Startling Scripture Déjà vu for Joseph Smith and Me

Most of you know that our church family has been studying John’s Gospel on Sunday mornings.

A number of you recognize that John’s Gospel quotes Isaiah in powerful ways.

Many of you have observed that our church family is also working through an inductive study of Isaiah on Wednesday nights.

But listen to this uncanny development where I feel like I am on a parallel Bible track with Joseph’s scripture treasure hunting around 170 years ago.  As I contemplated one phrase after another of Jesus’ defense in John 5, I felt catapulted into the stratosphere.  The theology ignited my imagination!  The words whirl in an unfathomable depth of divine mystery, revealing a relationship of Father and Son unlike any other.

By the time I emerged from John 5, there was one section in Scripture where I wanted to head immediately with our church family.  Any one with a huge dose of curiosity will be compelled to head straight back to the Pentateuch, inflamed in the hunt for strong attestation to Jesus.

So on Lord’s Day evenings, we have thus begun our study at the very beginning—Genesis, the book of beginnings.

Again:  out of curiosity, I decided to read the first three chapters of the JST in Genesis.  By the time I finished chapter 3 (stopping there for now), phrase recognition of the Johannine description of Jesus and even words from Isaiah popped in my mind like a string of July fourth firecrackers—all placed there by Joseph Smith.

Why did Joseph place these words in Genesis?  I think he was excited as me, coming out of John 5.  But here is the big problem.  He sought to make Jesus more real in the inspired words of Moses than what was already so rich in biblical declaration and protoevangelium witness.  Being so aroused by John 5, I tend to believe Joseph thought the opening of Genesis did not do justice to Jesus’ claims.  So he took it upon himself as the prophet to alter texts in order to bring about a more clear connection.

In seeking to enrich the first chapters of our Bible with a peppering of Johannine words and then closing the case with words of finality by Isaiah (JST Genesis 3:32), Joseph Smith has in essence paved the way for millions of people to be confronted with separate deities the moment they open their Bibles.

And besides observing the can of worms opened up by how Joseph uses distinctions of LORD and Lord and Lord God and Almighty God and Only Begotten and Son, there are multitudes of other revision changes in the text that now turn on scores of light-bulbs in my head for why LDS believe the way they do.

It all starts in Genesis.  But here is the eerie radical connection between Joseph and me:  I, too, had been studying John’s Gospel and Isaiah whcih motivated me to turn to Genesis.  But in the opening chapters of the Hebrew scriptures, I lay aside Joseph’s additions in the form of artificial prophetic utterances by Moses.  Joseph simply went too far.  He wanted to make his Jesus alive and real at the very beginning of Old Covenant scripture.  But the unbalanced inserting of the “Only Begotten” and other phrases in Genesis has actually created more skepticism toward the text and to the Son for both Jews and Gentiles. 

What does Genesis 1-3 really say?

15 comments

  1. I assume you are speaking of John 5:46, 47? Where Christ claims that Moses “wrote of me”?

    Out of curiosity, is there anywhere in the traditional Old Testament where Moses does write of Christ?

    One of the problems for Mormon apologetics that frequently arises is the use of King James Version language throughout the Book of Mormon, and in the JST. Protestants often simply take this as evidence that Joseph Smith was simply making it up. Well intentioned or not.

    For myself, I’m not so sure. The historical record of Joseph Smith often indicates that he was not extremely well-read in the Bible. I suppose it is possible that we are looking at God’s own words filtered through the language and idiom of Joseph’s own mind. Or perhaps God deliberately revealed His truths in a language that those who would hear the message would understand and identify with.

    Perhaps the message in JST Genesis is not so much the man Joseph, but the actual doctrines within the document?

  2. Todd, another insight into the perspective of Joseph Smith might be gained from examining the whole first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. Notably, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him…But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.”

    Notice that Paul teaches God made the worlds through the Son, and that God said to the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” Taken together with John 1 that the Word was with God and the Word was God and “The same was in the beginning with God,” the conclusions that Joseph Smith come to seem inescapable. Why not see the Son in the Creation account since God created the worlds by his Son? And if the Word was in the beginning with God, where else do we find the beginning than in Genesis? In one sense it seems odd to argue that the Only Begotten was not in the beginning with God and thus not present during the creation account. Surely it isn’t can’t be because we don’t think the Only Begotten was there, given the evidence in John and Hebrews. If it is only based on a textual argument, are we sticking to the text even though we know the Only Begotten was there with God and creating the worlds, and the text is leaving this out? So while it might be thought that Joseph Smith went ‘too far’ to see the Only Begotten in the creation account, is it really further than what John and Paul (epistle to Hebrews) are arguing?

  3. Aquinas, it is late Sunday night, but let me get back with you and Seth.

    And by the way, I am going to highlight your blog in a new sidebar category on HI4LDS: “Dialogue Among LDS”.

    I do appreciate your questions here.

  4. I tend to believe Joseph thought the opening of Genesis did not do justice to Jesus’ claims. So he took it upon himself as the prophet to alter texts in order to bring about a more clear connection.

    This kind of psycho-historical analysis is my favorite. It always seems so compelling when you first start doing it. Unfortunately, it never pans out when you really get serious about explaining all of the stuff Joseph Smith gave us. Also, the history and psychology part is harder than it looks.

  5. Seth,
    Moses provides so many types of Christ, I don’t even know where to begin. And for starters, In John 6, the crowd is proclaiming, “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” Where do we find predictions of “that prophet” in the Pentateuch? This Messianic Prophet supersedes all other prophets.

    Aquinas,
    first you believe that Paul wrote Hebrews? Today, I just read The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (Intervarsity Press, 2007) by Alister E. McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath.

    On page 89, Alister writes, “When Dawkins tells us that St. Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews, you realize just how bad things are.” His footnote #26 on page 108 is even worse. And because I am unsure about the authorship of Hebrews, I disagree with Alister’s dogmatism.

    secondly, absolutely, John’s Gospel and Hebrews are connecting with Genesis. But has the Son been begotten all the way back in Genesis in the Johannine sense? Or how about this . . . Hebrews 1 is quoting Psalms 2: “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.” What event is this? Should we be looking back to Genesis for this?

  6. Jacob, it does seem a little psychic, and where I never intended it to be. 🙂

    The “psycho-historical analysis” part . . . well again, I have never taken any classes in this or read any book material that would delve into a radical Isaiah/John’s Gospel/Genesis connection. Maybe some others are seeing the same thing I am seeing, looking at the texts?

  7. Todd, let’s bracket the question of authorship for the moment.

    I’m glad we can agree that the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Hebrews connect with Genesis. I’m glad you pointed out the language from Psalms. The line “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” is from Psalms 2:7.

    If I can read what you are saying, and feel free to correct me, you would like to argue that Psalms 2:7 is not concerned with any time period covered by Genesis and therefore, Hebrews 1:5 (which is a quote from Psalms 2:7) should not be applied to any time covered in Genesis, and therefore it would be wrong for anyone, namely Joseph Smith, to apply Hebrews 1:5 to a time covered in Genesis. I see that chain of reasoning. That is a possible interpretation.

    Another way of interpreting the text is to look not at the intent of the author of Psalms 2:7, but to look at the intent of the author of Hebrews, the author of the final text who incorporated material from the Hebrew Bible. The author of Hebrews 1:5 is clearly using this language from Psalms 2:7 to articulate what God is saying to the Son, or more accurately what God has never said to the angels. The author says in verses 5 and 6 “For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” In other words, God is a Father to the Son and the Son is distinguished from the angels.

    My point here is that regardless of the author of Psalms’ intent, the author of Hebrews’ intent is that these verses are to be applied to the relationship between God, the Son and the angels, a message which may have differed from the intent of the author of Psalms, which says nothing of angels in those passages. In other words, one could argue that the author of Hebrews is taking the Psalms and using them for a different purpose, one which the original author did not have in mind (to distinguish the Son from angels). In fact the only time Psalms distinguishes something from angels is man from angels in Psalms 8:5.

    You ask “has the Son been begotten all the way back in Genesis in the Johannine sense?” Again, please correct me if I am wrong, but if I understand you what you are saying, you would like to argue that Joseph Smith is wrong to use the phrase ‘Only Begotten’ in the Genesis account since the Son was not yet begotten at this time. Thus, if the Son has been begotten before the Genesis account or at the time of the Genesis account, then it would be not be improper. However, if the Son was begotten after the Genesis account, then it would not make sense to see the Only Begotten in the Genesis account. Is this correct? Are you suggesting you would accept the Word and the Son in the creation account as long as He wasn’t referred to as the Only Begotten during that time? Are you suggesting that Only Begotten is a phrase to be used only after the Word was made flesh but not to be properly applied before the Word was made flesh?

  8. Aquinas, another side trail, your mentioning of Psalm 8 brought up to my mind, what I recently read over at Jeff’s blog:

    http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2007/10/hebrews-2-agency-and-divine-potential.html

    Of course, I disagree with his overriding interp of Hebrews 2 and Psalm 8.

    My case for bringing out Psalm 2:7 would be to highlight the event of the Son’s resurrection.

    “God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (Acts 13:33)

    But in thinking of John’s Gospel, yes I am thinking of the only begotten as the preeminent, unique Son in his incarnational ministry.

  9. And Aquinas, thank you for your kind patience . . . to get to your other question:

    Are you suggesting you would accept the Word and the Son in the creation account as long as He wasn’t referred to as the Only Begotten during that time?

    OT and NT revelation is like a beautiful rose that unfolds excitingly one petal by perfumed petal.

    To say that the actual titles of ‘Word’ and ‘Son’ ought to be in the Genesis text is to make a claim that the Genesis account became corrupt and lost these precious descriptions.

    No, I think what the prophets declared to the people in the OT, exploded in full detail before the world’s eyes in the NT.

  10. Todd, thanks for your answers. I want to stress that I’m not trying to argue that the titles of Word and Son ought to be in the Genesis text per se. Rather, I’m pointing to the reality that the Son was present during the creation of the world. This is a reality which Evangelicals and Mormons can affirm together if I’m not mistaken. In other words, the reality articulated by scripture is that through the Son the worlds were created. I completely understand the resistance to accept Joseph Smith’s version of Genesis. If I understand you, you would say his version of Genesis is improper because it is unnecessary and because it appears to imply the Genesis text became corrupted. I’m not trying to change your mind on those points. I’m simply hoping that we can see that of all the arguments for why it is wrong for Joseph Smith to produce his version of the account, you are not arguing that it is because the Son was not present in the creation of the world. On this point Christians can affirm. In other words, there might be many reasons why one objects to Joseph Smith seeing the Son in the Genesis account, but inaccurate description of reality is not one of them. So while people disagree that Joseph should have produced a version of Genesis with the Son present, they do not do so on the grounds that it is not true that the Son was present. That is not to say they don’t employ this argument in other cases, I am merely pointing out that in this case, we can and should affirm and rejoice in that reality that the Son created the worlds.

    As a second point, while you are concerned that to say the terms Word and Son ought to be in the Genesis text is to argue for textual corruption, I would first like to acknowledge that one could see it that way, and surely others have made such arguments, however, I do not think a textual corruption theory is necessary or required here. As you rightly pointed out, there is an explosion of ‘full detail’ in the New Testament account. Even though the Genesis account might not include such full detail, the reason for this does not require a textual corruption theory; it is only to say that there was not an explosion of detail in the Genesis account. Again, on this point, while you might disagree with Joseph Smith producing a version of the account, I would think we can rejoice on the correct detail that the Son was present in the creation of the earth.

    As a third point, you have pointed out that in your view, the term ‘Only Begotten’ is not to be applied to the Son before he takes on flesh. I think it is fine to hold that view. I only want to suggest that it is not unreasonable to hold the position that one can refer to the Son as the Only Begotten at the time of the creation of the world. I don’t think it is unreasonable because other Christians have employed similar language. For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John uses the phrase “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Now, one could argue with John that the Lamb was slain at the crucifixion and not from the foundation of the world. Yet, we can see that John is retroactively applying this title to the Son and he feels is it appropriate to do so despite the chronology gap. As another example, I was just reading one version of the Nicene Creed the other day and noticed this language, “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds.” Thus, some Christians have applied the term “only begotten” to the Son “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” Now, I am not arguing that your view is incorrect, nor am I trying to persuade you to drop your view and adopt another. I am merely suggesting that while you might disagree with Joseph Smith in applying the term “Only Begotten” to the Son from the foundation of the world, to do so is neither unreasonable nor unwarranted and we might consider others in the Christian tradition who have done so as well.

  11. Keep in mind that it is not necessary that Joseph be transmitting language found in some lost manuscript, once had among the Jews of Moses time, but now lost. It would be enough if he were simply restoring concepts, ideas, and realities that were once true, but are not had today. Evangelicals assume that the JST must represent a reworking of the Bible from ancient “lost texts” now allegedly restored to Joseph by God.

    Not so. Joseph Smith is viewed as a true prophet by LDS. He had direct access to Him who gave the scriptural texts. God Himself certainly need not conform to past dictations and language conversions. There is no reason to expect He would be similarly bound in transmitting the ideas to His prophets. Joseph got his writings directly from THE SOURCE.

  12. Todd, great question and one which I think Christians have asked since the beginning. So, one of my questions would be, “How have Christians thought about such things throughout history?” In particularly, how have Christians, throughout history, thought about the phrase, “Let us make man after our image and likeness”? When the early Christians encountered this notion, how have they thought about it? Did they think this was the Son speaking? Or did they think the Son was being spoken to?

    I think it is reasonable for Christians to hold the view that the Son was being spoken to in that verse. Many early Christians, pondering the scriptures have come to that view point.

  13. To your first question – it would be traditionally considered a plural of majesty.

    And yes, you are right on the second question.

    Aquinas, there is a lot more that I would like to explore in Genesis. More later. I am squeezed for time, presently.

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