December 10, 2015

Should I pray about the Book of Mormon?

by Lyndon Unger

*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:

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.

(Ibid, 266).

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:

He was a demonstrable false prophet on multiple counts.

Those, along with his numerous false doctrines he peddled and his sexual immorality/adultery (and pedophilia) more than disqualify him from the list of “possible prophets.”

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!”

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him didn’t.
  • 4Commencefiring4

    While I don’t personally have any doubt as to the veracity and completeness of our Bible as being the only inspired texts in existence (or at least the originals), I note an observation by Chris Rock regarding things we can depend on: “There’s math, and then there’s everything else.”

    It would be great if we could prove which writings were of God by shining a UV light on them, or performing a kind of MD5-type calculation (like is used to verify the accuracy of file transfers), but we cannot. Ultimately, it’s a matter of an accumulation of evidence and testimony by people we trust. We either conclude that the evidence presented in any given case persuades us that it’s inspired text, or we do not. Saying the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to confirm it is a subjective claim: lots of people claim an experience with God, and it’s not falsifiable.

    I believe in heaven because I am persuaded that Christ is God, that He doesn’t make idle promises or lie to us. But that’s by faith, not because I’ve visited the place and taken pictures. I choose to believe the written promise because I find it persuasive and counter-arguments wanting.

    Mormons have decided their books are inspired, too–by faith and “the Holy Spirit.” The objective evidence may militate against that, but faith is strong stuff.

    • jeff

      It seems to me that you have the order of salvation backwards. Regeneration precedes faith. Faith is a gift of God. The only reason you believe the Bible is because you have been born of God. “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.(John 8:47)”. And, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me(John 10:27)”. One cannot prove that the Bible is the Word of God though there be many evidences.

      Article 5 of chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession states: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.[10]And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.

      Article 5 of chapter 1 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession states(nearly identical to the WCF): We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.( John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)

      • 4Commencefiring4

        “…inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” is not an objectively verifiable standard, and that’s the point.

        One can be thoroughly convinced that the Holy Spirit is leading you to go to China on missions, but you go there on faith–not on the basis of any empirical evidence that God is leading you. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen–but not the proof of them. God doesn’t deal in proof, or else we would have no need to trust Him.

        The original autographs of the Scriptures were written by many people over a long period of time. There was a process by which each was evaluated as either authoritative and/or inspired of God, or disqualified as such. There was never a moment, like when the Apostles chose Judas’ replacement, when bishops or church leaders asked that God indicate to them through an attesting sign that the parchment they held in their hands was truly His work product. (As a matter of fact, some have debated whether Matthias was really supposed to be the 12th Apostle. Judging from the resulting NT, I’d have to go with Paul.)

        Anyhow, Mormons would argue–as I think Mr. Unger has indicated–that one should “pray about it” and let the Holy Spirit lead you. That’s what we say, too–only our Scriptures don’t have the objective problems theirs do.

        • Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen–but not the proof of them. God doesn’t deal in proof, or else we would have no need to trust Him.

          This really isn’t a biblical conception of faith. Faith is not opposed to knowledge. Faith is not what takes over when we run out of knowledge, like: “Well I don’t know that, I just believe it.” That’s more of a pagan, secular-humanist redefinition that conceives of faith as some sort of leap in the dark, or wish upon a star.

          But Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:13-14: “We also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing . . . .” Verse 13 says that the ground for speaking is believing. “I speak because I believe.” But when we get to verse 14, when Paul says “knowing,” or “because we know,” we learn that the ground for believing is knowing something. “I speak because I believe, and I believe because I know.” Not: “I believe because I don’t know,” but “I believe because I know.”

          Also, to distinguish between “evidence” and “proof,” between “assurance” and “knowledge,” is to make a distinction without a difference. The very point that the writer of Hebrews is making is that faith is well-grounded, that it does provide assurance. In fact, the word that some versions translate “evidence” is the Greek word elengchos, which could also be translated “conviction.” The verb elengchoo means “to unveil.” Faith is the unveiling, the revelation, of things not seen; faith makes that which is not physically/empirically visible, spiritually visible (cf. Heb 11:26-27; 2 Cor 4:18; 2 Kgs 6:8-17). In fact, that which is visible to the eye of the soul is more sure than that which is visible to the physical eye (2 Pet 1:16-21; Luke 16:31); revelation, and in the internal working of the Holy Spirit, is more reliable, than empirical data.

          So far from being an alternative to knowledge, true faith is based on knowledge; it has its sure and solid foundation in the knowledge of the truth. Knowing the truth is the foundation for believing the truth.

          Just because some people abuse that principle, and claim “a burning in the bosom” apart from objective/external confirmation, doesn’t mean that we should abandon the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit as a ground — indeed, even a determinative ground — of our epistemology.

        • jeff

          Where does faith come from? Answer: the Holy Spirit. By faith we know. Therefore God has revealed Himself to us and if God does it He does it perfectly. Nothing is more certain or objective than God revealing Himself. You either start with God’s Revelation or your own understanding and I recall the Scriptures(that you claim to believe) telling us not to lean on our own understanding(Proverbs 3:5) and that the natural man cannot accept the things of God but we do because the Spirit of God has revealed them to us(1 Corinthians 2). So then how did you go from a natural man to a spritual man? Did you reason to the Scriptures or did the Spirit reveal them to you? If it’s the former then you don’t believe the Bible, obviously. You seem to think empiricism is superior to Revelation. Empiricism cannot obtain to truth( And you say God doesn’t deal in proof which seems to be synonomous with saying God doesn’t deal in truth. If God says something/anything that’s proof/truth enough for me. As I said above we cannot prove the Bible is the Word of God but that doesn’t mean that God can’t. I could say more but Mike Riccardi has done a good service to you in his answer and it is sufficient. Study on.

          • jeff

            That link I included may not work try this one and listen to the lecture on empiricism to see that it cant obtain to truth:

          • 4Commencefiring4

            That looks like an exhaustive resource; I’ll check it out. Thanks.

            But ultimately you realize we’re assuming the truth of what we’re trying to prove. All the statements saying, essentially, that God has testified to us about the truth of the Scriptures are based on…what the Scriptures say about it, not because we had a direct vision where God came to us in the night and told us. We’re starting with the proposition that God has shown us that the Bible is Truth. How can we know? His Word says so. And for the christian, that’s the end of the matter. I’m good with that. All arguments supporting that proposition are based on what that same Word says. Everything else is a subjective “sense” or a feeling that we posit, which is what the Mormon says about his path.

            One can testify that God has worked in his heart to confirm these things, etc., but again that’s the claim of the Mormon, too. So we’re back to claim vs claim. Apart from a factual examination of their writings to show inconsistencies and historical errors, I know of no way to empirically demonstrate that they could not have had some confirming experience with the Holy Spirit. I just know that He would not endorse falsehood. We can’t simply say to the Mormon, “Look, friend, I know you say the Spirit has confirmed this to you; but you’re being deceived.” He’s convinced what he claims is so. There’s no objective way to show his “experience” is false. I’m convinced it is, of course, but who am I?

          • jeff

            Every philosophy or worldview starts with an axiom or axioms which don’t have to be proved though they can be disproved. For the Christian, his axiom is the 66 books of the Bible are the Word of God(which is objective). All propositions of Scripture and what can be deduced from them is all the truth we can know. Everything else is opinion and can be useful information like science provides.

            The presuppositional apologist/ scripturalist/ dogmatist/ Christian does an internal critique of opposing worldviews or philosophies in order to show where they break down(and we know, inevitably, that they will at some point) or as Scripture says destroy every argument raised against the knowledge of God(2 Cor. 10:5). Where the Mormon goes wrong is when they claim to believe the Bible but add other “scriptures” to it. Well, if you believe the Bible you can’t add other writings to it because the Bible says not to add or subtract from the Bible and of course there are many other problems with their beliefs that don’t comport with the Bible. So then, their philosophy violates the law of non-contradiction and is therefore false or untrue. At the same time we want to show how the biblical worldview is logical and consistent throughout to show it’s great explanatory power or how it jives with reality though this doesn’t prove that the Bible is the Word of God or true. The best we can do is destroy their worldview and preach the gospel with accuracy and pray that God would reveal Himself to them salvifically.

            Where we differed is not only in your definition of faith and how you came to faith but in where you say that the Bible is subjective. It is not. And Logic is the objective way to falsify the Mormon’s burning bosom claim because it results in violating the laws of logic as said above. If they want to deny logic then you can’t proceed any further in argument because in order to do so you would have to use the laws of logic and they would have forfeited the debate at that point.

            So just because our claim of the Spirit bearing witness to our spirit by and with the Word of God is not falsifiable(empirically) doesn’t mean it is untrue or that we ought to abandon it because in doing so we are abandoning our axiom which is the Scriptures. It just means that we can’t settle the debate at that point and so we or they must further examine our philosophies. Shalom to ya.

          • Andrea Struble

            Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of GOD! Nothing is alone in and of itself.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Great to see you back, Lyndon. Thanks for taking the time to draw these helpful distinctions. I appreciate your scholarship.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks so much Jane!

  • disqus_i49hn6Dtrd

    Every Mormon with whom I have spoken, from LDS “prophets,” priests, and professors; to their teenage missionary “elders” and “sisters”; to run-of-the-mill members and converts—every one of them has testified that after praying about the Book of Mormon and the Mormon church in general, they experienced a private, quiet, emotional feeling that they believe to be the Spirit’s confirmation that “it’s all true.”

    That the Book of Mormon and the religion it spawned are false is obvious when contrasted with the Bible. Mormons can understand the differences and make their choice (right or wrong), but few everyday Mormons are able or willing to engage in complicated intellectual discussions.

    Christians who know the differences accurately can point them out to the Mormons they encounter, adding a simple testimony of their own. For example:

    • Lyndon Unger


      I’ve found that Mormons are often willing to dialogue, as long as you talk ‘to’ them and not ‘about’ them.

      I understand that giving a confident “testimony” will throw Mormons off guard temporarily, but I don’t give a “testimony” (in the Mormon sense of the term) in response to their “testimony”. I don’t find an emotional appeal to be a biblically prescribed response to false teaching.

      The heart is changed by the Spirit of God working via the word of God.

  • Sean

    They come to my neighborhood on a weekly basis. Over the years and with the continual replacement of their “missionaries”, God has enabled me to preach His Word to them.

    Regarding when they say to me to read the book of Mormon and pray for an inner witness, burning in the heart, my reply has been (after I pray inwardly for God’s grace and wisdom to speak soundly):

    First, ask them to take out their KJV Bible

    ASK: What does the Bible tell us to do about determining if the Book of Mormon is true?
    Have them read: 1 Thes 5:21-22 – Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.
    Explain it to them.

    ASK: How are we to test things?
    Have them read: Acts 17:11 – These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
    Explain it to them.

    ASK: What does the Bible say about if someone speaks not according to the Bible?
    Have them read: Is 8:20 – To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
    Explain it to them.

    ASK: Why does the Bible say to test things according to Scripture and not just pray about it and see what our heart tells us?
    Have them read: Jer 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (can also add Dt 11:16)
    Have them read: Prov 28:26 – He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered. – Prov 28:26 (if needed compare this Scripture to their Book of Moroni 10:4)
    Have them read: Prov 14:12 – There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (can also add Prov 16:25)
    Explain it to them.

    At this point, you’ve established that their KJV Bible states plainly we’re commanded to test everything according to Scripture. So now let’s test the Mormon teachings to the Bible. (By God’s grace and mercy you will now have opportunity to show what the Bible clearly teaches of Christ and salvation.)

    If they refuse, then read:
    Prov 14:15 – The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

    If they now refuse and are going to leave, then I warn them sternly what God’s Word says:
    According to John 8:24, if you do not believe in the true Christ according to the Bible, you will die in your sins and go to hell.

    According to Galatians 1:8-9 you are preaching another gospel and God’s curse is on you! Every time you go to someone’s door to tell them your false gospel you are heaping more of God’s curse on yourself.

    (The point of this part is, these mormon men are unknowingly on the wide road to destruction, that if by God’s grace and mercy by His Word, the fear of God falls upon them, they would turn away.)

    There is a lot more to say about engaging mormon missionaries, but I hope this helps.
    Titus 1:11

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for the thoughts.

  • tovlogos

    Greetings, Lyndon — I must say, I missed you.

    Since all Scripture is inspired by God; and Revelation’s severe
    warning not to add or take away from the prophecy of this Book, tells me that there is a beginning and an end to the story. Notwithstanding, the end of the biblical story is really a new beginning.

    “That’s not something that could possibly be determined by men but rather only recognized.”
    As is characteristic of the Canon, man has no personal input — this reminds me that we cannot seek perfection; if we could we could write Scripture. However, we could stay fixed on Jesus through prayer, study, and obedience — we could do that much.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for your kind words Tov.

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  • John Roberts

    Despite your ramblings, Joseph Smith was no pedophile, nor was he sexually deviant. That he was married to more than one wife is not at issue. That the youngest was sixteen also is of no issue.

    Helen Mar Kimball, 16, was by far the youngest of those sealed to Smith. But there was never a consummation of that sealing. We know this because Miss. Kimball tells us so. In fact, the marriage was a political marriage only. It was a way — the only way — for Heber C. Kimball’s family to be united with Smith’s family throughout eternity, something Elder Kimball wanted very much (in fact, he pleaded with the prophet to marry Helen for that purpose). To judge Smith fairly, we would have to examine each sealing individually, which we’re not expected to do.

    What we are expected to do is to determine whether Joseph Smith was the great prophet of the Restoration he claims to be. And before you call him a pedophile, you damn well better be able to prove it, something his critics cannot do.

    If the Book of Mormon is a concoction as you claim, then from whence cometh the evidence of its veracity? There were hundreds of things just in the first two books that neither Smith nor any other person could have possibly known about in 1830 (unless he was a Bedouin in the deserts of Arabia).

    If people are sincere in their religious beliefs, God cannot justly condemn them; however, if someone leaves the sanctuary of ignorance to outright lie or prevaricate, they open themselves to the judgments of God. In times past, the enemies of God always thought they were doing Him a favor when they disparaged and killed His prophets.