Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Another Testament of Jesus Christ" is Not a Different "Gospel"

A classic evangelical criticism of Mormonism is that the apostle Paul said not to believe anyone, even an angel of light, who teaches another gospel.  They use that statement as a way to reject Joseph Smith - and the Book of Mormon, especially since the cover says "Another Testament of Jesus Christ".  The actual passage in Galatians says:

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.
11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The charge is ironic, because Paul's own converting vision and subsequent epistles fit exactly the complaint of the evangelical community that questions Joseph's account - especially since Paul's ministry, visions and epistles helped change early Christianity in MAJOR ways.

I probably should repeat that for emphasis:

Paul's visions (especially the one that stopped the requirement for circumcision among the Gentiles) and his epistles fundamentally altered Christianity in ways that people then could have termed to be "another gospel" - IF they interpreted "gospel" to be "further revelation" or "additional writings" or even "changed/additional doctrine". Thus, Paul could be rejected for the exact same reason evangelicals use that passage to reject Joseph.

Joseph's foundational account essentially is Paul's foundational account - a vision of God appearing to him that led to him becoming a prophet. Angelic visitations / visions were recorded all the time in Paul's time, even by Paul himself - but they were secondary to the appearance of God himself. In the exact same way, the claim about Moroni is secondary to the First Vision. It doesn't happen without the First Vision. It can't be attacked independent of the First Vision.

So, condemning Joseph's account of Moroni's vision and rejecting the writing that followed (The Book of Mormon) by quoting that passage of Paul's is inconsistent with Paul's own understanding of angels and visions and scripture. He had no problem with those things - it was the presentation of another "gospel" that concerned him.

There is a huge difference between another "testament" and another "gospel" - and it's a very important difference. The Book of Mormon says explicitly, multiple times, especially in 3 Nephi, that the "gospel" it teaches is faith in Jesus, repentance, baptism and the Holy Ghost - and there is no way, in my opinion, to see that as "another gospel" that differs from the "gospel" of the Bible. Arguments about doctrine are valid to make (as long as people admit that even the writers of the New Testament appear to disagree about some doctrine - and certainly the early Catholic theologians and modern Protestant scholars did and do, as well). However, in evangelical terms, the word "testament" means nothing more than "witness" - and "witnessing" about Jesus actually is a key aspect of evangelism. So, rejecting another "testament" or "witness" that presents the same "gospel" is ironic - to put it as charitably as I can.

That is not "proof" of the Book of Mormon or of Joseph being a prophet - but, as bluntly as I can put it, if rejection of the Book of Mormon is based on that classic evangelical attack, it's important to understand how shallow, out-of-context and twisted that particular attack is.

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