Archive for the 'Bible' Category


Receiving or Doing?


     There has been some discussion about the story of the rich young man in the comments after my last post.  In this post I would like to make a point that hasn’t been made in that thread yet.  And that is the placement of this story in Mark’s Gospel. 

     One aspect of Bible study that is often neglected is seeing the structure and flow of the individual books of the Bible and how each part relates to other parts.  This is something people often don’t see especially when it comes to the four Gospels.  Without giving it much thought, many people think that the four Gospels are just individual stories and parables of Jesus strung together without much structure.  But nothing is further from the truth than that.  Each Gospel writer wrote with a specific purpose in mind.  Each carefully structured his Gospel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Each placed the individual stories in their Gospels as carefully as a jeweler places each gem in its setting.

     We see Mark doing that in the placement of the story of the rich young ruler.  He significantly placed it right after the story of Jesus’ blessing of the little children.  As such it stands in bold contrast to it especially Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:15.  “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”  As one commentator pointed out, children are not like adults who don’t want anything given to them.  Rather they eagerly and ashamedly receive things as gifts. This is all the more striking when we say that Luke reports that the little children being brought to Jesus were infants.  (Luke 18:15)  The point is little children, especially infants, don’t do anything.  They receive things. As Jesus says, “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”

     What a striking contrast then is offered by the rich young man!  The topic is the same:  entering the kingdom of heaven.  (Compare Mark 10:15 with verses 23-24.)  But the approach is so much different.  The young man wants to know what to do to inherit eternal life.  As has been stated in the comments on the previous post, if “doing” is the question, then there is no room for talk of the Atonement – then there is no room for “trying”.  It’s all about doing.  That is the level Jesus answers him.  In effect Jesus says, if you don’t want to receive it as a small child but want to earn it, then you had better do everything.  That’s why Jesus tells him to sell his possessions. 

     This, however, is something no one can do.  “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’” (Galatians 3:10)  Jesus makes that same point to the disciples when, after the young man left, he said: “With men it is impossible.” (v. 27)  Man can’t do what needs to be done to inherit eternal life.

     But what man can’t do, God did.  “with God all things are possible”.  Jesus did do everything that was commanded and he did it for us.  Jesus paid the full price for every one of our sins.  Jesus did it all so that God can give us eternal life in his kingdom, living in his mansions, freely as a gift

       That’s why little children, and not hard-working adults, are to be our role models.  That’s the clear lesson Mark is teaching us by contrasting these two stories.


Human Potential

    Here and elsewhere there is a lot of debate about the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  One thing causing these differences is that they often start in different places – they begin with different presuppositions.  When that happens, most of the time, you are going to end up in drastically different places. 

     One example of that is how each views the human race.  That in itself is a broad topic so I would like to narrow it down to human potential after Adam and Eve’s Fall into sin.  The Bible does not paint a very pretty picture.  Immediately after their Fall, the Bible describes Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother Cain.  Already in the sixth chapter of the Bible we hear this damming indictment of the human race:  “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  (Gen. 6:5) The phrases “every imagination” and “only evil continually” don’t leave any wiggle room.  That clearly states that man was totally depraved.

     Therefore God sent the Flood.  It would seem that we could breathe a sigh of relief because now mankind can start all over.  But not so fast.  Immediately after the Flood,  before Noah and his family did anything but sacrifice to God, we read:  “And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  (Gen. 6:21) Although the Flood changed the physical world it didn’t do anything to man’s heart.  Both before and after the Flood it is described as “evil”. 

     This theme carries throughout the rest of the Bible.  One of the more common descriptions of man’s spiritual condition is that of being spiritually dead.  Other descriptions include being spiritually blind and hostile to God.  Taking these passages at face value, the only potential that the Bible ascribes to man after the Flood is the potential to act on the evil that resides in his heart.  That is the force of “every imagination” and “only evil continually”.

     Mormonism, however, begins at a different point.  It teaches that man has a lot of good in them.  It stresses its doctrine of agency – everybody’s ability to choose the right.  (How is that reconciled with being spiritually dead and blind?)  In short, Mormonism has a much more positive view of mankind.  This fits well with American optimism but it doesn’t fit well with biblical teaching.

     As I said before, when you start at different places, you usually end up in different places.  So also here.  Because of its dim outlook on man’s potential, the Bible turns people away from thinking they contribute anything to their living with God for all eternity.  Salvation, according to the Bible, relies entirely on Jesus’ saving work.  “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans3:24-25)  According to the Bible, salvation, including living for all eternity in the Father’s mansion, is entirely God’s gift.

     This even includes conversion.  According to the Bible, man doesn’t need to be spiritually rehabilitated he needs to be spiritually resurrected.  That is why it speaks of conversion in terms of rebirth and creation.  That is why it talks about God enlightening the spiritually blind, reconciling to himself the spiritually hostile.  From first to last, in the context of salvation, the Bible has God doing the work.

     Because Mormonism teaches that man has much more potential, it naturally demands that people contribute to their living with heavenly Father.  Salvation, according to Mormonism, is a combination of God’s grace and man’s works.  Where people spend eternity is conditioned on their keeping the commandments.  All of this is a logical outgrowth of where it starts – of its presupposition that there remains a lot of good in people.

     You start in different places you are going to end up in different places.  Many of the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity exist because they start in different places when it comes to their view of man after the Fall.


Personal Revelation


     I recently received the May issue of the Ensign (the official magazine of the LDS Churchh) which contains the talks from last month’s General Conference of the LDS Church.  This is an important issue because General Conference talks are so important.  How important?

     Elder Mark E. Petersen, said:  “A general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is far more significant than most people realize. . .

      . . .it is one of the most important events of the present day.  Many do not regard it, even among the Latter-day Saints.  But for those who appreciate its true significance, it is of transcending importance, for in it PROPHETS OF GOD SPEAK, living prophets.

     When God gives a message to mankind, it is not something to be lightly cast aside.  Whether He speaks personally, or through His prophets, He himself said, it is the same.

     And in this conference HIS PROPHETS SPEAK!”   (Teachings of the Living Prophets, p. 63)

     Ezra Taft Benson said, “The most important prophet, so far as we are concerned, is the one living in our day and age. . .Therefore, the most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is that of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece.  That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications.” (Teachings of the Living Prophets, p.19)

     Because of the importance Mormonism places on these talks, I take extra time reading them.  I have just read the first few talks but what has already struck me is how much emphasis there is on the Holy Spirit and on receiving personal revelations from him. Mormonism teaches that personal revelations come through feelings and impressions and a person has to be worthy to receive them.

     For many Christians, this has always been a puzzling aspect of Mormonism because feelings are notoriously fickle.  How many times haven’t people, even with the best intentions, done something because it felt right, only to discover that it was the wrong thing to do?  Over the years I have asked numerous Mormons how they can determine if what they feel is truly from the Holy Spirit.  Has a feeling, which they thought was a personal revelation, ever led them astray? 

     The responses have been interesting to say the least.  Some have said their feelings have never led them astray.  Others admitted that their feelings had led them astray, but the problem was with them.  It has been interesting to see this topic being discussed on Mormon blogs with again differing reactions.

     More than one Mormon has told me that they felt sorry for me because the only revelation I had was the Bible.  I, however, would much rather rely on it.  It is perfectly sufficient for me. It especially reassures me that Heavenly Father considers me worthy to live eternally with him, not because of what I do, but because of what Jesus did for me.  It emphasizes that the temple work that needed to be done to live with Him was already done for me by Jesus when he was sacrificed for me.  It gives me great guidance for life.  It comforts me with tremendous promises of the Lord’s protection and provision.  I receive revelation not through feelings, but through His Word.  For me, that is much more solid ground to stand on.


Toyota and the LDS Church

     I’m sure you all have heard about the problems Toyota is having – not only with its cars but also with its image.   There are a lot of questions about when the company was first aware of the problems with its cars.  Some are wondering if the company put people into danger by not immediately recalling cars once they knew they were defective.  I have heard, more than once, the word criminal used to describe the company’s slow response.

    That got me thinking about the stance the LDS Church takes on the Bible.  It is increasingly promoting the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible in its TV ads and other promotions.  At first, that seems only natural because it is the version officially accepted as Scripture by the LDS Church.  But when you think about it, not only does that not make sense, it is disturbing.  It is disturbing because the LDS Church says that the KJV is defective.  I cited one example of that in my last post with the word “paradise” in the story of the thief on the cross.  The LDS Church says that it was mistranslated.

     What is even more disturbing is that the LDS Church claims to have a better translation – in fact, an inspired translation.  I’m talking about the Joseph Smith Translation or, as it is also known as, the Inspired Version.  It is something that is referenced in many church manuals.  The LDS edition of the Bible contains excerpts of it in the footnotes and an appendix.  But it’s not the version that they promote.

     That doesn’t seem loving to me.  Why promote a product that you believe is defective?  Why not promote the product that you think is superior – even inspired?  Why put, what you think is the correct translation, in the footnotes and not the main body of text. Isn’t that the normal procedure?  Especially when it deals, not just with people’s physical lives, but with their eternal lives!  That doesn’t just seem unloving, that seems criminal. 

      Why then does it continue to promote the KJV?  Could it all be about image?  Just think how much more difficult it would be for the LDS Church to claim to be Christian if it promoted the Joseph Smith Translation as its official Bible.



     This week I am preaching on the story of the thief on the cross.  Unfortunately the word thief doesn’t convey to us how bad a person he was.  He was a very bad man.  He himself admitted that when he told the other criminal:  “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.”  (Luke 23:41)    That’s quite a statement seeing that crucifixion was reserved for the worst of criminals.  It was not used for common criminals. This was an evil man.

     That makes all the more striking the brief dialogue between him and Jesus.  “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23: 42-43)

     First, what an amazing confession of sin when the man admits that he deserves crucifixion!  Then what an amazing confession of faith and trust in Jesus when he not only addresses him as Lord, but then boldly asks that he remember him when he comes to his kingdom!  Both his addressing Jesus as Lord and the mention of his kingdom show that this man had come to know who Jesus was.  Even more startling is his request that Jesus remember him.  He would only make that request if he knew Jesus was merciful and forgiving.  Otherwise being noticed by King Jesus would be the last thing he would want!

     Down through the centuries, Christians have treasured this story as a wonderful example that being with Jesus hinges on trusting in his mercy rather than on being and doing good. This man was evil.  He would die in a matter of hours.  He would have no chance to work a process of repentance.  But still Jesus reassured him that that very day he would be with him.  I repeat: what a wonderful example of the fact that our being with Jesus depends entirely on his mercy and not on our works.

     The LDS Church, however, sees it differently.  The LDS Bible Dictionary says:  “For example, when Jesus purportedly said to the thief on the cross, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’, the Bible rendering is incorrect.  The statement would more accurately read, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in the word of spirits’ since the thief was not ready for paradise.”

      Here is what its manual on the New Testament says: “To the thief on the cross who asked to be remembered after death, the Savior responded to give him what hope he could:  ‘Today shalt thou be with me in paradise, ‘That is to say, today you shall be with me in the world of spirits, where you will be taught the gospel and your inquires will be answered. (See Smith, Teachings, p.309)  Jesus did not lend any credence to a death-bed repentance or (sic) the malefactor.  What Jesus did do was give recognition to the seeds of faith and repentance which were evidenced by a penitent man.  As always, the Lord’s efforts were directed toward offering as much hope as possible to one who would turn from darkness unto that everlasting light.”  (Life and Teachings. . .p. 186, emphasis added)

     What comfort is that?  What hope is that?  According to LDS teaching, couldn’t Jesus have said that same thing to the other criminal hanging there who was reviling him?  Doesn’t everybody, according to LDS teaching, go the world of spirits, when they die?  According to LDS teaching, didn’t the other criminal have the opportunity to have the gospel preached to him in the spirit world?    Mormonism’s explanation doesn’t even make sense in the context of its own teachings.

     I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take Jesus’ words at face value.  Once again this week I will praise the Lord who tells me that I will be with him for all eternity solely because of what he has done for me. 

            Amazing grace how sweet the sound-

            That saved a wretch like me!

            I once was lost but now am found,

            Was blind but now I see.


Romans 4:5 and the JST


     One of the most striking passages in the Bible is Romans 4:5.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”  What is so striking about this passage is that it describes God as “him that justifieth the ungodly.”  Justifies is a courtroom term that means to acquit or declare not guilty.  In other words, this passage startles us by describing God as acquitting the ungodly.  That doesn’t seem right!

     But it is.  This is what makes the Bible unique.  Where else do we hear about a God who acquits the ungodly?  The common picture shared by other world religions is of a God who keeps a record of rights and wrongs and judges accordingly. 

     Only the Bible says this because only the Bible talks about a Savior who has taken all our sins on himself and paid their terrible price for us.  “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

     Interestingly this is a verse that Joseph Smith changed.  The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of this verse is:  “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Note especially how he changed the description of God.  “him who justifieth not the ungodly.”  With the addition of not, he changed the meaning of this phrase completely and aligned it with the concept of God common to other world religions.

      Here then is another striking difference between Christianity and Mormonism.  Christianity’s God is the one who justifies the ungodly. Mormonism’s god doesn’t.


John 3:16


       In my last post I talked about one of Christianity’s most popular passages and the LDS interpretation of it.  Now I would like to look at arguably the most popular of all passages, John 3:16.  Christians down through the years have cherished this verse.  It has often been called the gospel in a nutshell because in it Jesus gives a wonderful summary of the gospel.

       It was spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus.  I quote it in its context.  “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

     Jesus is talking about the most important subjects:  eternal life – not being condemned – being saved.  And they all hinge on one thing:  believing.  Jesus uses that word no less than five times in this short paragraph.  It’s all about believing in Jesus – especially believing in his crucifixion.  That’s obviously what he is referring to in v. 14.

      Jesus’ reference to that Old Testament story is very instructive.  It is recorded in Numbers 21.  “And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”  They lived by looking.  That’s it.  And that is what believing is.  It’s looking to Jesus and his death on the cross.  That is the key to eternal life.  It’s no wonder that John 3:16 has been the most popular of all Bible verses.

      But it’s not even referred to in the most thorough LDS manual on the New Testament, the 500 page manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles.  The closest you get is the following:  “What is available to you if you accept the Lord’s sayings and constantly strive to obey the Lord’s commandments?  (See John 3:13-15.)”  That’s it.  And what is so distressing is that, as can be seen above, John 3:13-15 doesn’t mention any need to “constantly strive to obey the Lord’s commandments”.   There is a total disconnect between the question and the reference to John 3:13-15.

      No mention of John 3:16.  A brief reference to John 3:13-15 that is very misleading.  That is how Mormonism’s official manual on the New Testament treats this precious passage of Scripture.

August 2022

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