I’ve told the story a number of times. Young college kid…19 years old, poor as a church mouse, riding a Suzuki GS750L home from school. Newly married. Stops at the LDS bookstore because he’s studying this strange religion so as to witness to Mormons. He’s been seeing a source cited over and over again in the books he is reading. It is called The Journal of Discourses. So he asks the nice lady behind the counter if they have this resource. “Why yes,” she kindly replies (her name is Mary), right up there on that shelf.” She points behind him, and he looks. There on the top shelf is a 26 volume set of paperback books, with an index, in a cardboard slip cover. Cost? $69.00. That’s $69 in 1982 dollars. That’s more than 1/3 of his total take-home pay for the week. And he’s been married only a few months. And he has to get this 26-volume set of books onto the back of a motorcycle using bungie cords. But, he bought them anyway, and over the next number of years, they were extremely helpful in doing research and study into the teachings of the LDS church.
Fast forward to today. Over the past six or seven years I have really moved away from the two major areas that began this ministry, specifically, interacting with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. We haven’t simply abandoned those areas, but they are not in the forefront of my study and thought. So today as I was working on a response to this article on the web, I had to do some looking around, some checking of sources. I had noticed over the past few years a number of books coming out that contained information that we had only heard rumors of back in the 1980s. Books that would have been major resources in the work we were doing then. And I have been keeping my LDS Scriptures programs up to date on my Droid and on my iPad as well. But I started looking around and discovered that not only could I put that entire 26-volume set of books I once paid $69 for on my iPad in fully searchable form, but anyone can now access them on the web, here. All the old paper sources we used to lug around photocopies of (I dug out the HUGE three ring binder I used to carry around just to leaf through it today) are now available in portable, fully searchable versions. When I think of the bags I used to carry in Salt Lake a Mesa, filled with Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the like, well, now all I’d need would be my Droid or my iPod/iPad. Things change.
Here is one interesting thing I noted after installing the free LDS Scriptures app from the Mormon Church. They include the JST, the Joseph Smith Translation. I feel like putting quotes around “Translation” because, obviously, it is anything but an actual translation. Smith could no more read Greek and Hebrew than he could read “Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics.” A quick glance at the Book of Abraham proves that. But in any case, if you click on the JST in this app, and look at Romans 4, this is all you see. Now, being away from the specific area of Mormonism for a while may have given me a little perspective, as I’ve been dealing with Islam, textual issues relating to the Qur’an, as well as doing more apologetic work in textual criticism of the NT (debating men like John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, and Robert Price). And as I look at this screen shot from my iPad2, I am struck at the inanity of Smith’s “inspired” changes to the text. These are not corruptions of the text to be imputed to scribal carelessness. How did the rest of the chapter escape unscathed? No, these are doctrinal changes flowing directly out of the furtive mind of Joseph Smith, who never understood grace. Look at the most notorious of his changes, where he inserts “not” into the text, so that God is no longer the one who justifies the ungodly, but the one who does not justify the ungodly! In one fell swoop Smith turns Paul’s entire argument on its head, all because he did not understand it, and held to a basically Pelagian view of man’s nature. That’s what happens when someone claims to be a “prophet” who is, in fact, little more than a charlatan with a charismatic persona. This is also why Mormonism cannot produce a meaningful, thoroughly LDS, commentary on Scripture. Its beginning presuppositions are so far removed from the Bible that it just isn’t possible to bridge the gap without thoroughly compromising one’s commitment to Smith as a prophet. This is surely the challenge that lies before the pioneers of the New Mormonism today.
In any case, things sure have changed a lot since the “old days.” If you are active in witnessing to Mormons, avail yourself of the resources now available, and may the Lord bring ever more out of darkness to the marvelous light of the gospel.