by Luke Wayne
While there are many objective reasons to reject the Book of Mormon1 and Joseph Smith's claims to prophethood,2 most Mormon's would argue that they have a testimony directly from the Holy Spirit of God that supersedes any appeal to logic, reason, historical evidence, or even Scripture. When this lofty claim is probed, it generally comes down to a moment when they prayed about the Book of Mormon and had an inner, emotional experience that they interpret to be the affirming voice of the Spirit of God. If you ask the obvious question of how they know that it was the Holy Spirit rather than a deceitful spirit or even just their own emotions worked up under the circumstance, you may get some general appeals to how peaceful, warm, and pleasant it felt (As if deceitful spirits are so bad at what they do that they only know how to produce bad feelings that anyone would naturally flee from and avoid, which would not be particularly deceitful). Eventually, however, they will get around to pointing you to passages in the Book of Mormon that specifically prescribe this method, like:
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things," (Moroni 10:4).
Of course, if anyone prays about the Book of Mormon and has a clear inner testimony that it is not true (as many people have) or fails to have any emotional experience at all (as many others have), the Mormon can write them off as obviously not having asked with "a sincere heart." It's an entirely subjective test that comes fully equipped with plausible deniability. Since no one can ever prove that they were sincere, the Mormon gets to assume that anyone who lacks the promised experience obviously wasn't really sincere. Thus, every time the test fails for someone (as it often does), the believing Mormon can simply disregard it by assuming that such people are just not as righteous or sincere as the people who did have some kind of spiritual testimony. The Book of Mormon also claims:
"But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me," (Alma 32:27-28).
So, you know that the words are true when you see that the experience is "delicious" and will "enlighten my understanding." This sounds awfully familiar. In Genesis, we read:
"The serpent said to the woman, 'You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate," (Genesis 3:4-6).
Eve gave into the serpent's words because she saw that the fruit was delicious and would enlighten the understanding. When your test validates the words of Satan as the voice of God, there is a serious flaw in the test!
Another crucial error in appealing to these passages is that it is circular reasoning of the worst kind. Why should you believe the Book of Mormon? Because the Holy Spirit gave me a feeling! How do you know the feeling was the Holy Spirit? Because the Book of Mormon promised it would be! But why should you believe the Book of Mormon? Because the Holy Spirit testified through my feelings! But how do you know those feelings were from the Holy Spirit? Because the Book of Mormon says so!...and on and on the circle goes. The Book of Mormon appeals to a subjective experience as the means of knowing the book is true, but you can only trust the subjective experience is really of God if you already trust the Book of Mormon in the first place. There is no ultimate foundation. Each appeals to the other. Neither can be the final word. This is why, unlike the Book of Mormon, the Bible never tells people to pray for emotional inner light to guide them as to whether a prophet is true or false. The Bible tells us to test prophets, test spirits, and hold anyone or anything that claims to speak in the name of God to objective and verifiable means of knowledge. For example:
"But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him," (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
The Bible doesn't say that if you want to know the words are true then you pray sincerely and see how you feel afterward. It gives an objective test with which no one can reasonably argue. If they speak in the name of LORD and predict specific future events correctly 100% of the time without failure, that is a sign they are speaking from God. That is an objective test. It is outside myself. It really would take an act of God for someone to be able to do what Isaiah, Daniel, and Jesus did in their remarkable, specific, verifiable, unfailing signs and predictions. The Book of Mormon could not offer this kind of test, however, because Joseph Smith failed it.
Further, the Bible quite reasonably says that everything must always be consistent with what has already been plainly revealed. If we already know that God said something is true, and a so-called prophet, spirit, or new scripture later says something contrary to that, it is false and we ought to reject it:
"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).
Therefore, let us not trust in false feelings or circular reasoning. Let us hold fast to the verifiable Word of God we possess in the Bible. This is our sure foundation, and we need no other.
Inside the Bible
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."
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."
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."
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.
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. 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.
How do you identify a false teacher?
We can identify a false teacher or a false prophet by examining first and foremost their teaching and secondly their behavior in light of Scripture.