!” That’s what they promise man.

#4: Salvation: The Mormon doctrine of salvation is that you must accept the teachings of Joseph Smith, his books, and his revelations.

#5: Atonement: The atonement provided by Christ covered only Original Sin (the sin of Adam). We will be saved through baptism. Some of your relatives who didn’t have the advantage of this revelation have died, and you can be baptized for the dead so that they can be saved as well. They believe that when we are baptized we are regenerated (that is, baptismal regeneration).

#6: Marriage: They are polygamists with respect to marriage, and there are two kinds of marriage for Mormons. Marriage in the Temple, if you’re deemed temple-worthy (a sealed marriage, which is binding for eternity), and then marriage outside of the Temple, which is a simple marriage having no eternal consequences.

This all comes down to the credibility of the book of Mormon. There are many, numerous, contradictions with the Bible in the book of Mormon. The biggest one is that there are many gods, that God is a material being, and that you can become a God.
1.) The Bible teaches that any prophet that comes must teach things that do not contradict God’s previous revelation given in the Bible, but rather accord with it. Mormons claim that the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are further revelations of the God of the Bible, but contrary to the Bible, teach such things as (a) that there are more than one God & and (b) that each God has his own universe, (c) that men can become Gods and in fact are Gods in embryo, (d) that Gods are physical, rather than spiritual, beings and undergo change, (e) that the atonement provided by Christ covers only original sin, and that we must be saved by baptism and works, and (f) that we can be baptized for the dead. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses 1:50-51, claimed that Adam was God and denied the Trinity etc. Mormons claim that that was just Young’s personal opinion, but Young stated that the Adam-God claim came directly from God and that those who don’t believe his teaching would be damned.
2.) The Bible came to us in the common languages of the recipients of it (Hebrew & Greek), yet the Book of Mormon was given in a language that no one is able to understand or translate without another miracle. BoM 9:32 says that reformed Egyptian (the alleged language in which supposedly the BoM was originally written) is not a human language. There are no manuscript copies for scholars to study and discuss, (by the way, we have thousands of copies of the Bible, in part or in whole, for comparison and so forth). It comes down to taking one man’s word for the existence of reformed Egyptian, much less a miraculous and inerrant translation of it. Why would God go to the trouble of revealing Himself in a language which couldn’t have lexicons and grammars, and which had to be translated? Why didn’t he just give it in a translated language? Why the double miracle? Why would God go to the unnecessary miracle of teaching Nephi, a Jew in Jerusalem, Egyptian?
3.) Since, in Mormonism, all the creeds of the churches were wrong, and all the churches were an abomination, I think we would especially expect God to send the revelation that corrects these things in an easily understandable language available for checking in the original. BoM 9:33 admits that Hebrew would have been more perfect, but the golden plates weren’t large enough for the Hebrew script. Why, then, didn’t God make bigger plates? Why would He restrict Himself to such small plates? These are obvious questions.
4.) We have no other instance of writing on metal plates from antiquity, yet allegedly the entire Old Testament was put on brass plates in about 600 B.C.
5.) Mormons claim that Joseph Smith was inspired when he allegedly translated the BoM, it therefore must be inherent and self authoritative, yet it has had numerous changes made to since it was originally published in 1830. Example: In the 1st edition of it, the lamb of God was associated with the Father, rather than with the Son.
6.) Mormons claim in the Pearl of Great Price to have gone to a linguistic scholar in NY (Charles Anthon) whom they claim confirmed the language of reformed Egyptian, (though Anthon denied it) yet the BoM 9:34 states that no one knows that language. According to their own book, no one could be in a position to know that language. How, then, could Anthon, who wasn’t even a Mormon, know that language as the Mormons claim?
7.) When I bring all this information to Mormons, the thing that impresses me is that without fail, they always bring it down to the credibility of Joseph Smith. Here’s an example of how the Christian might counter this move:
Christian: The Bible says this….
Mormon: Yes, but your Bible’s not translated correctly.
Christian: The book of Mormon has all these problems….
Mormon: Yes, but Joseph Smith has integrity, so you have to believe him. He’s the prophet of God.”
Christian: So what you’re saying is that I have to rest my eternal salvation on the credibility of a man, the only man, who saw and can translate a language that nobody else has access to, that God did not show to the human race for 1400 years, for some strange reason, and appears to contradict everything that we know in terms of the doctrine of God taught in the Bible? It all comes down to the Book of Mormon and the credibility of Joseph Smith?
Mormon: Yes, and I trust him.
Christian: The court records of Bainbridge, NY show that in the very year he started the new religion he had been convicted of being a con man, which he himself confessed to. Would you like to entrust your eternal salvation to a person who claimed to be the prophet of God after being a peep stoner?
8.) Sometimes Mormons (or Mormon sympathizers) respond to arguments by stating that the LDS church does a lot of good deeds. You can give the straight “It really doesn’t matter how good they are, they still don’t have the truth” line, but you’ll need something more persuasive. Reflect on this instead: you can tell them….
Christian: If you were the father of lies, and you wanted to persuade people to follow the lie, would you have the lie attended by notoriously wicked things, or by things that look outwardly pious and good? Which is going to be the most deceptive way to poison people theologically? The Bible says that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

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