By the Hand of Mormon

I have had very little to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons till this year. I recently help set up a website for a local evangelist who engages with them.

I went to my local library and found this book “By the Hand of Mormon” by Terry L Givens (Oxford University Press, 2002). So I got it out.

There is so much about Mormonism that I did not know.

Before learning new things, I find it useful to spell out what I already know. Regarding Mormonism, all I knew was

  • It was very American
  • Young American Male Mormons go on two year missions, often abroad
  • There was a large march to Salt Lake City, to escape persecution
  • The founder claims to have been visited by an Angel
  • They have a religious book unique to them called The Book of Mormon

So below is what I have learned. The founder was called Joseph Smith. Born 1805 and dies 1844. The Book of Mormon was published in 1830. He did not have an educated background. He lived in an era when folk spirituality was a big part of Christianity and prophecy and visions were very popular.

As a young boy, there was a lot of interest in finding gold or treasure. Joseph smith used ‘seer stones’ in helping to look for treasure but was unsuccessful.

At the age of 14 or 15 he has a vision of God and Jesus. God says to him ‘this is my beloved Son’.
At one point, he asks God which church to join. Then God the Father and Jesus the Son of God appear and tell him that all the churches are corrupt and he shouldn’t join any of them.

The book of James is very important to Joseph – especially the verse about asking for wisdom. Apparently Joseph asked for wisdom before his visions. Many later Mormon testimonies say something similar – they asked for wisdom, read the Book of Mormon, and had some special feelings.

The angel Moroni tells him about a Golden Bible which he finds at Cumorah  a drumlin in Manchester, New York, United States. It was in a buried stone box. It is on Golden plates and the writing is in reformed Egyptian.

Joseph Smith translates this Bible using the Urim and Thumin. His first translation however is lost.

He does another translation using a Seer Stone and that one is the current Book of Mormon.

Very few people actually see the Golden Bible. Though there are about 8 that testify to having visions. These testimonies were included in the Book of Mormon, at the front and back.

The Book of Mormon itself says that Jews emigrated to America at the time of the Tower of Babel and around 600BC, and they had quite advanced civilisations. At first the belief was that the Native Indians were descendants of those Jews. I’m not sure if that is still the case. When many amazing archaeological finds were happening in South and Central America, the Mormons believed this was proof of the Book of Mormon.

Books from the Book of Mormon

1 Nephi
2 Nephi
Words of Mormon
3 Nephi
4 Nephi

An interesting literary device found in the book of Mormon is the Chiasmus. Basically the stanzas are constructed so that the first is in parallel with the last, the second in parallel with the penultimate and so on. Devices like this are said to have been unlikely to have been made up by Joseph Smith.

Biblical passages with a chiastic structure:
Gospel of John (including 6:36–40; 15:7–17; 16:16–31; 18:28–19:16a; 19:16b–
42).45 and Matthew 27:62–28:20.46

The Chiasmus of John 1:1–1850
A The Word with God the Father (1:1–2)
B The Word’s role in creation (1:3)
C God’s Grace to mankind (1:4–5)
D Witness of John the Baptist (1:6–8)
E The Incarnation of the Word (1:9–11)
X Saving Faith in the Incarnate Word (1:12–13)
E’ The Incarnation of the Word (1:14)
D’ Witness of John the Baptist (1:15)
C’ God’s Grace to mankind (1:16)
B’ The Word’s role in re-creation (1:17)
A’ The Word with God the Father (1:18)









How do I share the gospel?

I have read quite a bit of theology recently and it has benefited me in a lot of ways, but I feel a but confused in other ways.

One of the key issues I am a little confused about is ‘what is the gospel?’ and ‘How do I share it?’

Previously I would have said something along the lines of the 4 steps

  • God loves me
  • I have sinned
  • Jesus died for me
  • I must decide

Problems with this. This was not how the earliest gospel was preached. There was a huge amount about Jesus being the Messiah.

End of Matthew

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

End of Luke

 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Romans 1
…the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

So although there is nothing wrong with the 4 points they are missing a bit. The main issue is Israel’s entire history and hope for a Messiah and for God to put the world to rights. There is a big emphasis on Jesus as ruling the world and wanting the nations to get in line.

NT Wright says
If we are to be biblical theologians, it simply will not do to tell the story of salvation as simply creation, fall, Jesus, salvation.  We desperately need to say: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, salvation.  If we ask the question of how this particular human being is the instrument of salvation and do not say as our first answer, “because in him God’s Israel-shaped plan to save the world came to fulfilment,” then we leave a huge vacuum in our thinking (and in our reading of scripture). 

So perhaps

  • God made the world and humans
  • Human beings went against God’s plans
  • God chose Israel to get his plan on track and use them to bless the world
  • However, even Israel went off track
  • God promised an anointed one to restore Israel and through whom the world would be blessed
  • Jesus came and proclaimed God’s kingdom was coming
  • His central act was his death and resurrection
  • Through that we may have forgiveness of sins
  • We become God’s people through repentance, baptism, the Spirit
  • We are to live in a way that pleases god
  • God will raise his people in the future and they will live in a restored world. We will received resurrected bodies like Jesus.

Power is released when we proclaim Jesus, the crucified and risen one, as Lord of the world.