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A Review of the Mormon Canon

Part I: The Scriptures of the LDS Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as the LDS Church) is known for enlarging the Christian Canon to include works that were composed in the United States during the nineteenth century. The members of the LDS Church are called Latter-day Saints, and accept the nickname Mormons. These look to the nineteenth century man Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet and revelator who initiated this expansion. The scope of this article will consider what these additions initiated by him to Christian Scripture are, as well as briefly consider their origin. This series investigating the Mormon Canon will also tend to serve as an exploration into the question of an open or closed Christian Canon.

The LDS Church has an open scriptural canon. Its most noteworthy volumes of scripture are termed the “Standard Works,” which consists of the following:

  • The Holy Bible (King James Version)
  • The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
  • The Doctrine and Covenants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • The Pearl of Great Price

   Interestingly, these four have been collected into one binding called the “Quadruple Combination.” (See the accompanying figure.)   Additionally, the last three have been combined into a “Triple Combination” binding. It is these last three that will now occupy our attention.

Book of Mormon

Joseph Smith confidently declared that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth . . . and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461) First published in March 1830, this foundational book of the LDS Church represents the primary puncturing of the closed Christian Canon to include other books. Divided into smaller books, with chapters and verses, it contains claimed history of migrations to the New World. Most noteworthy among these are accounts of two Israelite groups before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, that of Lehi and his family, and a son of King Zedekiah. It also relates a much earlier migration of peoples dispersed by the Tower of Babel incident. (Genesis 11:1-9) Thus, at this point, its history portion clings onto biblical historical accounts for its source of departure. The remainder of its claimed history relate to the development and, in some cases, the extinction of these New World civilizations, and their interaction with each other. The most important historical claim is the visitation of the resurrected Jesus Christ to these New World Israelite descendants. Aside from these claimed historical accounts, it also contains original and defining commentary on biblical subjects such as the Fall of Adam and Eve and the nature of sin and transgression, as well as discussions on other biblical topics, including theology and prophecy.


Perhaps even more noteworthy than its contents is its claimed origin. Smith claimed an angel directed him, a resurrected descendant of Lehi and Book of Mormon character called Moroni (who is depicted as beardless), to recover an archive buried in a hill in his locality. This archive consisted of a stack of metal plates that appeared to be gold, bound by three metal rings. The writing on these plates was described as “Reformed Egyptian,” writing that was more compact than the Israelite language Hebrew. (Book of Mormon: Mormon 9:32-331) These “golden” or gold-like plates were returned to Moroni upon the completion of this book.

Part II of this series will explore the credibility of the Book of Mormon. Please see the May 2011 issue.

1: These verses read: “32 And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.  33 And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.” (italics added)


Doctrine and Covenants

This book supporting an open Christian Canon is itself an open canon, subject to additions when the need arises. This was first published in 1835 as a later version of the Book of Commandments, which had been partially printed in 1833. (Wikipedia, “Doctrine and Covenants”) Unlike the other Standard Works, this book does not claim to be a translation but a modern revelation.

How to Interpret the Bible-1

This work of the LDS Church, not considering versions of other smaller LDS movements, currently has 138 sections divided into verses, and two Official Declarations at the end. These sections are dated with introductory explanations. Of interest is a comparison of section 132 by Smith dated July 12, 1843 with Official Declaration 1, dated October 6, 1890. While section 132 provides “laws governing the plurality of wives,” Official Declaration 1 renounces polygamy.

Another curious section is 7, which claims to be an actual translation of a record made on parchment by the Apostle John. This claimed parchment was not saved.

Official Declaration 2 is dated September 30, 1978, and is famous for allowing the ordination of black people of African descent to the LDS priesthood.

Pearl of Great Price

This last work of the Quadruple or Triple Combination is itself a combination, in this case of five works. These are:

  •     Selections from the Book of Moses
  •     The Book of Abraham
  •     Joseph Smith—Matthew
  •    Joseph Smith—History
  •    The Articles of Faith

The material in the first and third titles derive from the incomplete Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (began in June 1830 and never finished). The Book of Abraham is unique as it is the only work of Smith to have pictures, called facsimiles 1 to 3. It claims to be a translation of hieratic (Egyptian cursive hieroglyphics) on Egyptian papyri Smith purchased in 1835. Surviving papyri from this collection have been identified as parts of the Book of the Dead, an ancient pagan Egyptian funerary document. This is the most widely known book of the Pearl of Great Price, and another part in this series will examine its credibility. Regarding the final two titles, the Joseph Smith—History is a first-person narrative of Smith’s life before the founding of his church and the Articles of Faith is a concise listing of thirteen fundamental doctrines of Mormonism composed by Smith.

The Pearl of Great Price was first published in 1851 and was canonized by the LDS Church in October 1880. Its table of contents today is considerably different than in its first edition of 1851.

This review of the Mormon Canon has introduced the main supports of their open scriptural canon, produced largely by Joseph Smith, Jr. Even though his gold-like plates for the Book of Mormon are unavailable for inspection, a test of his translation acumen is still possible, and will be explored below.




The objective of Part II in this series is to determine if the Book of Mormon should be considered a translation of an ancient text or simply a religious composition that deceptively claims to be a translation. If it is a translation of an ancient text, it would be a remarkable testimony to an open Christian Canon. But if it is the latter, then its credibility as an accretion to the Christian Canon is crushed. This examination and potential consequences regarding its truth or falsity harmonizes with the challenge declared by Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt (1811-1881), who acknowledged in 1850:

This book must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God to man, affecting both the temporal and eternal interests of every people under heaven to the same extent and in the same degree that the message of Noah affected the inhabitants of the old world. If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions who will sincerely receive it as the word of God, and will suppose themselves securely built upon the rock of truth until they are plunged with their families into hopeless despair.

The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it. Therefore, every soul in all the world is equally interested in ascertaining its truth or falsity. (italics original, underscore added)[1]


Therefore, it would be prudent to first consider the nature of the source language this potentially “most important” translation is derived from. Regarding this, it must be understood that even though the claimed original documents, the “golden” plates,[2] containing the source language are unavailable for inspection, an evaluation may still be conducted. This is the case because the Book of Mormon text fortunately provides us with enough information or clues to form a sound conclusion. One such clue is found in 1 Nephi 1:2, which declares: “Yea, I [Nephi] make a record in the language of my father [Lehi], which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” (italics added) Thus, the Hebrew Lehi adopted the Egyptian language with its hieroglyphics in place of his cultural language of Hebrew. A similar statement is made in Mosiah 1:4, “our father, Lehi, … he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians; therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.” (italics added) Thus these New Word Israelites adopted the Egyptian language in place of their Hebrew language, and this was done to facilitate “fulfilling the commandments of God.” As briefly considered in Part I, the text found in Mormon 9:32-33 reveals the claimed source language for the Book of Mormon, being designated rather nebulously as “reformed Egyptian” that was more compact than Hebrew, which it adds was “altered.” Additionally, Joseph Smith, Jr. himself described the original language this way: “I translated the Book of Mormon from hieroglyphics; the knowledge of which was lost to the world.” (Times and Seasons 4 [1 Nov. 1843]: 373). Herein lies a fatal problem. It is unthinkable that Israelites would adopt the Egyptian language with its hieroglyphic script and use that in place of their cultural, national, and Abrahamic language of Hebrew.[3] Adding to this dilemma is that the reverse is true regarding the linguistic claim in Mormon 9:32-33: Hebrew is more compact than Egyptian, not the other way around. Both languages can be reformed or altered, and Hebrew would still have the edge, as can be seen by comparing modern (“altered”) Hebrew to known examples of “reformed” Egyptian text like Hieratic and Coptic. This is because Hebrew is consonantal, whereas the Egyptian writing system was a combination of phonetic and ideographic signs. (See appendix.) Therefore, the Book of Mormon’s more-compact-than-Hebrew Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics is a fictional language.

Thus, at this point, we can see rather quickly that the Book of Mormon contains misinformation regarding the nature of Egyptian and Hebrew. Moreover, it emphatically misrepresents the linguistic and cultural mindset of the Israelites. Therefore, it cannot be a translation, but rather a religious composition that deceptively claims to be a translation, in this case, of a fictional language. But there is also an inescapable sense of a cover-up on Smith’s part in the use of his fictional language, as one author puts it:

Joseph’s choice of “reformed Egyptian” was a calculated move. At the time, Egyptian was generally believed to be indecipherable, as the grammar worked out from the Rosetta Stone would not be published until 1837 [sic: 1836]. Therefore, who was to say Joseph’s [translation of] Egyptian characters were not accurate?[4]

Young Christians

Additionally, one linguist, after explaining how Egyptian hieroglyphics and Hieratic are “not more space-saving than Hebrew,” stated this regarding the sense of a cover-up on Smith’s part:

Why then, did the [Book of Mormon Israelite] Nephites choose to write in a form of Egyptian? The obvious answer seems to be that Joseph Smith felt he was less likely to be exposed if he showed plates with engravings in a still-undeciphered language (Egyptian) than in a relatively better-known language (Hebrew). To add an additional degree of safety, he claimed that the Egyptian had been “altered [sic: reformed].”[5]

This seems to be correct. Adding the qualifications of “reformed” to the Egyptian and “altered” to the Hebrew would only serve to further the cover-up of having the then-unreadable Egyptian text be the source language. This is comparable to claiming to translate an important document written in “reformed Minoan,” a language that is currently indecipherable, and a fictional “reformed” version of it at that! Further, this cover-up is datable to the early nineteenth century, predating the published decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Egyptian hieroglyphics were decoded by Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) with the help of the Rosetta Stone, which was discovered in 1799. By 1824, Champollion published Primer of the Hieroglyphic System of the Ancient Egyptians, six years before the Book of Mormon was published. So progress was being made toward a successful decoding of the language. However, it was not until 1836 that his Egyptian Grammar was published, six years after the Book of Mormon was published, and it was not until 1841 that his Egyptian Dictionary was published, both posthumously. Thus, unbeknownst to Smith, he chose the last time to employ the ignorance of Egyptian.

Part III in this series will explore to what extent Smith utilized the people’s ignorance of Egyptian with another book of his, the Book of Abraham, published in 1842, as well as his translation acumen.


Additional comments by Orson Pratt on the Book of Mormon

Above, we considered the challenge and acknowledgement by Orson Pratt in 1850 regarding the truth or falsity of the Book of Mormon, and how clear and significant the ramifications for both are. Additionally, in the same work he made further acknowledgements regarding the Book of Mormon, and stated criteria for exposing fallacies:

If, after a rigid examination, it be found an imposition, should be extensively published to the world as such; the evidences and arguments upon which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated, that those who have been sincerely yet unfortunately deceived, may perceive the nature of the deception, and be reclaimed, and that those who continue to publish the delusion, may be exposed and silenced, not by physical force, neither by persecutions, bare assertions, nor ridicule, but by strong and powerful arguments—by evidences adduced from scripture and reason. Such, and such only, should be the weapons employed to detect and overthrow false doctrines—to reclaim mankind from their errors, to expose religious enthusiasm, and put to silence base and wicked impostors. (underscore added)[6]

As Pratt was an ardent believer in the Book of Mormon, he made these comments with a confident understanding that a “rigid examination” of it would demonstrate that it was divinely authentic. However, a “rigid examination” has indeed ‘detected an imposture’: the claim regarding its source language. Thus, according to his challenge, the entire work is exposed as an “imposition” and an imposture or sham: as a false translation of a fictional language. Therefore, it appears that the negative consequences he postulated are closer to reality than he thought.

Notice too his criteria for exposing fallacies, which are underlined above. He declared that “evidences and arguments, upon which the imposture was detected, should be clearly and logically stated…by strong and powerful arguments—by evidences adduced from scripture and reason.” This is certainly good advice, but even the best arguments for what is true can still be a pill too bitter to swallow. One can only wonder how Orson Pratt privately responded to the challenges Mormonism faced before he died. Publicly though, he appears to have dismissed them offhand, which may mean that he was either ignorant of their very existence, or simply immune to them. Interestingly, he “acted as [LDS] Church Historian and Recorder from 1874 until his death. He edited many church periodicals and helped divide editions of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants into verse format and provided appropriate cross references.”[7] Considering his high level of involvement with the LDS Church then, it seems unlikely that remained unaware or ignorant of the serious challenges Mormonism encountered during his later years.

Remarkably, just a decade after he wrote his “true or false” treatise, dark and ominous storm clouds gathered over the credibility of Joseph Smith’s translation acumen—and therefore the Book of Mormon’s claimed source language as well—with the first professional non-LDS appraisal of the Book of Abraham. Part III in this series will explore this episode in Mormon history.


EXCURSION: Translating Egyptian

The following comes from chapter nine of the book By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus, which is about the history of the Book of Abraham:

[T]he ancient Egyptian language was a virtually unbroken code to all but a handful of scholars in Joseph Smith’s day. Half a continent and an ocean away from the Mormon prophet, a painstaking effort was underway that would unlock the secrets of the Rosetta Stone (a trilingual Egyptian-Greek inscription discovered in 1799 which played a key role in the deciphering of ancient Egyptian), and rediscover the grammatical elements of hieroglyphic language. As the decades passed and scholars persisted in their efforts, the understanding of the ancient Egyptian language took on more precise definition. …

Ancient Egyptian writing is composed of both phonograms (“sound-signs”) and ideagrams (signs that convey their meaning pictorially). In this language, a word was usually expressed by using one or more phonograms, followed by an ideagram. In this arrangement, the ideagram is called a determinative, because it “determines” the meaning of the foregoing sound-signs and defines their meaning in a general way. …

While some Egyptian words need no determinative, many have more than one; some words even require as many as three determinatives to express a single thought. Egyptian writing was thus cumbersome to use, and lacked any true depth of abstraction. That it was able to survive for more than three millennia was due more to its use within a stagnant society, than to any special merit of its own. Eventually its vast inferiority to other forms of writing, such as Greek or Hebrew, led to its disuse and ultimate disappearance.

But no one realized any of this in Joseph Smith’s time.[8]

Thus, Joseph Smith chose a cryptic language from which to translate. Unfortunately, for him, this indecipherable, lost language did not remain that way for much longer. It soon became possible to check his translation acumen with science and reality. Furthermore, in the process of unlocking the Egyptian language, it became known that Hebrew was a more efficient writing system, contrary to the reverse linguistic claim in Mormon 9:32-33.


A Review of the Mormon Canon Part III: Egyptian and the Book of Abraham

In May 1843, an article signed by Joseph Smith appeared in the LDS Church periodical Times and Seasons. In this article, he responded to the claim that the name “Mormon” is derived from the Greek word mormo. He said that “Mormon” is not Greek but Egyptian, and that it is derived from the Egyptian word mon, meaning “good.” He concluded: “Hence, with the addition of more, or the contraction, mor, we have the word MOR-MON; which means, literally, more good.” Thus, we see an example of Joseph Smith’s translation abilities, and in this particular case, of an original word engraved on his “golden” plates for the Book of Mormon. However, it is acknowledged that “Mormon” does not mean that, and that he was wrong about the Egyptian language for “good.” Thus, Smith fabricated an etymology that took advantage of the people’s ignorance of Egyptian. In fact, this etymology is so blatantly false that the LDS Church historian B. H. Roberts (1857-1933) concluded that it must be a forgery! (He said that the etymology was “based on inaccurate premises and was offensively pedantic.”)  However, claiming that it is a forgery only exacerbates the problem, for that would tend to corrode the credibility of the entire periodical, and would make one wonder why Joseph Smith did not protest this imposture! As he evidently accepted this article as truthfully ascribed to him, it is rather disingenuous and incredible to claim that someone else wrote it, for it appears that the sole motive for doing so is to save Joseph Smith’s credibility as a sensible translator. Further, it must be noted that in 1841, Joseph Smith himself was the chief editor of the paper, assisted by John Taylor who became the principal editor in November 1842 (with an assistant editor) and later the third president of the LDS Church.  Additionally, the motto of the paper was “Truth will prevail”! It would be most ironic then if someone wrote that translation gibberish in Joseph Smith’s name and had that imposture slip under their noses undetected! Therefore, it appears that the only honest conclusion to draw is that Joseph Smith seriously thought that “Mormon” found its etymology in an Egyptian word that he evidently invented, as no such word exists. (Refer to Figure 1 and to Appendix 1.)

What makes this situation even more remarkable is that about a year earlier, the March 1, 1842, issue of Times and Seasons published Smith’s translation of Egyptian papyri called the Book of Abraham! “Facsimile 1” from this book, a claimed reproduction of a scene on the papyri, even appeared on the cover of the paper, under its motto “Truth will prevail” (see the image above). Was his translation of those Egyptian papyri of the same caliber as his translation of the Reformed Egyptian word Mormon the following year? Truth would indeed prevail.

The Erroneous Translation of “Mormon”

These papyri were purchased on July 3, 1835, from a traveling dealer in Egyptian antiquities. They were found in a crypt with mummies, which were purchased along with their associated papyri. In the above-mentioned March 1, 1842, issue of Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith stated that the Egyptian catacomb papyri were “purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.”  Thus, in accord with his erroneous view that Egyptian was more efficient, more space-saving, than Hebrew, he claimed that Abraham did not write in the language of his birth but chose instead to write in the more cumbersome language of the Egyptians. This is problematic, and is also inconsistent with Moses who knew Egyptian and yet wrote in Hebrew, which is more efficient. Additionally, the script on those papyri is Hieratic and therefore far removed from Abraham’s time period. Again, it is clear that Smith was ignorant of both the nature of Egyptian and its chronological development, for Hieratic is a later cursive version of Hieroglyphics. Yet, this sweeping ignorance did not hamper the translation of those cryptic papyri, for this new book came to have five chapters and three labeled facsimiles.


“Nearly forty years were to pass from the time Joseph translated the Book of Abraham until it was officially recognized as sacred Scripture of the [LDS] Church,” researcher Charles Larson states. He continues: “However, during this period something occurred which neither Joseph nor any of his contemporaries could have foreseen. After many years of dedicated work on the Rosetta Stone and other sources, scholars were able to decipher the ancient Egyptian language. It was now possible to translate accurately Egyptian texts with virtually the same degree of comprehension as Greek or Latin texts.”  Thus, reality was destined to collide with the Later-day Saints sooner than later, as Egyptian could no longer be an intellectual playground for them. The mindset—that it was indefinitely indecipherable to any individual but their prophet—would soon be indefensible. No more could just any claim be made regarding it and no more could a translation of it be made and be received uncritically.

As stated in Part II of this series, a decade after Orson Pratt’s 1850 “true or false” treatise a serious problem arose, one more serious than the LDS Church would initially acknowledge. What occurred was this: 1851 saw the printing of the Pearl of Great Price, which included the Book of Abraham from the above-mentioned 1842 issue of Times and Seasons. The LDS Church in England, however, published the Book of Abraham as a pamphlet. Unbeknownst to them, this made it easier for it to pass under some erudite noses where the ancient Egyptian language was being deciphered in France. Larson explains:

“It was sometime during the year 1856, about five years after the Pearl of Great Price had been printed in England, when one of the small pamphlets found its way to the Louvre in Paris. There the facsimiles  from the Book of Abraham, together with Joseph’s accompanying explanations, were brought to the attention of M. Theodule Deveria. As one of the pioneers in the field of Egyptology, Deveria was asked to offer any comments on them he cared to make. … Deveria dismissed Joseph’s explanations as rambling nonsense. His comments first appeared in French in a two-volume work by Jules Remy entitled Voyage au Pays des Mormons [Travel to the Country of the Mormons] (Paris, 1860).”

Thus, per Part II, it was only a decade after Orson Pratt’s “true or false” treatise that serious trouble arose, one that threatened to satisfy his challenge. Why Pratt never publicly acknowledged this dilemma may never be known, but time proved to be no friend of his:

“[T]he following year an English translation of Remy’s work appeared, published in London under the title A Journey to Great Salt Lake City. Perhaps it was through this account that certain Church leaders first became aware of the results of Deveria’s investigation, though no deliberate effort appears to have been made at that time to answer his charges.”

It appears then that the LDS Church, with its bearded President Brigham Young at the helm, felt it was immune to alternate interpretations outside of its influence. If that was the case, it soon discovered that ignoring the dilemma was ineffectual, for it continued to surface. In fact, twelve years later in 1873, there appeared a serious book that returned Deveria’s study to the fore. This book, The Rocky Mountain Saints: A Full and Complete History of the Mormons, juxtaposed Smith’s and Deveria’s translations of the facsimiles to two columns. It concluded:

“In all probability, many of the Mormons will be staggered by the translation of M. Devéria, but many more will treat it with indifference. Those who devote some consideration to this subject will be very apt to carry their thoughts to the translation of the Book of Mormon, where their confidence in its divinity and truthfulness is not likely by this circumstance to be much increased.” 

This prediction was reasonable, and pressure continued to mount for the LDS Church to acknowledge this burning issue. The Rocky Mountain Saints continued with this pointed revelation: “Brigham Young has been in possession of the two translations for several years, but the Mormon press has been silent on the opposition of science to inspiration.”  Thus, the highest powers of the LDS Church, including its President, certainly were not ignorant of this contradiction, and apparently chose to ignore it.


The book then quoted some perceived insight into the character of Joseph Smith himself in a footnote:

“[T]he Author has received the following communication from a gentleman who has been about thirty years associated with Mormonism, and who personally knew well the Prophet: ‘Joseph Smith was no more and no less than a ‘spirit-medium’—more impressional than clairvoyant or clairaudient.’”

Similarly, another professional Egyptologist who examined Smith’s translation efforts stated in 1966 that his translation of the papyri reminded him of “the writings of psychic practitioners which are sometimes sent to me.” He also summarized the sentiments of all non-Mormon Egyptologists by saying that it was “largely a piece of imagination and lacking in any kind of scientific value.”

Therefore, it can be seen that the translation quality of the Book of Abraham is on par with the translation of the word Mormon: glaringly unscientific. These were just fantastic propositions lacking any lasting value. It is not surprising then that Mormon historian Grant Palmer wrote: “My conclusion is that a large body of evidence demonstrates that Joseph mistranslated a number of documents. I know of no substantial evidence to support his claim to have ever literally translated any document.”  Thus his claim to have contributed to the Christian Canon is equally unsupported.

Part IV in this series below will examine the hamartiology of the Mormon Canon to see if it presents a “different gospel” in line with the exhortation expressed in Galatians 1:8-9.

  • EXCURSION: Table of Contents
  • EXCURSION 1: More on Mormon
  • EXCURSION 2: Orson Pratt delivers another challenge to the world
  • EXCURSION 3: Sources for the Book of Abraham
  • EXCURSION 4: Resources for additional research and understanding

EXCURSION 1: More on Mormon

In the May 1843, Times and Seasons article where Joseph Smith translated “Mormon” from his fictitious Egyptian word mon, he also reminded his readers of the text in Mormon 9:32-33, stating:

There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon. Let the language of that book speak for itself. … “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the Reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.” (italics and capitalization original)

Thus, he insisted that the source language was Reformed Egyptian that was more efficient than their “altered” Hebrew. (Refer to Part II in this series for an appraisal of that claim.) Additionally, as he stated that there was no Greek on his plates, refuting the erroneous Greek etymology of Mormon, it is then most ironic that we find the Greek name Timothy in the Book of Mormon at 3 Nephi 19:4, brother of Nephi and one of Jesus’ twelve Nephite Disciples in 34 CE (refer to header). “Timothy is relatively unusual in the Book of Mormon for having a Greek name,” states one Mormon-edited article.  As his name appears only once and no explanation is provided for this Greek-name anomaly, as in Jesus renaming him or providing him with a Greek nickname,  this may be seen as either a mistranslation or as an anachronous mistake. Since Part II has shown that it is a religious composition and not a translation, it must be the latter.

It is also ironic that, after insisting that only Reformed Egyptian was on his plates, he apparently prefixes the English word “more” to his invented word mon. Or, if he meant an Egyptian word more meaning “more,” he was wrong again about the Egyptian vocabulary as no such word exists.

What may have been an important impetus behind Smith’s rejection of the erroneous Greek etymology is the inappropriate meaning of mormo, which signifies a scary mask! Furthermore, mormo marks Greek mythology as a name (Μορμώ or Μορμών, Mormo or Mormon) of a vampirical female demon used to scare children, a bogeywoman.  Thus, rather than liken Mormons to fanged bogeywomen (assuming he was aware of this), Joseph Smith moved quickly to have them be likened to “More-gooders.” This was a wise choice, even if he was ignorant of the meaning of mormo, yet it was also fundamentally flawed as he invented a garbled etymology in the process, one that hinged on the people’s ignorance of Egyptian.

EXCURSION 2: Orson Pratt delivers another challenge to the world

Orson Pratt

Orson Pratt was an intellectual who delved into logic and astronomy, even serving as an instructor for a time at the Mormon university in Nauvoo, Illinois. He was also an accomplished mathematician: he was a co-inventor of an odometer in 1847, and in 1866 he published a math book entitled New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equations. He also operated in the highest levels of the LDS Church, being an original member of its Quorum of Twelve Apostles.  Considering his intellectual prowess and contributions to society, it may seem surprising that after he failed to publicly acknowledge Deveria’s contrary translation that effectively answered his “true or false” challenge vis-à-vis the Book of Abraham that he saw fit to challenge the world on the subject of divinely inspired translation using the very Book of Abraham as a basis! In 1878 he declared in one of his sermons: “Have any of the other denominations got this gift among them? Go and inquire through all of Christendom, and do not miss one denomination. … ‘Can you translate ancient records written in a language that is lost to the knowledge of man?’ No … the universal reply of the Christian denominations, numbering some 400,000,000, would be that they have not the power to do it … you must give us credit,” he rebuked, “of at least professing to have these great and important gifts.” Frankly, it’s rather sad to see how Mormonism made the otherwise intellectual Pratt into such a fool, as his 1878 challenge was out of touch with reality, and was declared in a fantasy world hermetically sealed off from the real world he evidently chose to ignore. This time his challenge was very irrelevant, one that was already answered before it departed from his lips.


What follows is the complete text of his challenge dated August 25, 1878, preserved for posterity in the prestigious Journal of Discourses volume 20, pages 65-66:

“The Prophet translated the part of these writings which, as I have said, is contained in the Pearl of Great Price, and known as the Book of Abraham. Thus, you see one of the first gifts bestowed by the Lord for the benefit of His people, was that of revelation—the gift to translate, by the aid of the Urim and Thummim, the gift of bringing to light old and ancient records. Have any of the other denominations got this gift among them? Go and inquire through all of Christendom and do not miss one denomination. Go and ask the oldest Christian associations that are extant; go to Italy, headquarters, and ask the man that holds the greatest power and authority in the Romish Church, “Can you translate ancient records written in a language that is lost to the knowledge of man?” “No,” he would say, “we cannot, it is out of my power to do it.” Go to Russia and inquire of the heads of the church of Greek Catholics, if they can do this; and they will give you, substantially, the same answer. Then try the later, and the present day denominations, inquire of every one of them, beginning with the Lutherans and the Calvinists, and the Church of England, and then put the same question to all of the branches that have sprung from them; as well as to those that have come into existence by other means; and the universal reply of the Christian denominations, [page 66] numbering some 400,000,000, would be that they have not the power to do it. Ask them if they pretend to possess supernatural power from God, to accomplish a work of this nature; and they will all tell you that God have never bestowed such power upon any of their ministers. And then, if it were possible, ask the 400,000,000 of the Christians, scattered throughout Asia, Europe, America and the islands of the seas, if a man can be found among them endowed, as ancient seers were, with the gift to see, or as ancient revelators were who told future events, what should befall men and nations and their final destiny; and the universal reply will be, O, no, such things are all done away. Here then the very first gift that the Lord set in his church, is a peculiar gift so far as the religions of the world are concerned, not peculiar so far as the Church of Christ is concerned, but so far as the religious world in the four quarters of the earth is concerned, we have something which they have not got, and something that is in accordance with the Bible. What man, I would ask further, among all the religions of the earth, for the last seventeen centuries, that has possessed the Urim and Thummim, the gift that would constitute him a seer and a revelator? There may have been some seventeen thousand million of people that have passed off from our globe without such gifts being among them; and they were gifts given to the people of God before the advent of the Savior, and that were enjoyed by his servants that lived contemporary with him and with those who lived after he had performed his mission to the earth, and ascended to heaven. Then, in speaking to strangers, I would say, you must give us credit of at least professing to have these great and important gifts, gifts which all the other religions of the world do not even profess to be in possession of.” (underscore added)

Since his famous 1850 challenge had been answered with him evidently ignoring the rebuttal, as he did not even publicly mention Deveria at all, an unavoidable conclusion is that Joseph Smith and the LDS Church never had the gift of divinely inspired translation to begin with, hence making this challenge irrelevant and obnoxious, an absurdity. It is analogous to chiding Christendom for not having the gift of resurrection of the dead, which is also “in accordance with the Bible,” and claiming that you have it when it has been conclusively proven previously to Christendom that you do not.

This refuted challenge was also used to defend the related doctrine of an open Christian Canon. However, as the argument was based on ignorance and ignoring consuming contradictions, instead of bolstering that belief, in reality it only amounted to a mockery of it. Additionally, it in effect turned the tables on that doctrine and became a bristling argument against it.


EXCURSION 3: Sources for the Book of Abraham

Some may be surprised to learn that the Book of Abraham appears to have a number of sources—that it appears to derive from more than just a fanciful translation of the catacomb papyri that it is supposed to be. From Joseph Smith’s translation notes, it is discerned that he used the papyri for only chapter one and the first eighteen out of twenty-five verses of chapter two, leaving the remaining seven verses and chapters three to five unaccounted for. The actual source of this material has been traced to Genesis 1, 2, 11, and 12, as well as the following secular sources: Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, its astronomical descriptions have been traced to The Six Books of Proclus on the Theology of Plato, Volume 2 (1816) by Thomas Taylor, its cosmology and theology to Philosophy of a Future State, second edition (1830) by Thomas Dick, early nineteenth century Bible commentaries, and possibly a copy of the fictional Jewish Book of Jasher. These works were readily available in a local library or located on a nearby book shelf, and a number of them were used outside of the Book of Abraham project as well.  Thus, if the Book of Abraham is to be admitted to the Christian Canon, it seems appropriate to add these other secular sources. As that notion is absurd, so is the notion of including the Book of Abraham. Significantly, the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, the Community of Christ, does not recognize it as scripture.

EXCURSION 4: Resources for additional research and understanding

Two books referred to here are recommended: By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus (1992) by Charles Larson and An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins (2002) by Grant Palmer.

The documentary video The Lost Book of Abraham, Investigating a Remarkable Mormon Claim (2002). See the website by the same name: <>. This production “visits prominent Egyptologists and other scholars—both Mormon and non-Mormon.” It also features reenactments of historical events involving the Book of Abraham, along with a visible narrator to guide the audience though this complicated yet fascinating situation.

The Awake! journal of November 8, 1995: “A Young Man’s Search for Answers” (pages 17-18) and “The Mormon Church—A Restoration of All Things?” (pages 19-25), including the box on page 20, “Mormon Holy Writings.”


A Review of the Mormon Canon: Part IV: Mormon hamartiology: a “different gospel”?

“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” This is what the Apostle Paul famously declared at Galatians 1:8. In line with his directive, the objective of Part IV in this series is to determine if the hamartiology[9] presented in the Mormon Canon and in teaching derived from it constitutes a new and “different gospel.” (Galatians 1:6)[10] In so doing, we will also see if Mormon hamartiology is contradictory and problematic or not.

First, a presentation of Biblical hamartiology is in order. Succinctly, it is the following: Adam was created as a sinless, perfect soul in the Garden of Eden, the garden of “Pleasure,” that he was given. (Genesis 2:7, 8) He transgressed when he ignored divine warnings and joined his wife in steeling a symbol of divine sovereignty, the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. Consequently, they lost access to the “Tree of Life,” a physical representation of eternal life. By losing eternal life, they died and spread death to their offspring. (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3, 5:5; Romans 5:12, 14) In accords with King David’s words at Psalm 51:5, the passing on of sin from Adam to succeeding generations is a result of the recognized law of heredity. (Job 25:4; Romans 3:23) According to divine justice as expressed in the Law of Moses, soul was to be given for soul. (Exodus 21:23; Leviticus 24:18) Since Adam was created as a sinless soul, another sinless soul had to be given in exchange as a ransom: this ransomer would have to correspond to Adam by being a sinless man. Therefore, the Apostle Paul at 1 Timothy 2:6 used the word literally meaning “corresponding ransom,” antilutron. The ransomer would have to voluntarily surrender what Adam lost by his disobedience in Eden, perfect human life. Nothing more, nothing less is required to avoid upsetting the soteriological balance. Thus, it was Jesus as the second and last Adam who emptied himself of divine glory (Philppians 2:7) to become what Adam lost: a sinless, perfect human life. (1 Corinthians 15:45) This, his sinless perfect human life, he voluntarily surrendered and sacrificed. Thus, Biblical hamartiology is seen to be lucid and free of contradiction.


We will now consider and evaluate Mormon hamartiology.

It must be stated at the outset that there is nothing succinct about Mormon hamartiology, as its very nature defies brevity. Fortunately, the LDS Church is very public regarding its hamartiological views. For instance, its official website, has a Bible Dictionary[11] which has an entry defining the “Fall of Adam.” Here it commences its definition rather innocently, and in apparent harmony with the Bible, by stating: “The process by which mankind became mortal on this earth. The event is recorded in Gen. 2, 3, 4, and Moses 3, 4 [in the Pearl of Great Price]. The fall of Adam is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man.” However, the next sentence presents a concept that the uninitiated may find astonishing: “Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood.”[12] This is astonishing because it is a physical contradiction of the highest order. Put bluntly, it is unbelievable that physical creations lacked this vital liquid tissue, blood. It must be simply stated that blood supplies nourishment and oxygen to tissues and vital organs. This is axiomatic. Without a circulatory system, without blood, the first human couple could not live. Thus we are left with a fatal physical contradiction. This bloodless Adam doctrine also seems to contradict the meaning and etymology of Adam, which the Bible Dictionary does not include in its definition of Adam. Adam means “ruddy” and derives from dam, meaning “blood.” Thus, both the meaning and etymology of Adam may be used as evidence that he was indeed created with blood and a beating heart, since these would naturally give him a ruddy complexion.

This Bible Dictionary is not the only source for this astonishing bloodless teaching. In fact, the tenth president of the LDS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972), taught it. Read his following words very carefully: “‘Adam had a spiritual body until mortality came upon him through the violation of the law under which he was living, but he also had a physical body of flesh and bones. … Now what is a spiritual body? It is one that is quickened by spirit and not by blood. … When Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he was not subject to death. There was no blood in his body and he could have remained there forever. This is true of all the other creations’ (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:76–77).”[13] Thus, this physical contradiction was not limited to Adam and his wife, but was extended to the entire Animal Kingdom. Admittedly, Adam had a physical body with organs and bones. But these were nourished not by blood, but “by spirit.” According to Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8, “all spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” Thus, humans and the Animal Kingdom were nourished by ‘spirit blood,’ a “pure” form of matter. This explanation pushes credulity to its limits as it lacks a scientific basis, defies the dictionary definition of “spirit,” and merely substitutes blood with some fantastic “pure matter” spirit element. It is therefore flawed and unconvincing, as the following quotes will show.

The Epistle to the Hebrews PAUL AND LUKE ON TRIAL
Russell M. Nelson

This pre-Fall bloodless doctrine has been published in an official periodical of the LDS Church: The Ensign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In it, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson, a renowned medical doctor specializing in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery,[14] contributed these declarations: “While I do not fully understand all the biochemistry involved, I do know that their physical bodies did change; blood began to circulate in their bodies. Adam and Eve thereby became mortal.”[15] Three years later he wrote: “The Fall of Adam (and Eve) constituted the mortal creation and brought about the required changes in their bodies, including the circulation of blood and other modifications as well. They were now able to have children.”[16] As blood is a vital liquid tissue, the absurdity of these comments is self-evident. Without blood, humans and animals would be quite mortal: they would be dead. To associate blood with mortality, while conceding ignorance of biochemistry, is alarmingly unscientific and irresponsible. (This is especially so considering his distinguished medical career.) Apostle Nelson’s presentation is thus found to be extremely unconvincing. Interestingly, he did not say that Adam’s body was nourished by spirit, but merely admitted that he failed to “fully understand all the biochemistry involved.” It appears then that he too found the spirit-blood doctrine to be unconvincing, or was at least wrestling with it to some degree. Yet, in accords with Mormonism, he confidently wrote that “[o]ur Heavenly Father has a glorified body of flesh and bone, inseparably connected with His spirit. (Footnote: See D&C 93:33; D&C 130:22.)”[17] This harmonizes with the bloodless, spirit-blood nourished humans and Animal Kingdom doctrine, for he stated that Adam and Eve were people and therefore “were different from the plant and animal life that had been created previously. Adam and Eve were children of God. Their bodies of flesh and bone were made in the express image of God’s.”[18] Thus, like their Creator, they had spirit-blood. Additionally, this spirit-blood doctrine appears to be principally derived from a Mormon application of Leviticus 17:11,[19] which says, “for the life of the flesh is in the blood,” (King James Version) where “flesh” is defined as mortality in the Mormon Bible Dictionary: “Since flesh often means mortality, Adam is spoken of as the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth, meaning he was the first mortal on the earth, all things being created in a nonmortal condition, and becoming mortal through the fall of Adam.” This definition is also applied to Jesus Christ, as its next sentence declares: “Jesus is the ‘Only Begotten of the Father’ in the flesh, meaning he is the only one begotten of the Father into mortality.”[20] Like the word “spirit,” this definition also defies the dictionary. It is another word that has been re-defined and modified for Mormon hamartiology. Remarkably, it also contradicts or convolutes President Joseph Fielding Smith as quoted above, that Adam was created with “a spiritual body…but he also had a physical body of flesh and bones.” (italics added) Thus Adam as the mortal “first flesh” was created with nonmortal flesh! The same puzzling situation exists with Apostle Nelson as quoted in the Ensign articles above, where he declared that the “Heavenly Father has a glorified body of flesh and bone,” and that Adam and Eve had “bodies of flesh and bone.” (italics added) If flesh is “often” mortal, even with Jesus Christ, then we have a striking contradiction that makes the Mormon immortal Heavenly Father mortal, as well as the nonmortal Adam and Eve mortal. The only way out of this glaring contradiction or searing confusion, this puzzling predicament, is to accept the standard dictionary definition of “flesh” consistently. This solution would eliminate the need for circular special explanations.

Curiously, the appeal to Leviticus 17:11 does not take into account verse 14, which twice adds that blood is the life of “all flesh.” This could reasonably apply to the flesh of the Mormon Heavenly Father, the pre-Fall Mormon Adam and Eve, and the Mormon Animal Kingdom, unless of course a circular special explanation is used that this “all flesh” is constrained in meaning to after the Fall only with earthly flesh and is not a physical principle.

Returning to the definition of the Fall in the Mormon Bible Dictionary, it continues with another astonishing concept: “There was no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations.” (italics added) No death or offspring among the pre-Fall Mormon Adam and Eve and animals. Apparently, fossilized dinosaur eggs are not seen as a contradiction on both counts, for these present dead offspring of creatures that must have lived in their own environment antedating Adam.[21] Regarding the prospect of now being able to reproduce, the Mormon Eve is depicted as rejoicing over her transgression, as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, “And Eve … was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed.” (Moses 5:11, compare Moses 5:10) The Bible Dictionary continues: “With the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth (Moses 3:7 [in the Pearl of Great Price]), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal. After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam’s fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16-17 [in the Book of Mormon]).”[22] Another Mormon commentary confirms: “In Mormon theology, Adam and Eve were created with no blood in their veins.”[23] Thus, from these definitions we are left to conclude that Adam and Eve were crafted with empty blood vessels and each had a non-beating heart, until they transgressed, whereupon their blood vessels and hearts became functional and filled with blood. Further, Adam’s fall also brought death to all animal creation as well, yet it allowed them and themselves to procreate. Prior to that, all animal creation and the human couple would never die and never bear offspring, even though both they and the animals were created with the organs to procreate. This may be seen as another physical contradiction. It also introduces an ignored judicial dilemma: that of denying animals everlasting life for a transgression they did not commit. (Young-Earth Creationism also ignores this same judicial dilemma, so Mormon hamartiology is not alone in this glaring omission.)


Included with these physical contradictions and dilemmas is praise for Adam and Eve, as the Book of Mormon declares: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25) Elaborating on this is an LDS Church Sunday School teaching manual: “The Fall was necessary for us to progress toward exaltation. We have to experience mortality to become like our Father in Heaven, and Adam and Eve fulfilled their mission to make this possible. …Their choice did not come from a desire to disobey the Lord, but from a desire to gain wisdom. Because of this choice, we have the opportunity to come to earth and learn, as Adam and Eve did, how to choose good over evil. Express your gratitude for Adam and Eve and the choice they made. Encourage class members to follow Adam and Eve’s example and choose good over evil.”[24] This applauding praise and standing ovation for the Fall is unique, even surprising. What makes this more understandable though is a passage in the Pearl of Great Price: “And the Lord said unto Adam [or “Mankind,” Adam and Eve[25]]: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden.” (Moses 6:53). (italics added) Thus in Mormon hamartiology, Adam and Eve were pardoned. This is in accords with the introductory picture, a painting by Lowell Bruce Bennett, which depicts them in a Mormon hamartiological setting leaving the Garden in peace. It must be noted though that this painting does not include the famous cherubs and the spinning flaming sword of Genesis 3:24 mentioned in Moses 4:30 of the Pearl of Great Price.

Two additional points of Mormon hamartiology essential to this review are Pelagianism and an expanded distinction between “sin” and “transgression.” Pelagius (ca. AD 354-ca. AD 420/440), the author of Pelagianism, argued that humans enter life essentially tabulae rasae (“blank slate”). According to him, the Fall that occurred when Adam and Eve disobeyed God affected humankind only minimally. Accordingly, Mormon hamartiology holds that “the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world” (Moses 6:54) and “men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.”[26]

Regarding the choice of the word “transgression,” it must be noted that this is deliberate and not interchangeable with “sin.” It is believed that Adam “transgressed,” but technically did not “sin.” Says the Mormon Bible Dictionary under “Adam”: “his transgression in the garden of Eden, although designated as a ‘fall,’ was necessary to the advancement and spiritual progress of humanity on this earth, and Adam rightly should be honored, not denigrated.”[27] Further, the Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 2:21b-23, 25 states:

“For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents. 22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. 23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. … 25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (underscore added)

So Mormon scriptures call the fall a transgression, but do not call it a sin—a subtlety that is not to be overlooked. Summarizing the Mormon position succinctly are these quotes: “This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin in the strict sense, for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!”[28] “The decision of Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit was not a sin, as it is sometimes considered by other Christian churches. It was a transgression—an act that was formally prohibited but not inherently wrong.”[29]

Dallin H. Oaks

Additionally, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks, contributed further insight into this distinction. As an American attorney, jurist, former professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, and former justice of the Utah Supreme Court,[30] he is indeed qualified to elucidate this Mormon judicial matter. He declared:

 “When Adam and Eve received the first commandment [to have children (Genesis 1:28)],  they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. They could not fulfill the Father’s first commandment without transgressing the barrier between the bliss of the Garden of Eden and the terrible trials and wonderful opportunities of mortal life.

For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or “fall,” could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law (see Moses 6:59). This would be a planned offense, a formality to serve an eternal purpose. The Prophet Lehi explained that “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen” (2 Ne. 2:22), but would have remained in the same state in which he was created.”

Thus, this legal expert does not see sense in the Mormon doctrine of blessing via falling, and is therefore forced to call the Adamic transgression a formality. (Notice he said, “for reasons that have not been revealed,” meaning that he does not know and therefore finds the doctrine bewildering and unsatisfying in its present state.) After quoting 2 Nephi 2:23-4, he continues, somewhat confusingly:

“It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. And thus Eve and “Adam fell that men might be” (2 Ne. 2:25).

Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall (see Bruce R. McConkie, “Eve and the Fall,” Woman, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, pp. 67–68). Joseph Smith taught that it was not a “sin,” because God had decreed it (see The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980, p. 63). Brigham Young declared, “We should never blame Mother Eve, not the least” (in Journal of Discourses, 13:145). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: “I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin … for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 1:114–15).” (underscore added)

Notice how he revealed a state of cognitive dissonance, calling a transgression a “glorious necessity.” One would think that this is alarmingly inconsistent and unprofessional for a law expert. Yet, this is what Mormonism is influencing him to be. He summarizes:

This suggested contrast between a sin and a transgression reminds us of the careful wording in the second article of faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (emphasis added). It also echoes a familiar distinction in the law. Some acts, like murder, are crimes because they are inherently wrong. Other acts, like operating without a license, are crimes only because they are legally prohibited. Under these distinctions, the act that produced the Fall was not a sin—inherently wrong—but a transgression—wrong because it was formally prohibited. These words are not always used to denote something different, but this distinction seems meaningful in the circumstances of the Fall.” (italics original)

Here he attempts to apply a legal subtlety of “inherently wrong” versus “formally prohibited” to the Fall, as was used above (see footnote 21). What this comparison does not take into account though is the principle behind what is “formally prohibited” in his example, that is, theft, which is also “inherently wrong.” Indeed, violating a legal statute may be viewed as theft, that is, steeling space on a road one has no right to without a license, steeling fish for not having a fishing license, etc., thus also “inherently wrong.” Both examples he sites above would be viewed as “inherently wrong” as well as transgressions and sins. Thus, this judge’s attempt to save Mormon hamartiology by sustaining the expanded distinction between transgression and sin is unsatisfactory, even disturbing for failing to view theft as “inherently wrong.” Further, treating the Fall as “a formality” and not inherently wrong is contrary to Pauline hamartiology, and would consequently be anathematized per Galatians 1:8.

Apostle Oaks continues, revealing what is influencing his sense of justice as applied to Mormonism:

“Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10).”[31]

As there is no manuscript evidence for this verse, including the other Mormon alterations to Genesis, outside of Mormonism, we can see that circular reasoning—reasoning that the Mormon Canon must be divine revelation on the basis of Mormon affirmation alone—is causing him to see a descent as an ascent.

Additionally, and remarkably, although Mormonism has gone to great lengths arguing for the distinction between “transgression” and “sin” as seen above, the LDS Church’s website glossary of Mormon words appears to make them synonymous, for it defines the critical word “transgression” as: “Violation or breaking of a commandment or law; sin.”[32] Thus, as has been demonstrated throughout Part IV, Mormon hamartiology is cacophonous and contradictory. An act that is a transgression is a sin. If it is not a sin, then neither is it a transgression.

Thus far, we have seen how different Mormon hamartiology is from the Old Testament, the Genesis account in particular, and the New Testament. We have also observed it contradict biology, biochemistry, paleontology and physics. Surprisingly, it is also at odds with the Mormon Jesus because it is correctly believed that he had blood, which according to Mormon hamartiology is the product of the Fall! Mormonism teaches that Jesus “made a perfect atonement for the sins of all mankind by shedding of his blood and giving his life on the cross.”[33] If blood is the product of their transgression, then it may be asked: How could the redeemer have that coursing through his veins? It would only be reasonable to have Jesus be born on earth without this product of the Fall, and have him willfully surrender his “nonmortal” life and spirit-blood in order to be the “last Adam,” and thus buy back what Adam lost instead of offering a ransom that does not match with what Adam lost. Therefore, Mormon hamartiology is left with another unacknowledged contradiction, and a ransom with no legal value—as it makes Adam superior to Jesus (refer to Table 1).[34] Its hamartiology and soteriology are therefore presented as cacophonous, convoluted contradictions that are far removed from the lucid presentation of the Bible. Mormon hamartiology and its attendant soteriology may be called “a different gospel” at the very least. Indeed, it is both reasonable and responsible to conclude that the Mormon gospel is a horrific contradiction of stupendous magnitude, one that falls outside of the Christian Canon.

Biblical Pauline Hamartiology

Mormon Hamartiology

Both Adam and Jesus were perfect, sinless humans

Adam was nonmortal with spirit not blood and unable to reproduce, Jesus was mortal with blood and able to reproduce

Soteriological Scales are Balanced

Soteriological Scales are Unbalanced

EXCURSION Table of Contents

  • EXCURSION A: A Dissenting Apostle
  • EXCURSION B: Respect for Science
  • EXCURSION C: Additional Reading

EXCURSION A: A Dissenting Apostle

“Adam and Eve Kneeling at an Altar” by Del Parson

It is interesting to note that an LDS Church apostle dissented from the teaching that there was no animal death prior to the Fall. He was James E. Talmage (1862-1933), a geologist who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1911 until his death. He pointed to a pile of stones in Spring Hill, Missouri that Joseph Smith, Jr. had identified as an altar Adam had built, the Garden of Eden being located in Missouri according to Joseph Smith, Jr. Of this altar, Talmage wrote in a letter to his son: “I had personally examined those stones and found them to be fossiliferous, so that if those stones be part of the first altar, Adam built it of stones containing corpses, and therefore death must have prevailed in the earth before Adam’s times.” (James Talmage to Sterling Talmage, 21 May 1931, S. Talmage Papers.) Thus, Apostle Talmage used one Mormon teaching about Adam to refute another Mormon teaching about Adam.

EXCURSION B: Respect for Science

After considering what may be seen as a blatant disregard for science in Mormon hamartiology, that is, associating blood with mortality and death, “spirit” being a life-sustaining refined form of matter, and no death or reproduction in the Animal Kingdom prior to the Fall, thus contradicting biology, biochemistry, paleontology and physics, it may seem surprising that Mormonism has an historic respect for science. It may also be seen as yet another dissonant voice adding to the existing Mormon cacophony. Notice the respect for science seen in the following quotes, all taken from the volumes of the Journal of Discourses.

President Brigham Young stated on May 14, 1871: “Our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular.” (Volume 14, page 116) The following year he stated on August 11, 1872: “Our religion embraces chemistry; it embraces all the knowledge of the geologist, and then it goes a little further than their systems of argument, for the Lord Almighty, its author, is the greatest chemist there is.” (Volume 15, page 127)

Lastly, consider what Apostle Orson Pratt stated over a decade prior on February 12, 1860: “The study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study chemistry, we study the works of God. If we study chemistry, geology, optics, or any other branch of science, every new truth we come to the understanding of is eternal; it is a part of the great system of universal truth. It is truth that exists throughout universal nature, and God is the dispenser of all truth – scientific, religious, and political.” (Volume 7, page 157)

These select quotes are admirable, even if they ring hollow, and offer a refreshing contrast to the quotes from the later LDS Church leaders considered above.

Excursion C: Additional Reading

“The Fall” by Mormonism Research Ministry. Available online at: <>

“Original sin” available at <>

The Changing World of Mormonism by Jerald Tanner and Sandra Tanner  | Jun 1, 1979

How to Answer a Mormon: Practical Guidelines for What to Expect and What to Reply When the Mormons Come to Your Door by Robert A. Morey  | Jan 1, 1983

Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible

The Joseph Smith Translation (JST), also called the Inspired Version (IV), was a revision of the Bible by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. Smith considered this work to be “a branch of his calling” as a prophet. Smith was murdered before he ever deemed it complete, though most of his work on it was performed about a decade previous. The work is the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) with some significant additions and revisions. It is considered a sacred text and is part of the canon of Community of Christ (CoC), formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and other Latter Day Saint churches. Selections from the Joseph Smith Translation are also included in the footnotes and the appendix in the LDS-published King James Version of the Bible, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) has only officially canonized certain excerpts that appear in its Pearl of Great Price. These excerpts are the Book of Moses and Smith’s revision of part of the Gospel of Matthew.

The Term “Translation”

The term “translation” was broader in meaning in 1828 than it is today,[35] and Joseph Smith’s work was at the time considered a revision of the English text, rather than a translation between languages, since it was known that Joseph Smith had not studied Hebrew or Greek to produce his manuscript in 1828.[36] Though, Smith did later study Hebrew from 1836 with Joshua Seixas at Kirtland, Ohio.[37]


The Work of Revision

The Translation was intended to restore what Smith described as “many important points touching the salvation of men, [that] had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.”[38] But the work was not a literal translation from ancient documents, as the term translation is commonly used today. Neither was it an automatic and infallible process where “correct” words and phrases simply were revealed to Smith in final form. As with Joseph Smith’s other translations, he reported that he was forced to “study it out in [his] mind”[39] as part of the revelatory process.[40] Sometimes Smith might revisit a given passage of scripture at a later time to give it a “plainer translation,”[41] because of additional knowledge or revelation about a subject.

Philip Barlow observes that Smith made six basic types of changes from the KJV in the JST:[42]

  • Long revealed additions that have little or no biblical parallel, such as the visions of Moses and Enoch, and the passage on Melchizedek
  • “Common-sense” changes (e.g., Genesis 6:6 “And it repented the Lord that he had made man” is revised in Moses 8:25 to read: “And it repented Noah, and his heart was pained that the Lord had made man”. God, who is perfect, needs no repentance)
  • “Interpretive additions,” often signaled by the phrase “or in other words,” which Smith appended to a passage he wished to clarify
  • “Harmonization”, in which Smith reconciled passages that seemed to conflict with other passages
  • Many changes Smith made are not easily classified; one can observe only that frequently the meaning of a given text has been changed, often idiosyncratically
  • Grammatical improvements, technical clarifications, and modernization of terms, which were by far the most common type of change Smith made in the Bible

Smith’s Translation was a work in progress throughout his ministry. Some parts of the revision (parts of Genesis and the four Gospels) were completed from beginning to end, including unchanged verses from the KJV; some parts were revised more than once, and other parts were revised one verse at a time. The manuscripts were written, re-written, and in some cases, additional edits were written in the columns, pinned to the paper or otherwise attached. Smith relied on a version of the Bible that included the Apocrypha, and marked off the Bible as verses were examined (the Apocrypha was not included in the Translation). Skeptics view this nonlinearity as evidence that Smith’s Translation was not inspired; however, Latter Day Saints see Smith’s Translation as representing a gradual, developing inspiration[citation needed].

The bulk of Joseph Smith’s work on the JST took place between June 1830 and July 1833. By 1833, he felt it was sufficiently complete that preparations for publication could begin, though continual lack of time and means[citation needed] prevented it from appearing in its entirety during his lifetime. He continued to make a few revisions and to prepare the manuscript for printing until he was killed in 1844.[43] Regarding the completeness of the JST as we have it, Matthews has written:

…the manuscript shows that Smith went all the way through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But it also shows that he did not make all the necessary corrections in one effort. This situation makes it impossible to give a statistical answer to questions about how much of the Translation was completed or how much was not completed. What is evident, however, is that any part of the Translation might have been further touched upon and improved by additional revelation and emendation by Smith.[44]

LDS scholar Royal Skousen discusses the question of whether one should assume that every change made in the JST constitutes revealed text.[45] Besides arguments that can be made from the actual text of the JST, there are questions regarding the reliability of and degree of supervision given to the scribes who were involved in transcribing, copying, and preparing the text for publication. Differences are also apparent in the nature of the revision process that took place at different stages of the work. For example, while a significant proportion of the Genesis passages that have been canonized as the book of Moses “[look] like a word-for-word revealed text,” evidence from a study of two sections in the New Testament that were revised twice indicates that the later “New Testament JST is not being revealed word-for-word, but largely depends upon Joseph Smith’s varying responses to the same difficulties in the text.”

Use of Pseudepigraphical Texts

Some scholars consider that Smith had access to Old Testament pseudepigrapha and included insights from these texts in his translation.[46]

Doctrinal Development

Many of Smith’s revisions to the Bible led to significant developments in the doctrines of Mormonism.[47] During the process of translation, when he came across troubling Biblical issues, Smith often dictated revelations relevant to himself, his associates, or the church. About half of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are in some way connected to this translation process, including background on the Apocrypha (LDS D&C section 91 CoC D&C 88), the three degrees of glory (LDS section 76 CoC Section 85), the eternal nature of marriage and plural marriage (LDS section 132), teachings on baptism for the dead (LDS section 124 CoC Section 107), various revelations on priesthood (LDS sections 84, 88, 107 CoC Sections 83 104) and others.

Overall, 3,410 verses in the printed editions of JST differ in textual construction from the King James Version (KJV), using the numbering of the IV as the basis for comparison. Of the total of 1,289 verses changed in the Old Testament, 25 correspond to the additions of Moses 1, and 662 occur in the book of Genesis.[48] Hence, more than half of the changed verses in the JST Old Testament and 20% of those in the entire JST Bible are contained in Moses 1 and Genesis, with the most extensive modifications occurring in Genesis 1-24. As a proportion of page count, changes in Genesis occur four times more frequently than in the New Testament, and twenty-one times more frequently than in the rest of the Old Testament. The changes in Genesis are not only more numerous, but also more significant in the degree of doctrinal and historical expansion. Jeffrey M. Bradshaw has suggested that one reason for this emphasis may have been “early tutoring in temple-related doctrines received by Joseph Smith as he revised and expanded Genesis 1-24, in conjunction with his later translation of relevant passages in the New Testament and, for example, the stories of Moses and Elijah.”[49] Additional evidence suggests that the Book of Moses itself could be seen as a temple text, in the sense discussed by BYU professor John W. Welch.[50]


Publication and use by the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS)

Smith was killed prior to the publication of the translation. At the death of Joseph Smith Jr. the manuscripts and documents pertaining to the translation were retained by his widow, Emma Smith, who would not give them to the Quorum of the Twelve although Willard Richards, apparently acting on behalf of Brigham Young, requested the new translation from her. Consequently, when Young’s followers moved to the Salt Lake Valley, they did so without the new translation of the Bible.

Following Joseph Smith’s death, John Milton Bernhisel asked permission of Emma Smith to copy the notes that were made into his own Bible. He spent much of the spring of 1845 working on this project. The LDS Church has this in its offices in Salt Lake City, but it contains less than half of the corrections and is not suitable for publication. For many years, the Bernhisel Bible was the only source for LDS Church members living in the Salt Lake Valley.

In 1866, Emma Smith gave the manuscripts into the custody of the RLDS church, of which she was a member, and her son Joseph Smith III the prophet-president. In 1867 the RLDS published the first edition of the translation and obtained a copyright for it. The RLDS church, now known as the Community of Christ, still retains the original manuscripts and publishes the Inspired Version through its publishing arm, Herald House Publishing. The copyright has expired on the 1867 edition[51] and a bound photo reproduction of that edition is published by a private concern. In 1944, the RLDS Church brought out a carefully prepared “new corrected edition.”

Scholarship on JST Manuscripts

Because LDS scholars had not yet had an opportunity to compare the corrected edition of the 1944 CoC edition of the Bible version to the original manuscripts, its initial acceptance by LDS Church members was limited.[52] Explorations of the textual foundations of the JST began in earnest with the pioneering work of the CoC scholar Richard P. Howard and the LDS scholar Robert J. Matthews beginning in the 1960s.[53] Matthews’ summary of an exhaustive study corroborated the CoC claims that the 1944 and subsequent editions of the “Inspired Version,” notwithstanding their shortcomings, constituted a faithful rendering of the work of Joseph Smith and his scribes—insofar as the manuscripts were then understood. With painstaking effort over a period of eight years, and with the full cooperation of the Community of Christ, a facsimile transcription of all the original manuscripts of the JST was at last published in 2004.[54]

LDS View

The LDS Church accepts many of the changes as doctrinally significant. Joseph Smith—Matthew and the Book of Moses, containing translations and revelatory expansions of Matthew 24 and Genesis 1-7 respectively and contained in the LDS Pearl of Great Price, are portions of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible that the LDS Church has canonized as part of its standard works. Additionally, over 600[55] of the more doctrinally significant verses from the translation are included as excerpts in the current LDS Church edition of the King James Version of the Bible. This step has ensured an increase in the JST’s use and acceptance in LDS churches today. An official editorial of the Church News, dated December 7, 1974, contained these words:

“The Inspired Version does not supplant the King James Version as the official Church version of the Bible, but the explanations and changes made by the Prophet Joseph Smith provide enlightenment and useful commentary on many biblical passages.” …[56]

Regarding the Joseph Smith Translation, Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “The Joseph Smith Translation, or Inspired Version, is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth”.[57]

Attribution: This article incorporates some text from the public domain: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and James Seward



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