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Acts 7:55-56 and Mormonism


By John Finton



But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven,

and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.

And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened,

and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”





I. Introduction. Mormons believe that God has a body like ours: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also . . .” (D&C 130:22). It is not uncommon for the typical Mormon to try to support this teaching from the Bible. I suppose they do this because they would like to think their doctrines are Biblically based. In order for them to use the Bible as a means of support, they have to treat certain passages as either a mistranslation, or reinterpret them, (e.g., John 4:24 with Luke 24:39; cf. the JST--this is dealt with at http://faithandreasonforum.com “Mormonism and John 4:24”). Another tactic of the Mormon is to relegate key passages to a place of obscurity (e.g., Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 6:46; Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16; 1 John 4:12). The Bible does not support the teaching that God has a body. The following is a demonstration of how the typical Mormon approaches Scripture as opposed to the historical Christian approach as it relates to this issue.

II. The Mormon View. These two verses are often used by Mormons as a proof text to demonstrate that God has a body and that God the father and Jesus are two separate beings. Thus, in their view, God (in a body like ours) is seated on a thrown and Jesus is standing next to Him. They understand the passage to be completely literal. The Mormon website (http://allaboutmormons.com) demonstrates their approach to Scripture:

 

Some mistakenly read scripture like Exodus 33:20, John 1:18, and John 6:46 and suppose that human beings cannot see God. While Mormons certainly respect those whose ideas differ from our own, we feel that it is important to consider the Bible as a whole and not to cherry-pick isolated scriptures to support a pre-conceived notion.

 

In reality, there are many Bible passages that support the idea that human beings can see God. In the Old Testament times, Moses and others saw God (Exodus 24:9-11, 33:23), in fact, Moses even spoke to God face to face (Exodus 33:11). The New Testament also teaches that human beings can see God. Clearly many saw Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, both before and after His resurrection. Acts 7:55-56 describes Stephen’s vision of God the Father as well.

 

Mormon View of Visions. It is important to point out that Mormons hold to a different meaning of the term “vision” than that of the historic Christian church. According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (http://eom.byu.edu/index/Visions):

 

In LDS doctrine visions are perceptions, aided by the Spirit, of something invisible to human beings. The things disclosed are viewed as part of general reality. This process is according to natural law and is not “supernatural,” in the usual sense of that term. It is analogous to the fact that some physical real phenomena, such as X rays and atomic particles, are not discerned by the ordinary sense but may be detected by scientific instruments. In the case of visions, the instrument is the person, and the mechanism of observation is faith aided by the Spirit of God.

 

III. The Historic Christian View. There are two ways Act 7:55-56 have been understood by the historic Christian church. Many under-standing that since God cannot be seen that what is taking place is a vision (the normal sense). Others say that Stephen is permitted to see God’s glory, not in a vision, but in reality. “Although Scripture asserts that no one is able to see God and live, God’s glory has often been revealed to man (compare Ps. 63:2; Isa. 6:1; John 12:41)” (Kistemaker, “Acts,” NTC, 278).

Christian View of Visions. Conservative evangelicals define “vision” as “experiences similar to dreams through which supernatural insight or awareness is given by revelation. The difference between a dream and a vision is that dreams occur only during sleep, while visions can happen while a person is awake (Dan. 10:7)” (Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1088). A dream is defined as “a state of mind in which images, thoughts, and impressions pass through the mind of a person who is sleeping” (Ibid, 310). The definition of “vision” from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (1597) is: “an experience, generally regarded as beneficent or meaningful, in which a personage, thing, or event appears vividly or credibly to the mind, although not actually present, under the influence of a divine or other spiritual agency or condition: a vision of the Apocalypse” (emphasis mine). The same definition is found in The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Thus Mormonism presents a different definition than that of mainstream Christianity as well as normal English usage. Their definition is unique to Mormonism alone. This practice is not uncommon with Mormonism. Their definitions of the atonement, God, salvation, eternal life, heaven, etc. are very different.

         Based on normal usage, visions are not real, just as dreams are not real. Revelation 1:13-16 is an example of a vision. I do not think Mormons believe this vision of Jesus (the son of man) is real, or else the pictures of Jesus found in their literature and wards do not display this same image of Him. Visions are imagery with symbolic significance.

 

IV. Reasons Why the Mormon View is Unacceptable.

        A. Analogy of Faith. This is a principle of hermeneutics that is basically the same as what our “allaboutmormons” friend stated above: “it is important to consider the Bible as a whole and not to cherry-pick isolated scriptures to support a pre-conceived notion.” This principle declares that Scripture cannot contradict itself. Obscure or disputed passages of Scripture should be interpreted in light of the clear passages. Since all Scripture is in agreement, when one passage appears to contradict another, they need to be harmonized. The Mormon understanding of Acts 7:55-56 does not harmonize with other Scripture. For example:

         Scripture is clear that “No one has seen God at any time . . .” (John 1:18; 1 John 4:12), nor can He be seen (1 Tim 6:16). God is invisible (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17). God is Spirit (John 4:24) a spirit does not have flesh and blood (Luke 24:39). Two verses that appear to be contradictory are:

        “And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend” (Ex 33:11), and “You cannot see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex 33:20).

        If the Bible contradicted itself, then it would be an untrustworthy witness and useless for anything. However, there is no contradiction here. One of the two verses must not be taken in a literal fashion. Out of necessity, the Mormon must give a different sense to Exodus 33:20 rather than 33:11. For, in their view, God was literally seen by Moses, Stephen, and Joseph Smith: “We believe that a mortal man cannot look upon God without perishing, unless God permits Himself to be seen through the power of His Holy Spirit (Moses 1:11)” (http://www.allaboutmormons). The above statement seems to be out of harmony with D&C 130:22 which declares that “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also . . . .” Is God’s body as tangible as man’s or not? The “allaboutmormons” website also states, “Clearly many saw Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, both before and after His resurrection.” Were all who saw Jesus aided by the power of the Holy Spirit? Moses 1:11 and D&C 130:22 seem to contradict each other as well as the Bible.

        The historic Christian church (as well as Judaism) has consistently sees a non-literal sense to the phrase “face to face” in Exodus 33:11. The reason for this is, as pointed out above, no one has seen God, nor can He be seen--He is invisible, etc. So then, how is the phrase “face to face” to be understood?

          By looking at the context, it is seen in 33:9 that God’s presence was represented by a pillar of cloud. When Moses entered the tent, God descended to the entrance of the tent as a pillar of cloud. There is no indication that God appeared to Moses in human form. What is meant by the phrase “face to face”, in this context, is that God spoke directly to Moses. God did not use dark sayings, or visions and dreams, but spoke to Moses on an intimate level “as a man speaks unto his friend” (cf. Deut 34:10). In Duet. 5:4 God spoke directly to the people “face to face in the mountain out of the midst of the fire” (cf. Ex 19:18). In this passage, God’s presence is represented by fire and smoke. There is no indication that God took on human form when He spoke to the people. This is made abundantly clear from Deut. 4:15-16:

 

Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female . . .

 

        John Calvin (1500-64) commenting on Deut 4:12-18 points out that there is no contradiction between the appearances of God to man (theophanies) and the prohibition to represent God in a visible image:

 

        The solution is twofold: first, that although God may have  invested Himself in certain forms for the purpose of manifesting Himself, this must be accounted as a peculiar circumstance, and not be taken as a general rule; secondly, that the visions shown to the patriarchs were testimonies of His invisible glory, rather to elevate men’s minds to things above than to keep them entangled amongst earthly elements. …Hence we may conclude that all those who seek for God in a visible figure, not only decline, but actually revolt, from the true study of piety (Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of A Harmony, 2:120).

 

        One way the Mormons answer Joseph Smith’s seeing God is by using Matt. 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” Again we have a contradiction, if we take the seeing God literally in this passage. Thus, the seeing God must be seen (understood, perceived) with a different sense than that of the seeing with the eyes. In Matt. 13:14, Mark 4:12, Acts 28:26 the same Greek word for “see” is translated as “perceive” and parallel to “understand.” Since God is invisible, and cannot be seen, the sense here must be that the pure in heart will perceive and understand God. That is, they will know Him and have a true relationship with Him (cf. John 17:3; 1 Cor 13:12). For all true believers, this is both a present as well as a future reality that will continue to grow throughout eternity.

        This concept of “seeing God” is further illustrated from Hebrew 11:27. Here it is said of Moses, “. . . he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” The “seeing” is from the same Greek word as above. Moses’ endurance is a demonstration of his steadfast faith in the midst of trials. The “seeing Him who is invisible” is explained “as though he had not to do with men, but only with God, ever before his eyes by faith, though invisible to the bodily eye (Rom 1:20; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16) (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, “Hebrews,” Commentary on the Whole Bible, 2:474). (Cf. Psalm 16:8; 2 Cor 4:16-18).

        Some say the reference to seeing God is the encounter at the burning bush (Ex 3:2-4). According to Hughes (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, also quoting F. F. Bruce, 500) “There is, however, little justification for such a connection. ‘. . . this need not be taken as a specific allusion to the burning bush, but to the fact that Moses paid more attention to the Invisible King of kings than to the king of Egypt. If faith is “a conviction of things not seen” [Heb 11:1], it is first and foremost a conviction regarding the unseen God, as has been emphasized already in the affirmation that he who comes to God must believe that He is [and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him] (11:6).”

        B. Accommodation of Revelation. There are many passages throughout the Bible that speak of God with human attributes. He is said to have a face (Gen. 4:14; Num. 6:25; Ex. 33:11); eyes and ears (2 Chron. 7:15); an arm (Job 40:9); a hand (Ex. 3:20); nostrils (Ex. 15:8); a mouth (2 Sam 22:9). It is not uncommon for the average Mormon to take passages like these literal and use them as proof texts to demonstrate that God has a body like ours (as is demonstrated from the “allaboutmormons” website). It would be a massive undertaking to deal with every Scripture that gives God some kind of human attribute. It is more efficient to display the rules of interpretation that apply to these situations. Besides the analogy of faith mentioned above, the principle of Accommodation of Revelation is also important to our understanding of Scripture.

        Accommodation or condescension is a basic principle underlying all of God’s revelation to man. It means that God speaks to us in a form that is suited to the capacity of the hearer, like a father addressing a small child or a teacher with a young pupil. There are two aspects of accommodation:

        1. Anthropomorphism. The above references are figures of speech known as anthropomorphism. The anthropomorphic and metaphorical use of terms relative to God is a literary device to convey His concern and association with man. A good book on hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) states:

 

        “It is a well-considered design that the Holy Scripture speaks of God as of a being resembling man, and ascribes to Him a face, eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet and the sense of smell and hearing. This is done out of consideration for man’s power of comprehension; and the same is the case when the Bible represents God as loving or hating, as jealous, angry, glad, or filled with regret, dispositions which apply to God not per affectum but per effectum. They show us that God is not coldly indifferent to loyalty or disloyalty on the part of man, but notices them well”(Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 100-01). Ramm further states:


         “The interpreter who is aware of this anthropomorphic character of the divine revelation will not be guilty of grotesque forms of literal exegesis. More than one unlettered person and cultist has taken the anthropomorphisms of Scripture literally and has so thought of God as possessing a body” (Ibid, 101).

 

        Because this approach to interpreting the Bible is critical to understanding a great many passages of Scripture, I quote Charnock’s (writing in the 1600s) detailed explanation (The Existence and Attributes of God, 1:188-89):

 

        God being desirous to make himself know to man, whom he created for his glory, humbles, as it were, his own nature to such representations as may suit and assist the capacity of the   creature; since by the condition of our nature nothing erects a notion of itself in our understanding, but as it is conducted in by our sense. God hath served himself of those things which are most exposed to our sense, most obvious to our understandings, to give us some acquaintance with his own nature, and those things which otherwise we were not capable of having any notion of. As our souls are linked with our bodies, so our knowledge is linked with our sense; that we can scarce imagine anything, at first, but under a corporeal form and figure, till we come, by great attention to the object, to make, by the help of reason, a separation of the spiritual substance from the corporeal fancy, and consider it in its own nature. We are not able to conceive a spirit, without some kind of resemblance to something below it, nor understand the actions of a spirit, without considering the operations of a human body in its several members. As the glories of another life are signified to us by the pleasures of this; so the nature of God, by a gracious condescension to our capacities, is signified to us by a likeness to our own. The more familiar the things are to us which God uses to this purpose, the more proper they are to teach us what he intended by them.


        All such representations are to signify the acts of God, as they bear some likeness to those which we perform by those members he ascribes to himself. So that those members ascribed to him rather note his visible operations to us, than his invisible nature; and signify that God doth some works like to those which men do by the assistance of those organs of their bodies. So the wisdom of God is called his eye, because he knows that with his mind which we see with our eyes. The efficiency of God is called his hand and arm; because as we act with our hands, so doth God with his power. The divine efficacies are signified:--by his eyes and ears, we understand his omniscience; by his face, the manifestation of  his favor; by his mouth, the revelation of his will; by his nostrils, the acceptation of our prayers; by his bowels, the tenderness of his compassion; by his heart, the sincerity of his affections; by his hand, the strength of his power; by his feet, the ubiquity of his presence. And in this, he intends instruction and comfort: by his eyes, he signifies his watchfulness over us; by his ears, his readiness to hear the cries of the oppressed; by his arm, his power--an arm to destroy his enemies, and an arm to relieve his people. All those are attributed to God to signify divine actions, which he doth without bodily organs as we do with them.

 

        2. Analogy by the use of metaphor. This is the second aspect of accommodation. For example Jesus calls Himself a door (John 10:9), a shepherd (John 10:11), a vine (John 15:1), a roadway (John 14:6), a loaf of bread (John 6:51). God is said to have wings and feathers (Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 91:4). These are all to be under-stood metaphorically, not literally.

        Words should be understood in their literal sense unless such interpretation involves a manifest contradiction (as seen above) or absurdity. For example, it would be absurd to say that Jesus was made out of bread or that He was a loaf of bread. If God cannot be seen, and another passage seems to indicate that He was seen, then there must be figurative language taking place—other-wise there is an outright contradiction. Charnock’s (Ibid, 1:190) explanation is appropriate here as well:

 

Therefore, we must not conceive of the visible Deity according to the letter of such expressions, but the true intent of them. Though the Scripture speaks of his eye and arm, yet it denies them to be “arms of flesh” (Job 10:4; 2 Chron 32:8). We must not conceive of God according to the letter, but the design of the metaphor. When we hear things described by metaphorical expressions, for the clearing them up to our fancy, we conceive not of them that garb, but remove the veil by an act of our reason. When Christ is called a sun, a vine, bread, is any so stupid as to conceive him to be a vine with material branches, and clusters, or be of the same nature with a loaf? But the things designed by such metaphors are obvious to the conception of a mean understanding. If we would conceive God to have a body like man, because he describes himself so, we may conceit him to be like a bird, because he is mentioned with wings (Ps 36:7); or like a lion, or leopard, because he likens himself to them in the acts of his strength and fury (Hos 13:7, 8). He is called a rock, a horn, fire, to note his strength and wrath; if any be so stupid as to think God to be really such, they would make him not only a man but worse than a monster.

 

V. Other Considerations

        1. Theophany/Christophany. There are several places in the Old Testament where God does appear in human form (ex., Gen. 18:1-33; 32:24-30). These appearances are called theophanies. Theophanies are different in nature from visions and anthropomorphic metaphors. Many consider “the angel of the Lord” (mentioned over fifty times in the OT) to be either a theophany or christaphany. A christophany is an appearance of Christ in the OT. While there are no indisputable christophanies in the OT, every theophany wherein God takes human form foreshadows the incarnation where God takes on human form of a man to live among us as Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23). A theophany is a temporary and spatial manifestation of God. Not only are the human appearances of God considered theophanies but also the burning bush (Ex 3:2-6), the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire (Ex 13:21-22) as well. It is certain that God can make a visible manifestation of Himself in any form whether human or nonhuman. However, the substance of God is not seen in these appearances. As Charnock (Ibid, 1:185) makes clear, “Sometimes a representation is made to the inward sense and imagination, as Micaiah (1 kings 22:19) and to Isaiah (6:1); but they saw not the essence of God, but some images and figures of him proportional to their sense or imagination. . . . This only signifies a fuller and clearer manifestation of God by some representations offered to the bodily sense, or rather to the inward spirit.” A more concise statement of the above is stated by Erickson (Christian Theology, 268):

 

There are, of course, numerous passages which suggest that God has physical features such as hands or feet. How are we to regard these references? It seems most helpful to treat them as anthropomorphisms, attempts to express the truth about God through human analogies. There are also cases where God appeared in physical form, particularly in the Old Testament. These should be understood as theophanies, or temporary manifestations of God. It seems best to take the clear statements about the spirituality and invisibility of God at face value andinterpret the anthropomorphisms and theophanies in the light of them. Indeed, Jesus himself clearly indicated that a spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).

 

        A theophany is to be distinguished from the permanent manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, called the Incarnation. The Incarnation in historic Christianity is that Jesus the eternal Word of God took on full humanity and lived a truly human life (Phil 2:5-8). Jesus did not experience a loss of his divine nature in any way but continued to be fully God. Thus Jesus Christ is both fully divine and fully human.

        At this stage in the discussion it needs to be pointed out that the LDS Jesus Christ is quite different than that of the historic Christian church. In Mormonism, Jesus is the first spirit born—the product of relations between god and one of his goddesses—who all used to be people from another world. Jesus is also the literal spirit brother of Satan and of each of us. Jesus’ human existence is by means of a sexual union between Mary and the heavenly Father. The website www.mrm.org/jesus-of-mormonism says the following concerning Mormon doctrine on Jesus:

 

Mormon theology makes a distinction between Elohim and Jehovah. LDS leaders have claimed that these are the names of two separate Gods. Sixth president Joseph F. Smith stated, “Among the spirit children of Elohim, the first-born was and is Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, to whom all others are juniors” (Gospel Doctrine, 70). . . .On literally hundreds of occasions, the words “Yahweh” [or Jehovah] and “Elohim” are used together to demonstrate that Jehovah is Elohim (See Gen. 2:4-22; Deut. 4:1; Judges 5:3; 1 Samuel 2:30). These words are used together as “Lord our God,” Lord my God,” “Lord his God,” and Lord thy God.” Even Joseph Smith in his Inspired Version of the Bible (also known as the Joseph Smith Translation) translated 1 Kings 8:60 as “The Lord is God” or “Jehovah is Elohim.” (See also Exodus 34:14 in the JST).

 

        The “allaboutmormons” website stated, “The New Testament also teaches that human beings can see God. Clearly many saw Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, both before and after His resurrection.” This statement is used as proof that God the Father has a body and that He can be seen. Apparently, Mormons have a different under-standing of the Incarnation than that of true Christianity. Such statements demonstrate the difficulty in addressing Mormons. To fully address the Jesus of Mormons and the Jesus of historic Christianity would involve a whole other paper. That Mormons and Christians differ so much on Jesus (as well as God, salvation, etc., etc) is one of the major reasons why Mormons are not Christian in any sense of the word. Mormons also have a completely different interpretation of passages like John 1:18, 6:46; Heb 1:1-3 and John 14:7-11 and many more.

        2. The Glory of God. What about the glory of God, can it be seen? There are specific examples where the glory of God was seen. Examples include the cloud and the fire, already mentioned, and the vision of God granted to Moses (Ex 33:18ff; 34:5ff) in the form of a tangible theophany. The Israelites saw His glory (Deut 5:24). Ezekiel saw “the appearance of the brightness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezek 1:28). The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (2:732) points out that the Judaism did not conceive of God as having human characteristics from the physical manifestations of Him:

 

Attention is often drawn to the somewhat physical way in which God’s glory is mentioned in the OT. . . . Too much stress can be laid on this evidence, as to say that the God of the Hebrews was a physical being. As Ezekiel described the glory of God, he was describing something he saw in a vision. The vision would have tangible form—it cannot be otherwise—because it is not an abstract idea but a concrete revelation. This does not mean that something physical was present. To the Hebrews, in any case, God was not an absolute abstraction, but one with whom they could have contact, and anthropomorphic terms were inevitable. The Hebrews did not, however, view Him as human, or earthly in shape and motion. Taking the Scripture as a whole, such physical conceptions are balanced out by the ethical ideas that attach to God’s glory. . . . God’s glory is God Himself, and as such He cannot be represented by any human image; nor does He need any such image to glorify Him—in fact, in so representing Him we dishonor Him. Israel insulted God’s glory when it created images of Him (Isa 42:8; 48:11). Calvin says, “As often as any form is assigned to God, His glory is corrupted by an impious lie.”

 

        Thus it is possible that Stephen saw a manifestation of the glory of God as opposed to a vision. However, it is certain that Stephen was the only person permitted to see it, or else the people would not have responded in the way they did (Acts 7:57).

        3. On the right hand of God. This is figurative or anthropomorphic language, symbolizing honor, power, and authority given to Christ as a reward for his fully accomplished mediatorial work (cf. Heb 1:3; 10:11-12; also see Ps. 110:1; Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:62; Acts 2:33; 5:31; 7:55, 56; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:1; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22). MacArthur (MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1836) says, “It is also the position of subordination, implying that the Son is under the authority of the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 15:27, 28). This depicts a victorious Savior, not a defeated martyr.” His sitting implies the completion of His atoning work. God Himself is also spoken of as standing at the right hand of David (Ps 16:8; Acts 2:25). Obviously, God did not literally stand at the right hand of David. The phrase only indicates that God was supporting David as His chosen king.

        4. Throne. Although the word “throne” is not used in this passage, it is certainly pictured by the phrase “on the right hand.” According to Revelation 3:21, Jesus promised all true believers that they will sit down with Him in His throne: “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit down with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” First John 5:4-5 makes it clear that the concept of an overcomer is something that is true of all believers: “For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believeth Jesus is the Son of God? (cf. Rev 2:7). I doubt that Mormons understand the throne spoken of here to be a literal throne. If so, does it mean the saved will take turns sitting on this throne, since it would have to be a mighty big throne for all the believers to sit on it all at once with Jesus! The throne here only means that we will share the privilege and authority that Christ enjoys as the saved reign with Him (1:6; Matt 19:28; Luke 22:29, 30).

        The concept of God sitting on a throne is seen throughout the book of Revelation. However, it should not be pressed to mean that God sits on a literal throne. The idea is not that of a piece of furniture, but a symbol of sovereign rule and authority (7:15; 11:19; 16:17, 18; cf. Is 6:1). In Revelation 2:13, Pergamum is said to be located “where the throne of Satan is.” I do not think that anyone believes that Satan had a literal throne in this place. Most explain this as a statement to the stronghold Satan had in controlling the life and culture of the city—it was the seat of satanic power.

VI. Conclusion

        The “allaboutmormons” website stated that “some mistakenly read scripture . . . .” This some includes all of mainstream Christianity. In fact, the anthropomorphic interpretation of Scripture as it relates to God has been the view of the historic Christian church as well as all of Judaism.

        The Mormon answer to this may be that the Christian church has been in a state of apostasy until Joseph Smith came. This apostasy would have to include historic Judaism. For Judaism has also always taken an anthropomorphic interpretation of Scriptures.

        There is, however, no evidence that the church has been in a state of apostasy for almost 2000 years. But even if that were true, the anthropomorphic interpretation of Scripture is based on taking the clear statements that God is Spirit, He is invisible, and cannot be seen at face value. It is not a valid accusation to say that mainstream Christianity “cherry picks isolated scriptures to support a pre-conceived notion.” That God is invisible and cannot be seen (John 1:18, 6:46; Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17, 6:16; 1 John 4:12) that God is Spirit (John 4:24) and a spirit does not have flesh and bone (Luke 24:39) are not in any sense isolated. If there even is such a thing as “isolated scripture,” the above Scriptures are not a good example.

        So who really is basing their interpretation on pre-conceived notions? The above has demonstrated that true Christianity does indeed take the Bible as a whole. It is in fact the Mormons that are interpreting Scripture with a pre-conceived notion. In order for the Mormons to make their interpretation work, they have to redefine the concept of what a vision is, and disregard what they call “isolated scriptures.” It appears that Mormons either disregard the rules of interpretation (hermeneutics) or bend them to fit their belief system. Because the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, there are no contradictions. If there appears to be a contradiction, then one or both of the passages has been misunderstood. The two passages can be harmonized. This is done by applying the rules of interpretation. Thus, if a Mormon wants to reject the above interpretation, he would need to demonstrate that the above rules are either invalid or misused. How has the historic Christian church misapplied its hermeneutics? This is important because the way Mormons approach to scripture, and the way true Christianity interprets Scripture are miles apart. A great many portions of Scripture are at stake.

        Although it is certain that many Mormons will cling tenaciously to their belief no matter what evidence can be brought against it, it is my hope that in reading this paper that many will come to a true under-standing of the true nature of God and be truly saved. For as Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God, 1:193-94) so clearly tells us:

 

To make any corporeal representation of God is unworthy of God. It is a disgrace to his nature. Whosoever thinks a carnal corruptible image to be fit for a representation of God, renders God no better than a carnal and a corporeal being. It is a kind of debasing an angel, who is a spiritual nature, to represent him in a bodily shape, who is far removed from any fleshliness as heaven from earth; much more to degrade the glory of the divine nature to the lineaments of a man. The whole stock of images is a lie of God (Jer. 10:8, 14); a doctrine of vanities and falsehood; it represents him in a false garb to the world, and sinks his glory into that of a corruptible creature (Rom. 1:18-25). It impairs the reverence of God in the minds of men, and by degrees may debase man’s apprehension of God, and be a means to make them believe he is such a one as themselves; and that not being free from the figure, he is not also free from the imperfections of the bodies (Rom. 1:22). Corporeal images of God were the fruits of base imaginations of him; and as they sprung from them, so they contribute to a greater corruption of the notions of the divine nature . . . . As men debased God by this, so God debased men for this; he degraded the Israelites into captivity, under the worst of their enemies, and punished the heathens with spiritual judgments, as uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts (Rom. 1:24); which is repeated in other expressions (1:26, 27), as a meet recompense for the disgracing the spiritual nature of God. Had God been like to men, they had not offended in it; but I mention this, to show a probable reason of those base lusts which are in the midst of us, that have scarce been exceeded by any nation, viz, the unworthy and unscriptural conceits of God, which are as much debasing of him as material images were when they were more rife in the world; and may be as well the cause of spiritual judgment upon men, as worshipping molten and carved images were the case of the same upon the heathen.

 

 

 

©2009 by John Finton