Saturday, September 24, 2011

Theology Driven Intentional Ignorance and James 5:19-20

I was speaking with several non-LDS Christians in downtown Salt Lake City who were attacking the LDS view that a person can lose their salvation. It happens when one intentionally walks away from their covenants, and decides to lead a life without God. Dallin Oaks gave a wonderful talk in 1998 entitled "Have You Been Saved?" which perfectly explains the LDS position, and compares it to the Born Again Christian perspective.

There are practically an endless number of verses which could be cited to show this is possible (Gal 5:4; Hebrews 10:26; 1 Tim 6:9-10).

I however discussed just one passage with these folks: James 5:19-20

19Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him;
20Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.
Oh my gosh, the gyrations people make to avoid the plain meaning of these two verses, it was fun to watch.

First, the word "err" means to "Wander". Coupled with the preposition "apo", from, in Greek grammar it means to wander from whatever the object of the phrase is, which is the starting point of origin. In this case, it is to wander from the truth to the non-truth.

The effect of wandering from the truth is death, says verse 20. Some commentators actually say this is in reference to a premature physical death! Right. The illogic of such a position is easy to demonstrate. But unless they make that assertion, James is providing explicit refutation of the doctrine of Eternal Security.

James refers to converting the one in "err" as saving a soul or life. Fine. But the word "convert" and "converteth" are both the same Greek word. It means to "turn back". So the context is that turning back one who has left the truth can save their soul/life.

The word "soul" is "psyche", and it can be translated as "life", but with a significant restriction in meaning. It means the vital force or energy which provides animation to our life. It is not the existence we have on earth. (See Bauer, BDAG, pg 1099, definition of "Psyche", number 2.d. which cites the specific verse in James 5:20, "as the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly.") Bauer further states that the "death" mentioned which the psyche suffers is a "2. death viewed transcendently in contrast to a living relationship with God, death extension of meaning 1." It then states: "a. of spiritual death, to which one is subject unless one lives out of the power of God's grace." It then cites James 5:20 by stating, "This death stands in the closest relation to sin: Romans 7:13b; James 1:15; 5:20;..." (bold in the original to set off Biblical verses).

So the position that this could be about a physical death is not sustainable from the text.

As a clincher, I left out one verse. James only uses the word 'psyche' one other time: James 1:21
21Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Notice the exact same context as James 5:19-20. The only consistent and justifiable interpretation of James 1:21 is that the "soul" is "saved" in an ultimate salvation sense. James then ends by charging us with helping to save the souls of those who did first have the truth, but have gone astray.

This is solid, rational and reasonable interpretive reading of scripture. Once-saved, always saved types cannot agree with it because it conflicts with their theological perspective. As the one commentator I cited above who asserted the "death" suffered by those who wandered from the truth was due to living a dangerous life-style, they asserted:

Of course, there are some who suggest that eternal salvation from hell is in view here. That suggestion, however, flies in the face of clear Gospel teaching all through the Bible. The sole condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ, not moral reformation.

The wanderer who is brought back to the truth avoids premature death (cf. 1 Cor 11:30;1 John 5:16-17).
I will leave it to the reader of this blog to look up the verses cited in supposed support of this view. The interesting issue is dismissing the clear, explicit teaching in James due to interpretive gymnastics base solely on theological pre-suppositions and bad exegesis.

One advantage of engaging critics on the street in a face to face manner is that if they are honest people, and many of them are, they eventually must concede they cannot find support for their "once saved, always saved" view in any plausible workaround of James 5:19-20. So it was. One lady named Diane kept saying that as a Mormon I was putting a burden on people by each of us having to take responsibility for our own salvation by being able to lose our salvation to bad behavior. So I asked her to explain what possible meaning James could have. Her answer: I don't know, but it doesn't mean what you say it does. After which, she left.

Another man simply said "I am not prepared to answer, I don't know."

If one's interpretation of scripture is based on their theology and not the actual meaning of the writings of scripture, whence came their theology?

Mormon doctrine of Grace and personal convenantal relationship with Christ is the only viable explanation for all verses of the Bible. When we discuss doctrine, Mormonism is the only answer because the scriptures are their source of theology.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Theology Trumps Salvation?

I spent Thursday evening speaking with some anti-Mormons at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. At one point a young fellow said to me that I just needed to accept Jesus and be assured of his Grace, through faith, and I could be saved. I told him I had already done so. He said I had not accepted the idea of only Jesus' grace to save me, and I said that was true, since the Bible and LDS scriptures make it clear that one must do certain things, such as be obedient (Hebres 5:8-9), endure to the end (Matt 10:22; Mark 13:13) and of course be baptized (John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21).

Then he said "But you believe incorrectly about Jesus." I replied "What?" He said that because our theology of how God and Jesus relate to each other, then my understanding is not sufficient for salvation.

I replied that would mean all of the first and second century Christians were also not saved, since I believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus, and not the silly Trinity stuff. I said the early Christians had no idea what the Trinity was about, and if I am lost by his criteria, then so are they. I told him that theology is a luxury unneeded for salvation in the face of the scriptures.

What would you say?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Was there a First Vision?

Many times it is asserted that there is no contemporary evidence for the First Vision having occurred.  But it should not come as a surprise this is not true, as Richard Anderson published a beautiful, insightful and well documented article in BYU Studies in 1969 (9/3(1969):373-404), entitled Circumstantial Confirmation of the First Vision Through Reminiscences.

There are several things from this article and elsewhere which I will mention.
1.  In The Reflector, February 1831, they report a correspondent from 1830 talks about Oliver Cowdery's preaching in Ohio which affirms "Smith had seen God frequently and personally."
2.  Edward Stevenson reports he heard, around 1831, Joseph Smith preach about the First Vision.
3.  Lucy Mack Smith placed the timing of the First Vision after 1819 religious revivals, but prior to the 1823 death of Alvin.  She inserted Joseph Smith's narrative exactly as found in the History of the Church.  This means she has the correct timing, and perfectly endorses the timing of the First Vision found within the account itself.

These are obviously all post 1830.  Doesn't anyone remember something closer to 1820?

4.  Pomeroy Tucker, a vicious enemy of the LDS faith, was a childhood friend of Joseph Smith and the Smiths' from 1816 when they moved to Palmyra, until he left for work in 1820, returning in 1823.  In his 1867 history of Mormonism, he makes numerous statements which affirm something happens in 1820.  For example, he notes Joseph Smith, as a "youth", prayed "in the wilderness" and had his first vision.  He takes Orson Pratt's pamphlet on the First Vision as the guiding text, but adds several personal recollections to the text.  In other words, he accidentally, as an enemy, confirms it.
5. Orsamus Turner, who was another childhood friend of Joseph Smith, left Palmyra in either 1821 or 1822.  Among other things, he asserted in later writings there was no foundation to the idea that the Book of Mormon was copied from Spaulding.  But more importantly for our discussion, he recalls that Joseph attended a Methodist Camp Meeting down on Vienna Road (1819), and tended to them.  When combined with Tucker's statement that Joseph's "blasphemies" about God led him to withdraw from the Methodists around 1820, we have the main points of the First Vision confirmed.

Matt Brown noted that in the 1832 account of the First Vision, written by hand by Joseph Smith, Joseph notes that after God manifest his will do him, the Lord appeared.  This account was in Oliver Cowdery's possession when he wrote his 1834 account of the founding of the Church.  It seems obvious that the emphasis of Joseph Smith was on the restoration of the true church of God, not his personal vision.  We see something akin to this in Paul's writings.  Though we have three accounts of Jesus appearing to Paul, none of them are told to us by Paul.  They are reported by Luke in Acts, not in Paul's letters.  Paul focuses on doctrine and Church government.  He obviously told his story at least twice, based on Luke's account in Acts.  He surely told it more than that, as he is recognized by the Church as an Apostle.  But Paul's vision is never cited as authority or any purpose except to establish that Jesus overcame death.

So when people say things like there is no contemporary reports of the the First Vision, note the newspaper account, Lucy Smith's account, Pomeroy Tucker's account, and the fact that Joseph's entire family believed him, and stayed with the Church.  Let's compare:  The earliest accounts of the resurrection of Jesus were written 20 or 30 years after the Resurrection, and have many contradictions.  Thursday or Friday supper?  Etc.  Does that affect the reality of the Resurrection?  No.

So the First Vision evidence is excellent.  It did happen.  Even Joseph's critics acknowledged it.