Why Explore Christianity First?

So you’re a non-religious skeptic and you’ve just received a flyer in the mail from a local church about coming to one of their Easter services.  You’re tempted to just throw it in the garbage.

Your mind says that you should explore this religion first before just rejecting it out of hand.  To reject it without having properly investigated its claims or at least going to a few church services, would be intolerant.  

But if you’re going to explore this whole religion thing, why start with Christianity?  Why not start with Islam?  Why not start with something like Confucionism?

Before looking at the other religions, it makes perfect sense to check out Christianity first. In fact there are five reasons why you should consider checking Christianity out first.

It Makes Good Sense to Start with Christianity 

The first reason you should start exploring Christianity before any other religion is it is falsifiable. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, we have a verse that is abnormal in comparison to other religious texts.

and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is without foundation, and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.

-The Apostle Paul

This is the toughest way to start a false religion. If I were going to start my own religion, I would set it up to where the divine knowledge is found in you. After all that would be subjective and there’s no real way to falsify that way of thinking. Many of the world religions have followed a similar line of thinking. Hinduism, Buddhism and especially Mormonism rely on experience. Islam is slightly different because its truth claims actually rely on objective fact, however, Muhammad never gave his followers a way to verify his own claims. The closest thing we have to evidence in the Qur’an is that Muhammad said the Qur’an is so beautiful when read aloud that its beauty is self-authenticating. But even that claim relies on a subjective way of thinking and therefore doesn’t work.

A second reason a sincere seeker after truth should start with Christianity before any other religious tradition is grace. Why not check to see if Christianity is true if the easiest way to heaven is just by grace through faith? In the other religious traditions, you have to work and work and you may not even get into heaven after that. You could spend a lifetime working your way to God and never succeed. While on the Christian view, you receive forgiveness for the sins you have committed against God by turning from those sins and placing your trust in Jesus.

In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey relates a story about C.S. Lewis that I think is relevant. He writes:

During a British conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities. Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form. Resurrection? Again, other religions had accounts of return from death. The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room. ‘What’s the rumpus about?’ he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. Lewis responded, ‘Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.'[1]

-Philip Yancey

A third reason you should consider the truth claims of Christianity first is that Jesus is the very focus of it. So many of the world’s religious groups have an opinion on Jesus Christ and Jesus even appears in the sacred writings of many faiths. When you look at the early traditions of some of the great world religions, they almost always have an opinion on Jesus (this is true of their modern adherents too). We’ll put aside the theological cults of Christianity that have Jesus in there in some form or another. Ancient Jewish believers described Jesus in the following way: He was the son of Mary;[2] had many disciples;[3] was a miracle worker;[4] claimed to be the Messiah;[5] was crucified on the cross;[6] and his followers reported he rose from the dead.[7] Jesus is even mentioned in the Qur’an more times than Muhammad and Muhammad is supposed to be more important than Jesus according to Muslims. According to the Qur’an, Jesus: was born of a virgin;[8] was to be revered;[9] was a prophet;[10] was a wise teacher;[11] was a miracle worker;[12] ascended to Heaven;[13] and in addition to that, Muslims generally believe Jesus will return in judgment.

But what about the varying views of Jesus within Hinduism? The variations within Hinduism are a product of the complex and divergent set of views within Hinduism itself and so for this reason, there is no one set of beliefs that all Hindus adhere to when it comes to the person of Jesus Christ. Hindus may see Jesus in one or more ways: a holy man, a wise teacher and/or a “god”.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism provides no singular unified view of Jesus although a number of Buddhists will describe Jesus in one or more ways: an enlightened man, a wise teacher, and/or a holy man. There are even some Buddhists who will talk about Jesus as if he and Buddha would have been close spiritual brothers had they lived in the same time period. While others will openly claim that the Buddha reincarnated as Jesus. These portraits given by the different world religions are merely shadows of the very center of the Christian faith. Why not just start with Jesus in the search for truth?

 A fourth reason to consider exploring Christianity first is because it has the best worldview fit. Let’s take evil and suffering in the world as an example. While Christianity readily admits that there is evil and suffering in the world, most if not all eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism deny evil exists. Evil is just seen as an illusion in these worldviews. Western New Age adherents have a similar view on evil. Their worldview, provided by their religious beliefs, does not fit with what is actually true in the real world.

A fifth reason to consider Christianity before any other religion flows from the fourth reason. In the Christian worldview, you live a non-compartmentalized life. You’re not a Christian on Sunday and an atheist the rest of the week. It’s because the Christian worldview actually corresponds to reality that you can be a Christian every day and you don’t have to change your worldview when interacting with the real world. Buddhists and Hindus have this problem. While denying evil, Hindus and Buddhists have to live a compartmentalized life; denying evil religiously while interacting and even acknowledging it in everyday life.

Methodologically speaking, this is not a way to determine that Christianity is true but merely a few reasons why a reasonable and sincere truth seeker should consider looking into Christianity first.

End Notes

  1. Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 45.
  2. The Toledot Yeshu
  3. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a
  4. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b; The Toledot Yeshu
  5. The Toledot Yeshu
  6. The Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a; The Toledot Yeshu
  7. The Toledot Yeshu
  8. Qur’an 19:18-22
  9. Qur’an 4:171
  10. Qur’an 6:85; 3:49-51; 5:75
  11. Qur’an 57:27; 61:14
  12. Qur’an 2:87; 3:49; 3:46
  13. Qur’an 3:55; 4:159

The Book of Mormon and the King James Bible

At Red Door Church we’ve been taking a look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS).  Along the way, we’ve noticed that Joseph Smith quotes directly from the King James Bible (KJV) or paraphrases it in a handful of places in the Book of Mormon (which was allegedly revealed to him by the angel Moroni).

This is a big problem for the Book of Mormon.

The point of this short entry is to cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the BOM (Book of Mormon).  If quotations from a book written some one-thousand years after the BOM’s first edition somehow find their way into the BOM itself, then we have virtually undeniable evidence that the BOM is not in fact the book the LDS church claims it to be.

BOM Plagiarisms From the KJV

On the plagiarisms from the King James Bible, cult expert Walter Martin writes:

“A careful examination of The Book of Mormon reveals that it contains thousands of words from the King James Bible.  In fact, verbatim quotations, some of considerable length [can be found there].  The comparisons of Moroni 10 with 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; Nephi 114 with Isaiah 4; and 2 Nephi 12 with Isaiah 2 reveal that Joseph Smith made free use of his Bible to supplement the alleged revelation of the golden plates.  The book of Mosiah, chapter 14, in The Book of Mormon, is a reproduction of the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah the prophet, and 3 Nephi 13 copies Matthew 6 almost word-for-word.” 1

While to some this may not seem like a big deal, The Book of Mormon (BOM) claims that the golden plates which are the text from which the BOM is translated, were engraved by two prophet-historians, Mormon and his son Moroni, in the year 400.  But the King James Bible didn’t arrive on the scene until 1611.  So if the alleged dates for the BOM are accurate how did the plagiarisms occur? 2

King James Version Errors

What is more, the BOM quotes sections of the KJV which scholars now know to contain errors.  Jeremy Runnells, a formerly committed Mormon and BYU grad, in his now famous “Letter to a CES Director”, asks at the very beginning of his paper:

“What are 1769 King James Version edition errors doing in the Book of Mormon? An ancient text? Errors which are unique to the 1769 edition that Joseph Smith owned?” 3

One of the more famous KJV errors worth mentioning here that makes its way into the BOM is 1 John 5:7-8.  (This error is found in all editions of the KJV, including the first completed in 1611.)  Scholarly consensus is now overwhelming that this passage is a Latin corruption that migrated into the Greek manuscript tradition in later editions.  Bruce Metzger writes about manuscript 61, the first Greek manuscript discovered which contains this passage:

“The manuscript [dating from the late 15th or early 16th century], which is remarkably fresh and clean throughout (except for the two pages containing 1 John 5, which are soiled from repeated examination of this passage), gives every appearance of having been produced expressly for the purpose of confuting Erasmus.” 4

Another Greek expert and conservative bible scholar, Daniel B. Wallace tells the story of how this interpolation happened:

“[T]he Greek text which stands behind the King James Bible is demonstrably inferior in certain places. The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. Two places deserve special mention. In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been. Secondly, for 1 John 5:7-8, Erasmus followed the majority of MSS in reading “there are three witnesses in heaven, the Spirit and the water and the blood.” However, there was an uproar in some Roman Catholic circles because his text did not read ‘there are three witnesses in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit.’ Erasmus said that he did not put that in the text because he found no Greek MSS which had that reading. This implicit challenge—viz., that if he found such a reading in any Greek MS, he would put it in his text—did not go unnoticed. In 1520, a scribe at Oxford named Roy made such a Greek MS (codex 61, now in Dublin). Erasmus’ third edition had the second reading because such a Greek MS was ‘made to order’ to fill the challenge! To date, only a handful of Greek MSS have been discovered which have the Trinitarian formula in 1 John 5:7-8, though none of them is demonstrably earlier than the sixteenth century.” 5

The spurious passage from the KJV can be found paraphrased in 3 Nephi 11:27 (BOM):

“And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto to you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.”

The bolded phrase above is quoted almost verbatim from 1 John 5:7, a phrase which cannot be found anywhere else in the New Testament.  Coincidence?  It appears that Joseph Smith paraphrased the interpolation from the KJV into the BOM not knowing the difference. 6

Runnells provides various other places where KJV errors make their way into the BOM.  You can download the PDF of “Letter to a CES Director” here and see them for yourself.

What’s the Point?

I have in my lap The Book of Mormon.  In the very front it says this:

“The Book of Mormon: An account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi… Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.”

What we have seen, however, casts serious doubt that the BOM is in fact what it’s opening pages claim.  There seems to be no way around the conclusion that Joseph Smith used the KJV Bible as original source material for parts of the BOM, and not some alleged “golden plates” (or visions) which were revealed to him and later translated.

  1. Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject (Bethany House Publishers),
  2. The assumption here, of course, is that Joseph Smith simply copied or paraphrased these parts of the BOM directly from the King James Bible and did not in fact translate them from any alleged golden plates.
  3. Jeremy T. Runnells, “Letter to a CES Director.” Accessed on 6/23/15. Please see Creative Commons License.
  4. Bruce M. Metzger, “The Text of the New Testament, ” 3rd Ed.  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 62.
  5. “Why I Do Not Think the King James Bible is the Best Translation Available Today.” Accessed on 6/23/15.  Can be found at https://bible.org/article/why-i-do-not-think-king-james-bible-best-translation-available-today.
  6. Christians of course would affirm the truthfulness of the statement, that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are one.  But it would be wrong to assume that our affirmation of this truth is dependant upon this single passage.  In the words of James R. White “We are in no way dependant upon the phrase for our knowledge of the Trinity or the unity of the three Persons: Father, Son and Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not stand or fall upon the inclusion of the Comma.  Beyond this, however, we have a phrase that is simply not a part of the ancient Greek manuscripts of John’s first epistle.”  Quoted from his book “The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?” (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1995), 61.

Are the Mormons Christians?

One frequently asked question up here in South Royalton, VT (just a couple of miles from where Joseph Smith was born) is this: “Are the Mormons Christians?”

A quick glance would give one the impression that they certainly are.  They basically live like Christians, talk like Christians and go to “church” like Christians.  So they must be Christians, right?

In this post I want to quickly explore that question.  What I hope we will see is that using Christian terminology does not make you Christian.

“A Deep Commitment to Jesus Christ”

Not only do the LDS folks appear on the surface to be christian, more and more today the LDS Church actively seeks to paint themselves into the canvas of mainstream, Orthodox Christianity–they want people to think of them as Christians. 

Using ad campaigns like the very well done “I’m a Mormon” series, Mormons display themselves as a diverse, global group of people that share a “deep commitment to Jesus Christ.”  If you go to one of their official websites like Mormon.org, you will find everywhere statements like this one:

“Mormons, for all the other things that set us apart, believe first and foremost that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.” 1

In another place on Mormon.org we read:

“We are Christians in a very real sense and that is coming to be more and more widely recognized. Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians. They have come to recognize that we are, and that we have a very vital and dynamic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

When Mormons come to your door it is not uncommon to hear them ask, “Would you like to hear a message about Jesus Christ?”

All of this sure sounds like Christianity.

More Than Meets the Eye

But there’s more here.  Calling yourself a Christian does not make you a Christian.  Even talking, acting, and living like a Christian does not make you a Christian.  I can walk around in the halls of the local hospital wearing scrubs and spouting off phrases like “let me see the EKG from that MRI X-ray,” giving some the impression that I was a doctor.  But to those with some level of medical training, they would know immediately that it was nonsense; that the guy who looked like a doctor was an imposter.

Interestingly, in its early days, Mormonism sought to distance itself from mainstream Christianity because they believed that all Christians were apostate (had abandoned the true religion).  As the quote above states, “Once upon a time people everywhere said we are not Christians.”  The only thing the folks over at Mormon.org forgot to mention was that Mormons themselves used to say as much!

Today, despite their efforts to appear Christian, the LDS Church still believes the Christian Church to be apostate.  In the words of Tim Staples, the director of apologetics and evangelization at Catholic Answers:

“Mormon[s]… claim that the Church fell into total and complete apostasy after the death of the last apostle. Moreover, Mormons maintain that biblical texts like Amos 8:11-14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 (which we will examine below), among others, positively teach this to be so. Thus, the LDS contends that the true church of Christ did not exist at all for some 1,800 years and then was re-established through another testament given to Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 2

The “true church” then is the one founded by the LDS Church’s first President, Joseph Smith Jr. according to current Mormon teaching.

If that’s the case then, when Mormons call themselves “Christians”, they must mean something very different from what the Christian Church means.  So we should be extremely skeptical when we hear a Mormon (or anyone else) suggest that they are “Christians” in the same sense as the Christian Church.  When you hear this next time, maybe you could say, “But doesn’t the LDS Church teach that the Christian Church is apostate and that it was literally absent from the earth for nearly 1800 years?”

Other Differences in Terminology

Mormons today not only use the word “Christian” in ways that differ from historic, bible-believing Christians, they use a truck-load of other Christian terminology in ways that mainstream Christians (should) disagree with.  Here are a few examples given by Ankerberg, Weldon, and Burroughs in their very helpful little book The Facts on the Mormon Church:

God: “Elohim”; one of innumerable self-progressing bodily deities; formerly a man, a finite creature; now the principal deity of the earth.  In early Mormon theology, Adam (of the garden of Eden) was considered the true earth deity by many Mormons.

Jesus Christ: a self-progressing deity (“Jehovah” of the Old Testament) and the first spirit child of “Elohim” and his wife.

The Gospel: Mormon salvation by works, leading to exaltation or godhood.

Born-again: having undergone water baptism into Mormonism.

Virgin-birth: the birth of Christ through a physical sex act between God the Father (the Mormon earth god “Elohim”) and Mary (hence, not a virgin birth). 3

Just the few terms above reveal that Mormon theology is drastically different from Christian theology.  Joel Miller helpfully points out how Mormon the mormon definition of God won’t even get us past the first section of the Nicene Creed, a “bedrock statement of accepted Christian teaching.”

The Creed states: “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”

In Miller’s words:

“We’re already off to a rough start. If God is the maker of all things, he cannot have been made himself, yet Mormons teach exactly that: God the Father was once a man, just like you or me (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7.334). And he still has a physical body; as it says in Doctrine and Covenants, ‘The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s’ (130.22).” 4

Being aware of these crucial differences will help you engage your Mormon neighbors when they come to your door or you see them in the community.  Drawing out the differences in terminology we can bring the reality clearly into the light that their teachings are far different from the historic Christian Church.

Conclusion

While there is a great deal more we could say about this, the sum total of the few paragraphs above is that despite what the LDS Church claims, they cannot be considered Christians in the way that the historic Christian Church defines the term.  Despite appearances, their God is different, their gospel is different, their new birth is different.

By their own lights, they can no more be considered Christian than Christians can be considered Mormons.

  1. Located at http://www.mormon.org/about-us.
  2. Article found here http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/latter-day-saints-and-the-great-apostasy.  Accessed on 7/12/15.
  3. John Ankerberg, John Weldon & Dillon Burroughs, “The Facts on The Mormon Church,” (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), 16-18.
  4. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2011/10/why-mormons-arent-christians/. Accessed on 7/14/15.