Sunday, November 09, 2008

You Don't Understand the Bible Makes Me A Heretic?

I attended a debate Friday evening between LDS apologist Martin Tanner and Pastor Jason Wallace, a vocal critic of the LDS Church. It was interesting and respectful, but did not really stay focused on the topic of "The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon".

Afterward, a young man, I think his name was Matt, went up to the podium and engaged a few Mormons in his attempt to show LDS views of salvation and Christ are not Biblical. He was talking with Van Hale, whom I respect as one of the most knowledgable and considerate defenders of the LDS faith anywhere, and I chimed in with my own thoughts. As the conversation moved to the idea of salvation meaning exaltation, John 1:1 was brought up by Matt as proof of there being a single essence of God shared by the Father and Son.

I tried to explain the grammar, but he clung to an erroneous understanding (following a misunderstanding of Colwell's rule on the use of the definite article) of the phrase "...and the word was god" to identify Jesus being the same as "god" in the previous clause, "and the word was with god...". This of course creates the heresy of Sabellianism or a form of modalism. Beyond that, it is simply bad grammar.

So I happen to have a copy of pages 8-9 of "A Translators Handbook to the Gospel of John", published by the United Bible Societies, the same non-LDS group sponsoring translations into dozens of languages around the world. It specifically explains that in the phrase "the word was god", 'god' is to be understood as an adjective, and the phrase connotes similarity, not identity. The word has a nature which is like God's, he is not THE God. It specifically cites Moffatt's translation that "the word was divine" as coming very close to being the best translation in the fewest words, though "the word was the same as god" is adequate as well. They go on to explain that the phrase in its use is like a phrase about teaching: ...and Mr. Green was with the teacher, and Mr. Green was a teacher.

Mr. Green belongs to a class of individuals, teachers. Not all teachers are Mr. Green.

I directed him to look up Daniel Wallace's lengthy treatment in "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics", where he points out the same things, noting that the use of "god" in the phrase "the word was god" is a qualitative meaning, i.e., it describes a quality of the word, not his identity.

He insisted I did not have it right, and said he didn't believe me, to which I said I wouldn't expect him to believe me. This led to the question of the Word creating all things ex nihilo, which I responded by citing the verse John 1:1 is paralleling being Genesis 1:1-2, which states in clear terms in the Hebrew that 'In the beginning, when god began to create, he did so out of the existing, chaotic watery mass, and created heaven and earth'. I told him this was a paraphrase, but was very reflective of what Genesis was teaching. Again, he said he did not believe me, and I think it was his Dad who was standing there with him (they looked alike, but I could be wrong), who was adament that this concept of creation was crazy and deminished God, so I told him to look up "Creation" in "Baker's Evangelical Dictionary" or the foot notes to the Net Bible's Genesis 1:1 . I also told him I had had a wonderful, 3 hour conversation with a Jewish Rabbi about this exact topic, in the presence of 4 anti-Mormon friends of mine who had brought him, and he acknowledged that this verse does not carry the meaning that absolute creation of matter is described here.

Matt was thoroughly shocked that his understanding of these issues had a legitimate, scholarly meaning which could support the LDS position. He actually thought I was making it up as I went along, until the debate moderator, who is not LDS, came over and said "Yes, I think I remember reading that", or words to that effect.

Matt has been taught a false tradition by his spiritual fathers, which then leads him to conclude the LDS are heretics. Even after I showed him the scholarly evidence from the photo copies I carry with me of some of these items, he still could not accept his understanding could be flawed. Which is why spiritual conversion by those who seek truth rather than simply to defend their position is predicated on humility. I am not the most humble guy in the world, but I recognize I still can learn from many, many sources, LDS and otherwise. My world is not threatend when I learn new things, because my world view is that of Joseph Smith: Let the truth from all sources lead you where it may.

Any faith which requires a limited understanding of its doctrines to remain faithful is probably a faith with bloggers attacking the LDS faith.

Yes, I am a heretic, because you don't really understand the Bible.