Christian: One theme which stands out in the Old Testament is that the God of Israel is the one true God and that all other gods are false. This point is made over and over again. Two thousand years ago people started listening. They abandoned their idols and started to worship the God of Israel. This happened because of Jesus. Furthermore, it was foreseen by the prophets, who said that the Gentiles would turn to the God of Israel. This is a remarkable development. In comparison, the prophecy of a virgin birth is a minor issue. And what Matthew does is entirely consistent with the thinking of the time. It was common practice to find meaning in Scripture in the way that Matthew does.
Can Mormonism offer anything similar? Does it develop Christianity in a way that makes sense of earlier themes in Christianity? I can’t see that it does. But, again, this isn’t the real issue. The only question that really arises is whether the revelation received by Joseph Smith is true. There is no corroboration of this. None of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries were able to confirm that his revelation was true because none of them had any knowledge or events that occurred in the Americas centuries earlier. On the other hand, the people who knew Jesus *were* in position to determine whether or not he had returned from the dead.
Gary: Jews would beg to differ. Jesus and his followers asked devout Jews, who worshiped the one true God (in the Jewish perspective), to worship a human being who claimed he was God in the flesh. In Judaism, this is the worst blasphemy anyone could ever commit. However, the overwhelming majority of Jews in the first century (and for the last 2,000 years) saw Jesus as a fraud and rejected him. Christianity very quickly became a religion of the Gentiles.
“The only question that really arises is whether the revelation received by Joseph Smith is true.”
I agree with you. And how can we know whether the Mormon claim or the Christian claim is true. Both religions ask us to believe eyewitness testimony. Mormons have eleven affidavits from eleven persons from the nineteenth century whose historicity is indisputable. Christians have zero affidavits from approximately 514 persons (the Early Creed) from the first century, the overwhelming majority of whom are unnamed. Of the three named persons, Peter, James, and Paul, we have uncontested testimony from only one of them, Paul, and he tells nothing about what he saw. So for all we know, all 514 Christian eyewitnesses saw bright lights and believed it to be appearances of Jesus.
Let’s look at the next type of evidence: written sources of the central supernatural claim of each religion. No one disputes that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon. Jesus left zero writings of his own. The authorship of the only Christian documents which provide detailed accounts of the alleged resurrection of Jesus is hotly disputed. Even most Roman Catholic NT scholars doubt the traditional authorship or even the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of these four books (see statements by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on their website).
Christian: You have failed to address the issue. Joseph Smith’s contemporaries were not in a position to corroborate his claims. Therefore the number of witnesses and their willingness to sign affidavits are not relevant considerations.
Secondly, if it was so important for us to know the Mormon version of history, why was it not recorded in the normal way? Why did we have to wait centuries for this information to be “revealed” to Joseph Smith? And if it was going to be revealed to someone, why was it not revealed to someone of transparently good character?
You may regard those as rhetorical questions, since I don’t see any point in this exchange. Nothing that you say can make Joseph Smith a good analogy for Jesus. If you think it is irrational to believe in Jesus but not in Joseph Smith, that is up to you. I have no interest in trying to change your mind.
Gary: What I am trying to help you to see is that your standard of evidence for extra-ordinary claims is inconsistent. Joseph Smith’s contemporaries, persons whose historicity is not disputed, corroborated his claim that a supernatural being (angel) appeared to him and gave him golden plates. That is my argument. I agree with you that the Mormon eyewitnesses could not corroborate Smith’s claim that ancient sea-faring Hebrews are the ancestors of native Americans. But neither could the contemporaries of Jesus confirm his claims that he was God, that he had participated in the creation of the universe, that he had existed before Abraham, or that that he was the offspring of a human virgin and the Hebrew God! These are much more fantastical claims than those made by Joseph Smith. And remember, in a universe in which the supernatural operates, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Don’t Christians use this same expression for the absence of archaeological evidence for the biblical Exodus Story?
Christianity rises or falls on the alleged resurrection of Jesus, and this extra-ordinary claim rises or falls on the veracity of the alleged sightings of a resurrected body. But the evidence for these alleged sightings is far worse than the evidence for the alleged sightings of another heavenly being by Joseph Smith and the Mormon witnesses. Yet you reject the stronger Mormon evidence. Isn’t this evidence of a bias on your part?
End of post.