Monday, September 01, 2008

Prescription versus description

Everything in the Bible is true. That is a basic belief of the Christian faith. But just because something is recorded in Scripture does not make it a command or doctrine. Unbelievers make all sorts of claims of what the Bible approves of, but most of their examples are descriptive in nature.

It is something I have been dealing with on Mormon Coffee and Pastor Michael Jones was talking about it in relation to mistakes critics of the Bible make (at least I think that is what he was saying, it was hot in the fellowship hall and I was stuffed with fried chicken, so I was a little groggy), that is mistaking Biblical description for Biblical prescription.

Mormonism is a great example of people doing this. Mormons baptize people for the dead. Why? Because of an obscure descriptive reference in 1 Corinthians: Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? (1 Corinthians 15:29) Does that say to baptize the dead? No, it describes something the church in Corinth was doing, a church with a myriad of false doctrines running rampant. Paul mentions it in passing and millions of people practice it is a commandment.

A better example is polygamy. Mormons formerly practiced and still believe in polygamy. The doctrine is still in their Scriptures in Doctrine and Covenants 132 (D&C 132)

The "revelation" that Joseph Smith received after getting caught with multiple wives starts off as follows:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines—

2 Behold, and lo, I am the Lord thy God, and will answer thee as touching this matter.

3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.

4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.

5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.

6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.

7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

Notice that when Smith begins his defense of his polygamy, he refers back to the many wives of Old Testament prophets. Smith's logic is: Abraham was a prophet. I am a prophet. Abraham had lots of wives. I can have lots of wives. That is the story. When you ask a typical mormon about polygamy, they will at first brush it off "we don't do that anymore". If you get deeper and keep pressing, it is that "Well Old Testament prophets had plural marriages" While it is true that some OT prophets had multiple wives, it is also true that they were never commanded to do so. In fact they typically were in rebellion against God when they did so and it had negative consequences for them. Abraham, after being told to do so by his wife (an important lesson for husbands everywhere), took his wife's handmaiden Haggar and impregnated her, believing wrongly that God was not keeping His covenant to give Abraham a son.The results are disastrous. Sarah becomes jealous of Haggar's son Ishmael and Haggar is catty toward Sarah because she was able to provide the son that Sarah apparently couldn't. This leads to conflict that results in Haggar and Ishmael being cast out of the camp, where Ishmael would have died of dehydration if God hadn't intervened. That story is hardly a ringing endorsement of polygamy, but mormons still cite Abraham as a defense of Joseph Smith and his polygamous ways.

After Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed, the Bible records Lot committing incest with his two daughters. Based on mormon logic, that means that if current mormon prophet Thomas Monson announced that incest was a new and everlasting covenant, it would have the same standing. You might say that is silly, but that is exactly the kind of thing that comes from misreading the Bible. The Bible is not a Bartlett's Quotations, it is a uniform and complete story that is meant to be read as a whole. Reading verses out of context and outside of the total Biblical witness invariably leads to false doctrine being taught.


Anonymous said...

Good reaoning, Arthur. I wish we could count on most Mormons to reason with us.Nevertheless, it must be done for those few who are going to come to their senses before it's too late.

Michael R. Jones said...

Good example! I wish I had thought of that for my message.

For what it's worth, I was hot, too, and my belly full of chicken was rolling around so it may not have been that you couldn't understand but that I didn't make much sense! Sounds like you took something good away from it and I hope others did, too.