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Using God to Short Circuit Evidence


JeffM

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I would like to examine a type of argumentation that is often used to defend the Book of Mormon. For purposes of discussion, I'll call it the "God can do it" argument. Let's begin with a particular criticism of the Book of Mormon to set the stage.

One of the most striking features of the two books of Nephi at the beginning of the Book of Mormon is the way both of them, although supposedly written before the New Testament, are saturated with New Testament thinking - page after page of references to New Testament thoughts and teachings sprinkled with occasional direct quotes.

Here are some examples from 1st Nephi:


  • "...for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose..."
    (1st Nephi 10:8; Luke 3:16)
  • "For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever..." (1st Nephi 10:18; Hebrews 13:8 )
  • "...the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world." (1st Nephi 10:10; John 1:29)
  • "...wars and rumors of wars..." (1st Nephi 14:15; Matthew 24:6)
  • "I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove..." (1st Nephi 11:27; Mark 1:10)
  • "...made white in the blood of the lamb..." (1st Nephi 12:11; Rev 7:14)

This phenomenon can't be called an artifact of translation because the New Testament teachings are integral to the story being told in the Nephi books. It is very strong evidence that the Nephi books were written after the New Testament - particularly because the New Testament provides the context within which the ideas quoted by Nephi receive their meaning. However, defenders of the Book of Mormon can (and often do) respond to this problem by saying it was God's help that enabled Nephi and company to quote books and ideas not yet written. In essence, God's ability is made a vehicle for short circuiting conclusions that would normally be reached by a person looking at the evidence.

Why is this a problem? What's wrong with appealing to God's special abilities to deflect conclusions that people would normally reach when they study issues like Nephi's New Testament quotes?

The problem is that the "God can do it" argument can be used as a kind of "get out of jail free" card - to defend false propositions as easily as true ones. This makes its value suspect, particularly if "God can do it" is the only defense available. To illustrate, let's see it used in a different context.

A few centuries ago Nicholas Copernicus, contrary to established belief, championed the notion that the earth revolved around the sun. When informed about Copernicus's ideas, the famous reformer Martin Luther was quoted by his friend Anthony Lauterbach as saying, "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12]."

According to Luther, by telling the sun to stand still, Joshua implicitly showed that the sun was moving - because something that isn

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It seems to me that "God can do it" is the only defense available to counter many criticisms of the Book of Mormon - including the Nephi quotations mentioned above.

If the statement above is the explicit conclusion you already arrived at, why invest the time and effort to show otherwise? Why do you call it a defense? Most Mormons aren't defending the Book of Mormon, they're sharing what's in it and then the rest is up to the reader to pray about and ask if it's true. I can quote 100 weird things from the old testament that either contradict themselves, are funny or absurd. However, that doesn't invalidate the good information and doctrine that's IN the Bible. The Book of Mormon has some interesting intricacies as well but none of them hold enough substance to denigrate it. There is no such thing as a perfect book with perfect words and perfect everything as long as it written by imperfect people. In fact, I'm surprised that these books only have a few things that cause heated discussions. I'd expect a lot more. People having intellectual seizures over ONE word, whether it be adieu or white and judging an entire book and faith by that.

I look at the Book of Mormon as a guide. Same goest for the Bible. The word of God? Sure. Unconventional and peculiar things in them? Yes.

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I'm no scholar, so I can't, and won't, argue with you, but it seems to me that 1 Nephi 10, being a recitation by Nephi of his father Lehi's revelation, and the subsequent chapters being Nephi's own vision, that the text itself is saying that God can reveal these doctrines. Other locations in the Book of Mormon assert that the same Gospel, the Gospel of Christ, was revealed multiple times in antiquity beginning with Adam.

Nephi, being a 6th century BC Israelite, probably would have phrased some things a little differently. I'm no Hebrew linguist, but Jesus the Christ might well have been Yeshua Messias or something like that. The translation aspect of this is that in translating it, Joseph may well have phrased it in terms more closely to NT phrases that he already knew.

Still, even with that, for LDS who do not generally believe that the Gospel as preached by Christ was "wholly new", but rather a restoration of things previously given to the world, it is not incredible to us that a Prophet of God receives revelation regarding Christ and His teachings, for we hold that all prophets have testified of Christ "since the world began".

- SlackTime

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I would like to examine a type of argumentation that is often used to defend the Book of Mormon. For purposes of discussion, I'll call it the "God can do it" argument. Let's begin with a particular criticism of the Book of Mormon to set the stage.

One of the most striking features of the two books of Nephi at the beginning of the Book of Mormon is the way both of them, although supposedly written before the New Testament, are saturated with New Testament thinking - page after page of references to New Testament thoughts and teachings sprinkled with occasional direct quotes.

Here are some examples from 1st Nephi:


  • "...for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose..."
    (1st Nephi 10:8; Luke 3:16)
  • "For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever..." (1st Nephi 10:18; Hebrews 13:8 )
  • "...the Lamb of God, who should take away the sins of the world." (1st Nephi 10:10; John 1:29)
  • "...wars and rumors of wars..." (1st Nephi 14:15; Matthew 24:6)
  • "I beheld the heavens open, and the Holy Ghost come down out of heaven and abide upon him in the form of a dove..." (1st Nephi 11:27; Mark 1:10)
  • "...made white in the blood of the lamb..." (1st Nephi 12:11; Rev 7:14)

This phenomenon can't be called an artifact of translation because the New Testament teachings are integral to the story being told in the Nephi books. It is very strong evidence that the Nephi books were written after the New Testament - particularly because the New Testament provides the context within which the ideas quoted by Nephi receive their meaning. However, defenders of the Book of Mormon can (and often do) respond to this problem by saying it was God's help that enabled Nephi and company to quote books and ideas not yet written. In essence, God's ability is made a vehicle for short circuiting conclusions that would normally be reached by a person looking at the evidence.

Why is this a problem? What's wrong with appealing to God's special abilities to deflect conclusions that people would normally reach when they study issues like Nephi's New Testament quotes?

The problem is that the "God can do it" argument can be used as a kind of "get out of jail free" card - to defend false propositions as easily as true ones. This makes its value suspect, particularly if "God can do it" is the only defense available. To illustrate, let's see it used in a different context.

A few centuries ago Nicholas Copernicus, contrary to established belief, championed the notion that the earth revolved around the sun. When informed about Copernicus's ideas, the famous reformer Martin Luther was quoted by his friend Anthony Lauterbach as saying, "So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Jos. 10:12]."

According to Luther, by telling the sun to stand still, Joshua implicitly showed that the sun was moving - because something that isn

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The circle of life on this board always comes back to translation methodology and dependency. You can't simply rule out any translation artifact role a priori in the op, even though your whole argument is based on doing so. Set the foundation first, but this will be difficult to do with some of us because the historical reading of Judaism through the sole lense of late rabbinic literature is starting to collapse. Neusner and others have advocated multiple "Judaisms," and Qumran and Enochic literature have offered us divergent strands of Judaism and Christianity that competed with the mainstream. Today many scholars, including the "ubiquitous Margaret Barker" (as UD likes to call her), have argued persuasively that many of the ideas you reference existed in First Temple Judaism. If so, what we are looking at is dependency of phrasing, not ideas that are so "integral to the story" that any translation artifact can be dismissed in a rush to make another argument. We're back to the translation.

Regards

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First and foremost the Book of Mormon is not just an ancient document giving an "objective" history of a people that lived thousands of years ago. But it was specifically written by prophets for our day and for the intent that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ. It is not some objective historical document (if indeed there can ever be such a thing) it is a witness and a testimony that confirms that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. It also comes from a position that God can and does reveal His will both as in times of old as in times to come. That revelation is not just an "educated guess" or some random idea, but that it is truth, which does not change even if our understanding of it may change. God knows all things, He knows the end from the beginning therefore he can reveal things that have not yet occurred or that has not yet been written but surely shall be. That is what being a Prophet and receiving revelation is all about. The references in Nephi to the events of the New Testament were details of a vision had by Nephi of things to come. Also since it is the same God, why can He not have the same phraseology as He would have in other books of scriptures? Why cannot a prophet and seer who is translating this work use familiar phrases from already existent scripture? If the Gospel is an everlasting Gospel then it is necessary that God had to know that He would send His Son to the born of a virgin and who would be baptized and who would be killed and rise again the third day. Otherwise are we to believe God is just "making it all up as He goes along"? The purpose we are given the Book of Mormon is not to scientifically prove it to all the world, but so that faith might increase in the earth and that the everlasting covenant might be established and that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ might be restored. As for your reference to Martin Luther, here is a "Get out of Jail Free" card for him and all other Christians:

(Helaman 12:14-15) "Yea, if he say unto the earth
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Why is this a problem? What's wrong with appealing to God's special abilities to deflect conclusions that people would normally reach when they study issues like Nephi's New Testament quotes?

The problem is that the "God can do it" argument can be used as a kind of "get out of jail free" card - to defend false propositions as easily as true ones. This makes its value suspect, particularly if "God can do it" is the only defense available. To illustrate, let's see it used in a different context.

The "God can do it" argument will always be around. It is the only explaination for the resurrection and the atonement and other miracles. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to apply it elsewhere where we have no other information.

As for NT thoughts and teachings in the BoM, how is that a problem? The gospel has always been an effective law and just because the early Nephites were under the law of Moses doesn't mean they can't have known about the gospel law or practiced a more pure version of the law of Moses which is a subset of the gospel anyway.

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One of the primary messages of the Book of Mormon is that the gospel of Jesus Christ was prophecied and preached long before the time of the New Testament. In fact, the Pearl of Great Price reveals that Adam knew of it.

The original poster seems to have missed this fact.

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I'd rather use God to short circuit evidence (particularly since we don't have the complete picture) than use evidence to short circuit God (which is what many ex-Mos who peruse the internet tend to do).

The entire Law of Moses and most of the OT is intended to lead to Christ and the Atonement. The peoples of the BOM were led away from the apostate Israelites, for the express purpose of having a people who would know Christ when he came. Why would the Lord not be more explicit with a people he had specifically led away, rather than couching everything in symbols.

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The peoples of the BOM were led away from the apostate Israelites, for the express purpose of having a people who would know Christ when he came. Why would the Lord not be more explicit with a people he had specifically led away, rather than couching everything in symbols.

Then doesn't it stand to reason that the Messiah should have been born among the Jews in the Americas rather than those in Israel?

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Then doesn't it stand to reason that the Messiah should have been born among the Jews in the Americas rather than those in Israel?

He had to spend His mortality in the place that was simultaneously the worst and the best place on earth for Him: a place where He could face and descend below all mortal trials, and a place where he could overcome and rise above them. A friendly or receptive community would not provide this environment.

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...One of the most striking features of the two books of Nephi at the beginning of the Book of Mormon is the way both of them, although supposedly written before the New Testament, are saturated with New Testament thinking - page after page of references to New Testament thoughts and teachings sprinkled with occasional direct quotes.

...

Hi JeffM,

You are aware that the New Testament is saturated with quotes from the Old Testament, and most of the time there is no indication of where the quote came from?

Here is a list of 266 such OT quotes in the NT:

http://www.kalvesmaki.com/LXX/NTCHART.HTM

What else was quoted in the New Testament, without giving the source?

Many writings from the ancient world no longer exist. It is very possible that the quotes you mention in the Book of Mormon that are also in the New Testament existed in earlier records that the New Testament is quoting without giving the source.

You said: "This phenomenon can't be called an artifact of translation because the New Testament teachings are integral to the story being told in the Nephi books."

The fact that the New Testament teachings were integral to the story in the Nephi books is EXACTLY the reason why Joseph would use the New Testament quotes when translating.

Joseph was very unschooled, and the New Testament was a major part of his meager education. It makes perfect sense that he would use New Testament wording when translating something that had a similar message.

Richard

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Hi folks,

Thanks to those who have responded. Because time doesn't permit me to carry on simultaneous conversations with a dozen different people, I will just try to address some points that seem most in line with the topic I have raised.

Please keep in mind the position I am writing from. I am not and have never been a Latter Day Saint. The truth of the Book of Mormon is not a given to me. This means evidence for evaluating its claims is of paramount importance. (I realize that prayer is the prescribed means for determining its truth among Mormon people. But since the book itself is the giver of that prescription and the interpreter of the results, such an approach presupposes authority for the book that is not justified. To someone like me who does not carry such a presupposition, this doesn't make much sense.)

One common thread I found among several people's posts was that Nephi's quotes of the New Testament are prophesies and are simply part of the unfolding of God's plan. For example:

First and foremost the Book of Mormon is not just an ancient document giving an "objective" history of a people that lived thousands of years ago. But it was specifically written by prophets for our day and for the intent that people would believe that Jesus is the Christ....

The references in Nephi to the events of the New Testament were details of a vision had by Nephi of things to come. Also since it is the same God, why can He not have the same phraseology as He would have in other books of scriptures?

The Saints believe in Revelation. It is part of whom we are. That God foretold the Nephites about what was going to happen is what we believe.
I'd rather use God to short circuit evidence (particularly since we don't have the complete picture) than use evidence to short circuit God

Is it not simply a restatement of the "God can do it" argument to call Nephi's quotes of the New Testament "prophesy?" One of the main concerns of my initial essay is that "God can do it" can be used to defend false as well as true propositions. So it makes no sense to me for you to just re-word "God can do it" and proceed as if something has been accomplished.

Usually people who believe there is such a thing as true prophesy also believe there is a such thing as false prophesy. If "God can do it" can be used to defend either kind, how can that argument be considered reliable when someone wants to distinguish the two?

Of course a person could simply assume the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Using such an approach, any evidence against the book, such as that provided by the anachronism of Nephi's New Testament quotes, would be discounted - just like Luther discounted Copernicus. However, if evidence does not count in the evaluation of this book, what is left except to blindly follow Joseph Smith's version of everything? That seems to be what you are advocating.

If you read the text this is clearly in reference to a prophesy. The OP assumes that predictions of the future can't be this specific.

Regarding specific predictions, I think you will find that the Book of Mormon goes far beyond any other purported scripture in its claim to accurately quote books that haven't been written yet. It's one thing, for example, for a New Testament author to quote an Old Testament passage and retroactively find meaning that is not apparent (or even present at all) in the original. It's quite another to pre-quote ideas and verbatim text hundreds of years in advance of their original appearance while having only the "God can do it" argument to justify the practice.

More later as I have time...

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Please keep in mind the position I am writing from. I am not and have never been a Latter Day Saint. The truth of the Book of Mormon is not a given to me. This means evidence for evaluating its claims is of paramount importance. (I realize that prayer is the prescribed means for determining its truth among Mormon people. But since the book itself is the giver of that prescription and the interpreter of the results, such an approach presupposes authority for the book that is not justified. To someone like me who does not carry such a presupposition, this doesn't make much sense.)

So, if I understand you correctly:

When your school teacher taught you chemistry, and then said "to illustrate that the principle I just taught you is correct, please do this experiment, and if you get such and such a response, that shows it is correct," at that point you said something like "I'm sorry, but since you just told me what experiment and what results would prove you're right, I can't do that experiment. If I did, I would be presupposing that you knew what you were talking about, which is not justified and doesn't make much sense to me."

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So, if I understand you correctly:

When your school teacher taught you chemistry, and then said "to illustrate that the principle I just taught you is correct, please do this experiment, and if you get such and such a response, that shows it is correct," at that point you said something like "I'm sorry, but since you just told me what experiment and what results would prove you're right, I can't do that experiment. If I did, I would be presupposing that you knew what you were talking about, which is not justified and doesn't make much sense to me."

The difference, of which you no doubt know, is that the chemistry experiment is repeatable. Anyone who tries it will get exactly the same result as the teacher and the student.

Not so for religious experiences.

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The difference, of which you no doubt know, is that the chemistry experiment is repeatable. Anyone who tries it will get exactly the same result as the teacher and the student.

Not so for religious experiences.

The promise of the Book of Mormon is just as repeatable as any scientific experiment, as thousands of missionaries and new converts demonstrate every day.

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Hi folks,

Thanks to those who have responded. Because time doesn't permit me to carry on simultaneous conversations with a dozen different people, I will just try to address some points that seem most in line with the topic I have raised.

Please keep in mind the position I am writing from. I am not and have never been a Latter Day Saint. The truth of the Book of Mormon is not a given to me. This means evidence for evaluating its claims is of paramount importance. (I realize that prayer is the prescribed means for determining its truth among Mormon people. But since the book itself is the giver of that prescription and the interpreter of the results, such an approach presupposes authority for the book that is not justified. To someone like me who does not carry such a presupposition, this doesn't make much sense.)

One common thread I found among several people's posts was that Nephi's quotes of the New Testament are prophesies and are simply part of the unfolding of God's plan. For example:

Is it not simply a restatement of the "God can do it" argument to call Nephi's quotes of the New Testament "prophesy?" One of the main concerns of my initial essay is that "God can do it" can be used to defend false as well as true propositions. So it makes no sense to me for you to just re-word "God can do it" and proceed as if something has been accomplished.

Usually people who believe there is such a thing as true prophesy also believe there is a such thing as false prophesy. If "God can do it" can be used to defend either kind, how can that argument be considered reliable when someone wants to distinguish the two?

Of course a person could simply assume the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Using such an approach, any evidence against the book, such as that provided by the anachronism of Nephi's New Testament quotes, would be discounted - just like Luther discounted Copernicus. However, if evidence does not count in the evaluation of this book, what is left except to blindly follow Joseph Smith's version of everything? That seems to be what you are advocating.

Regarding specific predictions, I think you will find that the Book of Mormon goes far beyond any other purported scripture in its claim to accurately quote books that haven't been written yet. It's one thing, for example, for a New Testament author to quote an Old Testament passage and retroactively find meaning that is not apparent (or even present at all) in the original. It's quite another to pre-quote ideas and verbatim text hundreds of years in advance of their original appearance while having only the "God can do it" argument to justify the practice.

More later as I have time...

All you've done is show that you aren't paying attention. A dismissive hand wave at all posts and a disdainful sneer don't make for a very convincing argument. When you are ready to talk, come back.

- SlackTime

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