Let us first look at what the Bible has to say about “Judgement” in its various meanings. Mormons will argue that it is reasonable to expect Joseph Smith to have a role in the Judgement since several Bible texts refer to apostles, as well as the saints in general, judging. The references they use are Matthew 19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30; 1 Cor.6:1-3; Rev.20:4. From this “Biblical evidence” they argue their case for Joseph Smith having authority delegated to him to judge with Christ.
The first thing Scripture makes clear is that all will be judged by Christ.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it…And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.” (Rev.20:11-13)
Everyone appears before the throne on which Christ alone sits and issues judgement. But Scripture does say that others will “judge”, apostles (Matt.19:27-28; Luke 22:29-30), as well as the saints (1 Cor.6:1-3). How are we to understand the role of believers in the judgement? If all the dead, great and small and including the saints, have already been judged how are the saints to judge? Who are they to judge and what form does this judgement take?
In reference to 1 Cor.6:2, the Oxford Bible Commentary explains:
< class=”quote”>”The consistent understanding of ‘Judge the World’ here is that it is a reference to ruling rather than handing down judgements. Clearly, only Christ will judge in a juridical fashion because all judgement has been given to him, and ‘the dead, great and small’ will stand before him on that day.”(Rev.20:11-15, c.f. 2 Cor.5:10)
It goes on to explain:
“The Old Testament understanding of judge is ‘ruler’. Therefore in Daniel 7:22, ‘the saints of the most high…possessed the kingdom’, and in Rev.2:26-7, ‘To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – he will rule with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my father.'” (c.f. Psalm 2:9)
The role of saints and apostles, then, is that of rulers in Christ’s established kingdom, not judges alongside Christ on the Day of the Lord. Expanding on this theme, it explains that Paul underlines this inheritance in 1 Cor.3:1-3 as he portrays the Corinthian saints as underestimating their own importance.
“If they remembered their destiny in judging the world, even angels, they would not consider themselves incompetent to judge the trivial matters which they now ask others to decide. “
NB There is a juridical setting here in that legal disputes are in view. However, this is not a precedent for believing the saints will judge in the final judgement. It is also worth noting that Paul is likely talking about cases involving property (v.7), i.e. a situation is being judged and not a man. This is the very situation in which a judge in the context of ruler would adjudicate. They settle matters, keep order and mete out justice. The whole thrust of Scripture signifies they will “rule” after judgement. This is shown in Daniel 7:22&27 (see above).
In reference to Matt.19:28, the Oxford Bible Commentary says:
“The crucial verse 28, which alludes to Daniel 7:9-27, refers not to a one-time judgement but lordship. The text is not about Israel’s condemnation at the consummation but the disciples’ exercise of authority in the future (c.f. 20:20-21 “When you come into your kingdom”.) As the twelve Phylarchs once directed the twelve tribes under Moses, and as Israel was once ruled by judges, so shall it be at the end.”
In reference specifically to judges we see this working out in the Book of Judges 2:16-19, where the Lord raised up rulers, or judges, to lead the people. The explanation in the introduction to this book in the NIV Study Bible states, “The title describes the leaders Israel had from the time of the elders who outlived Joshua until the time of the monarchy.”
In Isaiah 1:21 in the KJV we read of Jerusalem:
“How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgement; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.”
In the NIV the word judgement is given as justice. The Amplified Bible gives, “she was full of justice! Uprightness and right standing with God [once] lodged in her.” The New Century Bible gives the verse as:
“The city of Jerusalem once followed the Lord. But she is no longer loyal to the Lord. She used to be filled with fairness. People there lived the way God wanted.”
What judgement means here is the ongoing administration of justice and right living rather than the meting out of final judgement. Thus the judges are to rule in Christ’s kingdom.
The Consent of Joseph?
In their book Mormonism 101 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson remark on this subject:
“The Bible clearly states that every person – both believer and non-believer – will be judged by Jesus, not Joseph! There is no hint that somebody like Smith would assist in the judgement. Jesus said in John 5:22-23a, ‘For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”
It is clear that the authors of 101 have got it right. Scripture plainly shows us that all judgement, in the sense of juridical work, is committed to the Son, while judgement in the administrative sense of sharing in the rule of Christ’s kingdom, is given to the saints.
Now let us look, in light of what we have said above, at what Mormons think of Joseph.
Brigham Young said:
“If I can pass brother Joseph, I shall stand a good chance for passing Peter, Jesus, the Prophets, Moses, Abraham, and all back to Father Adam, and be pretty sure of receiving his approbation…. If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.” – Journal of Discourses, Vol.4, p.271-272
He declares further:
“No man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are – I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation – the keys to rule in the spirit world.” – Journal of Discourses, Vol.7, p.289
LDS Apostle George Q. Cannon concurred: <
“He stands, therefore, at the head of this dispensation and will throughout all eternity, and no man can take that power away from him. If any man holds these keys, he holds them subordinate to Joseph Smith…. If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him; if we enter into our glory, it will be through the authority that he has received. We cannot get around him.” – Journal of Discourses, Vol.24, pp.275-277
And LDS prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said that nobody could reject this
“testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
There will be those having read Mormonism 101, and who will be reading this, who will wonder where these ideas come from and what this all means. Evangelical commentators are objecting that Mormons make too much of Joseph, while Mormons protest that their beliefs are misrepresented and that Joseph is subservient to Jesus and acts only on authority given by Jesus. There are even quotes that say as much. But there are also quotes that do, to the Evangelical mind, seem to clearly venerate Joseph to a position no Evangelical believer would ascribe to any man, no matter who he is or what he has done. One correspondent on this subject makes a point worth considering when he asks whether, if we were to render the words of Brigham Young substituting the name Peter for Joseph, we would take a very different view of things, thus:
“Whosoever confesseth that Peter was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Peter, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist…” – Journal of Discourses, Vol.8, pp.176 – 177
But, of course, that proposition is never put in Scripture! We do have the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:40,
“He who receives you receives me”,
and in Luke 10:16,
“He who listens to you listens to me.”
But look at that Luke quote again,
“He who listens to you listens to me.”
Listens to what? What were people listening to? What were the apostles saying? Brigham Young knows:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1)
“Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” (1 John 4:2)
These are the very references Young uses to build up to his incredible proclamation, his “new scripture”, concerning the role of Joseph Smith:
“For unbelievers we will quote from the Scriptures – “Whoso ever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Again – “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” I will now give my scripture – “Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit of God; and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne, nor how much divinity it may profess, nor what it professes with regard to revealed religion and the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible.” Journal of Discourses, Vol.9, p.312
But nowhere is our future in eternity dependent upon accepting a man. It is dependent on accepting the message of Jesus as preached through these men – and that is a completely different proposition. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we must gain the approbation of a man; nowhere are we told that we enter God’s heaven only with the permission of a man; nowhere, certainly, are we told that we must look to a man to justify us. It is to the God-man Christ Jesus we look, and it is to him faithful men of God point. “But we point to Jesus, Joseph points to Jesus”, protests the Mormon. Which brings me back to the question, where do these Mormon ideas come from and what does this all mean? Why do Mormons appear orthodox one minute in proclaiming Jesus, and the next totally unorthodox in proclaiming Joseph? Why are the arguments of one side so compelling – until I hear the arguments of the other?
Mormons believe that God is an exalted man and that he became God by obeying his God. They also believe that men can become gods. In other words, to a Christian God is sublimely different, “other” than us, whose ways are as different to and higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:8), different in quality. To a Mormon God differs from us only in that he has grown so much further than we have, and is different only in quantity. In the same way, while Christians regard Christ as God the Son, this sublime and supreme creator-God come in the flesh, Mormons use similar phrases to describe an entirely different Jesus who is, again, different only in that he has “progressed” further than us. God is a man and Joseph is a man. The only difference between the two is that of magnitude and sphere of existence (note that word sphere. We are about to come across it again).
To a Mormon God has a “great plan of happiness” and Jesus has a role in that plan just as Joseph has a role in that plan. Mormonism isn’t about God but about the plan. Everyone is subservient to the plan, even God himself. For it is by keeping to the plan that God became God. The Mormon priesthood is executive power to administer and carry through the plan, and each dispensation, or ecclesiastical age of the world is administered by those holding this priesthood. Even God himself is subservient to the priesthood, for it is by the priesthood that he had “authority” to create the world. Christ carried out his office by the power of the priesthood and could not be our Saviour without it. In this scheme – where God and his Christ are only greater than us in development, and priesthood and the plan are greater than all – it seems natural to say in one breath that Joseph is acting under the authority of Christ, and in the next to say that we must have Joseph’s permission to enter heaven. He is at the head of the dispensation in which we live and holds the executive power for it.
Because Mormons understand the judgement by the saints to mean juridical jurisdiction they have no problem ascribing to Joseph the role of judge as they do. Look again at the quote from Brigham Young:
“If I can pass brother Joseph, I shall stand a good chance for passing Peter, Jesus, the Prophets, Moses, Abraham, and all back to Father Adam, and be pretty sure of receiving his approbation…. If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.”
There is a pyramidal structure here in which people must pass a series of dispensational key-holders to gain heaven. Joseph, Peter, Jesus, the prophets, Moses, Abraham, Adam. In the Mormon temple, prior to 1990, those attending learned a series of handgrips and passwords “to pass the angels who stand sentinel”. And, although God stands at the head of this structure he is by no means at the head of everything, for his God has progressed beyond him, as has his God in turn, and so on into infinity. No one that Mormons speak of is ever all in all, the prime mover, the uncreated creator of all things. They know no such being, and if they did he would be a man.
Brigham Young said,
“If we can pass the sentinel Joseph the Prophet, we shall go into the celestial kingdom, and not a man can injure us. If he says, ‘God bless you, come along here’; if we will live so that Joseph will justify us, and say, ‘Here am I, brethren,’ we shall pass every sentinel.”
How can Joseph’s passport guarantee us entry? What of all the others mentioned in the list? The authority of every dispensation from Adam onwards is conferred upon Joseph Smith. This is what Joseph Fielding Smith had to say:
“If all things are to be restored, and if the dispensation of the fulness of times is made up of, and is a uniting of, all dispensations, with their keys and powers, since the days of Adam, then those who held the keys of these various dispensations would have to confer them upon the head of one who stands at the head of the last dispensation, and the prophet Joseph Smith is that one.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol.3, p.97, emphasis in original)
He then quotes Doctrine and Covenants 128:20-21 which describes this happening. In this scheme the idea that men and gods are the same species gives a completely different view of things. It doesn’t seem so audacious for Mormons to make such incredible claims for Joseph. Indeed, they are not incredible at all if God is only a greater man than us, Christ is playing his, albeit greater role, and Joseph playing his, and all progressing to even greater glory. Again, read Brigham Young:
“He (Joseph) holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation – the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven.”
(That word “sphere” again).
Praise to the Man!
There is a hymn in the Mormon Church, sung to the tune of “Scotland the Brave”, in which Joseph is lauded for his achievements. I took the opportunity recently of asking two men for their thoughts on it. Both are Christians of long-standing, one an experienced chorister of many years, the other a pastor in a local Baptist Church, and neither knew much about Mormonism. I interviewed them separately. Without comment or preamble, I simply handed them a copy of the Mormon Hymnbook. They leafed through the book, finding such familiar hymns as “Onward Christian Soldiers, The First Noel, Christ The Lord Is Risen Today, Now Thank We All Our God”. I think they were impressed. Then I asked them to turn to hymn 27 where they found the following:
Praise to the Man who communed with Jehovah!
Jesus anointed that prophet and seer.
Blessed to open the last dispensation,
Kings shall extol him and nations revere.
Praise to his memory he died as a martyr;
Honored and blest be his ever-great name!
Long shall his blood, which was shed by assassins,
Plead unto heaven while the earth lauds his fame.
Great is his glory and endless his priesthood.
Ever and ever the keys he will hold.
Faithful and true, he will enter his kingdom,
Crowned in the midst of the prophets of old.
Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven;
Earth must atone for the blood of that man.
Wake up the world for conflict of justice.
Millions shall know “Brother Joseph” again.
Hail to the prophet, ascended to heaven!
Traitors and tyrants now fight him in vein.
Mingling with Gods, he can plan for his brethren;
Death cannot conquer the hero again.
For both men silence ensued for what seemed an age. One was prompted to ask “Is this about Jesus?” The other, on coming across the fourth verse, expressed amazement that Mormons made so much of Joseph of Egypt. It just didn’t sink in until I told them who Joseph was. Nothing more, I simply said, “This is Joseph Smith.” Another silence followed. Then the comments came. Responding to the chorus, one said, “But there is only one who plans for us, that is Jesus.”
The same man drew a parallel between this element and the Catholic view of Mary as co-redemptrix. The pastor wanted to know where Jesus was in all this.
“They are worshipping Joseph”, he said.
I objected that all faiths have their heroes, Christians have their “Saints”, Peter, Augustine, etc. He didn’t see it that way.
“We don’t ‘praise’ them, we don’t ‘hail them’ like this”, he said.
“Whose blood are we talking about here?” one asked.
“Joseph’s”, I replied. The word “Blasphemy” came out.
“This is shocking”, said the pastor, “I knew they weren’t right about some things but I had no idea they were this wrong.”
I asked the chorister whether he, in his many years of singing hymns and worship songs, had come across anything like it in Christian hymnology. He spoke of hymns that praised God for certain men, prayed to God for people, even told, in song, stories from the Bible (the breadth of his knowledge impressed me), but nothing that praised, extolled, revered a man.
I think that Mormons, who are so inured to this way of thinking, have no idea how shocking it is to people who know only the orthodox, traditional Christianity. These men were “seasoned” and experienced Christians, not new to the faith, not ivory tower dwellers. They were stunned.
If you were to ask a Christian who it was that fitted the main elements of this song,
Someone to be praised and honoured and whose name is “ever-great”;
Who is to be extolled and revered by kings and nations;
Whose blood pleads to heaven;
Whose priesthood is endless;
Who will enter into and be crowned in his kingdom;
Whose death must be answered for by the world;
Who has ascended to heaven;
Whom death cannot conquer;
And who plans for his brethren
What name do you think they would come up with?