*Greetings Crippledgators! I’m back for a single article!*
Many moons ago, in the comment thread of the first part of the Shack Up, an LDS (or “Mormon”) commenter showed up and we had a little back-and-forth. In the post, I claimed that no other world religion has writings that claim “to actually be written by God by means of people who were writing on behalf of, and empowered and guided by, the Spirit of God himself.” The commenter suggested that the book of Mormon did indeed claim to be inspired, as according to the above definition. I asked for citation, and he gave a series of references that I challenged as insufficient. He also gave a smooth-sounding argument for additional scripture, which I’ll summarize:
1. The people recorded in the Bible added to the Bible without violating the commands of the Bible.
2. Men chose which books to include in the Canon of Scripture, but they learned which books were inspired because they prayed about it.
3. You too can pray about it and discover whether other books (i.e. the Book of Mormon) are also inspired.
4. Therefore, pray about the book of Mormon so that God can tell you whether or not it’s inspired.
If you’ve had any interaction with LDS folks, the you’re likely encountered some form of the first three arguments but you’ve certainly encountered the fourth. Conversations with LDS people often close in an exhortation to simply read the book of Mormon and pray that God would convict you, one way or the other, regarding the truth of the book of Mormon.
Seeing that this question comes up from time to time in my life and I’ve never taken the time to actually write out a response to it, I’m going to do that for the benefit of both myself and you, the Cripplegate readers.
Responding to points 1-3: Did the early church decide on which books of the bible were divine revelation by prayer (and can you copy their example)?
Now as for the nature of the Canon and adding to Scripture, our own Nathan Busenitz has already laid some heavy artillery against that issue here. I agree with Nathan, but I’m going to address the issue from a slightly different angle.
The books that compose the Canon of Scripture (“Canon” loosely meaning “collection of inspired books”) weren’t ultimately regarded as canonical (“canonical” here meaning “inspired” or “part of the Canon”) due to any external criteria (authorship, popularity, doctrinal purity, the choice of any council). The writings of the apostles and prophets were included in the Canon of Scripture because they were inspired writings, not because they were written by prophets or apostles.
Now it is true that apostles and prophets wrote canonical Scripture (as Christ affirmed they did and promised they would – John 14:25-26, 16:12-15), but apostolic/prophetic authorship was only one of the external criteria for evaluating the possibility of including a book in the Canon of Scripture (others being things like doctrinal accuracy, universal acceptance, prophetic accuracy, etc. It’s worth remembering that 1 Corinthians wasn’t Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth – 1 Cor. 5:9. It was his first canonical letter.).
There is one over-riding internal criteria required for a prophetically-authored book to be included in the Canon of Scripture; inspiration. This is also known as the “self-authenticating nature of scripture” or the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” to Scripture. The canon of Scripture (“canon” here meaning “the measure by which books were included in the Canon of Scripture” – note the slight difference in my usage of “Canon” and “canon”) was inspiration. That’s not something that could possibly be determined by men but rather only recognized.
Noted expert in the Canon, Michael J. Kruger, writes about this and says,
It’s one thing to believe the Scriptures are inspired, but it is another thing to know which books are Scripture. God does not leave us in the dark on this critical issue, but has given us the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This “testimony” is not some private revelation given to believers, but an act of the Spirit by which He opens the eyes of sinful people to apprehend the divine qualities of Scripture.
Michael J. Kruger, “No Holy Spirit, No
Scripture” n.p. [cited 29 January 2014].
Kruger also writes,
How do we know which books are from God, and which are not? There are many answers to that question, some of which we have covered in prior posts. Certainly the apostolic origins of a book can help identify it as being from God (see post here). And, the church’s overall consensus on a book can be part of how we identity it as being from God (see post here).
“But, it is interesting to note that the early church fathers, while agreeing that apostolicity and church-reception are fundamentally important, also appealed to another factor that is often overlooked in modern studies. They appealed to the internal qualities of these books.
“In other words, they argued that these books bore certain attributes that distinguished them as being from God. They argued that they could hear the voice of their Lord in these particular books. In modern theological language, they believed that canonical books are self-authenticating.
Michael J. Kruger, “Ten Basic Facts about the NT Canon that Every Christian Should Memorize: #10: ‘Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books were Self-Authenticating.” n.p. [cited 29 January 2014]. Online: http://michaeljkruger.com/ten-basic-facts-about-the-nt-that-every-christian-should-memorize-early-christians-believed-that-canonical-books-were-self-authenticating/.
Quoting Ellen Flesseman-van Leer, well known theologian F.F. Bruce writes,
“apostolicity was the principal token of canonicity for the west, inspiration for the east’ – not indeed in the mutually exclusive sense, since ‘in the west apostolicity to a certain extent includes inspiration, whjile in the east apostolicity was an attendant feature of inspiration’. In Origen’s view, for example, “the crucial point…is not apostolicity but inspiration”
(Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 263-264).
Quoting Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce also writes,
If the writings of Mark and Luke are to be judged canonical…it must be because these evangelists were controlled by the Spirit of the Lord in such a manner that their writings, and not merely the apostolic message which they set forth, are divine. In other words, it is Mark’s inspiration (which, to be sure, is not to be isolated from his historical qualifications), and not Peter’s inspiration, which provides the finally indispensable ground for the acceptance of that work as canonical.
Question #2. Can I discover if other books are divine revelation by praying about them?
Given what was previously said about the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit,” someone might want to suggest that I haven’t really helped at all. I seem to have just authenticated the idea of asking for the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit regarding other writings that claim to be divine revelation (though I still stick with my point that none of them actually claim that directly about themselves…). But here’s where the external criteria come into play.
LDS people submit the writings of Joseph Smith are suggested candidates for “evaluation by prayer”, but this evaluation falls apart a rather monumental reason:
Joseph Smith’s writings aren’t possible submissions to the Canon of scripture since he was a false prophet/teacher:
Joseph Smith’s life and teaching are like a living commentary on passages like 2 Pet. 2:10-22, 2 Tim. 3:1-9, etc.
In other words, Joseph Smith’s writing don’t come anywhere close to passing the demands of the external criteria for canonicity. When coming up against the criteria of doctrinal purity and apostolic/prophetic authorship, they go down in flames.
Not only that, but passages like Jer. 23:16-17, 27:9-10, 14-17; Rom. 16:17-19; 1 Tim. 4:7; and 2 Tim. 2:16-18 suggest that instead of praying about false prophecies, you should ignore them. If I prayed for the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit regarding the books of Joseph Smith, I’d be asking the Holy Spirit to contradict his own written revelation about false prophets and bless my disobedience. That’s not a prayer he’d ever answer with a “yes” and definitely not a risk one should take.
So next time you’re discussing gospel issues with an LDS person and they ask you to “pray” about the book of Mormon, you can calmly tell them “well, that doesn’t seem wise. God has already told me not to!”