Monday, April 17, 2017

Answering Albert Mohler on the Book of Mormon

I was watching the above video by Albert Mohler in which he speaks in defense of the Bible as the word of God. For the first 15 or 16 minutes he talks about “epistemology,” meaning the theory of knowledge. What does it mean to say that we “know” something? Then in the next 15 minutes he talks in defence of the Bible as the word of God—except that he does not produce much “epistemological” evidence in support of his “knowledge”. He basically says that the Bible is the word of God because it says so, which is not “epistemologically” enlightening to someone who does not share his convictions. After about 30 minutes into the video he starts contrasting the Bible with the Koran and the Book of Mormon—the latter two being examples in his judgment of “false claims” to scripture or revelation. My aim here is not to defend the Koran, but to demonstrate the flaws in his arguments​, against both the Koran as well as the Book of Mormon. At 27:30 minutes into the video he starts with the following comments (emphasis added):

“We can have absolute confidence when we talk about the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, that we identify as the canon, we are talking about these writings that the Apostle Paul testifies concerning when he says, ‘all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.’ (2 Tim. 3:16) This is an incredible claim, because it is speaking about this word and this word alone. This is not only a positive claim about scripture, it is also a negative claim about any other claimant; any other competitor, any other supposed revelation. Now in our postmodern age this is considered extremely exclusive. This is considered intolerably objective. It is considered even in the claim of some to be essentially arbitrary. But this is not an arbitrary claim, this is a claim with evidence, this is a claim with foundation, this is a claim with reasons. Now I want us to look at some of those reasons today. We claim that this word [Bible] and this word alone is the word of God. We claim that this book [Bible] and this book alone is the enscripturated, written word of God.”

The highlighted bits are his own impositions​. They cannot be logically deduced from the statement of Paul. When Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God,” he is not referring to the “66 books” of the Bible per se, some of which did not even exist at that time. He is referring to anything that is, can be, or will be legitimately identified as “scripture,” then or at anytime in the future. If the Book of Mormon is indeed a book of scripture, it falls into the same category. It is not a “competitor” to the Bible, or “another claimant,” but part of the same collection. Mohler then continues:

“What about the Koran? What do we say to the Muslim who says, ‘Well we have a book. In fact we have a book that is a successor to your book, a book that actually corrects your book. And this is an enscripturated revelation as well.’ The Koran states concerning itself in surah 10, verse 37, ‘This Koran is not such as can be produced by other than God. On the contrary it is a confirmation of revelation that went before it, and a full explanation of the book wherein there is no doubt from the Lord of the worlds.’ In surah, in this case in 45, verse 2 the Koran states, ‘The revelation of this book is from God, the exalted in power, full of wisdom.’ There is an explicit claim to revelation; there is no doubt about it. How do we compare Paul saying ‘all scripture is inspired by God,’ and then all of a sudden we come over to the Koran, and the Koran says, ‘Only God could have written this?’

“It is not just the Koran, is it; it is the Book of Mormon as well. In the Book of Mormon you will find this claim: ‘And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good. And if they are not the words of Christ, judge ye—for Christ will show unto you, with power and great glory, that they are his words, at the last day; and you and I shall stand face to face before his bar; and ye shall know that I have been commanded of him to write these things, notwithstanding my weakness.’ (2 Nephi 33:10-11.) That is a very clear claim to divine revelation and indeed, virtually to verbal revelation. How do we set Paul’s statement, ‘All scripture—speaking of these scriptures [i.e. the Bible]—as inspired by God,’ over against the claims of the Koran, and the claims of the Book of Mormon?

“Let me suggest to you some lines of profitable thinking in this regard. The self-identifying claim of the Koran is that it was a form of dictated revelation given through an illiterate prophet by the name of Muhammad. A part of the supposedly miraculous nature of the dictation of the Koran is that Muhammad did not have the ability to write or to read, nonetheless he was the conduit through which this revelation was given. The entirety of the Koran came through this one prophet. The entirety of the experience involved was his experience. You are talking about a seventh century revelation, the textual history of which we do well understand. You are talking about a book that was basically produced with one man claiming to be the instrument through which it has come.

“In the book of Mormon a parallel. Joseph Smith in the 19th century claimed to have received this revelation through an angel. The revelation coming in a myriad forms and in a complex process that included golden plates, and stones, and special spectacles through which he could look in order to decipher such things, and write what is known as the Book of Mormon. Again, all through this one man, this one prophet, all, at one time, delivered as one book. Compare that to the Bible. The 66 books of the Bible and the Old and New Testaments as we know them were written over several centuries. Multiple authors are involved, multiple contexts and venues of writing. Multiple circumstances, multiple styles, a variety of revelatory forms testified and recorded and recited and called and set forth within this book.”

Here we need to distinguish between the Book of Mormon and the Koran, because they claim to be different kinds of revelations. The Bible is not one book of revelation​, but many. It is a compilation of many different books of scripture or revelation, written by many different prophets​ over a period of many centuries; and interestingly, so is the Book of Mormon. But that is not the case with the Koran. The Koran claims to be a single book of scripture composed by a single prophet; therefore comparing it with the Bible is wrong kind of comparison. If you want to compare the Koran with anything, you would have to compare it with one of the individual books of the Bible, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, or Moses. When you make that kind of comparison, you will find that the objections that he raises against the Koran would be equally applicable to those individual books of the Bible. He is not comparing like with like.

The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, is something completely different. It does indeed claim to be a book of sacred history, just like the Bible. It claims to be a collection of many sacred books (or abridgements of them), written by many prophets over many centuries, spanning a period of approximately a thousand years. It has all the characteristics that he mentions of the Bible. Joseph Smith merely acted as the inspired translator of it. The fact that Mohler doesn’t believe it to be true history is irrelevant to that consideration. Thus his objections to both the Book of Mormon and the Koran are logically invalid. He continues:

“Do you understand the difference between a book that was validated by the experience of so many, and consistent revelation and consistent experience. Do you understand the difference between a book that was supposedly handed down through one prophet himself simply a passive conduit versus the biblical doctrine of verbal revelation that tell us over time God spoke to his people so that these writings took form as we are told men of old were moved by God to write these words?”

All of these objections are either irrelevant or inapplicable to the Book of Mormon or to the Koran. To the Book of Mormon they are irrelevant; to the Koran they are inapplicable. They do not invalidate either book from being books of scripture and ​a revelation from God. He continues:

“One of the testimonies to the unique status of scripture as the inspired word of God is the coherence and the consistency of the content; this incredible witness to the fact that Israel experienced the Old Testament as it was coming together, and it knew the stories, they could check this experience, the claims made in scripture were verified in the experience of Israel as Israel is living out its status both in obedience and in disobedience as the chosen people of God. The Bible deals with historic claims that were known to those who were alive at the time the claims are made. That is quite different as well. In other words there is attestation to the particular and unique status of scripture as the inspired word of God, because scripture is making claims that is contemporaneous with those who could have said, it didn’t happen that way.”

I don’t see how the Book of Mormon and the Koran are any different in that regard. The Book of Mormon claims to be a sacred history just like the Bible, possessing the same characteristics that he describes. The fact that he doesn’t believe it, is neither here nor there. He is basically saying, “I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is true history, therefore it isn’t.” That is circular reasoning. It is not a valid argument. As far as the Koran is concerned, that is not a “sacred history” at all, nor claims to be. It claims to be a one-time revelation given to one prophet in his lifetime, just like the ones given to any of the individual Old Testament prophets; and it has as much historical connectivity with its own timeframe and people as they do. He continues:

“That is not what happened! But to the contrary, this scripture [the Bible] provides for us proof of its own authenticity, by the fact that it was written over such a long period of time, through so many men moved of God, and received as the word of God by those who even had access to the events and to the persons, in so many cases as the scripture came together. This Bible is also preserved through successive generations, generations in the church and and in the experience of Israel, calamity and danger; danger both to the people of the book and to the book itself.”

All of that is equally true and applicable to the Book of Mormon, no difference. He continues:

“We know the textual history of the Bible. We don’t know everything we would like to know, but we do know this, the more we know about the textual history of the Bible the more verification we find of its status.”

We know even less about the “textual history” of the Book of Mormon; but the “textual history” of the Bible has never convinced anyone that it is the word of God. The opinions of the majority “text critics,” “higher critics,” and ​secular scholars and historians is that it is not. Further down, at 52:30 minutes into the video he makes this comment:

“There are other marks of the authenticity of the word of God [the Bible]; these marks would include its consistency, its coherence, I think one of the most compelling signs of the authenticity of the word of God is its candor. You will not find Mohamed embarrassed in the Koran. Joseph Smith is never humiliated in the Book of Mormon.”

Joseph Smith is the translator of the Book of Mormon; he is not part of the historical narrative of the Book of Mormon that he should be “embarrassed” or “humiliated” in it. Expecting Joseph Smith to be embarrassed or humiliated in the Book of Mormon, would be like expecting King James to be embarrassed or humiliated in the Bible! The Book of Mormon, however, is not the only revelation that Joseph Smith received. He was a great prophet who was commissioned by the Lord to restore God’s true Church on earth, and he received many other revelations in addition to the Book of Mormon which were contemporaneous to his own timeframe. In those revelations he has been reproved by the Lord, when he has erred and needed correction. As far as “consistency” and “coherence” are concerned, both the Book of Mormon as well as the Koran are equally self-consistent and coherent.

As far as Mohammed is concerned, as I said before, he and his work can only be compared with that of the individual prophets in the Bible; and they were not all reproved by God. Moses was, because he did something wrong; David and Solomon were, because they did something wrong; Jonah was, because he did something stupid. But not all of them were. Noah wasn’t; Abraham wasn’t; Isaiah wasn’t; Daniel wasn’t. If Mohammed is not reproved by God in the Koran, maybe that is because he didn’t do anything wrong that needed to be reproved. His claim to be a prophet is not undermined by the fact that he is not reproved by God in the Koran. 

The bottom line is that none of his objections are valid, either against the Book of Mormon, or even against the Koran. He would be far better off spending his time exhorting his congregation to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness,” as Paul did (1 Tim. 6:11); or to “add to [their] faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity,” as Peter did (2 Pet. 1:5–7); than to finding fault with other people’s religions. But vain hope! As a Calvinist, there is little chance of him doing that. Calvinism is anti-doing good! In Calvinism if you try to do any good, that is “works,” and you are damned!

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