Thursday, August 02, 2012

A Random Thought about Mormonism

Each summer for the past several years I have spent some time witnessing to Mormons.  This necessarily involves some apologetics, which is not a part I particularly relish.  These days I am content being a teacher, not a debater.  But I am still just as passionate for truth.

I was reflecting this evening that while there is abundant external corroboration for the authors of the Biblical books, especially the New Testament, being historical persons, there is absolutely no external evidence for the existence of any of the authors of the various books contained in the Book of Mormon.  Mormons will counter that these "prophets" lived in the ancient Americas, not the Greco-Roman world, but that does not eliminate the problem that, unlike the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, there is no documentation anywhere outside the pages of the Book of Mormon that the figures contained in it (and the purported authors of its various books), as well as the church and civilization in which they supposedly lived, ever existed.

In contrast, the writers of the New Testament were known by and attested to by numerous witnesses.

Ignatius of Antioch (who was born sometimes between AD 35 to 50 and died sometime between AD 98 and 117), Tertullian (AD 160-225) and Irenaeus (AD 130-202), along with the later historian Eusebius of Caesarea (c. AD 263 – 339), all refer to Polycarp (AD 69-155), who was the second Bishop of Smyrna, as being a disciple of the Apostle John.

Irenaeus wrote,
I can tell the very place in which the blessed Polycarp used to sit when he preached his sermons, how he came in and went out, the manner of his life, what he looked like, the sermons he delivered to the people, and how he used to speak of his association with John and the others who had seen the Lord, how he would relate their words, and the things concerning the Lord he had heard from them, about His miracles, and teachings. Polycarp had received all this from eyewitnesses of the Word of life, and related all these things in accordance with the Scriptures.  I listened eagerly to these things at the time, by God’s mercy which was bestowed on me, and I made notes of them not on paper, but in my heart, and constantly by the grace of God I mediate on them faithfully.  (From Irenaeus, Against Heresies.)
Irenaeus was discipled by Polycarp who was discipled by John who was discipled by Jesus himself.

Here's another quotes from Irenaeus, Against Heresies concerning the source of the Gospel:
We have learned the plan of our salvation from none other than those through whom the gospel came down to us.  Indeed, they first preached the gospel, and afterwards, by the will of God, they handed it down to us in the Scriptures . . . Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church.  After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter.  Luke also, the companion of Paul, set down in a book the Gospel preached by him.  Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord who reclined at His bosom also published a Gospel, while he was residing at Ephesus in Asia. [3.1.1]
Irenaeus is the first writer to witness to all four Gospels being received as authentic and used in the churches.  His list of the books that had been accepted by the various churches was important in helping to establish the canon of the New Testament as we know it today.

Then there is the case of Clement of Rome.  According to Tertullian, Clement was consecrated by St. Peter, and he is known from a number of sources to have been a leading member of the church in Rome in the late 1st century.  Early church lists place him as the second or third bishop of Rome after the Apostle Peter. The Liber Pontificalis presents a list that makes Linus the second in the line of bishops of Rome, with Peter as first; but at the same time it states that Peter ordained two bishops, Linus and Cletus, for the priestly service of the community, devoting himself instead to prayer and preaching, and that it was to Clement that he entrusted the Church as a whole, appointing him as his successor.  Thus both the Liber Pontificalis and Tertullian name Clement as the immediate successor of Peter.  Clement asserts apostolic authority over the church in the tone of his letter to the Church in Corinth, in which he admonishes them regarding some of the same matters about which the Apostle Paul had written them in First and Second Corinthians.

Ignatius, mentioned above, was Bishop of Antioch after St. Peter and St. Evodius (who died around AD 67).  Theodoret (Dial. Immutab., I, iv, 33a) reported that Peter himself appointed Ignatius to the see of Antioch, making his apostolic succession even more immediate.  Ignatius was also a disciple of the Apostle John, thus he knew and was taught by at least two of Jesus' disciples.

Although only one of Polycarp's letters has survived (his letter to the Philippians), it seems that in this small letter he alludes to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1,2, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation—which is to say, all of the 27 books of the New Testament.

All of this history presents a second problem for Mormons.  Not only is there external corroboration that the authors (and apostles) of the the New Testament books actually existed, while there is none for the supposed authors of the books contained in the Book of Mormon, there is also evidence that these same writers who bear witness to the historicity of the New Testament apostles personally knew them and were discipled by them, and were appointed by the apostles as their successors.  This is in stark contrast to what Mormons teach regarding the Great Apostasy, which they believe began shortly after Jesus' ascension and continued until the Gospel was supposedly restored in the revelations given to Joseph Smith.

Then there is a third problem:  The early church, which Mormons claim fell into apostasy, is the same church responsible for choosing among the many false manuscripts that were in circulation (such as the gnostic writings, for instance) and producing the canon of the New Testament.

So on the one hand we have a church that can demonstrate that its early bishops personally knew, were taught by, and were ordained by the apostles of the New Testament and which is responsible for giving us the New Testament as we have it today.  And on the other hand, we have a book supposedly written by authors for whom there is no external evidence, that is the product of an ancient church in the Americas for which there is also no external evidence, supposedly written on golden plates that no longer exist. 

The Mormons I know are wonderful people, and I love them.  So I beg you who say you know Jesus Christ truly to "come unto Christ" by faith and turn from the false gospel of the Book of Mormon to the Jesus Christ of the New Testament because there is a difference, and the difference is a matter of eternal salvation.


The Underground Pewster said...

That all makes sense to me. Not being familiar with Mormon apologetics, it will be interesting to follow along to see if you get any responses.

ericfromnewyork said...

One additional problem, or an added detail to the above. Although an "argument from silence" is not necessarily dispositive, it is more persuasive no that, for the first time in many centuries, it is possible to actually read the histories of Meso-America in the original languages. We now know the names of kings and empires, regnal years and dates of battles, etc. All this was undreamed of when Joseph Smith was alive. He and his friends considered pre-Columbian history a blank slate upon which they could write anything they wanted, with no fear of contradiction.

michaelc said...

I was a member of the Mormon church for over thirty years. I had been raised in the Episcopal Church of old and left for the LDS when I was twenty.This was in 1966 so I missed most of what has happened within the Episcopal Church from then until years ago. The arguments you present about the Book of Mormon are very good and compelling. When you are in the Mormon church you are told to believe the truthfulness of the latter-day scriptures through faith. Doubt or questioning the truth of these works is frowned upon. In fact, questioning of any teaching of the church is grounds for being called before the local leaders for correction and a call to repent. You see there is no room for any differences in opinion or scrutiny of teachings because the Spirit of the Lord might open your heart to the truth that the LDS church is false. For thirty years I was led astray a dark spirit and was active within the Mormon faith. I came to believe that my decision to follow this religion was had been a grievous error on my part but the power of the adversary is very strong and he works however he might to keep people from following the Lord. The sad thing is that the LDS people are being led by well meaning but false prophets. After leaving the Mormons I wandered for thirteen years. My faith in God had been shaken and it took that long for my heart to soften and open to promptings from the Spirit to seek his church. I have found it in an Anglican parish in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. I am where I should be and I am so very thankful.

Singing Pilgrim said...

Hello, Robert, I found your blog today and am so glad. It is delightful to read your stand for Truth.