Common Scriptures in Review: JSH 1:19

Ray Anti-Mormon, apologetics, apostasy, christianity, church, Culture, history, Jesus, Mormon, Priesthood, prophets, religion, restoration, scripture, theology 35 Comments

[NOTE: This post is slightly longer than normal, since I am commenting on multiple phrases and words throughout the verse in question. Please pardon the length; I couldn’t shorten it any more than I did – except to delete this disclaimer. *grin*]

Perhaps the most reviled verse among non-Mormon Christians in the entire Mormon scriptural canon is Joseph Smith History 1:19 – the words of Jesus to Joseph Smith at the beginning of the First Vision regarding why he should not join any church. This single verse encapsulates the reason why many call Mormonism arrogant and offensive and blind – and the misinterpretations of this verse by Mormons themselves only add fuel to this fire. So, I am breaking out my parser’s pen and dissecting what Jesus actually said and did not say: word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, concept-by-concept. It was a fascinating endeavor when I first undertook it, and it changed my perspective on The Restoration greatly.

First, the actual question Joesph asked (in verse 18) is:

I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right . . . and which I should join.

The entire passage (in verse 19) says:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

Now, let’s break this down concept-by-concept and focus on the key words in each concept, focusing on what the words themselves actually mean AT THEIR MOST BASIC LEVEL – rather than secondary definitions and other interpretations that have been postulated (both within and without the Mormon Church):

“I was answered that I (Joseph) must join none of them,”

(Joseph prayed explicitly about the Protestant sects of his area and which one HE should join. Perhaps this appears to be a minor point, but I believe it is important to put the prayer in context. Joseph was working from the core assumption that he should join a Protestant sect, and, looking back, it is clear from a faithful Mormon perspective that Joseph had a specific mission to perform in mortality within Christianity. Other religions weren’t a part of the equation, at all – and neither was Catholicism, according to his own writings. I wonder what response a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim would get with that exact same prayer – or if others might have specific missions to perform in mortality and receive different answers that will help them fulfill those missions, perhaps like Mother Teresa performing a wonderful work among the poor of Calcutta that would have been impossible as a Mormon. I don’t know, but parsing the text leads to interesting questions like these.)

“for they were all wrong;”

(At its most basic level, “wrong” simply means “not right” / “not correct” – or “out of order; awry; amiss”. Also, like with school tests, it often applies to answers that contain one or more elements that are not correct – even when most elements are correct. Thus “wrong” can mean 100% wrong or 1% wrong – or everything between those extremes. What “wrong” DOES NOT mean is “bad, evil, terrible, worthy of scorn, useless, etc.”)

“and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds

(A “creed” is “an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief.” The most common creeds referenced by those discussing this verse are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, but these creeds essentially were the Catholic Creeds of the early centuries. The Athanasian Creed had a strong impact on much of the Protestant theology that existed in Joseph Smith’s time, but there were other “Protestant creeds” (like the Westminster Confession of Faith) that rarely are considered in the context of this verse – and those Protestant creeds are every bit as relevant as the early Catholic Creeds. (I believe, more so) [The closest thing in Mormonism to “creeds” are The Articles of Faith.] What “creeds” DOES NOT mean is “general teachings, statements, beliefs, general principles, etc.” This means that much of what actually is taught in other sects is not addressed in this verse, only “their creeds”.)

“were an abomination in his sight

(Abomination means “anything greatly disliked, abhorred or loathed”. It is this word that is most “abominable, abhorred or loathed” by other Christians. However, when focused on the “creeds” [particularly in statements like the Westminster Confession], it is much easier to understand. Just a few examples are: hardcore Calvinist pre-destination that eliminates agency in all practical ways, the complete elimination of the Father as a separate being from Jesus, the incorporeal nature of God that led to a real and harmful loathing of the body and all things physical, the loss of all concept of eternal progression and exaltation, etc. There are more examples of creeds that truly would be abominable when viewed by Jesus [“in his sight”]. What this DOES NOT say is that everything taught by the other sects was an abomination. It leaves the door wide open for truth and beauty and goodness to be taught.

[Just as an aside, I find it fascinating to watch mainstream Protestantism move inexorably away from many of these creeds that were so strongly taught in Joseph’s day toward what is taught in Mormonism.])

“that THOSE professors” (“Professors” means “those who profess” – nothing more and nothing less. “Profess” means “claim, allege, purport, avow” – and there is a strong association with making claims as part of a “profession” from a position of authority. The critical distinction in this verse, however, is that “professors” is tied directly to the “creeds” – NOT even implicitly to other teachings that are not creedal. What this means is that “those professors” DOES NOT mean ALL “ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, members, believers, etc.” Rather, it means anyone who “professes those creeds” – who teaches the creeds from a position of authority – who teaches things that are abominations in Jesus’ sight – who teaches them as “creeds” [as unalterable, immutable, unquestionable]. It places as much weight on the intractability of the profession as it does on what is being professed – meaning it focuses on those who are closed to continuing revelation and stuck on abominable creeds of the past.

[In a very real way, but not exactly analogous due to not being “creeds”, it is like those who continue to espouse views from past Mormon leaders that have been abandoned or refuted by current leaders – like the justifications for the Priesthood ban that were repudiated by Elder McConkie shortly after the 1978 revelation lifting the ban or the continued practice of polygamy in the 21st Century.])

“were all corrupt;”

(At its most basic level, corrupt simply means “tainted; not pure”. If someone professes abominable creeds, those creeds inevitably will taint those who profess them. To me, this is perhaps the most logical assertion of all the statements in this verse. What this DOES NOT say is that these people are “evil, bad, insincere, conniving, manipulative, worthy of scorn, etc.” It actually says nothing about their motivation or desires; it only addresses the inherent stain of abominable creeds.)

“that:” (The following statements are the only ones that are attributed as a quote directly to Jesus – rather than Joseph’s summary in the first part of the verse.)

they draw near to me with their lips,” (“They” refers back to the “professors of the creeds”, who speak of Jesus. There is no other implication and no insult, condemnation or criticism inherent in this phrase.)

“but their hearts are far from me,” (This is a painful statement for many, but “heart” in this case does not mean the actual physical organ – and it does not have to mean “intent or desire”. The “heart” in this context is defined as the “vital or essential part” of something – what lies at the very core. In other words, the “essential part” of the “professors of the creeds” is far from Jesus. For example, the essential parts of the creeds melds Jesus into the Father, prays to Jesus (instead of to the Father in the name of the Son), refuses to accept His oft-repeated request to show their love through their acceptance of His commandments (“by their fruits”) and rejects individual agency and will by preaching predestination, etc. In summary, they use and preach his name but don’t promulgate his teachings. What this DOES NOT say is that ALL Christians fit this description. It is pointed ONLY at those who profess the creeds, and it is pointed only at their “hearts” [what they believe deep down as bedrock doctrine], not their lips [much of what they say and teach].)

they teach for doctrines the commandments of men,”

(This phrase equates those who profess the creeds with those who substitute human commands for doctrine. It DOES NOT apply to regular members of other sects, at all – OR to ministers, preachers, pastors or priests who teach doctrine from the scriptures themselves and don’t preach the creeds.)

“having a form of godliness,”

(“Form” means “structure, appearance, shape, etc.” Thus, those who profess the creeds teach something that is shaped like and appears to be godly.)

“but they deny the power thereof.”

(This is the clinching argument against the creeds – that they reject the power of godliness. That phrase alone deserves its own post, but suffice it to say here that the creed professors are not accused of denying Jesus; rather, they are accused of denying His power – what He, through his Atonement, is capable of doing. They are accused of claiming that He can’t do what He has said He will do, which is the most basic abomination of all. I addressed that central concept in two other posts – Praise, Honor and Glory Be to God & The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection.)

In summary, JSH 1:19 is a direct attack on the creeds of Joseph’s day (more so the newer Protestant ones than the older Catholic ones), defining the primary reason why he was told not to join any of them as being their profession of those creeds. The only people who are mentioned directly in any way are those who profess those creeds, and even these people are only described in terms of their acceptance of those creeds by which they are tainted. It says absolutely nothing about anyone or anything else, and it says nothing about the salvation of even the professors whose creeds it condemns.

At the most basic level, this verse has one message and only one message:

“The Protestant CREEDS are an abomination, and they taint all those who profess them.”

That certainly is harsh to those who profess the creeds, but it also says MUCH, MUCH, less than too many Mormons (and others) assume.

Comments

comments

Comments 35

  1. Awesome post Ray. Normally by brain shuts off in long posts but it worked for this one.
    I’m sure I’ll use it in future lessons.

    Even without the parsing/explanation, I don’t understand why it’s that (read: out of the ordinary) offensive. Yesterday I was listening to a protestant sermon (long story) given to a youth group and the speaker was going off about all the “heresies” that Catholics teach. Granted, no one likes their doctrines being called “an abomination” or “heresy” but you would think we’d all be used to it by now.

    I just looked up some of the other versions of the First Vision for some added insight to your post.

    1843
    “I then addressed this second person, saying, O Lord, what Church shall I join?”

    1832
    the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to thir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apstles behold and lo I come quickly as it written of me in the cloud in the glory of my Father

    1840
    “that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them;”

    1842
    They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,”

  2. Dear Ray,
    I appreciate the effort to make JS 1:19 sound not-so-bad for non-LDS Christians but there’s one thing you should know. Non-LDS Christians, by and large, and without regard to denomination, consider the doctrines embodied in the creeds as non-negotiable. So, if those creeds are an abomination to God, their essential teachings, which are accepted by all Christian denominations, are worse than worthless.
    By the way, you might be interested in knowing that some of those “abominable” orthodox teachings about the nature of God were taught as “unchangeable” and “necessary for life and salvation” by Joseph Smith in the original Doctrine & Covenants (1835). For a brief exposé of those things, see my brochure titled “We used to agree. . . What happened?” at WhatMormonsShouldKnow.com

  3. Ray,

    Just as Adam said, the length of this post is no deterrent to reading. It’s quite interesting.

    When I find myself reading a carefully constructed parsing of a scriptural passage in the humane tenor in which you built yours, I usually have two reactions, which I had to your post as well:

    1) I’m glad that there are Mormons who can use their minds to develop more progressive scriptural interpretations than those I regularly hear in Gospel Doctrine;

    and

    2) I wonder how the original author or hearer (in this case Joseph) understood the words in question. Can some of our less humane interpretations be traced back to the source?

    I also think of Brigham Young’s statement that there are some sins which not even Jesus’s blood can atone for and juxtapose that with your reading of those “who deny the power of godliness”. According to your reading, some of the Presidents of our Church may have some repenting to do!

  4. Ray,
    I realize that I should have given at leaast one example of the teachings of J.S. which agree with the creeds. In the original D&C, he taught that God the Father is a personage of spirit in contrast to the Son who is a personage of tabernacle. The references for this and other teachings which were in line with Biblical Christianity are in the brochure “We used to agree. . .What happened?” at http://www.WhatMormonsShouldKnow.com

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    John,

    “I wonder how the original author or hearer (in this case Joseph) understood the words in question. Can some of our less humane interpretations be traced back to the source?”

    Absolutely, just as many of our misperceptions of the Book of Mormon can be traced back to the source of the original interpretations. We went over this in great length on others posts, but infallibility has never been a doctrine of the Church.

    “According to your reading, some of the Presidents of our Church may have some repenting to do!”

    I’ve never said otherwise, and I don’t think either Joseph or Brigham would disagree with that sentence. The D&C is full of instances where Joseph and other leaders were called to repentance.

  6. “…What happened?” Revelation, lol. 😉

    Tom, I still don’t see why calling the creeds an “abomination” is that offensive IN LIGHT of the fact that protestants (as I mentioned previously) call LDS doctrine all kinds of stuff.

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    Tom, your #2 illustrates exactly what I said about the intractability of the creeds in the minds of their professors. I can’t tell you how many times I have quoted the Gospels (the very words attributed to Jesus Himself) and had someone who professes the creeds come back with a counter argument based on those creeds. It is maddening to someone who believes that Jesus Himself should take precedence over the later “Christian fathers” who wrote the creeds.

    Joseph’s understanding of Godhood evolved radically through the years. What you posit works only if you stress his early understanding over his later understanding, and I simply don’t do that. I don’t want my beliefs in my 20’s to be given more weight than my current beliefs, and I won’t want my current beliefs to outweigh my beliefs 30 years from now.

    Btw, as I’m sure you will understand, I have very little agreement with much of what is presented on the site to which you linked. We simply see things differently.

  8. Ray,

    You need to clarify for the audience that you are speaking exclusively of the 1838 version of the “first vision” story. In the 1832 version, written by Joseph Smith’s own hand, the “personage” makes no reference to “creeds” or “corrupt professors” or any such thing.

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    “I appreciate the effort to make JS 1:19 sound not-so-bad for non-LDS Christians.”

    Thanks, but fwiw, the parsing is not intended to make JSH 1:19 acceptable to those who are not Mormon. I mentioned at least twice in the post that it is painful to those who profess the creeds no matter how it is parsed. My main concern simply is that those inside AND outside the Church don’t use it to say more than it actually says – since I have heard some wild statements from both “sides” that have no grounding in the verse itself.

    I understand how dear the creeds are to many non-LDS Christians. I know how much this verse pains them at strikes at the core of their uniqueness. That can’t be removed from the verse without doing real damage to it. I just want the discussion of the verse to actually address the verse itself – particularly for MORMONS to not misrepresent it.

    Finally, I linked each creed I mentioned to the documents themselves. It is a good exercise to click those links and actually read the creeds. That helps Mormons, particularly, understand what can be considered “abominable” from their own doctrinal perspective. For example, the Apostles’ Creed reads almost like a Mormon missionary tract, and the Nicene Creed is not as different as most members assume. The Athanasian Creed starts to diverge, but the Westminster Confession is such a departure from the previous creeds that it is shocking upon first read (for Mormons). We should know what we are talking about when we quote a condemnation of “the creeds”.

  10. Missionary Stu – welcome back Elder! Re: “clarify for the audience that you are speaking exclusively of the 1838 version” – I was attempting to do that in my comment, if you saw it. 🙂

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    #8 – You are correct. I should have made that clear, but I thought it was obvious that I was quoting from the version included in the official canon of the Church.

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    Adam, the American Protestant world at the time of Joseph wasn’t accustomed to having their creeds challenged and called “abominable”. Much of the rhetoric used to blast our beliefs is a direct result of our own verbiage in describing theirs. I wouldn’t pursue your line of questioning myself, since we are the ones in this particular war of words who cast the first stone, if you will. Granted, we could point back to the reaction of others to Joseph’s earlier accounts of his vision – highlighting that Joseph’s initial recitations were met with scorn and vitriol and, I’m sure, charges of abomination, but then we get caught up in name-calling pissing contests, and that simply isn’t productive.

    No matter who started the food fight, and even if the food fight can’t be stopped totally without one side letting go of its deeply held beliefs, at least we can limit the food being thrown. That’s the real intent of the post – to help people understand what is a legitimate complaint and what simply has developed over the years without any internal support from the account itself.

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    Just a note:

    I will be gone for most of the day, starting now. Please don’t interpret my silence as anything other than my absence from a computer. I will catch up with all comments when I return.

  14. Ray, RE: #7

    “Joseph’s understanding of Godhood evolved radically through the years. What you posit works only if you stress his early understanding over his later understanding, and I simply don’t do that.”

    In his 1838 version of the first vision he describes 2 separate and distinct beings yet prior to the in the Book of Mormon there are at least 4 trinitarian versions of the Godhead. How and when did his understanding change?

    And in the late 1820’s he acted as an exhorter in Sunday services for a local protestant church. How can that be explained after his command not do join any church because they all were wrong and their creeds an abomination?

  15. Re: How and when did his understanding change?

    The work on the manuscripts of the inspired version of the bible continued up to the time of his death, although the bulk of the work on the inspired version took place between 1830 to 1833.

    One contrasting set of verses that indicates his understanding changing is Hebrews 11:40 and D&C 128:15, 18. Hebrews 11:40 concludes the chapter which discussed the faith and tests of the ancients with an interesting idea: “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

    The JST revision of this verse reflects a view which ties this verse to the sufferings of the ancients: “God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.”

    The use of this passage in D&C 128, which was dated 1942, is tied to salvation for the dead. “For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” (and continuing in v. 18) “It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.”

    It appears that Joseph’s understanding of Hebrews 11:40 changed between the time he did the Inspired Revision to the time he D&C 128 was revealed. Why didn’t God give all of the answer to him when he was doing the inspired revision (between 1830 and 1833? Some will use this to say that Joseph was making it up as he went along, looking for something new to continue attracting an audience. To me, it is a good example of the process of prophetic revelation for someone who is both a progressing mortal AND a seer. The mortal mind must be prepared for some revelation through tests and trials that provide the background to understand the principal of the revelation as it is circumscribed to other truths. Other revelations, like the First Vision, were perhaps best revealed when the mind had not yet progressed through certain life trials that allow it to take root and grow as a seed.

  16. Adam said: “Yesterday I was listening to a protestant sermon (long story) given to a youth group and the speaker was going off about all the “heresies” that Catholics teach. Granted, no one likes their doctrines being called “an abomination” or “heresy” but you would think we’d all be used to it by now.”

    Ray said: “Much of the rhetoric used to blast our beliefs is a direct result of our own verbiage in describing theirs. I wouldn’t pursue your line of questioning myself, since we are the ones in this particular war of words who cast the first stone, if you will.”

    Ray, I can’t agree with what you are saying. I do agree with you that we can’t punctuate and decide “he started it” so to speak. But isn’t that what you just did in claiming that our rhetoric is the cause of protestant’s equivalent rhetoric?

    I think this conclusion is questionable for two reasons:

    The first is that the whole “their creeds are an abominiation” rhetoric was not published until.. can’t remember exactly… but I want to say early 1840’s. I know it’s an 1838 account, but it wasn’t published immediately.

    Futhermore, that specific rhetoric didn’t really become part of the collective Mormon self identity until the First Vision was canonized and put into wide spread use which wasn’t until the early 20th century. (Just finished a Kathleen Flake book where she documents this very convincingly.) So that means that there is a good 70 or so years of vehement rhetoric against the Mormons that existed before this account was widely known.

    The second reason I find this conclusion questionable is because it fits a more ancient pattern. Declaring your opposing religion “heretical” is a tried and true method (originally coupled with physical violence as well) that dates back to the beginning of time. If we have to punctuate to determine how it started, we are forced to go way back in the 1st century for Christians and even further for Jews. The persecution of competing new religions has no execptions that I am aware of.

    I believe this is because anytime a new religion springs into existence that believes it has a new revelation worthy of consideration, it, of necessity, invalidates the old.

    I can’t see any other principle by which such a religion could come into existence. Christianity invalidated Judaism from a Christian point of view. Protestantism invalidates Catholicism from a Protestant point of view. Mormonism invalidates Protestantism from a Mormon point of view. Ironically, New Order Mormons and DAMUs invalidate Mormonism on the same principle. There really is no other way for a new religion to exist.

    (Some people might point to “new churchs” coming peacefully into existence, but this only ever happens when they haven’t changed any significant beliefs and thus aren’t a new religion at all.)

    I think the reason for this is that it’s logical to ask why God would bother to send a brand new revelation to the world if what currently existed was completely sufficient? It defies reason and even the least of intellects can easily intuit this. So any time you have a new religion you only have it on the grounds that the previous is some how fatally flawed now.

    To put this another way, Mormonism could not have and would not have existed except on the very grounds that Joseph Smith claimed: that God said their creeds were fatally flawed. This was as light a reason as was possible and certainly makes Mormonism the single most tolerant religion to ever spring into existence.

    Anything shy of fatal flaws in the old would have been insufficient reason for Mormonism (or any new religion) to exist at all. (Again, I note that NOM and DAMU “religion” is often built on the belief that Mormonism is fatally flaws in it’s current incarnation. So this isn’t an exception.)

    This is why I believe this is not and has never been a war of words but a legtimate test of tolerance. The test is: can you be unoffended that people that disagree with you religiously exist? If you can’t, you fail.

    The protestants have every right to call Mormons heretical and prophesy our doom in hell so long as they do it respectfully and really believe what they are saying. We need to not be offended by this. I know that is hard, but in reality such statements are truly non-offensive.

    And we Mormons have every right to consider their creeds an abomination in the sight of God (while of course believing they still go to “heaven”) The DAMU have every right to believe Mormons beliefs keep them from truth, joy, and happiness. The Mormons have every right to believe the DAMU are missing out on the fruits of the spirit. etc. etc.

    The tension that exists is in ourselves, not “the other.” I need to learn to not be offended by non-Mormon Christian prophecies of my doom in hell just like I need to not be offended by DAMU claims that my beliefs are fatally flawed or immoral. But the reverse must also be true. I fully expect non-Mormon Christians and dissaffected Mormons to be tolerant in their claims (i.e. respectful in delivery, but not editing their real beliefs) not accepting of mine.

    I wouldn’t want it or have it any other way. This drives at the heart of religious freedom and religious tolerance. We need to get past our negative feelings of offense over the existence of people that believe differently than we do.

  17. “And in the late 1820’s he acted as an exhorter in Sunday services for a local protestant church. How can that be explained after his command not do join any church because they all were wrong and their creeds an abomination?”

    Um… did I miss something, or did you just prove Ray’s point?

  18. “But isn’t that what you just did in claiming that our rhetoric is the cause of protestant’s equivalent rhetoric? ”

    One more point here. If the Protestants are only condemning Mormonism on the grounds that we condemned them first, then what they are doing is a very vile and dishonest thing.

    If the Protestants are condemning Mormonism on the grounds that they honestly disagree with us, then what they are doing is completely appropriate and moral and should be unoffensive to me.

    I am shocked that so many protestants I have met do in fact claim “you started it” (usually by quoting the first vision, no less) without realizing what a vile thing they are saying about themselves.

    I assume that in reality they meant to say that they honestly disagree with Mormons and they were, inadverantly, repeating something they heard in an anti-Mormon class that they didn’t take time to critically analyze first.

  19. I popped onto a computer for about two minutes, so I only have time to address two things quickly:

    1) In the specific case of “Protestants v. Mormons”, Joseph was the first to state that all the other denominations were fatally flawed by the creeds – a statement with which I agree. He said it LONG before the official version of the First Vision was published. I agree 100% that it’s an ancient and natural tradition for an older religion to fight a newer one, but the newer one, by definition, opposes the older one first. I DON’T CARE about the distinction. That was my point. Each side can claim that the other one “started it”. There is no reasonable end to that argument, so I just don’t get into it.

    2) This is NOT a post for discussion of the different accounts of the First Vision. That has been done extensively in other threads on this site, and I’m sure it will be done again. This is about the published version in our canon and what it says. Nothing else.

    Back tonight. Thanks, everyone. Carry on without me. 🙂

  20. Fair enough, Ray. I agree there is no way to punctuate the argument especially since the rational alterntive is to not exist. I see what you are saying now.

  21. Bruce Nielson RE: #19

    How could he align himself with a prostestant church and participate as a part of the service if he’d been commanded at age 15 to join none as they were wrong and their creeds were an abomination?

  22. #23 – GBSmith,

    I always assumed that Joseph did his best to get as close to God as he could and participating in existing Christian services makes perfect sense to me. I also noted that Leonard Arrington did the same when there was no LDS church around. I think this is a pretty common thing for people to do, actually.

    I would hope Joseph tried his best to preach as much of the Christian message as he felt comfortable with and not just take a snotty attitude that if they are part wrong they are all wrong as they did to him later in life. Joseph was a cafeteria Christian. He took what he could and left the rest.

    Does this mean Joseph joined that Church? I guess we can play word games all day on this. Obviously to Joseph this isn’t what it meant. Obviously you want to force your own interpretation over Joseph’s for reasons unknown.

    Nevertheless, even if God’s original intention was that Joseph not attend any services at all or participate in any way with the existing Christian churches, as you are asserting for some reason, I still fail to see your point. I can’t say I’ve ever perfectly obeyed God and it always seems I’m forced to adapt the basic principles the best I currently know how to my current situation.

    Since I (and no one here) is claiming that Joseph was perfect in obedience to God, I’m afraid I simply do not see your point at all even if I take your interpretation of the quote as the correct one (which I don’t.)

    Yet, if Joseph was told by God that their creeds were an abomination yet he felt completely comfortable partially participating in some parts of some Churches, that exactly proves Ray’s point and I’d be hard pressed to come up with a better example of how the creeds being abominable in God’s sight does not mean the people in the Churches were in any way evil or bad or leading people to hell. (Which Joseph never taught and the LDS Church still doesn’t teach.)

  23. I guess you can split hairs all day on the meaning of the word abominanable but if God and Jesus Christ told me to my face not to have anything to do with any other church, I expect I’d do it. You’re inclined to find an excuse for what he did vs what he said and I don’t.

  24. “I guess you can split hairs all day on the meaning of the word abominable but if God and Jesus Christ told me to my face not to have anything to do with any other church, I expect I’d do it.”

    I don’t doubt that what you are telling me is true: that you would have interpreted this statement in exactly the way you are saying and thus you would have understood it to mean all Churches are evil and you should have nothing to do with them whatsoever.

    But of course, I don’t understand why you even bothered to bring this up, because I can’t think of any reason why I should care how you would have interpreted this differently from me and/or Joseph Smith. I’ve never claimed that non-believers opinions of scripture they don’t believe in mattered to me and I’m not sure why you think it does.

    “You’re inclined to find an excuse for what he did vs what he said and I don’t.”

    If by excuse you mean “honest interpretation” then I suppose you are right.

    But you’re not off the hook so easily yourself. You have to find an excuse for why Joseph and modern Mormons both agree that other Churches aren’t evil and at the same time think their creeds were abominable yet see this as non-contradictory. To me, this is easy and obvious; you just have to take the words in their most obvious meaning (as Ray so capably demonstrated.)

    By comparison, you are struggling to make an issue out of it even though no believing Mormon considers you an appropriate source for interpretation of scripture.

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see why your opinion of how you think I should have interpret this scripture in the negative way you do should mean anything to me at all. It’s… well, it’s strange, GBSmith.

    I sincerely don’t understand why you care about how we interpret this verse different than you as a non-believer. It’s like me going to a Muslim mosque and quoting the Bible to prove them wrong. I’m sure it’s good for a few laughs, but no one would mistake it for a sincere attempt at dialog.

    Or maybe it’s more like going to a Catholic church and proof-texting standard anti-Catholic scriptures and naively thinking it will mean something to the Catholics. Except that’s not a very good analogy either because at least Catholics and I do believe in the Bible.

    Okay, it’s like a Muslim going to a Catholic church and quoting standard anti-Catholic scriptures from the Bible with no clue at all that the Catholics interpret those verse in the Bible differently than you do and offering no explanation why you are bothering when you don’t believe in the Bible anyhow.

    You’re welcome to do it, but it seems like you are really wasting your time that could have been spent on something productive.

    I think we’re off topic now and since you didn’t have anything to add or further explain about why you are doing this, I’ll assume you are done. In any case, I am.

  25. I’m sorry about the upset my comments and questions caused and will close with just a few points. I don’t know what God meant or what Joseph Smith heard when he was told not to join other churches and that their creeds were an abomination. I don’t believe that the beliefs or creeds of other churches are evil and I don’t believe other LDS members do either. It’s not because of careful reading and interpretation of the passage as Ray has done but because of our experience with other people and seeing how they live and believe and try to take care of each other regardless of where their religious loyalties lie. However I did see the direct effect of these words on an acquaintance of mine who is an Episcopal priest. He was trying to be open and ecumenical about our differences and even philosophical about one of his parishoners leaving to be become LDS. But when I explained that the church see’s itself as true with a capital T and that it does not believe he has the authority to have any of his functions of a priest recognized by God everything changed. The look of both anger and saddness on his face was very painful for me. I am in many ways a non believer now and perhaps should not participate in these discussions. Again I’m sorry for the anger I’ve seemed to stirred up.

  26. As a corollary to JS 1:19 where the Lord tells us why the churches of the time were not recognized by Him; He also tells us in D&C 10:67-68 what church He does recognize:

    “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.”

    It is interesting how simple and sublime this definition stands in contrast to the ‘creeds’ referenced in the narratives of the First Vision. To bring even greater effect, the Lord tells us that we cannot add or take away from this definition of His Church. The moment we try to supplant this simple message of ‘repent and come unto me’ with any variety of alternatives, we stand in danger of being rejected as His Church.

    The phrase ‘repent and come unto me’ signifies our need to be purified or sanctified in order to enter into His presence. That is the sum of the gospel as defined in 3 Nephi 27:

    “19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
    20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
    21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;”

    It is very likely, in my mind, that the restoration of the gospel is the restoration of the power needed to sanctify an individual in order to come unto Christ. In that context, the Christian definition of ‘born again’ would be an abomination to God.

  27. I am not sure what makes Joseph Smith so different than Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin and others who formed other Christian Sects. They obviously thought the existing denominations were not correct in the interpretation of some or all of their doctrines. There are literally hundreds of different christian sects.

    I suppose someone might say that LDS Doctrine is far afield from the other denominations. And perhaps that is true. but those others exist for a doctrinal reason otherwise, they would not.

    Excellent post, Ray. It may not satisfy the naysayers, as nothing seldom does. but it was an excellent analysis of those verses.

  28. GBSmith,

    I did not intend my tone as angry, though reading it over again, I can see why you felt that way and I feel bad about that.

    I do admit to frustration, however. You gave me a golden opportunity to express a frustration I’ve had for a long time about how non-believers feel the need to interpret beliefs of the believers (I’m not just talking Mormons here, it’s a general problem.)

    With your story to help, I can see where you are coming from better and wish to make a few comments.

    You need to understand that I do not believe it’s possible to hold meaningful beliefs without someone with different beliefs getting hurt sometimes. We just aren’t all ready to agree to disagree without also taking offense. (And by saying that I am not excluding myself.)

    I feel bad for the Episcopal priest you describe. If there were someway for the Mormon Church to exist with all the benefits it has now without having to hurt this Episcopal priest, believe me, I’d want it. But I fear that is literally a contradiction and is just impossible.

    I can see no possible way for the Mormon church to justify it’s existence except on the grounds that it does exist on: as a restoration of primitive Christianity with a unique set of revelatory knowledge that the world did not have prior to Joseph receiving revelations from God.

    And while many non-believers will disagree with me on this point: the Mormon Church will cease to exist within a single generation as a meaningful force in the world if they were to give up that truth claim.

    I also see that this Episcopal priest you describe is, in a way, doing the very thing that upsets him about the LDS Church. I can completely understand how before he knew how radically different LDS beliefs were from his own that he’d be more comfortable with us. And I can completely understand how discovering that we believe we’re a restoration of primative Christianity (and the implication that the old was fatally flawed such that a restoration was necessary) would hurt. But I have to tell you, that hurting is hardly one way and frankly, it’s a crock to claim Mormons “started it” since the real cause is simply that we believe differently than the “majoriy view.”

    I’m sure there have been many a Catholic priest that was deeply hurt by the Episcopal or other protestant claims that the Catholic Church had gone astray as well. Since those claims have never been revoked yet there is often good relations between Catholics and Protestants today (Ireland notwithstanding), I can probably safely assume that as people get used to Mormon’s unique beliefs they will learn to deal with the existence of people that believe differently from them and it will not hurt any more.

    I should probably also point out that you apparently choose to “break the new” to this Episcopal priest in a fairly negative way. Sometimes how things are said is all the difference in how the information is received.

    For example, I would never tell an Episcopal priest that we believe “[he] does not… [have] the authority to have any of his functions of a priest recognized by God” For starters, I do not believe this.

    I would have taken the approach Roger Keller uses here. I don’t know if you know much about Keller, but he’s a former minister now a professor at BYU. I once heard him say “I know that when I was a Protestant minister I had authority to preach faith in Jesus Christ to the world. I know I had the authority to bring people to repentance. [He then paused for a moment.] It was just for the rest that I had to join the ‘other guys.'”

    There are other ways this could have been approached that would be completely truthful about Mormonism unique truth claims but not made your friend feel so bad. For example, Mormons believe that the ministering of other ministers of other religions is more than sufficient for going to the Terestrial kingdom which is all other Christian religions concept of heaven. Thus we literally seem them as being exactly as “effective” or “recognized by God” as they believe they are.

    It’s only the Celestial kingdom (which they believe doesn’t exist) and Godhood (which they believe doesn’t exist) that Mormons think they have unique authority over.

    I believe the way I just said this is a far more truthful representation of Mormon beliefs than the way you said it.

    Again, delivery is sometimes everything.

    I hope I haven’t scared you off GBSmith and if I offended you please accept my apology. I admit I’m am overly sensitive over people defining my beliefs for me rather than asking me what I believe and I think I over reacted to you and let my frustrations over 1000 other incidents of the same come out. For this, I am truly sorry.

  29. No apology necessary. I appreciate your approach in sharing our beliefs but again granting my friend the right to preach and teach but telling him that he can’t, in God’s eyes, baptize, confirm, ordain, consecrate the eucharist, or bless is cold comfort. My explaining our truth claims wasn’t as harsh as it sounded but it was something that was probably best left unsaid. And I agree without the truth claim we’re just another fringe church that might survive for awhile but then be relegated to history as another curious cult. As far as who started it, it’s always been there. My former neigbor, and ELCA pastor took a dim view of Missouri Synod Lutherans and I expect they him. And on and on. Thanks again for all you do.

  30. “granting my friend the right to preach and teach but telling him that he can’t, in God’s eyes, baptize, confirm, ordain, consecrate the eucharist, or bless is cold comfort.”

    Yes, I imagine this is often true. I imagine it’s the same cold comfort I feel when those that don’t believe in the LDS church any more say everything I believe in is wrong but add “but it’s still a great religion and a lot of good comes out of it.” I appreciate their sincere attempt to minimize my potential pain, but it’s not really that helpful either. So I do see what you are saying.

    I think you are right: “it’s always been there.” Even if we did away with all religion all together, it would still be there so long as people hold beliefs that mean something to them that are mutually exclusive from beliefs that mean something to someone else.

  31. Ray–Great post.

    I think the history of the 1st vision makes it clear the Lord didn’t want His church to blend in with the other churches of the day. The language the Lord uses, as Ray points out, is hostile. It reminds me of the effort the Lord went to, to keep Israel separate and distinct from the other cultures of the day, with good reason, as the history of Israel shows, the followers of Christ in former days eventually embraced idolatry.

  32. If I was going to be concerned about the first vision… I would be concerned that if the vision was from God these were things God didn’t like. It was an abomination to God. He didn’t say thus sayith Joseph Smith.

    If you don’t belive in visions how can you belive in the message. If you don’t believe there is such thing as a telephone you aren’t going to believe someone is talking to you on a phone from somewhere else.

  33. Post
    Author

    I missed GB Smith’s comment #27, but it includes a line that I think has profound meaning – and, I believe, is a common misunderstanding and mis-statement. By that, I don’t mean that GBSmith was saying anything that many (if not most) members also wouldn’t say. I mean that even though it is stated commonly by many within the Church, I believe it is wrong.

    The line I am referencing is:

    But when I explained that the church see’s itself as true with a capital T and that it does not believe he has the authority to have any of his functions of a priest recognized by God everything changed.

    I believe God recognizes and rewards EVERY sincere action undertaken by EVERY one of His children – regardless of whether or not those actions carry any eternal efficacy in and of themselves as ordinances. If the Episcopal priest mentioned was acting according to his best understanding and attempting to glorify God through his actions, I believe strongly that God recognized and will reward him for it. That is, after all, the heart of our proxy work for the dead – especially for those who were “valiant” in following the light they were given.

    Iow, while we believe it is necessary to perform a proxy baptism for someone who has been baptized without what we see as binding Priesthood authority, that does not mean we are invalidating the faith of the person who was baptized – or the faith of the person who performed the baptism. Just because I believe a particular creed is an abomination, that does not mean that I believe a sincere attempt to follow Jesus and express one’s faith through baptism is an abomination – even if I simultaneously accept the need to perform a proxy baptism. Not even remotely do I believe that. I honor that faith and sincerity, and I believe with all my heart that God does, as well.

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