Apologetics, Journal Topics

The Gold Plates of Mormon

If there are two elements at the heart of Mormonism, they are Joseph Smith and the gold plates. The two are in many ways inseparable because Joseph Smith claimed he was told by an angelic visitor to retrieve this buried record at a specific time and to translate it. The result, of course, was the Book of Mormon, a record believed by Mormons to be an ancient scripture in which Joseph Smith claimed was the “most correct book on earth.” To many members of the LDS Church, the Book of Mormon validates Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet in these “latter days.” Yet it is this same book that has caused skeptics to draw the conclusion that Smith was nothing but a charlatan who merely took advantage of gullible followers.

While much of the critical emphasis is on the contents of the Book of Mormon, the lesser focus is on the plates that are allegedly the source of that book. If they actually existed, what were they made of, how heavy would they have been, and were they really seen by anyone? The problematic story as it has originally been told has led many Mormon historians and apologists to contrive explanations that are just as perplexing as the story itself. Do Mormon explanations solve the dilemma, or do they make the whole gold plates story even harder to believe?

Bill McKeever is the founder and president of Mormonism Research Ministry, a Christian ministry based in the Salt Lake City area of Utah. Bill is the author of four books, including In Their Own Words: A Collection of Mormon Quotations (Morris Publishing, 2010). His feature article, “Problems with the Gold Plates of the Book of Mormon” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). To read the full article, please subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

For Further Study CRI Recommends:

Book: Mormonism 101

CD Package: Mormonism’s Greatest Problems

Article: DNA Science Challenges LDS History

Article: Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine: Part One

Article: Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine: Part Two

Article: LDS Apologetics and the Battle for Mormon History

Apologetics, Journal Topics

The Historically Reliable Bible

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”—2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

To defend the Christian faith, we must be equipped to demonstrate that the Bible is divine rather than merely human in origin. When we can successfully accomplish this, we can answer a host of objections to the Christian faith by appealing to Scripture.

Toward that end, archaeology is a powerful witness to the accuracy of the Scriptures. Over and over, comprehensive archaeological field work since the mid-nineteenth century, coupled with careful biblical interpretation, affirm the reliability of the Bible down to minute details; and skeptics who challenge Scripture are silenced as myriad discoveries point to the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Take, for example, the skeptics’ claim that Jesus was not nailed to the cross but was tied according to the Roman custom. In 1999, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a young man in his early 20s who was crucified in the first century. His remains attest to a death by crucifixion precisely as described in the Bible: his bones tell the story of open arms that had been nailed to a crossbar, and a large single nail had been driven through both heels. That nail was still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death. Moreover, the shin bones seemed to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions.

Here’s another example. The Old Testament references the Hittites as one of seven Canaanite nations. In fact, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 and is one of King David’s warriors (who is later killed in battle). Yet, prior to the early twentieth century, skeptics said the Hittites were pure mythology. Thus, many were surprised in 1906 when archaeologists unearthed the ruins of Hattutsas in Turkey, the chief city of the ancient Hittites, confirming the biblical references. Or consider the Assyrians who, like the Hittites, were also thought to be a mythological people group. In the nineteenth century, the capital city was unearthed on the plains of Northern Iraq, including the palace of Sargon, the Assyrian King mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. The list of archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record goes on and on.

Furthermore, the reliability of the Bible is affirmed repeatedly by the eyewitness testimony of its authors—or close associates of eyewitnesses—to the recorded events (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3—8; 1 John 1:1-3). Additionally, ancient Jewish and secular historians, such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius, also confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in Scripture.

It is important to note, finally, that while archeological and historical evidences can remove doubts about the factual accuracy of the Bible, the spiritual message of our sin, humanity’s need for redemption, and a loving Creator who interacts in the affairs of humans, providing salvation, must be received by faith. Indeed, as the apostle Paul declared, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV).

Hank Hanegraaff

Apologetics, Journal Topics

A Christian View of Human Nature

Consider the following situation. You meet someone: born on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in an abusive home, surrounded by cynical and unbelieving friends who scoff at the Christian faith. If God works miraculously and he comes to faith in Christ, how free is he to really progress in the Christian faith? Should occasions when he falls back into sin be seen as inevitable, given all the influences in his life, or actions for which he is fully responsible? Consider a contrasting situation. You meet someone who believes we are free to be whatever we want to be. Though born a male, this person wants to be female and decides to have a sex change operation as an expression of her freedom to be whatever she wants to be. Are there hard limits to the freedom we have? I will argue (in my article in the current issue of the Christian Research Journal) that a Christian view of human nature sees humans as neither completely free nor totally determined. We have enough freedom to be responsible for our actions, but our freedom is limited by or created nature, and we are influenced by the fallen, dysfunctional world in which we are born, raised, and live.

Which way is our culture heading? Do you see more emphasis on humans being free to become whatever they want to be, or the growth of ideologies claiming that our freedom is illusory and that we are determined by forces outside our control? What evidence could you cite to support your answer? How do we hold others responsible for their choices without overlooking the powerful influences family background, genetic inheritance, and environment exert upon us? What are the hard limits our created nature imposes on us? Is gender fixed at birth? Is physical mortality something we should aspire to?

John S. Hammett, Ph.D., has been a pastor, missionary, and professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, since 1995. He is author of a number of books and articles, including “Human Nature,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville: B and H Academic, 2007). His cover article in which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). Or give a gift subscription. Tune-into the Bible Answer Man broadcast on April 19 when Hank discusses this article with its author.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Just War Theory

The recent U.S. military action in Libya brings the issue of a biblical view of war to the forefront again. In 1996 a Christian Research Journal feature considered Just War Theory and the necessity of warfare. What are the biblical principles of Just War Theory? How do we decide when military action is or is not warranted?

–Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Proof Positive

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”—2 Timothy 3:16

scriptureDespite what you might glean from the media, Christians have proof positive that the whole cannon of Scripture is utterly reliable. This is an important point to internalize because in order to effectively defend the Christian faith, we must be equipped to demonstrate to an unenlightened audience that the Bible is not only divine in origin, but also one hundred percent correct.

In fact, archaeology is a powerful witness to the accuracy of the Scriptures. Over and over, comprehensive archaeological field work since the mid-nineteenth century, coupled with careful biblical interpretation, affirm the reliability of the Bible down to minute details.

Skeptics who challenge Scripture are silenced as myriad discoveries point to the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Take, for example, the skeptics’ claim that Jesus was not nailed to the cross, but was tied according to Roman custom. In 1999, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a young man in his early 20s who was crucified in the first century. His remains attest to a death by crucifixion precisely as described in the Bible: his bones tell the story of open arms that had been nailed to the crossbar and a large single nail had been driven through both heels. That nail was still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death. Moreover, the shin bones seemed to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions.

Here’s another example. The Old Testament references the Hittites as one of seven Canaanite nations. In fact, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 and is one of King David’s warriors (who is later killed in battle). Yet, prior to the early twentieth century, skeptics said the Hittites were pure mythology. Thus, many were surprised in 1906 when archaeologists unearthed the ruins of Hattutsas in Turkey, the chief city of the ancient Hittites, confirming the biblical references.

Or consider the Assyrians who, like the Hittites, were also thought to be a mythological people group. In the nineteenth century, the capital city was unearthed on the plains of Northern Iraq, including the palace of Sargon, the Assyrian King mentioned in Isaiah 20:1.

The list of archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record goes on and on. The reliability of the Bible is affirmed repeatedly by the eyewitness testimony of its authors—or in some cases close associates of eyewitnesses—to the recorded events. Secular historians also confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in Scripture.

It is important to note that while archeological evidence can remove doubts about the historical accuracy of the Bible, the spiritual message of our sin, man’s need for redemption, and a loving Creator who interacts in the affairs of men, providing a means of salvation, must be accepted by faith. Indeed, as the apostle Paul declared, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

Hank Hanegraaff

For Further Study CRI Recommends:

Flip Chart: LIGHTS on Your Path

Basic Bible Reading Tool Kit

Book: How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth

Article: Biblical Archaeology: Factual Evidence to Support the Historicity of the Bible

Apologetics, Journal Topics, Reviews

Review: On Guard by William Lane Craig

On Guard by William Lane CraigOn Guard is a fencing term. It’s also the title of a book written by Dr. William Lane Craig, with the subtitle of “Defending your Faith with Reason and Precision.” He attempts to show the skeptics/atheists that their position needs to be supported with evidence and not mere rhetoric.

I found this quote on page 41 to be very interesting: “If God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.” I agree with the statement. Yet many atheists I’ve encountered think they aren’t missing anything in life. In many ways, they think my life is a model for dullness and despair. I wonder, is there an effective approach that could best be utilized to illustrate how their lives are truly based on insignificance?

Eric Johnson is a researcher with Mormonism Research Ministry and coauthor of Mormonism 101(Baker, 2000). He is also an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (Holman, 2010).

His review of On Guard on which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). Or give a gift subscription.

For Further Reading We Recommend:

On Guard

Apologetics, In the News, Journal Topics

Gay Groups and Evangelical Colleges

A recent online article from Christian Century reports that at some Evangelical Colleges, acceptance of gay groups is growing perhaps due to the efforts of the gay activist group Soulforce. In 2009, the Christian Research Journal published an in-depth article on Soulforce by Joe Dallas. As Dallas writes, “But an error Christians often make when dealing with homosexual activists is to overindulge their desire for us to hear their concerns, while offering none of our own.”

Do you think acceptance of gay groups on Evangelical college campuses is inevitable? How can Christians dialog with groups and maintain fidelity to biblical truth? Should we be in dialog with these groups?

—Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor

Recommended Resources on Homosexuality:

Desires in Conflict
The Gay Gospel?: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread The Bible
The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Mormonism and Christianity

This week The Washington Post published two articles in its On Faith blog musing on Mormonism and Christianity and politics. Will Mormonism impact the 2012 presidential election? One post gives a Christian case for Mormon values. The other post gives a case of Mormons and Christians as political “blood brothers.” Even in our own CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, contributing writer, Francis J. Beckwith, wrote an op-ed in 2007 called, “Is It Permissible for a Christian to Vote for a Mormon?”

But is Mormonism Christian? The answer is a firm and resounding no. CRI has published in-depth research on Mormonism since the inception of our ministry 51 years ago. You can search this website for many free articles on Mormonism. In a succinct YouTube video, Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief, gives just two distinctions that demonstrate Mormonism is not Christian. As Elliot says, “Mormonism is Mormonism.”

Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor

For more CRI resources on Mormonism we recommend:

Mormonism 101
Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons
The Lost Book of Abraham

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Making Sense of a gracious God within the Old Testament drama

Is God a Moral Monster?Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

The Old Testament (OT) at points can be extremely difficult to understand. Complicating matters are remarks made by popular Neo-Atheists like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris criticizing the OT God as a jealous, angry deity who supports heinous acts like genocide, human sacrifice, ethnocentrism, chattel slavery, and misogyny. Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God offers a well-written lay level response to these criticisms, demonstrating how the redemptive movement of God in Israel’s history puts the proper perspective on difficult OT passages, such as those relating to ceremonial cleanliness, kosher foods, cruel punishment, misogyny, bride-price, polygamy, concubines, slavery, and Canaanite killings.

Copan observes that not only are social aspects of Ancient Near East life alien to moderns, but the ancient social structures were badly damaged by the fall. It is within this context God starts a covenant nation, gives the law, and forms a culture. The OT law, however, was not the permanent ideal for all times and places, but looked forward to “a new, enduring covenant” (59). God met His chosen people where they were at, showed them a higher ideal, but “didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for” but “moved incrementally” (61, italics in original). The Ancient Near East cultures permitted slavery and the brutal treatment of slaves. The OT law permitted slavery but limited the kinds of punishments used on slaves. The New Testament declared masters and slaves as equal, but the ultimate ideal is the “genuine realization of creation ideals in Genesis 1:26-27, in which God’s image-bearers live and work together and are fairly, graciously treated; they are viewed as full persons and equals; and genuine humanness is restored in Christ, the second Adam/the new man” (63).

Old Testament heroes were flawed. Abraham lied about Sarah, Moses murdered an Egyptian, and David power raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah; however, Copan points out that one must avoid the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and “the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.” The status placed on these OT heroes was not their moral perfection, but their uncompromising dedication to the cause of Yahweh, and trust in His promises (66-67).

Copan spends several chapters addressing the New Atheist criticism that the killing of the Canaanites is tantamount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Militating against the charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing are the facts that God waited 430 years to judge the Canaanites as “the last resort” when their corrupting moral practices reached their lowest depths (159-160), that God’s command to destroy nations was never meant to be a “universally binding standard for all time and all cultures” (161), that Israel experienced divine judgment when she sinned (163), that Joshua’s use of Ancient Near East conventional warfare language, a form of exaggeration, precludes the literalness of statements about complete annihilation of a particular people group (170-173), that some Canaanites who responded positively to the God of Israel received mercy (175), that noncombatant Canaanites live outside cities like Jericho and Ai, which were government/military installations (176), and that Deuteronomy 20 indicates Canaanite cities could have made peace with Israel (180). The OT was not the ideal, but was part of a redemptive movement to the ideal, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Copan lastly points out that Neo-Atheists can recognize morals and to a certain extent live by a moral code; however, they have not the philosophical foundations to explain why they are rights-bearing, valuable individuals (210-211). People have dignity and intrinsic knowledge of morality because they are created in God’s image, which is a better explanation why moral absolutes exist.

Is Yahweh the moral monster the New Atheists paint him out to be? According to the evidence, nothing could be further from the truth! What are your thoughts?

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Why Atheists Object to Killing the Canaanites

Killing the Canaanites: Was it Biblical?

Atheists grouse about God’s ordering of the destruction of the Canaanites calling it “divine genocide.” But, it wasn’t genocide, it was capital punishment, which I try to show in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal. In Lev. 18 the Lord details Canaanite sin: incest, adultery, offering children to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality; and, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that anyone who did any of these things should be put to death (of course, that’s a theocracy—now Christians fight in the realm of ideas and in prayer).
Shock-and-awe! The atheist is repulsed by this answer. Why? There are three major reasons. First, most of today’s “enlightened” thinkers, or “brights” (as some atheists like to be called), don’t regard anything as deserving capital punishment—usually, not even for murder. So, obviously, if capital punishment is itself always wrong, then surely God was wrong to order it.
Second, even if the atheist did think capital punishment appropriate for some crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be warranted for committing consensual sexual acts. After all, even if the atheist finds, say, sex with animals personally repugnant, that doesn’t mean that they don’t approve those so inclined. For example, atheist/ethicist Peter Singer wrote that sex with animals is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” And it’s not just Singer. Consider the 2008 movie Sleeping Dogs Lie where a woman tells her fiancé about once having sex with her dog only to have her fiancé break off the engagement. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Sleeping Dogs Lie “possesses a quick wit and an endearing tenderness toward Amy as honesty wrecks her life. It’s sweet, doggone it.” Notice for Travers it wasn’t sex with a dog that ruined Amy’s life, but honesty.
Third, even if atheists were to think that some offenses did deserve capital punishment and even if the things enumerated in Lev. 18 did warrant that punishment, the atheist would still complain that some innocents must also have been killed. But how would the atheist know this? After all, if the God of the Bible really does exist then He does know everything which includes knowing who is guilty and who would or would not repent. This was exactly the point of Abraham’s lengthy dialog with the Lord in Genesis 18 regarding the coming destruction of two Canaanite cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord said He would spare both cities if even ten righteous people were found. But not only could ten righteous not be found, the angels had to all but drag Lot and his family out of the city.
Still, atheists will intuit that what God ordered was all very wrong. And that’s all it is: atheist intuition. But the Christian’s task is to proclaim God’s truth and not be surprised that the atheist hates it. After all, Jesus said that the reason the world hated Him was because “I testify that what it does is evil.”
Clay Jones is an Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. You can read more about Clay by visiting www.clayjones.net.