The Evangelical Is Our Brother
Reviewed by William J. Hamblin and
Daniel C. Peterson
The Evangelical Is Our Brother
In the first paragraph of his introduction to How Wide the Divide?, Stephen
Robinson recounts a story from his days as a graduate student at Duke University.
When, having been invited, LDS representatives appeared at a citizens’ meeting
called to combat the spread of local “adult” businesses, they were
asked to leave because a party of conservative Protestant ministers threatened
to walk out if Mormons were involved in the campaign. “So we withdrew,”
Robinson recalls, “but the lesson was not lost on us—some Evangelicals
oppose Mormons more vehemently than they oppose pornography” (p. 9).
We and many others have had similar experiences. Accordingly, we fully expected that
the appearance of this book would provoke howls of outrage from enemies of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And it has. Hostile reviews and book-length
rebuttals and radio programs designed to immunize innocent Christians against
How Wide the Divide? have sprung forth everywhere. A southern California operation
called the “Simon Greenleaf Institute of Apologetics” sponsored a
series of eight seminars from 23 February through 4 April 1998 collectively entitled
“Mormonism and Christianity: How Great the Divide!” Professional anti-Mormon
James White’s latest book, Is the Mormon My Brother? Discerning the Differences
between Mormonism and Christianity, is to a degree an attempted rebuttal of How
Wide the Divide?1 (Not surprisingly,
White answers his question with a negative.) On one southern California “Christian”
radio talk show, the discussion centered for at least a few moments on the possibility
of suing Stephen Robinson and his church for the production of the book. From
across the country come tales of plans to boycott InterVarsity Press, and of refusals
by “Christian” bookstores to stock so evil a publication —”one
of the most ill-conceived and dangerous books ever written.”2 An anti-Mormon
by the name of Jay Crosby, writing in The Evangel, writes approvingly: “Our
local Christian bookstore operator—bless him—said he’d sooner
carry Mein Kampf!”3
Many of the attacks on How Wide the Divide? from evangelical
or fundamentalist critics have focused on Robinson, denying that he is truly representative
of Latter-day Saint belief and even, in a number of instances, questioning his
honesty and sincerity.4 He is “devious,” says the Rev. John L. Smith,
who elsewhere calls him “infamous,” and his supposed misrepresentations
of Latter-day Saint doctrine are “deliberate.”5
Robinson had already
experienced such a reaction to his earlier writing and certainly anticipated a
similar one to How Wide the Divide? “Our few conversations with other denominations,”
have usually been highly polemical, and both sides have exploited what
the other says without actually attempting to discover what
the other means. The Bible condemns this as making someone “an offender
for a word” (Is 29:21), and I do not think it pleases God when it is done
on either side.
Now along comes Prof. Robinson who tries haltingly to use the
Evangelical idiom to state what the LDS really mean, and for this I am sometimes
accused either of lying or of not truly representing traditional Mormonism—
simply because my version sounds different than Brigham Young or Orson Pratt do
when left “untranslated.” But we do speak two different theological
languages, and it does not do any good to object to what Brigham Young or Bruce
McConkie said in the Mormon idiom without first translating this into what they
meant in Evangelical terms. This has seldom, if ever, been done in the past, and
until we learn to do it, we will never understand each other (p. 156; compare
Robinson eloquently tells of his frustration when others inform him either
(a) that he does not believe what he claims to believe or (b) that, if he does
believe what he claims, it is because he is rejecting the teaching of his church
(pp. 162—63). We too have encountered these responses and felt this frustration.
Many anti- Mormon books bear titles like The Mormon Mirage and The Mormon Illusion,
indicating what their authors regard as the misleading character of Latter-day
Saint belief. A surprisingly large proportion of such publications, though, go
beyond that, to allege deliberate deception on the part not only of church leaders
but of ordinary missionaries and members. Titles like The Mormon Missionaries:
An Inside Look at Their Real Message and Methods, Behind the Mask of Mormonism:
From Its Early Schemes to Its Modern Deceptions, “What the Mormons Think
of Christ REALLY . . . ,” Exposing the Deceivers, and Unmasking Mormonism
are depressingly common.
But a surprising number of Protestant critics have also assaulted Prof. Craig
Blomberg of Denver Seminary (the evangelical coauthor of How Wide the Divide?),
dismissing him as at best naive, probably incompetent, and almost certainly
duped.6 Blomberg “begins his part of the debate by declaring that his wife’s
niece and her husband are Mormons,” complains Rev. Smith. “Perhaps that was
intended to make him an authority on the subject.”7 The “so-called ‘conversation’
between authors Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson,” announces Dennis
A. Wright, of Oklahoma’s Utah Missions, Inc., “was clearly ‘won’ by the
Mormons!”8 (How one “wins” a “conversation” is not made entirely clear.)
We too will offer criticisms of How Wide the Divide? But we want our overall evaluation
to be clear. This is an important book, and, by and large, a very good one.
We agree completely that religious groups ought to be allowed to define themselves
(pp. 12, 22), and this is a major step in that direction. Professor Robinson’s
expressed views, although certainly open to quibbles at this or that point,
seem to us well within the Latter-day Saint mainstream. And Professor Blomberg,
a fine New Testament scholar whose work elsewhere we have found very useful,
turns in a more than respectable performance here. He is to be commended for
the intelligence and competence of the argument he presents, as well as for
his courage in undertaking the task. He forcefully advocates his position and
certainly does not surrender to the Latter-day Saints (as a not inconsiderable
number of his more fevered critics have claimed). In fact, he has probably offered
the most coherent and attractive presentation of an evangelical Protestant position
that has yet received significant Latter-day Saint readership. Craig Blomberg’s
evangelical views are being carried and sold in Latter-day Saint bookstores,
and read and pondered by Latter-day Saints, as he formulated them, without mediation
or caricature by unsympathetic Mormons. Moreover—and this represents a huge
advance, a step of historic importance—the discussion between Professors Blomberg
and Robinson is carried on in a spirit of seriousness and mutual respect. As
Robinson puts it, “Professor Blomberg is the first Evangelical scholar I have
known of to examine the Latter-day Saints closely for any purpose other than
where best to land a blow” (p. 12).
In this light, we cheer the joint call by
Professors Robinson and Blomberg to retire the term cult from discussions about
Mormonism (p. 193). That word is deeply
offensive and insulting to Latter-day Saints, and, while we can certainly understand
its utility in stigmatizing and thus marginalizing us, it is hardly conducive
to respectful conversation or good community relations. What if, for example,
certain groups of people found themselves labeled jerks, idiots, and imbeciles,
and discovered that they were being discussed in books bearing titles like Confronting
the Jerks at Your Door, Chaos of the Cretins, and When Idiots Ask? It would
not help much for some self-proclaimed “Ministry to Morons” to explain—as
many have attempted to do with the word cult—that no offense was intended,
that they were using the term imbecile in a technical and very precise way to
refer, say, to pretribulationists or to those who deny the gift of tongues.
Why choose such a demeaning word? Few evangelicals would acknowledge themselves
to be “cretins” even if a self-anointed expert on cretinism pointed out that
the term derives originally from the late Latin christianus, meaning “Christian,”
via the early French chrétien, and that she was using it in a clinical
and dispassionate way as a theological term. And it would hardly soften the
insult of the title When Idiots Ask were the author of that book to explain
that he intended the original sense of the Greek idiotes (“a private person,”
“an individual”), as a scientifically neutral way of describing those who hold
to their own opinions instead of to the classical creeds. The insulting character
of words like idiot, imbecile, and cult renders them useless for serious interfaith
Unfortunately, though, from the vantage point of many of its critics,
How Wide the Divide? allows the views of Stephen Robinson to be carried and
sold in evangelical bookstores (at least, in those with the courage or determination
to do so). This means that the opinions of an informed Latter-day Saint are
being read by evangelical Christians without first being filtered and interpreted
by professional anti-Mormons.
The reaction of the anti-Mormons points to one
minor aspect of the book that we found occasionally irritating. Professors Blomberg and Robinson
go out of their way, perhaps in a well-intentioned effort to avoid smug triumphalism,
to lament the bias and misinformation on both sides of the Mormon-evangelical
divide. And it is certainly true, as Robinson notes on pages 10—11, that
there has been and is a great deal of mutual misunderstanding. Many Latter-day
Saints entertain false notions about evangelical beliefs (p. 148). Mormons have
sometimes used overly strong language to criticize evangelicals and their doctrines
(p. 193). And, while this seems to us historically understandable, given what
Latter-day Saints have endured at the hands of their fellow Christians, it is
nonetheless to be regretted.
But How Wide the Divide? appears to say that guilt
for the frequently tense relations between Latter-day Saints and evangelicals
should be evenly distributed (as on pp. 10, 15, 22—23, 189).10 We find
this very implausible, indeed objectionable. No Latter-day Saints make their
living as professional anti-evangelicals. Latter-day Saints do not picket new
Baptist churches, or broadcast against evangelical beliefs, or hold seminars
in their chapels to critique Protestant theology, or publish books and pamphlets
denouncing fundamentalists, or distribute films exposing the sordid facts about
other denominations, or seek to exclude Calvinists from community interfaith
associations, or boycott evangelical-owned businesses. There are no Latter-day
Saint tabloids dedicated to fighting the Assemblies of God. We have never turned
our church curriculum over to a multiweek discussion of the errors of the Southern
Baptist Convention. Yet all of these things have been done, and are being done,
to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The situation
is not symmetrical.
Blomberg tells of protests, picketing, stone-throwing, and a bomb threat that
occurred during the open house and dedication of the Denver Colorado Temple,
near his home, in 1986. On the other side, he reports that some apparently Latter-day
Saint person or persons has stolen or damaged anti-Mormon books in Denver-area
libraries (pp. 22—23). But the two actions scarcely seem equivalent. While
we do not for a moment condone the destruction of library materials, the vandal’s
attempt to silence anti-Mormon polemics was (misguidedly) defensive and nonviolent.
The events at the Denver Temple, by contrast, were aggressive and overtly hostile
to the beliefs of others.
Many of our other reservations are mere quibbles.
We are mildly bothered, for example, by Robinson’s repeated insistence that
Latter-day Saints accept and use the King James Version of the Bible. That is,
of course, true. But he goes too far. “It would be nice,” he writes, “for Evangelicals
to bear in mind that the King James Bible is the LDS Bible” (p. 59; cf. pp.
17, 64). We understand the point he is trying to make, of course, and it is
a valid one: Mormons believe in the Bible, and, rather than using their own
idiosyncratic, self-serving version of it, they tend to use versions widely
accepted by other Christians around them. The King James Bible obviously occupies
a special place in the history of the church, and it continues to be, by a long
distance, the translation of choice for English-speaking church members and
the one used in official English-speaking gatherings and publications. But Latter-day
Saints are certainly free to use other translations of the Bible, and many do.
Indeed, most Latter-day Saints now live outside of the United States, and very
many of them speak languages other than English. Faithful members of the church
also use the Lutherbibel and the Einheitsübersetzung and the Versión
Reina-Valera and the Shangti and Hankul Bibles. This is a small point, but an
Other reservations are more substantive. (Some of them demand
more detailed treatment at a future time.) For example, Blomberg denies that
the doctrine of the Trinity represents “an absurdity” and implicitly claims
that it cannot be “demonstrated to contain logical contradictions” (p. 120).
We are more persuaded, though, by an article recently published in the quarterly
journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which answers the question
“Has Trinitarianism Been Shown to Be Coherent?” with a rather decisive No.11
We think that much if not all of what Blomberg claims for the unity of Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost in the Trinity (as on pp. 98, 99, 117, 119—20, 122,
124—27) can be accounted for better and more coherently by a Latter-day
Saint understanding of the Godhead. So, too, apparently, does Oxford’s Timothy
Bartel. Upon rigorous analysis, he declares that the only logically tenable account of the Godhead
is one in which “each member of the Trinity is absolutely distinct from the
other two: the Trinity consists of three distinct individuals, each of whom
is fully divine.”12 Furthermore, we think that a sensitive reading of both Latter-day
Saint and mainstream Christian doctrine on the subject will discover surprisingly
large areas of harmony. But when Blomberg writes that “It is hard to imagine
anyone concocting the orthodox doctrine of a triune God, with all its complexities”
(p. 126), we respond that the historical record is quite adequate to show how
this happened and that it occurred on the basis of well-intentioned human attempts
to make sense of certain scriptural statements in the light of particular philosophical
and other presuppositions. Furthermore, his attempt to distinguish three separate
“center[s] of . . . consciousness” in the Godhead, while denying that there
are “three distinct personalities,” is unpersuasive (see pp. 99, 119). And it
is difficult to see why, in contemplating the doctrine of the trinity, we should
be more impressed with the alleged oneness of impersonal divine Being than with
the “threeness” of the divine “centers of consciousness,” the Father, Son, and
Holy Ghost. For it is with these three that Christians interact. They pray to
the Father, accept the atoning sacrifice of the Son, and receive the inspiration,
guidance, and comfort of the Spirit. Divine Being itself provides no guidance,
offers no comfort, grants no inspiration. Divine Being did not teach in parables
on the hills of Galilee, or heal the synagogue ruler’s daughter. It offered
no atoning sacrifice and, as such, listens to no prayers.
Nor, although we are
sympathetic to his intention, are we prepared to agree without careful qualification
to Robinson’s claim that, in the Latter-day Saint concept, God is not limited,
finite, or changeable (pp. 78, 88, 92, 110). While such words should be carefully
used, and while they can easily be misread (and will certainly be abused by
our critics), they do seem to us to convey something important about the Latter-day
Saint understanding of God. (Blomberg quite properly explains the “immutability”
of God as referring to his “faithfulness in keeping his word” [p. 102] —a quality
that, contrary to some understandings of the attribute, obviously
does not prevent deity from interacting with our world of change and decay,
nor even prevent him from entering this world and taking upon himself flesh
Blomberg says, apparently intending it to count against Latter-day
Saint belief, that finite beings can never, by themselves, become infinite (p.
105). But we know of no knowledgeable Latter-day Saint who would ever assert
the contrary. His perception that Mormonism is “human-centered rather than God-centered”
(p. 107) is untrue to our own considerable experience in the church, although
it does, once again, point to an easily abused truth: Latter-day Saint belief
is more “humanistic,” in the old and honorable sense of that term, than many
other varieties of Christianity. (We regard that as a good thing.) As to Blomberg’s
concern about Latter-day Saints collapsing “the distinction in essence between
the creature and the Creator,” we plead guilty. But only if the charge is stated
with precision and care. For, while Mormonism believes humans and God to be
of the same genos or genus (as Acts 17:28 suggests), Latter-day Saints are acutely
aware of the gulf that separates us from the holy, all-powerful, all-knowing,
all-wise, perfectly benevolent, immortal, perfectly loving, inconceivably glorious
creator of the cosmos.
On another matter, while Latter-day Saints, like their
evangelical fellow-Christians, accept the fundamental historical reliability
of the Bible and the essential accuracy of its depiction of the acts of God,
we are not entirely sure that, as Blomberg and Robinson say in a joint statement
(p. 75), we agree on inerrancy. Belief in biblical inerrancy seems to us something
derived primarily and in the first instance from Protestant theological necessity,
not from the evidence. Supporting evidence, including forced biblical proof
texts, is then sought to buttress the belief.13 But were it not for dogmatic
and ecclesiastical imperatives, we very much doubt that any reader who came
to the Bible for the first time would emerge from her reading alone with anything
like a notion of scriptural inerrancy.
Blomberg finds that the remarkable ability
of Latter-day Saint doctrine to answer questions makes it too neat, and therefore
suspect (p. 108). But one could just as easily contend that its ability
to solve problems and settle disputes indicates the divinity of its origin.
We think, moreover, that he seriously misreads Joseph Smith’s first vision when
he says that it declares of the Christians in 1820 that “their religious worship
[is] all a hypocritical pretense” (p. 184).
“Many Mormons,” writes Blomberg,
“are no longer claiming that [the Book of Abraham] is a literal translation
of the papyri Joseph used, since Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Abraham
facsimiles has been challenged by Egyptologists” (p. 51) As evidence for this,
he cites only the anti-Mormons H. Michael Marquardt and Franklin S. Spalding.
But, of course, neither Marquardt nor Spalding was an Egyptologist, and we are
confident that by far most communicant Latter-day Saints accept the historical
authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
Blomberg rejects the Latter-day Saint notion
of multiple heavens, but acknowledges that the idea of degrees of punishment
in hell fits the Bible and makes logical sense (p. 174). Fine. We’ll take that.
Just as a glass can be half empty while being half full, the telestial and terrestrial
degrees of glory can be counted as levels of punishment or hell rather than
as gradations of heaven. For, compared to the celestial kingdom, that is precisely
what they are. And that is actually what they are called in Doctrine and Covenants
Blomberg is unwilling to accept the Latter-day Saint allegation of a massive
apostasy from the primitive Christian church. “Christ promised to build his
church so that the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mt 16:19),” he
writes. “It is hard to square this promise with a total and prolonged apostasy
of the Christian church that the LDS claims require” (p. 46). But the promise
that hell would not prevail over the church certainly cannot be taken to imply
immediate and uninterrupted victory, since we know that such has not been the
historical case. (As a Protestant, Blomberg himself must believe that there
has occurred at least some level of apostasy in Roman Catholicism and the churches
of eastern Orthodoxy.) The only reasonable reading of the promise is to take
it as an assurance of absolute ultimate triumph.
But over what was the early
Christian church to triumph? Does Matthew 16:18 pledge that the church would
not be overcome by evil? The word hell would seem to suggest as much. But the
translation is misleading. The word rendered
in the King James Version as hell is the Greek Hades. But Hades is not hell;
Hades is merely the place to which human beings, both righteous and unrighteous,
depart upon death. In the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament known
as the Septuagint, hades refers to “death” or “the grave,” and has no moral
connotation whatever, for either good or evil.14 It is precisely equivalent
to the Hebrew word Sheol, and to what Latter-day Saints term “the spirit world.”
It is not evil, nor a place of evil, nor, as a whole, is it under the dominion
of evil. In classical Greek, Hades was the name of the god of the underworld.
He was a rather humorless deity, but he was never regarded as morally negative.
So, since the spirit world is all-admitting and thus ethically neutral, the
promise recorded in Matthew 16:18 most likely did not intend to say that the
powers of evil would not overcome the early church but that the powers of death
would not overcome it. Moreover, the reference to the “gates” of the spirit
world suggests that the power granted to the leaders of the church will extend
past the portals of death. This promise is perfectly appropriate to the context,
which describes the granting of priesthood sealing keys to the apostle Peter.
Thus, it seems quite likely that Matthew 16, far from refuting Latter-day Saint
belief in a “Great Apostasy,” supports the notion of priesthood ordinances for
the dead as they are performed in Latter-day Saint temples around the world.
Throughout his essays, Blomberg makes a number of claims that he puts forward
as historical evidence against the Latter-day Saint position, but which, upon
close analysis, turn out to be essentially assertions of his theological position
masked in the guise of argument based on historical evidence. We will examine
only a few of the most significant of these issues, especially as they involve
questions of canon and the scriptural texts.
“No ecclesiastical body or individual
Christian,” writes Blomberg, “can make proclamations that are on a par with
the authority of Scripture. . . . no church hierarchy, pope or anyone else has
the right to add to, supersede or contradict the written Word of God as contained
in [the Old and the New] testaments” (p. 33). But this attitude seems to be
precisely that of the Pharisees and others living in Palestine
in the early first century. They rejected Christ and the apostles on exactly
the same grounds, in this regard, that Blomberg uses to reject Joseph Smith.
Likewise, the Samaritans rejected Isaiah by means of the same argument, since
for them the scriptural canon was closed with the prophet Moses. Regardless
of whether Joseph Smith was or was not a prophet, this argument provides insufficient
and inconsistent grounds for rejecting his revelations while at the same time
accepting those of Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul. The rich irony here is that it was
precisely the church hierarchy (including the “pope”)—whose authority in these
and other matters Blomberg rejects—who established the canon that Blomberg
now finds uniquely authoritative.15
From the Latter-day Saint perspective, the
heart of the matter is that, although Blomberg is correct in saying that “no
ecclesiastical body or individual Christian can make proclamations that are
on a par with the authority of Scripture,” this does not imply that God cannot
make such proclamations. Joseph Smith’s message was that God is revealing new
scripture, not that any man or church hierarchy is. If applied consistently,
the rejection of Joseph’s revelations because they are the words of a man requires
an a priori assumption that precludes the possibility of ever accepting any
new revelation from God, including that of the New Testament, since God’s word
has always been revealed through human beings.
“None of the ancient manuscripts,”
says Blomberg, “support the contention that the type of ‘restorations’
that the JST (Joseph Smith’s translation) or the uniquely LDS Scriptures make
were ever in the original biblical texts” (p. 36). “In every one of these passages,”
he says, “the JST significantly differed from the unanimous witness of the ancient
manuscript evidence in favor of a version more in line with Mormon doctrine
than historic Christianity” (p. 51). But all this would show, of course, is
that the texts we now have are faithful to the scattered manuscripts of the
late second century and thereafter. It cannot demonstrate anything about the
mid-first-century originals, because these are lost. And if it be replied that ours is an argument from silence, and, thus,
less than definitive, it must be pointed out that so, too, is Blomberg’s. But
our position is less vulnerable than his. For it is conceivable, however probable
or improbable, that manuscripts might someday appear that support all or most
of the JST. However, it is virtually inconceivable that we will ever know all
of the manuscripts and manuscript variants that have ever existed. But it is
only on the basis of such complete knowledge that we could ever definitively
rule out the possibility of ancient support for Joseph Smith’s readings. Furthermore,
when Blomberg says, correctly, that “entire verses and chapters [in the JST]
correspond to nothing in any ancient manuscript” (p. 51), this only counts against
the Latter-day Saints if they are committed to the notion that the authority
of the modern prophet Joseph Smith to make changes depends upon ancient texts.
But Latter-day Saints are not (and should not be) committed to that notion.
Still, Blomberg is simply uninformed here.16 John Tvedtnes has analyzed 265
variations between the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, of which 89
(34%) have ancient textual support.17 Likewise John W. Welch has provided interesting
examples and arguments concerning the Book of Mormon version of the Sermon on
the Mount.18 Finally, again, informed Latter-day Saints do not claim that all
of Joseph’s changes in the JST are necessarily textual in nature.19 To argue
that there is no ancient textual support for such changes is therefore essentially
Blomberg doubts that we are lacking
any important inspired texts from antiquity. “There is,” he writes, “not a shred
of historical evidence from the ancient world that the suppression of such literature
[the Book of Mormon’s ‘plain and precious things’] ever took place” (p.
49). “Neither,” continues Blomberg, “do any ancient manuscripts exist to support
the claim that the early church left out entire books from the Bible that would
have included distinctively LDS doctrine” (p. 36). But, of course, if a text
has been successfully suppressed, one would expect evidence for it to be difficult,
if not impossible, to find. When one considers the number of important literary
texts from the ancient world that have disappeared leaving no trace behind them
but their titles—treasured texts of Aristotle and Sophocles and the like,
texts which were never suppressed but have nonetheless vanished—one is surprised
that anything survives at all. And we have no way of knowing how many texts
have disappeared leaving no trace at all. (It should be noted here, of course,
that much Latter-day Saint doctrine is fundamentally the same as traditional
In order to make his criticism coherent, Blomberg needs
to provide specific examples of the “distinctively LDS doctrine” that he claims
cannot be found in early Christian writings. Since he fails to do so, his criticism
remains pure assertion. Moreover, in dealing with this issue it is centrally
important to mention that most Jewish and Christian writings of the early centuries
after Christ are simply lost. To claim that such lost documents did or did not
include “distinctively LDS doctrine” is impossible (or, alternatively, very
easy) because we simply do not know what they contained. Nonetheless, even in
the surviving corpus of early Christian literature, there is extraordinarily
rich evidence of early Christian beliefs that parallel “distinctively LDS” doctrines
such as human deification,20 an anthropomorphic deity,21 creation from existing
matter rather than ex nihilo, the premortal existence of the soul,22
and the central importance of the prophet Enoch,23 and such “distinctively LDS”
practices as baptism for the dead24 and what might be termed Christian mystery
“We marvel,” writes Blomberg, “at the extent of the agreement among
the thousands of manuscripts that have been preserved, particularly in the Greek,
and we believe that we have, in the critical Greek editions of the New Testament
and the Hebrew and Aramaic editions of the Old Testament, extremely close replicas
of what the original authors actually wrote” (p. 38). Unfortunately, though,
this seems to be more a restatement of an article of evangelical faith than
an accurate summary of the current state of the textual criticism of the Bible,
which reveals quite a different picture. Blomberg seems to us to have too much confidence in the ability of textual
criticism to get us back to what the original authors of scripture wrote (as
at pp. 35—36). Here are some passages summarizing the recent assessment
made by Prof. Emanuel Tov, a noted authority on the text of the Hebrew Bible:
• “All of [the] textual witnesses [of the OT] differ from each other
to a greater or lesser extent.”26
• “There does not exist any one edition [of the OT] which agrees in all
of its details with another.”27
• “Most of the texts—ancient and modern—which have been transmitted
from one generation to the next have been corrupted in one way or another.”28
• “A second phenomenon pertains to corrections and changes inserted in
the biblical text. . . . Such tampering with the text is evidenced in all textual
• “Therefore, paradoxically, the soferim [scribes] and Masoretes carefully
preserved a text that was already corrupted.”30
• “One of the postulates of biblical research is that the text preserved
in the various representatives (manuscripts, editions) of what is commonly called
the Masoretic Text, does not reflect the ‘original text’ of the biblical
books in many details.”31
• “These parallel sources [from Kings, Isaiah, Psalms, Samuel, etc.] are
based on ancient texts which already differed from each other before they were
incorporated into the biblical books, and which underwent changes after they
were transmitted from one generation to the next as part of the biblical books.”32
• “S[eptuagint] is a Jewish translation which was made mainly in Alexandria.
Its Hebrew source differed greatly from the other textual witnesses (M[asoretic],
T[argums], S[amaritan], V[ulgate, and many of the Qumran texts]). . . . Moreover,
S[eptuagint] is important as a source for early exegesis, and this translation
also forms the basis for many elements in the NT.”33
• “The importance of S[eptuagint] is based on the fact that it reflects
a greater variety of important variants than all the other translations put
• “Textual recensions bear recognizable textual characteristics, such
as an expansionistic, abbreviating, harmonizing, Judaizing, or Christianizing
• “The theory of the division of the biblical witnesses into three recensions
[Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan] cannot be maintained . . . to such an
extent that one can almost speak in terms of an unlimited number of texts.”36
• “The question of the original text of the biblical books cannot be resolved
unequivocally, since there is no solid evidence to help us to decide in either
• “We still have no knowledge of copies of biblical books that were written
in the first stage of their textual transmission, nor even of texts which are
close to that time. . . . Since the centuries preceding the extant evidence
presumably were marked by great textual fluidity, everything that is said about
the pristine state of the biblical text must necessarily remain hypothetical.”38
• “M[asoretic] is but one witness of the biblical text, and its original
form was far from identical with the original text of the Bible as a whole.”39
• “As a rule they [concepts of the nature of the original biblical text]
are formulated as ‘beliefs,’ that is, a scholar, as it were, believes,
or does not believe, in a single original text, and such views are almost always
• “During the textual transmission many complicated changes occurred,
making it now almost impossible for us to reconstruct the original form of the
The evidence he has examined leads Tov to conclude that “many of the pervasive
changes in the biblical text, pertaining to whole sentences, sections and books,
should not . . . be ascribed to copyists, but to earlier generations of editors
who allowed themselves such massive changes in the formative stage of the biblical
literature.”42 There are a number of examples of this. The Septuagint (LXX)
and Qumran versions of Jeremiah are one-sixth shorter than that of the Masoretic
text, and the order of the verses has been changed.43 (Changing the context,
of course, can change the overall meaning.) Likewise, the LXX version of Joshua
is 4—5 percent shorter than the Masoretic text.44 The same is true for
Ezekiel.45 The story of David and Goliath is 44 percent shorter in the Septuagint.46
The chronological information in Genesis 5, 8, and 11 is quite different between
the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX, and the Masoretic traditions.47 The eleventh
chapter of 1 Samuel is much longer in the Qumran version than in the Masoretic.48
There is a final important point to make. “It is not that M[asoretic text] triumphed
over the other texts, but rather, that those who fostered it probably constituted
the only organized group which survived the destruction of the Second Temple
[i.e., the rabbinic schools derived from the Pharisees].”49 Thus, while we can
agree that we have a fairly well-preserved textual tradition of the Masoretes,
this tradition preserves only one version of the Old Testament—that accepted
and edited by the rabbis following the second century A.D., after the completion
of the New Testament.
But the greatest irony in Blomberg’s claim that “the Hebrew and Aramaic editions
of the Old Testament [are] extremely close replicas of what the original authors
actually wrote” (p. 38) is that the New Testament authors evidently did not
have access to that text. Rather, they generally quote not from the modern editions
of the Hebrew Old Testament, which Blomberg lauds as being so close to the original,
but from the Septuagint Old Testament, which, as noted above, differs extensively
from the Masoretic text, which forms the basis of our modern edition of the
Given all the textual differences manifest in the Samaritan, Septuagint,
Qumran, and other pre-second-century A.D. textual traditions, it seems impossible
to claim that the Masoretic version represents the original text of the Hebrew
Bible dating six or seven centuries earlier. The LDS position on this matter
—that the biblical texts have been significantly changed, both inadvertently
and intentionally —is sustained by the weight of the evidence of textual criticism.
And the textual problems in the New Testament are often as vexing as those of
the Old. For example, says the noted authority Bruce Metzger, the “Western text
of Acts is nearly ten percent longer than the form which is commonly regarded
to be the original text of that book.”50 Metzger further notes that, “of the
approximately five thousand Greek manuscripts of all or part of the New Testament
that are known today, no two agree exactly in all particulars.”51 The classic
example is, of course, the famous problem of the lack of Mark 16:9—20
in the earliest manuscripts.
A recent study on New Testament textual criticism
provides a number of interesting conclusions:
•”They [ancient methods of rhetorical interpretation] are used to reveal
a secret code, only accessible to the learned or initiated. If the ‘Western’
text is seen from this perspective, it becomes less of a product of a certain
theology than of a certain system of meaning. . . . But this sophisticated kind
of coded writing is not suitable for general circulation. For wider distribution,
the text had to be adapted to the mentality of the people who were going to receive
it, it had to be revised and changed so as to make it acceptable to an audience
who were not expecting to have to look for hidden meaning.”52
•”The wide stylistic gap between the two main New Testament text types,
the ‘Western’ on the one hand and all the other types on the other hand,
cannot have arisen by chance.”53
•”In AD 178 the secular writer Celsus stated in polemic against the Christians:
some of the believers . . . have changed the original text of the Gospels
three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy
the arguments of their critics.’ (quoted in Origen, Contra Celsum, SC 132, 2,
27). Origen does not deny the existence of such changes.”54
Indeed, Origen wrote, “It is an obvious fact today [third century A.D.]
that there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness
of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text,
or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting
themselves up as correctors.”55
•”It is therefore not possible to reconstitute with certainty the earliest
text, even though there is no doubt about its having existed in written form from
a very early date, without a preparatory oral stage.”56
•”In the period
following AD 135, the recensions proliferated with a resultant textual diversity
which reached a peak before the year 200.”57
•”Thus between the years 150 and 250, the text of the first recensions
acquired a host of new readings. They were a mixture of accidental carelessness,
deliberate scribal corrections, involuntary mistakes, a translator’s conscious
departure from literalness, a reviser’s more systematic alterations, and, not
least, contamination caused by harmonizing to an extent which varied in strength
from place to place. All these things contributed to diversification of the text,
to giving it, if one may so put it, a little of the local colour of each country.”58
In conclusion, like the Masoretic Old Testament, the text of the New Testament
that can be reconstructed by textual criticism is but one version of the text
which existed in the third century. Except for a few fragments, we don’t know
and cannot reconstruct the text of the first century.
Blomberg insists that “no
point of orthodox doctrine hinges on disputed texts, but we want to get as close
as possible to God’s inerrant Word, even in translation” (p. 38). However, this
is not the conclusion of Bart D. Ehrman, who, after a lengthy study offering numerous
examples, summarizes his position as follows: “My thesis can be stated simply:
scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more
patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant
views.”59 We shall discuss only a few cases of this phenomenon.
recognizes that 1 John 5:7 is an interpolation (i.e., a forgery) (see p. 50),
but seems unwilling to consider the implications of this fact.60 Where else in
the New Testament does it state that the Holy Ghost is one with the Father and
Son? Is the lack of such an explicit statement not a serious doctrinal omission
from the New Testament? Is it not a “point of orthodox doctrine [which] hinges
on disputed texts”?
Another rather stunning example comes from the Old Testament.
“The tiqqÃºné sóperim [a type of theological interpolation]
are corrections of the text aimed chiefly at softening anthropomorphisms and eliminating
the attribution of any sort of impropriety to God.”61 Here we find the removal
of anthropomorphisms from the biblical text for theological purposes—the transformation
of the doctrine of God from anthropomorphic to nonanthropomorphic. This is precisely
the type of thing that Latter-day Saint Christians claim happened, but which Blomberg
claims never happened. And it is precisely in regard to an LDS Christian doctrine
—the anthropomorphic character of God—which Blomberg claims is not sustained
by the Bible.
In the Masoretic text, Deuteronomy 32:8 says that God divided the
earth up in some fashion according to the “sons of Israel.” But 4QDeutq and LXX
848, 106c have “sons of God”—a variant which Tov and many others feel is “probably
[its] original wording.”62 Such a reading supports the Latter-day Saint notion
of God as the Father of many children, and substantially weakens biblical support
for the mainstream Christian view of God as isolated in stark and lonely monotheistic
“Significantly,” writes Blomberg, “Protestantism, Roman Catholicism
and Eastern Orthodoxy all agree on the same twentyseven books for the canon of
the New Testament” (p. 39; emphasis deleted). But, although this is true, it is
hardly a decisive argument in Blomberg’s favor, nor against the Latter-day Saints
(since we too accept the same canon for the New Testament). But each of these
three branches of mainstream Christianity derives from the imperial church of
the fourth century, which expelled those Christians who rejected the canon that
it was attempting to impose by government edict and force of arms. The similarities
in the New Testament canon thus represent merely three branches of a single tradition
of canonicity, rather than three separate denominations of Christianity—three
independent witnesses—accepting the same New Testament canon. The real issue
concerns some of the eastern branches of Christianity: The Syriac Peshitta lacks
2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. The Armenians include 3 Corinthians,
and did not accept the Apocalypse until the twelfth century. The Coptic church
includes two epistles of Clement. The Ethiopian church diverges most widely, adding
the Sinodos, Clement, the Book of the Covenant, and the Didascalia.63
Testament never once demonstrably refers to any of the Apocryphal Old Testament
books,” says Blomberg (p. 40). But this is really quite an astonishing claim,
considering the vast number of allusions and quotations to apocryphal and pseudepigraphic
works found in the New Testament. The editors of the Nestle-Aland edition of the New Testament provide references to several
hundred allusions and quotations in an appendix, including references to 3 Esdras,
4 Esdras, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, 4 Maccabees, Tobias, Judith,
Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremiah, Sirach, and the
Wisdom of Solomon from the deuterocanonical or apocryphal works, and Jubilees,
the Psalms of Solomon, Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Assumption of Moses,
and six of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, all found among the Old Testament
pseudepigrapha.64 Most important in this regard is Jude 1:14—15, which is
a quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9. While one is certainly free to argue that citation
of a Jewish work does not demonstrate that the New Testament author recognized
that work as “canonical”—especially since there is no evidence of the idea of
a canon among New Testament writers, and they cite several pagan sources as well
—to argue that such citations simply don’t exist is preposterous.
to block the possible canonicity of the Book of Mormon, Blomberg cites a rule
used by the imperial Christian church to determine such questions and then draws
from it a corollary. “The third major criterion employed by the earliest church,”
he says, “was widespread usage as a divinely authoritative source of doctrine.
. . . No work of any Jewish or Christian pedigree, however authentic, that was
hidden from the world at large for centuries should ever qualify as Scripture”
(p. 44). However, if Professor Blomberg wishes to apply this principle consistently
to scripture he must necessarily excise the books of Daniel and Deuteronomy from
the Bible. For the Lord ordered Daniel to “seal the book, even to the time of
the end” (Daniel 12:4; cf. 9:24, 12:9). If the book of Daniel we now have is this
sealed book, it was apparently sealed and hidden away for at least three hundred
years (until the second century B.C. when we have the earliest evidence of the
text). On the other hand, if Daniel’s sealed book is still to come forth in the
last days, Blomberg will be ill-advised to ignore its contents merely because
it has been “hidden from the world at large for centuries,”
for that is precisely what the Lord commanded Daniel to do. Likewise, it appears
that at least a substantial part of the book of Deuteronomy was sealed in a chamber
in the Temple of Solomon for centuries and was revealed to the people only around
620 B.C. (see 2 Kings 22:3—20; 2 Chronicles 34:3—18). Yet Deuteronomy
is accepted by Jews and Christians as divinely inspired and binding on the community,
and is quoted by Christ himself as authoritative.65
There are also a large number
of lost texts referred to in the Old Testament as authoritative.66 If a manuscript
of one or more such texts were to be found, would we be obliged to reject it out
of hand simply because, for several millennia, it had been lost? Blomberg should
not be allowed to indulge in the double standard of permitting Daniel and Deuteronomy
to remain in his biblical canon, while rejecting the Book of Mormon on the grounds
that it—like Deuteronomy and Daniel—was sealed and hidden away for centuries.67
With regard to the Book of Mormon, Blomberg confides that “the more I read [in
it], the more I feel it to be the product of nineteenth-century religious fervor,
however well intentioned” (p. 183). However, he seems to be unaware of the great
quantity of evidence, some of which we consider quite impressive, that seems to
indicate an ancient origin for the Book of Mormon. For example, he calls attention
to the “Mormon-Evangelical debate” as to whether there “truly was such a language
as ‘Reformed Egyptian'” (p. 53), but betrays no knowledge of Latter-day
Saint scholarship on the issue.68 On the positive side,
Blomberg acknowledges that the Bible shares in the same kind of “contradictions”
and archaeological problems that critics often point to in the Book of Mormon
Blomberg is perplexed at Joseph Smith’s apparent mistake in
naming the land of Jerusalem as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. “I have no idea
why he allowed this discrepancy to stand,” says Blomberg (p. 46), especially in
view of the fact that Joseph was “well versed in the KJV” (p. 49). (On page 51,
he implicitly describes Joseph Smith as “a creative, biblically literate individual.”)
But, as has been pointed out in this Review many times, there is no evidence to
suggest that the early Joseph Smith was “well versed” in any version of the Bible
and there is considerable evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, scholarship on
the subject suggests that Alma 7:10, far from constituting a mistake, reflects
authentically ancient Near Eastern usage.69
Blomberg thinks that the Book of Mormon
is anachronistic. “The whole range of issues that the uniquely LDS Scriptures
seek to answer fits perfectly the spirit of the early nineteenth century,” he
writes. As examples, though, he lists only infant baptism, the status of “the
people in the Old Testament times who seemed to know so little of the gospel,”
predestination, and original sin, claiming that they “all fit the religious climate
of nineteenth-century North America very readily” (p. 52). And they probably do.
But they also fit many other periods of biblical and Christian history. Original
sin and predestination, for instance, were major sources of contention between
Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century, and in the years leading up
to the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529. Tertullian and the Anabaptists rejected
infant baptism in, respectively, early third-century North Africa and sixteenth-century
Germanic Europe, which would seem to indicate that controversy on the subject
is not limited to “nineteenth century North America.” And as for concern with
the fate of the unevangelized, which is a very hot topic among Christians today
—including evangelicals—it is very difficult to imagine a period when it has
not been a concern for those involved with or encountering the proselytizing,
exclusivist faith of Christianity.70 Latter-day Saints have occasionally repeated
a story told by the historian J. L. Motley about the near-conversion of the Frisian
chieftain Radbod in the late seventh century:
It was Pepin of Heristal, grandson
of the Netherlander, Pepin of Landen, who conquered the Frisian Radbod (A.D. 692),
and forced him to change his royal for the ducal title. It was . . . Charles the
Hammer, whose tremendous blows completed his father’s work. The new mayor of the
palace soon drove the Frisian chief into submission, and even into Christianity.
A bishop’s indiscretion, however, neutralized the apostolic blows of the mayor.
The pagan Radbod had already immersed one of his royal legs in the baptismal font,
when the thought struck him: “Where are my dead forefathers at present?” he said,
turning suddenly upon Bishop Wolfran. “In hell, with all other unbelievers,” was
the imprudent answer. “Mighty well,” replied Radbod, removing his leg, “then will
I rather feast with my ancestors in the halls of Woden than dwell with your little
starveling band of Christians in heaven.” Entreaties and threats were unavailing.
The Frisian declined positively a rite which was to cause an eternal separation
from his buried kindred, and he died as he had lived, a heathen.71
In an effort to undercut the plausibility
of any modern claim to revelation, Blomberg attempts to draw a distinction between
the Old Testament and the New Testament in order to argue that, even if prophecy
can be shown to have existed in the period immediately following the ministry
of Christ, it was of a fundamentally different character from that of the original
Hebrews. Prophecy was on its way out, he implies, and the kind of prophecy that
produces written, canonizable texts was definitely gone. “In the days of Isaiah
and Jeremiah, for example,” he says, “no divinely accredited prophets were ever
to be evaluated; their messages were simply to be believed and obeyed. In Paul’s
day, however, such evaluation becomes mandatory (1 Cor 14:29)” (p. 42). This seems,
however, to be untrue. Deuteronomy 18:20—22, for instance, which claims
to have been written well before the time of Isaiah and which came forth publicly,
as we have noted, precisely during the time of Jeremiah, outlines a test by which
claims to prophecy were to be evaluated. So Blomberg’s distinction does not hold.
“What is more,” Blomberg avers, “[in New Testament times] genuine revelations
from God could be misinterpreted by those who received them in ways that made
the actual prophecy and its (mis-) interpretation difficult to distinguish. .
. . what these Christians put forward as a word from the Lord was a combination
of genuine revelation and faulty human interpretation. So even if God does still
grant prophecies today, we must never treat them as if they were on a par with
inerrant Scripture, because they may not get to us in an inerrant form” (p. 43).
But why would this ever have been different, even in Old Testament times? And
why is a text that has been transmitted and changed over 2,000 years more inerrant
than the words of a living prophet? “The record of revelation,” Robinson cogently
points out, “cannot logically be more authoritative than the experience of revelation”
(p. 58). Weren’t the original biblical texts revealed to or written down by humans?
Aren’t they still subject to human misinterpretation? (If not, how does Blomberg
explain the Latter-day Saints?)
“In the era beginning with the apostles,” says
Blomberg, “prophets almost never added to Scripture. So even if we could demonstrate
that Joseph Smith were a prophet, we should not have any high degree of expectation that he would ever write Scripture” (p. 43).
Perhaps not. And, in fact, many of the modern prophets (e.g., Howard W. Hunter,
Ezra Taft Benson, David O. McKay, Lorenzo Snow, and others) have never formally
produced scripture. But the fact that many prophets have not added to scripture
is a very weak basis on which to suggest that another specific prophet will not,
or even that he may not. Furthermore, Blomberg appears to be committing a semantic
equivocation between the term prophet in a narrow academic sense, and prophet
in the sense used by Latter-day Saints, according to which the testimony of Jesus
is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10). For Mormons, all the early apostles
and authors of the New Testament were prophets, and the authors of the New Testament
all clearly, by definition, added texts or revelations to the canon. It is true
that many of the prophets and apostles of the New Testament (e.g., Thaddeus, Agabus,
and Nathanael) did not produce scriptural texts, but, for that matter, neither
did many of the prophets of the earlier testament (e.g. Nathan, Micaiah, Elijah,
Blomberg correctly notes that there is a “general Evangelical aversion
to admitting any new revelation, because to do so is to diminish Christ” (p. 45,
emphasis in the original). We cannot see, however, why additional communication
from God (including the personal guidance many Christians often seek—and find
—in prayer) should be seen in any way as “diminish[ing] Christ.” “Once God revealed
himself in Jesus,” asks Blomberg, “what need is there for further revelation?”
(p. 45). On this, we can only say, Ask the early Christians! For the New Testament
is replete with revelations granted after the life, death, and resurrection of
the Savior—Paul’s writings, for example.
Blomberg says that “(1) theological
consistency with earlier revelation and (2) being produced during the apostolic
era by someone closely associated with Jesus or the apostles” are necessary to
meet his standard of orthodoxy and apostolicity for scripture (p. 43). But this
hardly helps to settle the question of how the canon of scripture is to be determined
and whether the Latter-day Saint scriptures can be admitted to the canon, since
it begs the question: Those who rejected nonapostolic revelation won the ecclesiastical
debates and became the imperial church, but it is precisely their legitimacy, and their authority to do so, that the Latter-day
Saint notion of the “Great Apostasy” casts into doubt.
Blomberg’s criteria for
canonicity (pp. 39—45, 69) are nonbiblical and therefore— especially coming
from someone who sees the Bible as the only valid religious authority —not wholly
persuasive. He says that new revelation must be consistent with old, as the New
Testament is consistent with the Old (p. 41). But surely many Jews would have
disputed that, on issues such as early Christianity’s dropping of the requirement
of circumcision or its taking the gospel to the gentiles. That is why there was
resistance on these questions even within the early church. And many modern Jews
—and not a few scholars—would forcefully dispute Christian readings of the
messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. Robinson is entirely justified in pointing
this out (on p. 70).
Much, much more could and will be said about the issues raised
in this important book. The conversation preserved in How Wide the Divide? is
a pioneering one, and much remains to be accomplished. As Robinson puts it:
terminology often seems naive, imprecise and even sometimes sloppy by Evangelical
standards, but Evangelicals have had centuries in which to polish and refine their
terminology and their arguments in dialogue with other denominations. We Mormons
have not been around nearly as long, and we have no professional clergy to keep
our theological language finely tuned (thank heaven!). (p. 156; compare p. 13)
We agree with both the description and the expression of gratitude. But there
are other factors that might be noted. To considerable though varying degrees,
Protestant and other forms of mainstream Christianity draw their doctrine and
their authority from a deposit of faith laid down in documents from the past,
and a precise understanding of those documents is essential to enable them to
remain faithful to that ancient deposit. Latter-day Saints, while treasuring such
ancient scripture as the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and much of the Pearl of Great
Price, see the guarantee of their fidelity to the will of God very much in the
presence of living apostles and prophets in the church. Doctrinal authenticity
and proper practice are ensured far less by careful scholarly scrutiny of ancient documents than by what Latter-day
Saints accept as continuous revelation.
Mormons have much to do to learn to speak
in the language of their Christian brothers and sisters, so as to promote future
dialogues. (By contrast, our mainstream Christian friends have an almost impossible
task, to win over the opponents of such dialogue. In fact, sad experience suggests
to us that many of those opponents cannot and never will be convinced that mutually
respectful conversation between Latter-day Saints and other Christians is anything
but an evil snare. It may be simpler and more productive simply to proceed, even
over their vociferous objections.) In learning that language, we shall have to
be quite careful. For translating from one language into another often —indeed,
almost invariably—distorts. Meaning is lost, and undesired meanings and connotations
are unavoidably acquired. Using categories that do not spring natively from the
subject but have been derived elsewhere, inevitably, if subtly, modifies the substance.
(The use of Latin—or, at least, of Indo-European—grammatical categories to
describe Arabic is finally disappearing, for instance, as scholars have recognized
the inaccuracies inseparably attendant upon such an approach.)
But the skill is
well worth learning, for the dialogue is important and the issues are vital.
refers to Pascal’s famous suggestion regarding religious debates, according to
which one must ask, “Which one of us has more at stake? What if I am wrong, and
my dialogue partner is right? On the other hand, what if I am right, and my dialogue
partner is mistaken?” He suggests that the proper Pascalian “wager” in the dispute
between evangelicals and Latter-day Saints is to bet on conservative Protestantism.
For, he says, if the Latter-day Saints are right, sincere albeit mistaken evangelicals
will still go to the (very pleasant) terrestrial kingdom, there to enjoy the presence
of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God. On the other hand, he continues, if evangelical
Protestantism is correct, the sincere but mistaken Latterday Saints will suffer
in hell for all eternity.
It is a cogent, if rather unaspiring, position to take.
Those who sincerely reject the fulness of the gospel as Latter-day Saints have
received it will almost certainly not go to the deepest abyss of hell. But they will also, it seems, have to forego the highest
blessings of the Father and the Son.
There are other ways of applying Pascal’s
logic here. If the Latter-day Saints are correct, little that is crucially important
to evangelicals is lost. The Bible is true, the ancient prophets and apostles
were what they claimed to be, and such luminaries of Christian history as St.
Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Soren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis,
and Mother Teresa remain admirable models of serious, morally engaged thinking
and Christian discipleship. And there is still hope for our evangelical brothers
and sisters, as well as for those of our brothers and sisters who have lived and
died in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.
By contrast, if evangelical Protestantism
is correct, much that is vitally important to Latter-day Saints is lost. Our deceased
families and friends are being tortured in hell. Our leaders are, at best, selfdeceived
fools, and very possibly monstrous frauds. And, on the usual Protestant understanding,
billions of our non-Christian brothers and sisters are consigned forever to the
flames of the inferno. It is difficult to see how any normal person could find
much in this unendurable scenario to feel cheerful about.
Few issues could conceivably
be more urgent, or more significant in the long term. Accordingly, we heartily
concur when Blomberg calls for “a serious and courteous discussion between informed
and scholarly representatives of Evangelical and Mormon traditions” (p. 25). “We
hope,” he says, “that we can spark many similar conversations between Mormons
and Evangelicals and thus inaugurate a new era in which such conversations move
us beyond the impasse of previous polemics, recognizing our areas of agreement
and clarifying the nature of our disagreements” (p. 32).
But such conversations
must be carried out in a spirit of mutual respect and sincere desire to perceive
and communicate the truth, rather than to win cheap points based on rhetoric and
distortion. As Robinson notes, “it is a rare thing indeed for non-Mormons writing
about the Saints to get it right even when they are trying to, and most contemporary
non-LDS writing on the Mormons is frankly not trying to get it right” (p. 14).
Reflecting on the challenges involved in producing How Wide the Divide? itself,
Robinson observes that “if two individuals who hold doctorate degrees in religion
and who are honestly attempting to get at the truth experience difficulty understanding each other, what chance
do polemicists have of correctly understanding or representing the beliefs of
the other side?” (p. 12).
We hope that this commendable book will be the first
of many such ventures—in print, in the broadcast media, in academic symposia,
and in ordinary communities across our nation and around the globe.
- See James R. White, Is the Mormon My Brother? Discerning the Differences
between Mormonism and Christianity (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997).
- Jay Crosby, “How Wide the Divide?” The Evangel 44/6 (November/ December
- Jay Crosby, “How Wide the Divide?” The Evangel 44/5 (September/ October
- Robinson’s ability to represent Latter-day Saint belief is sharply questioned,
for instance, by Stephen F. Cannon, “Still Wide the Divide: A Critical
Analysis of a Mormon and an Evangelical in Dialogue,” The Quarterly Journal:
The Newsletter Publication of Personal Freedom Outreach 17/4 (October— December
1997): 1, 12—18.
- John L. Smith, “Those 57,000 Mormon Missionaries,” The Inner
Circle 15/4 (April 1998): 5. Rev. Smith terms Robinson “infamous”
in an open letter that was sent out in the spring of 1998 by Utah Missions,
Inc., with the Southern Baptist Convention’s curriculum materials (“The Mormon
Puzzle”) about the Latter-day Saints.
- See Cannon, “Still Wide the Divide,” 17—18.
- Smith, “Those 57,000 Mormon Missionaries,” 5.
- Dennis A. Wright, “Newest LDS Temple Dedicated in Vernal,” The
Evangel 44/6 (November/December 1997): 6.
- Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, “Mormonism as a ‘Cult':
Limits of Lexical Polemics,” in Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons
Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 193—212, argue that the term cult should be abandoned altogether, as uselessly
- Robinson may hint at an asymmetry on pages 11, 20.
- See E. Feser, “Has Trinitarianism Been Shown to Be Coherent?”
and Philosophy 14/1 (January 1997): 87—97. Compare Timothy W. Bartel,
Plight of the Relative Trinitarian,” Religious Studies 24/2 (June 1988):
thank Mark D. Ellison for bringing Dr. Bartel’s essay to our attention.
- Bartel, “Plight of the Relative Trinitarian,” 151.
- Daniel C. Peterson discusses the analogous situation in Islam in an as yet
unpublished paper, “Authoritative Religion: Notes on Al-matabi’ fi ithbat
1:7—2:2 of Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani,” first presented at Cornell
on 9 April 1994.
- As at 1 Samuel 2:6 (= Septuagint 1 Kings 2:6).
- See Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development,
and Significance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987); F. F. Bruce,
The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), provides
evangelical perspective that substantiates the fundamental role of the church
hierarchy in deciding which books were and were not to be included in the
- As will be noted as this review continues, Blomberg frequently seems
uninformed about current LDS scholarly analysis on many of the issues he discusses.
It is unfortunate that Stephen Robinson, his major LDS contact, apparently
chose not to inform him of such studies.
- See John Tvedtnes, “Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon” (Provo,
Utah: FARMS, 1981), 118.
- See John W. Welch, “The Sermon at the Temple and the Greek New
Testament Manuscripts,” in The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on
Mount: A Latter-day Saint Approach (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS,
1990), 145—63, and in Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple and the
Sermon on the
Mount (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), 199—210; see also his “Approaching
Approaches,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 (1994): 145—68.
- See Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s
Translation of the Bible, a History and Commentary (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young
University Press, 1975).
- See, for example, Ernst W. Benz, “Imago Dei: Man in the Image of
God,” in Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman
Madsen (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 201—21; Keith
Norman, “Deification: The Content of Athanasian Soteriology” (Ph.D.
University, 1980); Georgios I. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man: Saint
Palamas and Orthodox Tradition, trans. Liadain Sherrard (Cresswood, N.Y.:
Vladimir’s Seminary, 1984); Panayiotis Nellas, Deification in Christ:
The Nature of
the Human Person, trans. Norman Russell (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s
Seminary, 1987); A. M. Allchin, Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in
Anglican Tradition (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1988); Stephen E.
Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 60—65;
Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for a Word, 75—92.
- See Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier, “In Defense of Anthropomorphism,”
Reflections on Mormonism, 155—73; David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian
Belief in a
Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard
Theological Review 83 (1990): 105—16; Peterson and Ricks, Offenders
for a Word,
74—75; David L. Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration,
Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies 35/4 (1995—96):
94 (esp. pp. 41—79).
- See Blake Ostler, “Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity,”
BYU Studies 22/1 (1982): 31—45; David Winston, “Preexistence in
Hellenic, Judaic and Mormon Sources,” in Reflections on Mormonism, 13—35.
- See Hugh Nibley, Enoch the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and
- See Hugh Nibley, “Baptism for the Dead in Ancient Times,” conveniently
available in his Mormonism and Early Christianity (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book and FARMS, 1987), 100—167; and Peterson and Ricks, Offenders for
108—10. See also John A. Tvedtnes, review of “Did Jesus Establish
Baptism for the
Dead?” by Luke P. Wilson, FARMS Review of Books 10/2 (1998): 184—199,
John A. Tvedtnes, “Baptism for the Dead in Early Christianity,”
in The Temple in
Time and Eternity, ed. Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah:
FARMS, 1999), 55—78.
- See, for instance, William J. Hamblin, “Aspects of an Early Christian
Initiation Ritual,” in By Study and Also by Faith: Essays in Honor of
Nibley, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret
and FARMS, 1990), 1:202—21; Ostler, “Clothed Upon,” 31—45;
Peterson and Ricks,
Offenders for a Word, 110—17. See also Barry R. Bickmore, Restoring
Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Ben Lomond, Calif.: Foundation
Apologetic Information and Research, 1999).
- Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis:
Fortress, 1992), 2.
- Ibid., 3.
- Ibid., 8.
- Ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 11, emphasis in original.
- Ibid., 12.
- Ibid., 134.
- Ibid., 142.
- Ibid., 161.
- Ibid., 166.
- Ibid., 169.
- Ibid., 170.
- Ibid., 171.
- Ibid., 177.
- Ibid., 265—66.
- See ibid., 320—21.
- See ibid., 328.
- See ibid., 333.
- See ibid., 334—35.
- See ibid., 337.
- See ibid., 342—44.
- Ibid., 195.
- Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament
(Stuttgart: United Bible Societies, 1975), xix.
- Ibid., xxiv.
- Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, An Introduction to New
Testament Criticism, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991),
- Ibid., 96.
- Ibid., citing Origen, In Matthaeum 15.14, in PG 13:1293.
- Ibid., 97.
- Ibid., 98.
- Ibid., 105—6.
- Bart D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1993), xi.
- See Metzger, Textual Commentary, 715—17.
- G. R. Driver, “Glosses in the Hebrew Text of the OT,” in L’ancien
et l’Orient (Louvain, 1957), 153, cited by Tov, Textual Criticism of
Hebrew Bible, 265.
- Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 269.
- See Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, 219—23 (Syriac), 225
(Coptic), and 226—27 (Ethiopic).
- See Kurt Aland, Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, 5th ed.
(Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), 769—75; see also Craig
Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.:
Hendrickson, 1992), 190—219, who provides almost 1,500 quotations, allusions,
parallels between noncanonical sources and the New Testament.
- Aland, Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, 745—47, provides
complete list of allusions or quotations from Deuteronomy in the New Testament.
- See, for example, book of the wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14); book of
Jasher (Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18); book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kings
book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:19); book of the
of the kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29; 15:7); book of Samuel the seer (1 Chronicles
29:29); book of Nathan the prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29);
of Gad the seer (1 Chronicles 29:29); book of Shemaiah the prophet (2 Chronicles
12:15); book of Iddo the seer (2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15); book of Jehu the
Hanani (2 Chronicles 20:34); book of the kings of Israel (2 Chronicles 20:34;
33:18); lament for Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:25).
- It should be noted that the other major reference to a sealed book in the
Bible is Isaiah 29:11, which Latter-day Saint scripture sees as a prophecy
Book of Mormon itself (2 Nephi 27).
- Recent examples of which include William J. Hamblin, “Reformed
Egyptian” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1995); John Gee, “Two Notes on
Script,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/1 (1996): 162—76;
John A. Tvedtnes
and Stephen D. Ricks, “Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian
Characters,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 5/2 (1996): 156—63.
- See Daniel C. Peterson, Matthew Roper, and William J. Hamblin, “On
Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1995).
- Among contemporary Christian works debating the subject, see John
Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992); Francis A. Sullivan, Salvation outside
Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist
Press, 1992); Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection
(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1993), 159—65; Gabriel Fackre, Ronald
and John Sanders,
(Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1995); Dennis
Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds., More Than One Way? Four Views on
Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996).
- John L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic: A History (New York:
Harper & Brothers, 1883), 1:20—21. A rather similar story is told
in an Islamic context about the Prophet Muhammad. See W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad:Prophet and Statesman (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 80.
- John L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic: A History (New York: