Mormon epistemology, part 5
In my last entry, I started to post an email I wrote about why I don't think asking God for a subjective experience is the best way to determine whether somebody is a true prophet or not, or whether a book contains his revelation or not, but I didn't post the whole thing. Here's some more of it:
The Bible also gives us criteria for examining prophets and prophecies. I'm sure you're aware of these--Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says that whatever a prophet says in the name of YHWH has to come about or be true, but that is a negative test. It tells you how to recognize a false prophet, but not how to recognize a true prophet. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, the author considers the case of a false prophet who gives true prophecies or produces signs and wonders. A true prophecy is not enough to establish that somebody is a true prophet. It says,
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, "Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.I know there are a lot of misconceptions about Mormons out there, and that I probably have some myself, but from what I understand, I think the Mormon concept of God is so radically different than the Jewish and Christian concept of God that they are not the same God.
Matthew 7:15-20 tells us we can test prophets by their fruit. A lot of people take this to simply mean we can tell a true prophet from a false prophet by how moral their lives are or how many converts they win. But those two criteria alone are not enough because there are plenty of false prophets and teachers who could produce such fruit. After all, the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I think the fruit must also include their teachings, and that is consistent with Deuteronomy 13:1-5. They cannot teach false doctrine, a false gospel, a false Jesus, or anything contrary to what has already been revealed and established. But we have to know the scriptures in order to recognize what is contrary to what has already been revealed.
One doctrinal test, for example, comes from 1 John 4:1-3:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that is coming, and now is already in the world.I think John was specifically addressing the docetists in this passage who believed that Jesus was only a spirit and that he only appeared to be in the flesh.
These methods for examining prophets and prophecies are fairly specific, but none of them include praying to God and asking whether those thing are true, as it says in Moroni 10:4-5.
In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul says to Timothy that "from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus." So even if James did NOT specifically say that we can get wisdom from the scriptures, Paul clearly DID say that. He went on to say that "All Scripture is inspired by God [literally "theopneustos" which means "God-breathed"] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." If the scriptures are profitable for teaching, reproof, and correction, it would be negligent to rely merely on a subjective experience to determine whether something is true or not.
Have you noticed that most of the tests for prophets given in the Bible are negative tests? That is, they are useful for discovering a false prophet, but they aren't quite as useful for discovering a true prophet. It's only speculation on my part, but I think it might be because it is more dangerous to believe in a false prophet than it is to disbelieve in a true prophet. What we have in the old and new testament is adequate. It contains the gospel and all that we need to live righteously. It contains all that we need to know to be saved. Anything in addition to it may be helpful, but it isn't necessary. So if a true prophet comes along and reveals something we didn't know before, and we don't believe it, we aren't in danger of losing our salvation over it. That means we can chuck the whole Book of Mormon and all the writings, teachings, and prophecies of Joseph Smith and still be safe even if Joseph Smith is a true prophet and the Book of Mormon is God's word.
to be continued...