James 1:5 and the Mormon Testimony

by Luke Wayne

There are numerous, objective reasons to reject the Book of Mormon1 and Joseph Smith's claim to be a prophet of God.2 Most Mormon's, however, believe that they have a testimony directly from the Holy Ghost. This alleged inner witness supposedly supersedes any appeal to logic, reason, historical evidence, or even Scripture. The Mormon will assume that the Bible is corrupted, historical evidence is inaccurate, or logic is flawed purely on the grounds that it contradicts what they felt inside after praying about the book of Mormon or the truth of the Mormon church. This warm and affirming feeling is assumed without question to be the very voice of God through the Holy Spirit. Indeed, they will claim that the Bible itself teaches us to prayerfully seek such subjective, emotional, inner experiences to answer our important questions. Most often, they point to the words of James:

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him," (James 1:5).

They claim they are simply obeying this command. They want to know if the Book of Mormon is true and if Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, so they pray about it, and God (so they say) gives them the answer through the spiritual feelings that they receive. Read in context, however, James is talking about something entirely different. Nowhere does the Bible instruct us to lay aside the clarity of what has already been revealed in Scripture and instead trust in inner, emotional promptings discerned by our own sinful hearts. We are, instead, warned that:

"The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

And commanded:

"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:8-9).

So what, then, is James talking about?

Growing in Wisdom or Acquiring Data?

There is a difference between wisdom and knowledge. The Mormon interpretation of this passage assumes that James is talking about knowledge. If we want to know something, the Mormon says, we should ask God, and God will directly answer our question spiritually within us apart from all evidence and outside of all that He has previously said in Scripture. They read James as promising that God will give us personal, individual revelation to answer our hard questions. James, however, does not promise us knowledge. He doesn't say that God will give us new and individual answers to things we don't know. He doesn't tell us to pray because we lack information. James is talking about wisdom. James explains that:

"the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (James 3:17).

Wisdom is not new information to answer our questions. It is a new demeanor, a new worldview, a new conviction which God teaches believers over time. It is a godly outlook and understanding of life that alters the way we treat one another. The wisdom James is talking about is not the creedal content of our beliefs about who the real prophets are or which churches are true. James is writing to people whom he assumes already know that. They have a common confession of faith. He is speaking about the state of mind and heart that allows the true believer actually to live that out. This becomes abundantly clear as we walk through the context in James 1.

Wisdom and Trials

James begins his letter:

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing," (James 1:2-4).

Just as we saw in James definition of heavenly wisdom, James is talking about how we grow in godly character. He is not talking about the very different question of how we obtain accurate beliefs. How does James indicate that we come to lack nothing? By faithfully enduring trials. If you lack something that you need, you will receive it through the testing of your faith in trials of various kinds. That is how we obtain what we lack. This is important to remember as we move on to the next verses:

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways," (James 1:5-6).

If you lack wisdom, ask God and He will generously give you wisdom. How will He give you wisdom? Well, James just got done saying one sentence ago how we receive the things we lack. Through trials of many kinds. God will gladly make you wise, but He will do so through allowing many trials and troubles to come into your life from which you will learn His wisdom. This is why James warns to pray in faith, to really believe and not doubt. One who doubts will question God the moment the trials come rather than seeing the hand of God in the trials and learning from them. Such a double minded person will merely be tossed about and will learn nothing. This is, indeed, a consistent biblical teaching. Paul also writes:

"And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us," (Romans 5:3-5).

The Psalmist prays:

"You have dealt well with Your servant, O Lord, according to Your word. Teach me good discernment and understanding, For I believe in Your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word," Psalm 119:65-67).

The Psalmist connects his prayer for discernment and understanding to the value of trials in teaching him obedience. Paul also appeals to trials as the means of the Spirit transforming our character. God grants wisdom through the trials He permits in our life so that we can faithfully endure through them and learn to rely on Him more and cling more firmly to His word. None of this is about gaining information on new prophets or new scriptures, nor is it about instant answers to questions through subjective inner feelings. James is writing to men and women who are already believers about how to they are to grow in obedient, godly wisdom and become complete in their moral character. Such obedience would include obedience to God's commands about carefully evaluating prophets and testing spirits by objective biblical standards. It would also induce obedience to the above-quoted command to reject even the loftiest angelic revelation if it contradicts the biblical gospel preached by the New Testament apostles. Ignoring these commands and praying for spiritual shortcuts regarding new prophets, new gospels, and new religions is not following biblical instructions. It is ignoring them. It is not acting in wisdom; it is acting in sin.


Inside the Bible

Jesus says
Matthew 7:15-20, "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."

Paul says
2 Timothy 3:13-17, "But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and 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. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

John says
1 John 4:1, "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."


Inside CARM

James 1:5 and praying about the Book of Mormon
James 1:5 is improperly used by Mormons to justify praying about the Book of Mormon to see if it is true.  What they do is not biblical.  It is counter to Scriptural truth, and it essentially subjects truth to a feeling.

Moroni 10:4, Alma 32:27-28, and the Mormon testimony
Mormons often offer several passages in the Book of Mormon to reinforce their claim that, if one prays about the Book of Mormon, the Spirit of God will give you a unique revelation (consisting of inner feelings) which will supposedly confirm that the book is true. There are, however, numerous biblical and logical problems with these passages and with the advice that is drawn from them.

Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit, and the Mormon testimony
The Mormon will turn to this passage and explain that these are the feelings that the Holy Spirit uses to speak to us. They say that when we pray and feel peace, joy, gentleness, and love, we can know that it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us and not a deceitful Spirit. But is this really what Paul was saying to the Galatians? Hardly.