Plans, Property, and Capital Reserves
Here is an interesting coincidence concerning the plans of both the Mormon Church and the Watchtower Society. The latter, feeling the pinch because of the law suits piling up over child abuse cases dating back to the 1950s, start 2019 having drastically cut back on their publishing.
Just three public Watchtowers a year where once it was published fortnightly, some book publishing and online content ending, on top of the sale of their iconic property portfolio in Brooklyn for over $ 1billion. Of course, this anticipates legal problems for years to come, though the society doesn’t explain it like that.
At the same time the Mormon Church, under the leadership of a new president (I say ‘new’ he is 94 so watch this space) is making similar plans. Is Mormonism feeling the pinch, anticipating financially challenging times? It doesn’t seem so. In May of 2018 the church issued an official statement in which it explains:
“While the vast majority of its financial resources comes from the tithes and offerings of Church members, the Church also holds business interests that help in accomplishing its mission.” It added, “These funds are added to Church reserves, which include stocks and bonds, taxable businesses, agricultural interests and commercial and residential property.”
The Mormon Leaks website reveals the stocks, bonds, and other financial and commercial interests of the Mormon Church amount to a minimum of $32 billion. This is on top of tithes and offerings of course. Nevertheless, they plan to use old manuals, falling back on the faithful to contrive their own teaching programme from online resources and conference talks. It is simply striking how both organisations so drastically cut back on printed publications and resources at the same time.
New Teaching Programme
The new Mormon adult teaching programme for 2019 is ‘explained’ here. In short:
“The new curriculum brings exciting changes to our Sunday meetings that build on Teaching in the Savior’s Way. Our first-Sunday meeting will be a time to counsel together about our responsibilities, opportunities, and challenges as we do the work of the Lord. On other Sundays, instead of a new Teachings of Presidents of the Church manual, we will focus on teaching messages from the most recent general conference and a topic selected by our general Church leaders. But these changes aren’t just the topics we will study—the new curriculum also affects how we prepare, teach, counsel and learn together, and receive and act on inspiration.”
The good news for ministry purposes is this new programme gives us an opportunity to follow through the year key talks from two conferences, to consider where this current leadership is taking Mormonism in the 21st century. For personal and family study, members are encouraged to use the Come Follow Me material, again from the website. This offers an opportunity to look through the year at what Mormons believe and how they use the New Testament in their teaching. This, after all, is what we need to be addressing in our witnessing.
As with so much official church teaching material, inspiration, the idea of personal revelation, is urged upon saints and they are often asked ‘how does this make you feel? How do you feel about this teaching? As you read feel the Holy Ghost testifying to the truthfulness of it.’ Great store is always laid by feelings, experiences, that can readily overcome any doubts that may creep in. Saints are assured, ‘As a faithful disciple of the Savior, you can have your own powerful spiritual experiences as you accept the Savior’s invitation, found throughout this sacred volume, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22)
The language is the familiar King James Bible language as saints are urged to ‘Come unto Christ.’ ‘Seek, and ye shall find’ (Matthew 7:7) they are assured. And of course the Holy Spirit is ‘the Holy Ghost’ which name derives from the Old English gast which translates the Latin spritus. Spiritus, in turn, translates the Hebrew Ruach and the Greek Pneuma, both meaning to breath and both a long way from the idea of Ghost which, in Greek, is fantasma.
Along with the ‘Thees’ and ‘Thous’, this gives church teaching a sense of ancient authority. It is an insight into how the Mormon Church uses language and culture to project a certain image that catches people’s imagination. We live in an age when apparent sincerity trumps sound reason and evidence, rationalism is replaced by authenticism.
Among Mormons it is seen as almost blasphemous to pray in the ordinary English of today. Yet when Jesus taught his disciples to pray he spoke in every day Aramaic and his words were recorded in every day, koine Greek. Miles Smith, one of the men who worked on producing the King James Bible, wrote in a preface an eloquent defence of translation into the common tongue:
‘But now what piety without truth? What truth (what saving truth) without the word of God? What word of God (whereof we may be sure) without Scripture? The Scriptures we are commanded to search…If we be ignorant, they will instruct us; if out of the way, they will bring us home; if out of order, they will reform us; if in heaviness, comfort us; if dull, quicken us; if cold, inflame us…Take up and read…But how shall men meditate in that which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?…Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban, were watered. Indeed, without translation into the vulgar [common] tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket or something to draw with.’ (Quoted in Bobrick, The Making of the English Bible, Simon and Schuster, 2001)
Translation into ‘the vulgar tongue’ was an imperative for those great men of learning and spiritual conviction. What might they have done with the accumulation of manuscripts that have come to light since their day?
Plain and Precious Truths?
Of course, what Mormons will learn this year will not, strictly speaking, be derived solely from the New Testament, or indeed from the New Testament at all, which is a great shame. If the typical Mormon were to simply, as Augustine has it, ‘pick up and read,’ there would be a learning experience.
This study, however, is supplemented by modern revelation, which effectively means every New Testament text is qualified and/or ‘clarified’ by reference to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, various Mormon ‘Bible aids,’ and, of course, the Joseph Smith ‘translation’ of the Bible. Added to these are the pronouncements of Mormon leaders in conference talks, articles, and so forth. It is my personal experience that it is nigh on impossible to see through the fog of Mormon dogma the plain and clear truths of the New Testament without the Spirit to open blind eyes.
The Joseph Smith Translation (JST)
Because “many plain and precious” truths were lost from the Bible over the centuries (1 Nephi 13:28; see also Moses 1:41), the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to make an inspired revision of the Bible, known as the Joseph Smith Translation. Many revisions made by the Prophet are included in the appendix of the Latter-day Saint edition of the scriptures. The LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible also contains footnotes with the Prophet’s revisions. Joseph Smith’s translation of Matthew 24, known as Joseph Smith—Matthew, can be found in the Pearl of Great Price. For more information, see Bible Dictionary, “Joseph Smith Translation”; “Bible, Inerrancy of,” Gospel Topics, topics.lds.org.
This is how they explain the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, which is not a translation. The founding claims of Mormonism are based on the idea of a complete apostasy following the death of the first century apostles. The Bible, it is taught, subsequently passed through generations of ‘profane hands’ and consequently ‘many plain and precious truths’ were lost.
What is skipped over is the embarrassing fact the ownership/copyright of the JST sits with the Mormon group that gathered around the Smith family and became the Reorganised Church, today the Community of Christ. This explains why, although Salt Lake Mormons may own copies of the book, the church cannot officially publish it’s own restoration text, but must make do with footnotes and end notes.
One of the most familiar Bible texts is found at the beginning of John’s gospel. Even as you read this I would not be surprised if you started reciting it in your head, ‘In the beginning was the Word…’ Both the text and the common understanding of the text are familiar to us. Here is what the JST has done with it:
1 In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made which was made.
4 In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men;
5 And the light shineth in the world, and the world perceiveth it not.
In just five verses the picture of Jesus is changed out of all recognition and you have another gospel. You can see more examples in Rob Bowman’s excellent article here.
Jesus isn’t the Word, the Word is the message he brings. The Word is a message, not a person. Further, in that same first verse, we immediately see the Mormon godhead comprising two gods, the Father and the Son. Again, the life and the light of men is not Jesus but the gospel. The light of the world is a message which, inevitably, is defined and understood as the message of Mormonism. All this means life and light are found only in and through the Mormon Church. Here are these verses in the KJV, which Mormons favour and use:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The subject in this text in our Bibles is the Word, who is identified as the Son. What Joseph Smith has done is change the subject, making the word the gospel (v1) and Jesus the one in whom the gospel is (v4). To those familiar with these opening lines of John’s gospel it sounds very awkward as we read from verse one to verse three.
In our Bibles the subject continues to be the Word/the Son and so, when we read in verse three, ‘All things were made by him…’ we recognise immediately John is saying, ‘All things were made by the Word/the Son.’ In the Mormon Bible the Son created all things, the Word did not.
This is the beginning of the Mormon corruption of the Bible and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is important to understand that the only ‘authority’ on which this is based is the word of Joseph Smith. It derives entirely from the apostasy/restoration narrative of Mormonism, in which the text in John is made to fit the narrative instead of the narrative being made to fit the long-established text.
The texts for January are taken from the beginning of the gospels and deal with the coming of the Saviour into the world. Much of what they say will seems familiar enough, some things might strike the Christian reader as peculiar, but make no mistake many issues stand out as worthy of challenge and we will be bringing those challenges in future newsletters.