Episode 111 - Discussing God with Mormons

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Today, we're going to talk about how to discuss God with Mormons.

It's common to hear confusion about the differences in Mormonism and Christianity. Some of this confusion even comes from Christians and Mormons. What you already may have noticed is that I'm making a distinction between Christianity and Mormonism, which is often part of the confusion. Is there actually a difference? Yes, there is,o and here's why.

When Mormons claim to be Christians, or even when Christians claim that Mormons are Christians, they're mistaking a fundamental fact, which is the very reason Joseph Smith started Mormonism. He was trying to find which religion was the true one, which denomination was the right one. What God the Father and Jesus Christ (Note: This is a correction. Originally, I had incorrectly said that “an angel from God” had appeared to Smith.) appeared and told him they were all an abomination. There are Christian denominations today with the same beliefs that also existed in the 1800s, when Joseph Smith started Mormonism. The same beliefs and the same Gospel and the same scriptures. It's disingenuous for someone to claim that Mormons and Christians are the same, because supposedly, we're an abomination. We hold beliefs that are corrupted fundamentally, such that Joseph Smith needed to start a new church. You can't have it both ways. It can’t be fundamentally corrupted and an abomination and also be the same thing. So I just wanted to address that at the beginning.

One of the major points of confusion when we talk about Christianity and Mormonism is that the two religions use the same terms. We'll use the term God and Trinity and God-head and Jesus, but all of these terms actually find rather different definitions in their two respective religions in how they're used. The one I want to talk about today is simply God.

Mormonism believes that there is more than one God. There is not just one being that is God and that's it. There are actually multiple Gods. In fact, there's this phrase that's kind of common as a summary of Mormon belief, from Mormons, in fact. It goes like this,

”As man now is, God once was, and as God now is, man may be."

That's kind of catchy, but let's run through it.

“As man now is, God once was,” so man is man now. He's human. That means, on their belief, that God used to be human. In fact, they think God the Father has a body of flesh and bones, not that he's just pure spirit like Christians do. So that's the first part. “As man now is, God once was,” so God used to be like us, which is very different from what we see in scripture, as we'll look at in a minute. Then, “as God now is, man may be.” So God is divine and exalted and glorified and deified and all of those things, and they're saying we may be able to be like that. Now, they would say that happens, in part, through the atonement of Jesus, who they actually believe is a separate being, not one being with God the Father. We'll get to that in a minute also. Nevertheless, do you see a difference here? That God, on their view, used to be a man, and man could become God, which implies that there's the possibility of multiple Gods.

But what does scripture say about that? Well, let's look at Isaiah 43:10, where Yahweh, the Lord, says to his people,

”Before Me, no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me."

I think that's pretty straightforward. No god before Yahweh, no god after Yahweh. It's a done deal. But practically, in conversation, it's not going to end here, and there are a few ways this conversation might go. If you're talking with a Mormon and you say, "Hey, do you believe, like the Mormon church, that there are multiple Gods, that, in fact, you might become a God one day?" They'll most likely say yes, if they're being honest and if they've been educated in this. You can ask them, "Well, what about Isaiah 43:10? Yahweh says that, 'Before Me, there was no god formed, and there'll be none after me.'"

The conversation might take a couple forks here. One might be that they might pull out 1 Corinthians 8. A more educated Mormon might go to 1 Corinthians 8, and this is where Paul says,

”If, after all, there are so-called gods, whether in Heaven or in Earth (as there are many gods and many lords) yet, for us, there is one God."

It seems like, at least on a Mormon reading of this passage, that Paul was saying, “there are many gods, but for us, there is one,” but that's not what he's saying at all, in fact. In this context, he's talking about people who believe there to be other gods, who were actually worshiping idols. In fact, in verse five, he even says that they're “so-called gods”. In other words, not gods. They call them that, but that's not what they are.

He actually goes on to say something that I think directly contradicts the Mormons' point, which is, "Yet, for us, there is one God, the Father, from Whom are all things and for Whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and through Whom we live." Paul has this really common habit of using certain prepositions, and he's not necessarily picky about what they are, for the Father and other prepositions for the Son to describe the same things. So, here, he says everything came from the Father, and he says everything came through the Son. Well, in Mormonism, Jesus is a created being. How did everything come through him if he's a thing? That doesn't work either.

What's interesting here is Paul is making the point that you can't separate the work of the Father and the Son. Everything came from the Father through the Son, and he's basically affirming what we would call “inseparable operations,” that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all involved in a mutual work. They may have different roles, but you can't separate their actions from the action of God.

On Paul's view, there is one being of God, which is where we get our doctrine of the Trinity, which stands in contrast to the Mormon doctrine of the Trinity, which says that “there is God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Though distinct beings, they are unified in purpose and doctrine.” Well, that's very different from a Christian definition of the Trinity. That's another reason why that Mormonism and Christianity are different religions. We conceive of God fundamentally differently. We don't think the Son, the Father, and the Spirit are distinct beings that are only unified in purpose. We think there is one God, in fact. Not three Gods, one God. Exactly as Isaiah 43:10 says, "No God before Him, no God after Him." Same God.

John tells us that when Isaiah sees the Lord high and lifted up, he actually saw Jesus. So Yahweh is the one that he saw. It's the same one that is speaking here in Isaiah 43:10, the same one who is Jesus, who is one with the Father. There is one God. None before, none after. This verse is very helpful in talking with Mormons.

Now, I mentioned that this conversation could take different tracks. One might be to go to 1 Corinthians 8, like we just did, where we actually see Paul is describing that you can't separate the Father and the Son. It's not like the Son is created and the Father isn't or that they came into being at different times. Everything came into existence by and through and from both of them. He's talking about so-called Gods. So that's the first track this conversation can take.

The second is for a Mormon to say, "Well, I mean, the Bible has been corrupted. It's been translated after translated after translated. We can't trust it." Well, we can demonstrate that that claim is false. First, it's a little interesting that the Mormons include the Bible along with their other books of scripture. Besides just the Bible, which Christians affirm is the sole source of God's inerrant, authoritative, inspired word, Mormons have the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and then also the Bible. So, four sacred books, not just one.

When the Mormon says, "You can't trust the Bible. It's been corrupted. It's been translated after translated after translated,” the first question to ask is, "Well, which parts don't you read? Which parts are corrupted? When you're reading the Bible, what parts do you skip?" Well, they don't know. There isn't an answer to that question. It's a claim they've been taught, but it's not a claim they can demonstrate, at least in my experience. I could be wrong on this. But I've never heard anyone have a good response to that, listening to interviews, and in personal conversations. They don't know. If you can't trust any of it, why do you point to part of it? If they're going to go to 1 Corinthians 8 in response to Isaiah 43, well, how do we know that's translated correctly? There's not a good answer to that question if they're consistent in their view. So that's the first question: “what parts don't you read? Which parts do you skip?” That type of thing.

The second point is when they say the Bible is a translation of a translation of a translation of a translation, that's actually wrong. No one, when they endeavor to make a new Bible translation today, at least not any respectable publisher or scholarly group, goes to the previous English translation and says, "Let me translate based on that." Your current NIV is not a translation of the previous NIV, which is not a translation of the NASB, which is not a translation of the KJV, which is not a translation of the ASV. It doesn't work like that. At every point, we go back to the earliest and best manuscripts in the original language and translate from that, so the Bible is not a translation of a translation of a translation.

Their official documents, their official doctrine in Mormon belief is that the Bible is correct in as much as it is translated correctly, but when they describe it to you, what they're actually talking about is transmission of the text—how did manuscripts get copied—but that's not translation, that's transmission. That's another problem, which maybe we'll talk more about in the future.

The fact of the matter is that we always go back to the earliest and best manuscripts, and we've talked about this before. The manuscript evidence for the New Testament is excellent. We have over 5,800 partial Greek manuscripts for the New Testament, and if you include Latin and Coptic and Syriac, we have tens of thousands more, and many of them are written very close to the events they describe. More than that, the time from the writing of the manuscript to the copies we have is very short compared to any other ancient work in the ancient world. So the manuscript evidence for the New Testament is second to none.

More than that, I think it's interesting, because when they say it's been corrupted, they disagree with Jesus, who said not even a jot or tittle would be lost, that His words would not pass away. So in order to say the Bible has been corrupted, and if the Bible's the word of God, we have to say Jesus was wrong. His words have been corrupted. They have passed away in some part. That puts the Mormon at odds with Jesus. It also undercuts any claim the Mormon makes based on any Bible verse, which I think is important. If they can't trust it, why do they get to choose which verses they trust and which ones they don't? What's their consistent standard? Well, there isn't one.

So, to briefly recap how we can address the concern about the reliability of scripture, the first point is to ask, "Well, which parts don't you read?" What we're driving at here is you need a consistent standard. I don't think you have one. The second thing to point out is the Bible isn't translated after translated after translated. It's one step from the original language to our language. More than that, what they're describing is transmission, not translation, which would be another incorrect belief. The third and best point is simply that Jesus said His words would not pass away, so we can't disagree with Jesus on that. We can't claim to be on His side and disagree with His view on scripture. Why do I believe the Bible is the word of God? Why do I believe it's still correct today? Because Jesus believed that. It's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. Are there other supporting evidences? Yes, most certainly, and I don't think that should surprise us, either. Fundamentally, it's a claim based on what Jesus believed. That's how we can talk with Mormons about this.

How do we talk with Mormons about the fact that there's one God? Scripture says there's one God. There was none before him; there was none after him. This takes Mormon belief out at the knees, because it's based on this idea that “as man now is, God once was,” so God used to be a man. “As God now is, you may become,” which is a very unbiblical concept.

We've talked about Mormonism a little in the past and how its idea of with the Gospel is is not actually good news, that you're “saved after all you can do,” only then is Christ's sacrifice enough for you. Well, I can't do enough. Besides that, the Bible says that we're justified by faith, not in addition to works, but faith alone. We're justified by faith not of works, so that no man can boast.

So why do we talk about this stuff? Well, because the true Gospel, accurately presented, accurately understood, should be a breath of fresh air to Mormons. Does God need to open their eyes to His truth? Does He need to regenerate their heart, just like He does for anyone and everyone? Yes. Nevertheless, the correct Gospel, correctly described, is a breath of fresh air to them, as it should be to anyone. I think that's important. That's why we have these conversations. That's why we talk about beliefs of other religions and ideologies and worldviews, because as Paul said, we need to tear down ideologies and philosophies and everything that is raised up against the knowledge of Christ—The accurate, Biblically based knowledge of Christ.

So I hope this has been helpful in talking with your Mormon friends and neighbors about Christianity or the differences between it and Mormonism and how we can contend for the truthfulness of a Biblically-based view of God and of scripture in those conversations. I look forward to talking with you next week on unapologetic.