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Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claimed he was restoring the genuine church to the earth, a church absent since the first century. But is Mormonism truly Christian?
Students who ask such questions often differentiate among denominations, sects, cults, and world religions. Denominations are movements that differ on doctrinal issues but hold to a common core of beliefs about God, Christ, and the Scriptures. They see God as trinitarian, Christ as unique in His human-divine person, and the Scriptures as the authoritative text passed down from the prophets and apostles. Sects agree with the denominations on these matters, but they often have some characteristic that places them on the fringe of Christianity, such as the radical separatism of the Amish. Cults are connected to Christianity in that they employ Christian Scripture and appeal to Jesus, but they also differ from the traditional faith in certain core areas. They may deny or reinterpret the Trinity. They may have novel views about Christ. They may reject part of the Christian Scripture, add new texts to it, or claim to have an infallible interpretation that replaces traditional doctrine with a new approach. World religions are those historic traditions that include the Christian religion as well as others, such as Islam and Hinduism.
Is Mormonism Christian? If the question asks only whether Mormonism is connected to Christianity in some sense, the answer would be “Yes.” But that is not enough. Religions such as Baha’i claim some connection to Christianity, and Muslims believe in the second coming of Jesus. In order for a faith to be Christian it must pass both the doctrinal test and the experiential test. Doctrinally it must be orthodox on the key issues outlined above, and experientially it must see salvation as a faith encounter with Christ alone as the pathway to being right with God. How does Mormonism stack up?
Mormonism is neither monotheistic nor, technically, trinitarian. In one of the Mormon scriptures, The Pearl of Great Price, we are told that the world was fashioned “by the Gods.” In his famous King Follett sermon, Joseph Smith stated that God was once as we are and that we may become as He is—a God. Mormonism teaches that Father, Son, and Spirit are all God, but it denies the historic Christian view on the Trinity. Mormon scholar Robert Millet has written that the Trinity is comprised of “Three Beings.” Mormonism is not trinitarian but tritheist. Mormon theology teaches that Jesus is an incarnation of Elohim, conceived as the literal son of God. But He is not the unique incarnation, since we also can be incarnations of the Father. Jesus is important to the whole of Mormon theology but in a different way than for traditional Christians. In Mormonism we are not saved by the atoning work of Christ but by obedience to Mormon principles. Mormons follow the Bible as Scripture, but they have placed three other texts alongside the Bible—The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. It is in the last two books in particular that the novel Mormon doctrines can be found.
Because of these departures from standard Christian teachings, Mormonism falls outside orthodox Christianity.
24:5–8 Abraham did not want Isaac to leave the promised land since he was to inherit it. There was always the possibility that, if he went back to Haran, he might not return.
24:10–67 This is the longest continuous passage in Genesis, and its quality of narration is striking. Generally, it is one of the classic biblical case studies on seeking to follow God’s will. Specifically, it reflects how important it was for the heir of promise to have the right wife and for that marriage to come about according to God’s direction.
25:1–6 After Sarah’s death, Abraham remarried and, miraculously, continued to have children. The passage is notable for two reasons. First, the descendants of some of these children (e.g., the Midianites) became significant in later generations. Second, Abraham sent the children “to the land of the East,” away from Isaac and the promised land. This was an effort to head off potential family conflicts, which might complicate the progress of God’s promise through Isaac’s descendants.
25:12–18 Although Isaac was the son of promise, the size of Ishmael’s family and wider holdings developed more quickly and extensively.
25:19–26 Besides the ongoing theme in Genesis of God’s opening the womb of barren women, we see here the recurring theme of the younger son displacing the older. This practice was completely contrary to the prevailing custom of the oldest son being the primary heir.
25:27–34 Though it seems outrageous for Jacob to ask for Esau’s birthright as payment for some of Jacob’s stew, the “irreverent” Esau had only himself to blame. With only a short-range view to the satisfaction of his immediate needs, he “sold his birthright in exchange for one meal” (Heb 12:16).
26:1–11 Because of the strong similarities between this incident and 12:10–20 and 20:1–18, some modern interpreters have expressed the opinion that it is a copy of those episodes and never actually happened. They also note that the king is, as in chapter 20, named “Abimelech.” There are, however, key differences between the passages, and it is not uncommon for kings to have the same name (e.g., Darius I and II of the Medo-Persian Empire). In addition, it is possible that “Abimelech” (a compound of the words for “father” and “king”) is a Philistine royal title, like Pharaoh in Egypt, which means “great house.” Perhaps Isaac, while growing up, had heard the stories of what his father, Abraham, had done in those earlier incidents and decided to mimic his behavior. Given that Rebekah was not Isaac’s sister in any sense, this would be a classic example of the repetition of “the sins of the fathers” by a later generation.
26:12–22, 26–33 The conflicts over the wells occurred despite earlier agreements between Abraham and Abimelech (21:22–31). This happened because of jealousy over God’s blessing on Isaac. A resentful response by others against those blessed by the Lord is a common theme in Genesis.
26:34–35 Though Esau married at age 40, as did Isaac his father (25:20), his parents were hardly pleased with his choices. His wives were Hittites who worshiped many gods, none of which was the one true God of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac is partly responsible for these religiously mixed marriages, since he had not made it clear to Esau what his standards were (28:1, 6–9). There are two possible explanations for why Judith, the first named wife of Esau (26:34) is not mentioned in the “family records” of Esau in chapter 36. Either she did not live long enough to have children, or the marriage ended quickly in divorce.
27:1–29 Though the Lord had told Rebekeh that her older son, Esau, would serve her younger son, Jacob (25:23), that in no way excuses the elaborate deception on the part of Rebekah and Jacob to defraud Esau of his blessing as the older son. Instead of trusting the Lord to accomplish what He had promised, Rebekah took the matter into her own hands, much as Sarah had by giving Hagar to Abraham in chapter 16.
27:30–45 Esau was justified in his anger about how his blessing was stolen, but he had no right to become enraged and hold a murderous grudge (Eph 4:26–27). No one involved in this incident was an innocent bystander, given Rebekah’s and Jacob’s scheming and Isaac’s extravagant blessing—which he thought he was giving to Esau—apparently ignoring the Lord’s word to Rebekah (Gn 25:23).
27:46–28:1 Sadly, it appears to have taken Isaac’s experience with Esau’s wives to open his eyes in regard to the prospects for Jacob’s marriage. Isaac did not emulate his own father’s care in seeking a wife for his son (chap. 24).
28:6–9 Esau’s attempt to regain his father’s favor was misguided. In his spiritual insensitivity, he thought the problem had to do with having a wife from the right bloodline. It was, instead, a matter of faith in, and worship of, the one true God.
28:10–22 Because Jacob’s vision at Bethel was his closest encounter with God up to this point in his life, he was convinced this place was unique. For him it was “the house of God,” (the literal meaning of Bethel), and “the gate of heaven” (v. 17). At his stage in God’s progressive revelation, he could not see that no earthly spot could play this role (Acts 7:48–50). Like his brother Esau, Jacob had not been a man of faith. But, even though the conditions he states toward the Lord (Gn 28:20–22) fall short of true faith, they represent a step in the right direction.
29:1–12 This passage echoes chapter 24. While that chapter is much longer and more detailed, the marked similarity is intended to inspire similar confidence in the Lord’s provision of the right wife for Jacob.
29:13–30 Ironically Laban deceived Jacob in regard to the marriage of his daughters just as Jacob had deceived his father, Isaac, in the matter of the birthright blessing. It is uncertain whether it was an ironclad cultural custom for an older daughter to be married first, or only a custom of Laban’s family. It is interesting, though, that Jacob, who had displaced his older brother, now sought to marry the younger daughter. Again we meet the Genesis theme of younger displacing older.
29:31–30:24 This period of the births of the progenitors of the tribes of Israel is characterized by tragic resentment and rivalry. Though Sarah and Hagar had experienced mutual disdain (chaps. 16; 21), the ongoing hostility between Jacob’s wives profoundly marked the family life.
By Chad Owen Brand
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 39–49.