“Temple of Solomon” and Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Response to Robert Boylan (re-post)

Note: This post originally appeared on October 1, 2016, on IRR’s Religious Researcher blog, which no longer exists (in that form).

Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem (Tissot, ca. 1896)

In a recent online article, I explained that the expression temple of Solomon (using the prepositional phrase of Solomon instead of the possessive form Solomon’s) is not, as LDS scholar Donald Parry had claimed, evidence of an ancient Hebraic original text underlying the Book of Mormon and in fact is evidence against that claim. In that article, I pointed out that the Book of Mormon also uses the more idiomatic English expression Solomon’s temple (in the same verse, 2 Ne. 5:16). I also argued that either expression is both chronologically and culturally anachronistic. At the time Nephi would have been speaking, the temple in Jerusalem would have been the only Jewish temple known to him, and its replacement by a second temple would not have been begun until after his death. More significant still, ancient Israelites and other people in their culture named a temple for the deity to whom it was dedicated (temple of Yahweh, temple of Dagon, temple of Diana, temple of Hercules, etc.), never for its mortal builder. I cited hundreds of texts in support of this point, mostly from the OT, but also from the NT and other ancient Jewish literature. I also discussed one apparent “exception,” where a Hellenistic Jewish author used the expression temple of Solomon in Greek (not Hebrew!) in order to manufacture a contrived etymology of the name of the city Jerusalem.[1]

A Highly Selective Critique

Earlier today Robert Boylan, who has posted a fairly large number of pieces criticizing my articles on his blog, posted an attack on IRR’s recently announced renovation of the Book of Mormon section of its website.[2] The only article that Boylan mentioned specifically was the article on the expression temple of Solomon. Only one paragraph of 188 words, out of the 955 words of Boylan’s whole article, actually discusses the subject of that expression. Boylan devoted somewhat more of his article (210 words) to another alleged Hebraism in the Book of Mormon (garb of secrecy in Helaman 9:6). For the sake of focus, in this article I will respond only to Boylan’s comments about temple of Solomon, including comments made in an update to the article. If time permits, I will respond to some of his other comments separately.

Boylan’s first assertion is unexplained: “When read carefully, the author’s “arguments” dies the death of a thousand qualifications.” He repeats this claim at the end of his article, again with no examples or specifics. Since he offers no examples of these supposed mortal qualifications, not much can be said in response. In scholarship it is always desirable to acknowledge possible or alleged counterexamples or contrary evidence that might seem to count against one’s conclusion. Somehow Boylan thinks he can claim that such carefulness disqualifies the whole argument. As noted above, in my own research on this subject I was able to find just one apparent counterexample to one of the points I made, and I addressed it. This one alleged counterexample falls 999 qualifications short of Boylan’s alleged thousand qualifications![3]

Boylan completely ignores the first part of my article, in which I explained that Parry’s argument for temple of Solomon as a literal translation of an ancient Hebraism is invalid because the very same verse uses the expression Solomon’s temple. Thus, so far as Boylan’s critique goes, this point remains completely unchallenged. Even if temple of Solomon is not un-Hebraic, as I argued in the second part of my article, it is not evidence of a Hebraic original, as Parry claimed.

Were Ancient Near Eastern Temples Named for Their Builders?

As mentioned above, my second point was that in the cultural world of ancient Israelites temples were named for the deity to whom they were dedicated (temple of Yahweh, temple of Dagon, etc.), never for their mortal builder. Boylan asserts that “this is an easy ‘argument’ to respond to.” The use of the quotation marks around the word argument (the second occurrence in the space of three sentences in Boylan’s article, with a third occurrence later in the same article) is rhetorical gamesmanship, impugning the argument before critiquing it by insinuating that it does not even rise to the level of something that could fairly be described as an argument. This show of disrespect reflects Boylan’s general disdain for evangelicals, especially evangelicals critical of Mormonism (and is plainly expressed in the rest of his article).[4]

Let us now look at Boylan’s attempt to debunk my argument. He writes:

On the use of “Temple of Solomon” vs. Temple of YHWH/Temple of <<cult deity>> would be due to the fact that there were, among the Nephites, other temples of YHWH. Temple of Solomon would be a valid locution to distinguish the Old World temple from that of the New World temples (which were distinguished from one another from their location such as the temple at Zarehemla [Mosiah 1:18] and temple at Bountiful [3 Nephi 11:1]).

Here are the two texts that Boylan cites:

  • “…and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them” (Mosiah 1:18).
  • “And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful…” (3 Ne. 11:1).

It is quite true that 3 Nephi 11:1 refers to a temple by its location, using the expression which was in the land Bountiful. (Mosiah 1:18 does not do this; it happens to mention “the land of Zarahemla” but not in order to distinguish one temple from another.) This would have been a perfectly acceptable way to distinguish one temple from another in the ancient Hellenistic and Middle Eastern world. (Not everything in the Book of Mormon is a mistake!) On the other hand, one searches the Book of Mormon in vain for such expressions as temple of Nephi (for example). In fact, 2 Nephi 5:16 is the only text in the Book of Mormon that uses any expression with the words temple of (Mosiah 11:10, “the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass” obviously is not an exception). Thus, it does not appear to be correct that the Book of Mormon authors referred to temples by the name of their builders in order to distinguish one Nephite temple from another. Instead, where any attempt to distinguish one Nephite temple from another is made, this is done by referring to its location, as Boylan himself says—not to its builder. Therefore, this statement in 3 Nephi 11:1 does nothing to undermine the point I made in my article.

The statement in 2 Nephi 5:16 does use the words of Solomon in order to distinguish the Jerusalem temple from the temple that Nephi and his people built. That is precisely the problem. My point was that an ancient Israelite who wished to refer to a different temple and compare or contrast it to the one that Solomon had built would not refer to the latter as “the temple of Solomon.” This point cannot be answered merely by asserting that Nephi did so. Unfortunately, Boylan’s attempt to refute my argument fails because he has misconstrued the argument. He writes:

Among other things is the claim that the Book of Mormon should have used “Temple of Yahweh” or a similar locution…. If the temples were simply designated as “temple of the Lord” or a similar locution, how could Nephi distinguish the Old World temple from those in the New World?

I did not “claim that the Book of Mormon should have used ‘Temple of Yahweh’ or a similar locution.” The Book of Mormon need not have used that specific expression at 2 Nephi 5:16. What I claimed is that an ancient Israelite text would not have used an expression such as temple of Solomon. Boylan’s criticism here proceeds from a basic misrepresentation of my argument.

Boylan’s Update: Doubling Down

In an update to his blog post, Boylan quotes the above sentence and then claims that I was “being disingenuous again.” He attempts to support this accusation by quoting from my original article. Let’s do that here as well:

In ancient speech, Israelites would not have referred to their first temple in Jerusalem as “the temple of Solomon” because a temple was named for its deity, not for its mortal builder. The point can be easily confirmed in regards to the biblical practice even from the KJV. The temple in Jerusalem is called the temple of the Lord (23 times in the OT and once in the NT) and the temple of God (10 times in the NT), but never the temple of Solomon. Similarly, a Canaanite temple was called “the temple of Dagon” (1 Chron. 10:10), because it was dedicated to the worship of Dagon. A temple in first-century Ephesus was likewise called “the temple of the great goddess Diana” (Acts 19:27). Paul refers to the human body of a Christian as “the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 6:19 KJV). No personal name or title is ever used in this construction in the Bible, in any ancient language.

Boylan gives no explanation as to why the above quoted statement conflicts with what I said above in my response to him. In the above quotation from my article, I did not say that Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh (or temple of the Lord, or any equivalent). What I said is that no ancient Israelite would have referred to it as “the temple of Solomon” because temples were named for their deities, not for their mortal builders. Please note that the following two statements are not synonymous:

  • Nephi would not have used the expression temple of Solomon.
  • Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh.

Perhaps Boylan mistakenly inferred the second statement from my emphasis on the fact that biblical writers so often used the expression temple of Yahweh or temple of God. But again, this did not mean that I was claiming that Israelites always used that expression when referring to the temple in Jerusalem. That is, the following two statements are also not synonymous:

  • Israelites commonly used the expressions temple of Yahweh, temple of God, and the like.
  • Nephi should have used the expression temple of Yahweh or the like.

Now let’s get to the point. Boylan asked, “If the temples were simply designated as ‘temple of the Lord’ or a similar locution, how could Nephi distinguish the Old World temple from those in the New World?” As I have just stated and explained (at more length than should have been necessary), Nephi was under no obligation to use the expression temple of the Lord or any similar wording. If he had wanted to refer to the two temples in a way that clearly distinguished them, he had several options. He could have referred to the first temple as “the temple that was in Jerusalem” (Ezra 5:14 KJV, see also 5:15; 6:5), an example given in my article. He could have called it “the temple that Solomon built” or “the temple in Jerusalem” (cf. 1 Chron. 6:10, “the house [i.e., temple] that Solomon built in Jerusalem”), or “the temple at Jerusalem” (Ps. 68:29; cf. Dan. 5:3). He could have used wording similar to what is in 3 Nephi 11:1, such as “the temple that was in the land of Judah.” He could even have combined expressions, saying, for example, “the temple of the Lord that was in Jerusalem.” Thus, Nephi could easily have distinguished the two temples in various ways; he did not need the expression temple of Solomon to do so.

Boylan concludes his remarks on this issue as follows:

So, not only does the article often die the death of a thousand qualifications, it shows the author lacks critical thinking and intellectual honesty.

This is another example of Boylan’s unfortunate penchant for engaging in character assassination. In this instance the full extent of his attempted justification for this accusation is his claim to have identified a difficulty or objection to my argument (or “argument,” with scare quotes). Let us assume for the sake of discussion just for a moment that his objection was a good one. In that case, would he have established that his opponent lacked critical thinking or intellectual honesty? Hardly. Boylan’s comment here not only presupposes that he is correct, it also presupposes a false dichotomy: One is either correct in one’s opinion or one is intellectually dishonest. These are not the only options. Intellectually honest people with good critical thinking skills nevertheless can and do make mistakes.[5]

In this instance, I remain unconvinced by Boylan’s objections. I am satisfied that the argument I presented stands and hope that fair-minded Mormons will give it fair consideration.



[1] Robert M. Bowman Jr., “‘Temple of Solomon’: Two Problems for a Hebraic Book of Mormon” (Institute for Religious Research, 2016).

[2] Robert Boylan, “‘Temple of Solomon’ and the Book of Mormon,” Scriptural Mormonism, 1 Oct. 2016.

[3] In an update to his blog post discussed here, Boylan claims to identify a second “qualification” in my original article on the subject: “When it comes to possible exceptions (e.g., the temple at Arad and other issues), Bowman has to qualify his arguments (and it is more than once). My point stands.” But the temple at Arad is not a qualification to my argument at all. My claim was that in Nephi’s time there was only one Israelite temple dedicated to Yahweh. The temple at Arad, I explained, was not an exception: “Archaeologists have discovered remains of an Israelite temple in Arad in the south part of Israel (not far from Beersheba), but this temple was destroyed sometime in the late eighth or seventh century BC, most likely before Nephi would have been born.” This statement does not undermine my argument one iota; it anticipates and refutes an objection I thought some Mormons might try to make.

[4] In his update, Boylan quotes my conclusion about his show of disrespect without quoting or mentioning what it was in his article I found disrespectful.

[5] In his update, Boylan attempts to deflect my objection to his personal attack on my honesty by saying, “Readers should pursue James McGrath’s post Trinitarians without Colons to see just one example of how Bowman has abused/misrepresented theological opponents (this time, James McGrath via Dave Burke, a Christadelphian apologist Bowman debated in 2010 on the Trinity). It is not a character assassination if the charges are true.” But McGrath does not claim anywhere in that post that I abused Burke or him, nor does he claim that I misrepresented either of them. McGrath and I strongly disagree theologically, but neither of us attacks the other in the way that Boylan has been doing.

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Defending the Trinity Lecture Notes Now Online

This week I spoke at the Defend Conference at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. I had an unusually heavy schedule! I gave a plenary presentation on “The Trouble with the Trinity” followed by a five-part breakout series on “Defending the Trinity.” The lecture notes for the five breakout sessions are now online:

#1: Trinitarianism and Anti-Trinitarianism (Wed. 2-3pm)
#2: Mormonism, Monotheism, and the Trinity (Wed. 3:15-4:15pm)
#3: Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Deity of Christ, & the Trinity (Wed. 4:30-5:30pm)
#4: Oneness Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit, and the Trinity (Thur. 2:15-3:30pm)
#5: Unitarians, the Creeds, and the Trinity (Thur. 3:45-4:45pm)

You can find all of those notes and many other papers of mine on my Academia.edu page.


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Genesis 1:1 and Creation Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing) Revisited

Reconsidering Creation book coverJews and Christians often quote Genesis 1:1 in support of the belief that God created the universe out of nothing (Latin, ex nihilo). Biblical scholars, however, often challenge the use of Genesis 1:1 to support creation ex nihilo. Note how the following two English translations of Genesis 1:1-2a read very differently:

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void. . .” (Gen. 1:1-2a KJV).
When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void. . .” (Gen. 1:1-2a TNK).

I have quoted the KJV and the TNK (the 1985 Tanak version of the Jewish Publication Society) because they use almost exactly the same vocabulary despite the structural differences in the translations. The traditional exegesis understands verse 1 as an independent statement, a complete sentence. Many other English versions reflect the same interpretation as the KJV (e.g., CSB, ESV, LEB, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, and others). Other versions reflect the exegesis that takes verse 1 as a dependent clause, with the main clause being verse 2 (“The earth was formless and void. . .”) or even verse 3 (“Then God said. . .”). Those taking verse 2 as the main clause include the GNT and the NRSV. Those that take verse 3 as the main clause include the TNK, quoted above, and the NABRE (a Catholic version).

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Did Jesus Doubt?

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot (ca. 1890)

In an article published on April 1, 2021, two Christian scholars argued that Jesus had “moments of doubt.” The Christianity Today article, by A. J. Swoboda of Bushnell University and Nijay K. Gupta of Northern Seminary, is entitled “Jesus Was the God-Man, Not the God-Superman.” Three days later, Robert Orlando, the filmmaker and founder of Nexus Media who has also written on biblical topics, had an opinion piece posted on the conservative website Townhall.com entitled “Was Jesus a Momentary Agnostic?” Orlando also argues that “Jesus was capable of doubt.” Many Christians will be surprised by the claim that Jesus experienced doubt. The issue is clearly worth considering.

Swoboda and Gupta begin as follows:

In many children’s Bibles, the Son of God swoops in like Superman to save the day. In these clearly mythological depictions of Christ, Jesus never fails to say and do the right thing.

This is a very worrisome beginning. Do Swoboda and Gupta think that on any occasion Jesus failed “to say and do the right thing”? Such a claim would go beyond the idea that Jesus doubted.

Swoboda and Gupta give no specific examples of such “edited stories” in “children’s Bibles,” making it difficult to assess their claim. As it stands, we have grounds to be skeptical that any “children’s Bible” gives “clearly mythological depictions of Christ,” unless they really mean that depicting Jesus as always saying and doing the right thing is mythological.

Of course, we agree that Jesus “breastfed as an infant,” “learned to walk,” “went through puberty,” and the like. That’s all noncontroversial. But then Swoboda and Gupta assert that “part of what he received from us in his humanness was our ability to doubt—and doubt he did.” This is the thesis of the article: that Jesus doubted. Did he?

I doubt it.

Did the Devil Tempt Jesus to Doubt He Was the Son of God?

The authors point out that the devil tempted Jesus with the words, “If you are the Son of God” (Matt. 4:3; see also Matt. 4:6; Luke 4:3, 9). They correctly observe that “the real human Jesus could be tempted—though he did not sin.” However, being tempted to doubt is not the same thing as doubting. Neither in the Temptation narratives in Matthew and Luke nor anywhere else in the Gospels is Jesus ever portrayed as doubting anything.

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Was the Capitol Break-in a Christian Insurrection?

In “Reflections on a Christian Insurrection” appearing in Banner, a monthly publication of the Christian Reformed Church, editor in chief Shiao Chong argues that the mob break-in at the Capitol on January 6 was a “Christian insurrection.” Is this a fair claim? I read his article, looked up the sources he cited in support of his claim, and gave him every chance to convince me. He didn’t. I don’t think his claim is at all fair or accurate. For sake of space and keeping in mind my own expertise in religion and comparative amateur standing in politics, in this response I will focus on Chong’s claim that the event was a “Christian” one, and I will not address the claim that it was an “insurrection.”

Chong points out that “the Christian presence in the mob was undeniable.” The evidence he cites, even if taken at face value and not fact-checked, would show only that some people involved in the event presented themselves as Christians. It would not prove that the event was “a Christian insurrection.” That is a broad generalization that unfairly contributes to the propaganda that Christian conservatives are as a whole somehow responsible for the break-in. Indeed, before the article is over, Chong will in effect make that accusation.

When we follow Chong’s links and attempt to confirm his statements, what we find does not help his generalization much. His first link is to an article in The Atlantic that asserts that some people who were marching toward the Capitol spoke about their belief in Jesus and the Bible, but the author admits he lost track of his group before they reached the Capitol. So he doesn’t know if any of those individuals actually entered the Capitol building. From his own account, most of the people in the group he followed were foul-mouthed, even pot-smoking individuals, whose identifiable affiliations were QAnon and the Proud Boys, not the Southern Baptist Convention (for example).

Chong says, “Many were waving Christian flags or flags with Christian sayings, such as “Jesus is My Savior.” A link for this statement takes us to the Religion Unplugged website, which features a large photo of a “Jesus 2020” banner well outside the Capitol building. That web article’s lead example of a Christian symbol inside the Capitol was a picture taken of Jake Angeli supposedly sitting in the Speaker’s chair. One dutifully clicks on the link to a Facebook tweet asserting, “This is Jake Angiel [sic] he sat in the Speakers chair,” which was meant to be two sentences: “This is Jake Angiel. He sat in the Speaker’s chair.” The photo shows Angeli (not Angiel) outside holding a sign that says, “Hold the line patriots. God wins.” Yes, that proves it! Evangelicals staged an insurrection at the Capitol! Except Angeli is not an evangelical. Wikipedia (no friend to evangelicals) has some interesting information about Mr. Angeli. He is a New Ager as well as a self-described “Qanon & digital soldier.” He is known online as the “QAnon Shaman” or “Q Shaman.” Angeli described the storming of the Capitol as “an evolution in consciousness… we were actually affecting the quantum realm.” Wikipedia reports, “Prosecutors have alleged that Angeli believes he is an alien or higher being, and he is destined to ascend to another reality.” And this is the face of the supposed “Christian insurrection”!

Pro tip for journalists writing on religion: The New Age movement is not Christian, and it certainly is not evangelical. Evangelicals write books and make videos criticizing New Agers.

Another link to Twitter that the Religion Unplugged article gives to document a “Christian flag” on the floor of the House of Representatives takes us to a feed on Twitter with one picture taken inside the Capitol somewhere with a flag visible, but one cannot tell if it’s a regular American flag or something different. There are, however, pictures of people in the march (not in the Capitol) with an “Iranians for Trump” sign and an Israeli flag!

The rest of the alleged evidence (for which no documentation is given) in the Religion Unplugged article concerns “Christian” paraphernalia supposedly spotted outside the Capitol. The lack of documentation and the admission that the evidence was seen outside the Capitol makes this supposed evidence meaningless to establish the claim that the event was a “Christian” insurrection.

The Religion Unplugged article did not quote any evangelicals, even though it is aimed at evangelicals who supported Trump. The author did, however, manage to quote an ex-evangelical podcaster and a retired Episcopal minister.

Going back to the Banner article, Chong adds more evidence of nefarious Christian involvement in the Capitol break-in: “Some carried crosses.” A link takes us to a photo on Buzz Feed of a man holding a cross somewhere outside, standing still, and praying. There is no evidence that this man was involved in storming the Capitol building. There were tens of thousands of people in Washington that day to show support for Trump. Only about eight hundred stormed the Capitol—maybe three percent or even less of the total crowds in Washington. (Reliable estimates of the total number of people in Washington that day for the Trump-related events are not available, but the National Park Service’s estimate the day prior was 30,000.) Indeed many of those tens of thousands of people were evangelical Christians (and again, many of them were not). To take a single photo of a man standing peacefully outside the Capitol praying with a cross and try to make that into evidence that the Capitol break-in was a “Christian insurrection” is journalistic malpractice.

Seemingly, the best evidence cited in the Banner article for Christian involvement is what Chong calls “a video of the insurrectionists praying a Christian prayer in the Senate chamber.” That sounds bad. But then we go to watch the video and guess who is actually making the “prayer”? It’s our consciousness-evolving, quantum-realm affecting, QAnon Shaman, Jake Angeli!

Here’s another pro tip for religion journalists: New Agers and other faux Christians (including the real “Christian” white supremacist groups such as “Christian Identity”) use Christian language when praying. That doesn’t make them Christians, and it certainly doesn’t make them evangelicals.

Chong then states, in a seemingly generous acknowledgment, “To be fair, I suspect there were many nonviolent Christians in the crowd who were probably caught by surprise at the sudden turn of events from what started out, for them, as a peaceful protest march.” No, that is not being “fair” at all. If Chong were being fair, he would have said that the vast, vast majority of people in the crowds for the march were nonviolent and peaceful. Again, apparently less than three percent of the people who showed up in Washington associated with the protest and march participated in the break-in at the Capitol.

The article could hardly get any worse, but Chong manages it. He asserts that because there were Confederate flags, other racist symbols, and even a rioter with a shirt saying, “Camp Auschwitz,” another result of the “insurrection” is that “Christianity is also tarnished by being linked to racism and anti-Semitism.” This is either hopeless ignorance or willful misrepresentation. Conservative evangelicals are the least anti-Semitic, most pro-Israel, pro-Jewish segment of America today—even more pro-Israel than American Jews as a whole!

There were indeed racist groups involved in the Capitol break-in, but they were not evangelical groups, nor is there any evidence of significant involvement by evangelical individuals in these groups. How many evangelicals would one expect to be involved in the “Kekistan” group ruled by a frog-headed deity, or in neo-Nazi groups, or in the Black Hebrew Israelites? These are some of the groups identified in the Insider article that Chong cites as documentation of “racist symbols” of those who entered the Capitol building. We should also note that apparently only a small percentage (on the order of ten percent) of the identified participants in the Capitol break-in have identifiable ties with white nationalist or other extremist groups.

By the way, for those who may be tempted to connect Christianity to the Nazis: No, Hitler was not a Christian.

Chong proceeds to flog “Christian nationalism,” another broad generalization that allows him to criticize essentially all conservatives who voted for Trump as “either ambassadors or accommodators of Christian nationalism.” Specifically, he claims that 78 percent of all self-described evangelicals fall into one or the other category. This is suspiciously about the same figure as the percentage of evangelicals who voted for Trump (estimated at between 76 and 81 percent). In short, the claim that is being made is that virtually all (and we could probably drop the word “virtually”) evangelical Trump supporters are either Christian nationalists or people who “accommodate” Christian nationalism. What is Christian nationalism? It “includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism.” It would take another piece as long as this one to deconstruct this litany of accusations against tens of millions of American evangelicals. The short explanation is that if, for example, you don’t accept critical race theory, if you think same-sex marriage is wrong, and if you favor a strong U.S. military, and you identify as a Christian, you’re a Christian nationalist.

Toward the end of his article, Chong again attempts to sound fair-minded, commenting: “If we show grace to Black Lives Matter protestors over last summer, which we should, we ought to show some grace here too.” But he does nothing of the kind. He had just smeared tens of millions of American Christians (mostly evangelicals). In a link, Chong points to an article he had written last year on the BLM protests. That article does not “show grace to Black Lives Matter protesters”; it aggressively takes side with the movement and makes excuses for it. This is about the extent of Chong’s criticism of BLM: “Yes, BLM has problems. But so does every movement in history, including Christianity. Besides, not every BLM activist agrees with each other.” Funny how the fact that not every Trump supporter agrees with one another does not prevent Chong from pronouncing sweeping generalizations about them being at least complicit in Christian nationalism.

In that article, Chong claims that he is “not condoning violence of any kind,” but he is understanding and sympathetic to the BLM and related rioters in stark contrast to his attitude toward the Capitol rioters. The BLM rioters’ violence was, Chong says, “lamentable, though understandable,” and he is quick to say, “But we should not lump the vast majority of peaceful protestors with the small minority of rioters who may or may not even be associated with the protest.” Contrast this comment with his weak admission in the article on the Capitol break-in, “I suspect there were many nonviolent Christians in the crowd” (my emphasis). If Chong had treated BLM in the same way he later treated the “Christian nationalists” who broke into the Capitol, he would have linked to a few photos of BLM protesters carrying signs appealing to Jesus in support of their protest (“Black Lives Matter! Jesus Thinks So Too!”) and from there generalized about the dangers of the millions of Christian “ambassadors” and “accommodators” of BLM being responsible for the violence at the “mostly peaceful” BLM riots.

Chong then launched into the usual defensive stance: “However, focusing on the rioting and destruction of property has become another act of unhearing. Do we really want to emphasize the destruction of property over the killing and oppression of black lives? Rather, as someone who is pro-life ‘from the womb to the tomb,’ I will emphasize people’s lives over property.” However, according to an article in The Guardian back in October 2020, which attempts to present the facts in as favorable a way to BLM as it can, “At least 11 Americans have been killed while participating in political demonstrations this year and another 14 have died in other incidents linked to political unrest.” This included two police officers shot during protests; there were also at least four police offers injured in such events, and a retired African-American police officer was shot during a robbery (“alleged looting”). Chong’s polemic completely ignores these deaths and injuries.

No responsible person wants to “emphasize” the wrong of property damage “over” the killing or oppression of black lives. That is a complete misrepresentation of what conservative critics of BLM think about the subject. We should unqualifiedly condemn both killing and deliberate destruction of private and public property.

This background concerning Chong’s defensiveness toward BLM is necessary background for understanding what came next in that article. Put your cup down first….

Even Jesus staged a one-man riot (Mark 11:15-19). A riot is defined as a violent disturbance of the peace. Jesus overturned the tables belonging to money changers and merchants in the Jerusalem temple, driving people out who were buying and selling. This was not a minor inconvenience…. Race, or ethnicity, was part of Jesus’ protest riot, too…. Jesus’ protest of the temple, then, condemns not only fusing religion with unjust economic practices but also fusing religion with ethnic exclusion/segregation, a precursor of our modern racism. Given this biblical context, do you think Jesus would more likely support the protests for racial justice or complain about the destruction of property?

Yes, he went there.

Here is how Merriam-Webster defines riot: “a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with a common intent.” That is a legal definition, also given at Dictionary.com, along with this more informal definition: “a noisy, violent public disorder caused by a group or crowd of persons, as by a crowd protesting against another group, a government policy, etc., in the streets.” Cambridge Dictionary gives a similar definition: “an occasion when a large number of people behave in a noisy, violent, and uncontrolled way in public, often as a protest.”

There is no such thing as “a one-man riot.”

Apparently, according to Chong, looting, burning cars and buildings, destroying businesses (often black-owned businesses!), taking over or damaging police stations and government offices, and other acts of violence are “lamentable but understandable” collateral damage of righteous protests that we should “support” (Chong’s word) if it’s for the right cause. If innocent people (even black people!) are killed or injured in the mayhem, we will try not to mention it, and if we must mention it then we will minimize it. And Jesus’ act of forcibly driving out moneychangers from the temple supposedly is precedent. Yet, somehow, Chong, as a professing Christian, citing Jesus to justify riots from the left is not problematic, whereas conservative Christians publicly displaying their faith in Jesus while engaging in a protest on the right (i.e., the thousands of Christians who participated peacefully in the march on January 6) damages “our moral credibility.”

In the immediate aftermath of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, conservative politicians and Christian religious leaders (evangelical and otherwise) rushed en masse to condemn the incident. (Some speculated at first, wrongly as it turned out, that the break-in was led by Antifa or other left-wing agitators, precisely because the actions of those who broke into the Capitol were so out of character for traditional conservatives.) Within a few days, there were probably hundreds of statements issued by such influencers unequivocally condemning the criminal actions of the persons involved. No such response came from liberals or progressives in response to the months of violence all around the country that took place in the cause of BLM. Chong’s response was actually fairly typical: We don’t condone violence, but shut up about the violence.

To sum up:

The break-in at the Capitol was not a Christian insurrection. It was not a Christian action. It had no support or approval from any mainline, liberal, or evangelical Christian church or leader. It certainly was not staged by evangelical Christians. Almost all, if not literally every single one, of the evangelical Christians in Washington on that day were outside the Capitol when it happened—with the exception of the evangelicals who were supposed to be there, namely those who were in Congress. The face of the Capitol break-in was a New Age shaman, not an evangelical Protestant. Evangelicals are not anti-Semitic; they are Israel’s best friends. Very, very few white evangelicals are racists, though admittedly by the standard of critical race theory they are all racists by default, regardless of how they feel and act toward people of color. The people who participated in the Capitol break-in do not represent Christianity, and they certainly don’t represent evangelical Christianity. As one of the tens of millions of evangelical Christians in America who love the Lord Jesus Christ, who seek to honor him in the way we live, and who are law-abiding, peaceful, responsible citizens, I will not remain silent while such misrepresentations about us are spread through social media. I hope you won’t, either.

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Make a Resolution to Love Your Enemies This Year: 10 Principles from the Sermon on the Mount

One of the unfortunate developments of 2020 in America and no doubt many other parts of the world was the exacerbation of divisions between people over political, cultural, and religious differences. The political divide between the left and the right in the United States has become a wide chasm, with some (not all) voices on both sides openly expressing hatred for the other. Jesus’ instruction in this matter is just as challenging today as ever:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies…” (Matt. 5:43-44a; biblical quotations taken from the ESV).

There was a great article in the satirical Babylon Bee back in 2017 entitled, “Scholars: ‘Love Your Enemies’ Does Not Include People You Disagree with Politically.” The point, of course, was that it certainly does include such people—if you even consider them enemies. But how do we love our enemies without compromising our values or capitulating to evil? As it turns out, Jesus has a lot to say in answer to this question in the Sermon on the Mount. Here are ten principles from Matthew 5–7 regarding how we should love our enemies. To make these somewhat easier to remember, each one begins with the same two letters as the word principles.

  1. Prefer reconciliation whenever possible.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

For most of us, it is inevitable that we will have some enemies in this life. However, it should be our aim to reduce enmity between ourselves and others to the extent that we can faithfully do so. As Paul put it, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). (As many biblical scholars have demonstrated, Paul shows in Romans 12:9-21 that he was familiar with Jesus’ teachings that we know especially from the Sermon on the Mount. Several of the principles discussed here could be supported from that passage in Romans.) One of the marks of a Christian disciple according to this text is a principled pursuit of peace with others. In order for us to do this, by the way, we will need to seek out opportunities to converse with those who at present are our enemies in order to seek mutual understanding and more amicable relations.

  1. Preach Christ, not something else.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matt. 5:11).

If we are going to have enemies, as much as possible, let it be because we are uncompromising in our stand for Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we will not have our views on political, social, or cultural issues. We cannot avoid such issues, nor do I think we should try. I also realize that some people will hate you because of your political views, no matter how humbly you express them. Nevertheless, Christians should be known primarily for their allegiance to Christ, not primarily for their political affiliation. We should make it as clear as we can that any affiliation or association that we have with a nation or a political party is conditional. Our ultimate loyalty is to God (Acts 5:29).

  1. Produce light, not heat.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).

The basic principle here is that we should not add fuel to the fire of hate, discord, and division, but instead should seek to shine the light of truth, life, and love in the world. We will do so mainly by the way we live, though also by what we say (and the way that we say it). Again, I’m not suggesting we should be naïve about the irrational way in which some people react to Christians expressing their faith in word and deed. The point is that we should show the world by the way we live what our principles really mean and why they are good.

  1. Pray for them.

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matt. 5:44).

Most famously, Jesus told his disciples to express love for their enemies by praying for them. Please note, he said we were to pray for them, not against them! This does not mean, of course, praying that those who persecute Christians will succeed in their opposition to us. I think there are three ways in which we can and should pray for our enemies. (a) Pray for their ultimate good: that they would repent and turn to Christ in faith. (b) Pray for their civic good: that they would adopt or support policies more beneficial for all, including (but not limited to) Christians (see 1 Tim. 2:1-4). (c) Pray for their common good: that God through his providential care for his world would display his goodness even to those who hate us. This leads to the next point, drawn from the very next words of Jesus.

  1. Promote the common good.

“…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45).

There is no room for “cancel culture” in the values of the Christian faith. God does good that blesses evil people along with good people, and as his children we should do likewise. This does not mean we actively seek to empower those who do evil. In a country such as the United States in which the political powers are supposed to be chosen and held accountable by the people, the people have not just the right but the responsibility to do what they legally and morally can to empower those who do good and to limit the power of those who do evil. (This includes, of course, passing and enforcing constitutionally appropriate laws in order to limit evil that affects the community.) On the other hand, this does not mean engaging in efforts to destroy people’s lives for the sake of our “cause.” We should sincerely want to improve conditions for all people, not just for ourselves or for those “on our side.” Our efforts should be aimed at making life better for people of all religions (and of none), for people of all ethnicities or colors, for those in rural areas and those in the cities, for those in “blue states” and those in “red states,” and so on. To the extent that we can, we should resist the tendency to divide people into “us” and “them.”

  1. Prioritize the kingdom of God over your own self-interests.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Our highest priority as believers in Jesus Christ is to be the advancement of his kingdom. Our cultural and political concerns may be real, but our security should be in our relationship with God, not in our material comfort or cultural influence. In practical terms, this means that we go about our daily lives confident in God’s presence and purpose even when the world, or a large part of it, is against us. Our enemies may seem big, but if we are kingdom people, our Friend is bigger. This perspective will give us the quiet assurance to love our enemies because we know that they cannot stop what is most important to us.

  1. Precede criticism with self-reflection.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:1-5).

Before we criticize those whom we perceive as our enemies, we should take a close look at our own values, beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Our “enemies” will likely be only too glad to help us! When we are criticized, before we react we should consider whether our critics might be right, or partially right, about us. Maybe we do have a speck, or even a log, in our own eye. Let’s just make sure that when people attribute evil to us, that they are doing so falsely (Matt. 5:11).

  1. Praise them when they’re right.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

There are actually quite a number of principled applications one could derive from the Golden Rule, perhaps Jesus’ most famous saying. One such application is that when our enemies, or more broadly those whose views we oppose, get something right, we should acknowledge and even praise them for it. After all, we would greatly appreciate it if they did that for us, wouldn’t we? There are almost always some people on “the other side” from us religiously or politically who make some good points, or who do some good things. Very, very few human beings are monsters. Most are flawed people, sinners, who are right about some things and wrong about other things. Those whom we oppose are often more like us than we realize or might care to admit. Tactically, if we give credit where credit is due to those with whom we usually strongly disagree, such graciousness can help facilitate better understanding from them of our point of view and even lead eventually to some people coming over to our perspective. Even if they don’t, it’s still the right thing to do.

  1. Prove them wrong when they’re wrong.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15-20).

We do not help those who are in serious error by ignoring or glossing over the problem. Moreover, we have a responsibility to others who might be influenced by lies, errors, or bad examples to speak up and show what the truth is. It is not unloving to expose false prophets. Those who follow them need to hear the truth about those “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Again, there is a right way to do this and also a wrong way. Our strong denunciations should be directed against the wolves, not against the wayward sheep that follow them. Even our denunciations of the false prophets need to be truth communicated in love (see Eph. 4:15). We should avoid coming across as hostile toward the members of a false religion or against those who espouse a political or cultural position that we consider grievously wrong. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:6). Christians should be voices of reason in the face of irrationality, conviction in the face of compromise, and love in the face of hate.

  1. Practice what you preach.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

We will do no one any good, whether they are our (perceived or real) enemies or anyone else, if we loudly claim that we are Christians but live in a way that brings reproach on the name of Christ. We should not hear Jesus’ warning here as exhaustive of all the ways that false disciples claim to be able to prove that they are his followers while actually being his enemies. For example, “Did we not believe the right doctrines in your name?” will not avail in the Day of Judgment—a sober truth that I would insist we recognize without detracting at all from the importance of sound doctrine. We will do more to defeat Christ’s enemies by living out what we profess, by building our lives on his word (Matt. 7:24-27), than by anything else.

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5 Books for Serious Bible Study

So, you want to get serious about studying the Bible! You’re not a biblical scholar, and not necessarily planning on going that direction, but you’re motivated to work on getting a solid, working knowledge of the whole Bible. Maybe you feel that you are already pretty familiar with the Bible, but you realize you could go a lot deeper. If this sounds at all like you, here are five books that I highly recommend you consider getting. Prices are listed as found on January 1, 2021, on Amazon, and are subject to frequent change. These are not books written for scholars but rather popular books that have sold many copies and are well-liked by regular Christian readers.

Note: I have only listed books about the Bible here, not editions of the Bible or study Bibles. I have also not listed websites except those that supplement the books.

Anders, Max. 30 Days to Understanding the Bible: Unlock the Scriptures in 15 Minutes a Day. 30th anniversary expanded ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 400 pp. $8.20 paperback; $13.99 Kindle. Over 500,000 sold. Major sections cover the OT, the NT, and Bible doctrines, with shorter sections offering a potpourri of resources. There is also a 6-session Study Guide and a 6-session DVD that includes the Study Guide. See Biblein30Days.com for promotional material, the first video of the DVD, a 5-chapter book sampler, and free downloadable teaching resources.

Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 4th ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 298 pp. $15.59 paperback, $15.79 Kindle. About a million copies sold. Treats different parts of the Bible but in a pedagogically designed order (which is basically the order of perceived ease for most beginners) rather than in canonical order, thus beginning with the epistles, going back to the OT narratives, then Acts, then the Gospels, and so on, finishing with Revelation. Be sure to get the newest edition (currently the 4th). Of the five books listed here, this is the only one that is widely used as a textbook in Christian college and seminary courses, but it is so popular you might be able to find it at the public library. There is also a video lecture series; currently you can watch the lecture on the Book of Revelation free on YouTube.

Hinson, Ed, and Elmer L. Towns. Illustrated Bible Survey: An Introduction. Rev. ed. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2017. 624 pp. $41.45 hardcover, $16.19 Kindle. Introductions to all of the books of the Bible, with photos, charts, maps, illustrations, and suggestions for further reading. This would be an excellent reference work to own so that you can turn to it whenever needed. If you want a print copy, try to wait for it to go on sale.

Rose Publishing. Rose Book of Bible Charts, Maps, and Timelines. 10th anniversary ed. Peabody, MA: Rose Publishing, 2005. 192 pp. Spiral bound, $17.17. Enormously popular reference with 200 Bible charts on the tabernacle and temple, the tribes of Israel, weights and measures, the names of God, the twelve apostles, Revelation, cults and religions, essential doctrines, history of Bible translations, etc.; 15 maps; timelines. Two additional volumes are available covering such subjects as Bible translations, Christ in the Old Testament, the parables of Jesus, a one-year Bible reading plan, and much more. Another excellent reference work that you will want to own.

Yarbrough, Mark. How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: A Practical and Entertaining Exploration of the World’s Most Famous Book. New York: FaithWords, 2015. 368 pp. $17.99 paperback, $12.99 Kindle. Bible professor at Dallas Theological Seminary gives a folksy and sometimes funny, yet substantive, introduction to serious reading of the Bible.

Some suggestions about using these books: The Anders book is the most elementary or introductory and would be a good place to start. Then I would suggest reading Yarbrough’s book, followed by the book by Fee and Stuart. Of course, you can skip any of these if it doesn’t look helpful to you, but this is the order of reading I would recommend. The book by Fee and Stuart’s book is the one book on the list that people are likely to read more than once. Some people may find it helpful to read a second time after two or three years of serious Bible study, at which time they are able to understand and appreciate the principles of interpretation more fully. As noted, I recommend the Hinson/Towns book and the Rose Publishing book as reference works to own and consult as needed.

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Francis Chan “Like God and Man All at Once”?

Francis Chan has been one of the most popular American evangelical figures of the past decade. He is the author of several influential books, was the pastor of a megachurch in Southern California, and has been featured in all sorts of evangelical media and at major conferences (including some controversial ones). Early this year he moved to Hong Kong, where he has been doing videos that hundreds of thousands of people watch on YouTube. In one of these, dated May 2, 2020, Chan made the following statement (starting about minute 4:00):

Jesus did not die on the cross so that you and I could live ordinary lives. He died so that my soul could be cleansed, so that my body could become completely clean, so that his Holy Spirit would enter into me. And just like I wouldn’t dare ever refer to Jesus as ‘just an ordinary guy,’ none of us would. Are you kidding me? He was a man and, somehow, he was God all at once. You can’t call him ordinary. But don’t you understand? That’s what he’s saying about us now! Like right now you’re looking at a person who is not just a person. Somehow God is in me and there is a sense in which I am like God and man all at once! His Spirit dwells inside of me. It makes no sense then if my life resembles a person who does not have the Holy Spirit in them.

A Lutheran pastor named Chris Rosebrough did a video criticizing Chan’s message. He introduced his critique video as follows: “Here is Francis Chan saying that he’s both God and man. Yes he actually says that.”

Well, to be precise, Chan said that there was a sense in which he was “like God and man all at once.” In context it was difficult to tell if like meant “similar to” or if it meant, like, Southern California surfer dude like. If the latter, which is possible (Chan did seem to say “like” fairly often), then Rosebrough is right. Even if Chan meant “similar to,” what Chan says does appear to cross the line. Note that he makes this statement after referring to Jesus as man and God and then saying, “That’s what he’s saying about us now!” On no reasonable construction of Chan’s statements in context is this true. God is certainly not saying about us the same thing that is true about Jesus being both God and man.

I don’t know if Chan has made similar statements in the past. My guess is that the context of this statement may be a move in the direction of Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. At the beginning of the year, another video appeared on YouTube in which Chan expressed a newfound belief that the bread and wine in Communion become “the literal body and blood of Christ.” It is possible that in saying that he was “like God and man all at once,” Chan was attempting to express the concept of theosis or deification, a theological idea associated especially with the Orthodox Church. If so, though, he did not express it very well.

Perhaps at some point Chan will become aware that his statement appears highly problematic theologically and will offer a clarification or retraction. In any case, evangelicals have reason to be concerned about the direction Chan’s teaching seems to be headed.

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Doubling Down on Diversionary Polemics: Robert Boylan’s Response on Moroni’s Move

As I expected, Boylan issued a hasty “response” to the previous post in which he failed to address any of the substantive issues I presented there. Instead, he engaged in a poorly done tu quoque (“you too”) fallacious argument. First, once again, he quoted me out of context, this time in order to avoid addressing my criticism of his earlier post, which was that he had dismissed my whole book on the basis of two sentences in it that made a tangential point without my having engaged a particular Mormon scholar’s treatment of it. He then accused me (without even a hint of justification) of being “intellectually deceptive”!

Next came the tu quoque fallacy: Supposedly I am being hypocritical or something along those lines for excusing myself from addressing Sorenson’s defense of Moroni’s journey in my book, because in a review of a book by Jehovah’s Witness author Rolf Furuli I had pointed out that Furuli had not engaged one of my books. Boylan missed, or ignored, the salient difference: my book that Furuli had failed to engage addressed “many of the issues raised in his book,” which of course is not true with regard to Sorenson’s books in relation to Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions. Furuli’s book was a defense of the New World Translation and of Watchtower interpretation of the Bible; my book, which he did not mention, was a critique of Watchtower interpretation of the Bible including the New World Translation.

Missing from Boylan’s rushed response: (1) any reference to what I explained was the main point of the paragraph he had criticized, (2) any mention of (let alone response to) the lengthy treatment I presented here regarding the plausibility of Moroni’s journey and Sorenson’s defense (the very thing Boylan complained about me not doing in the book!).

Yet Boylan entitled his non-responsive post “Double Standards and Intellectual Laziness.”[1]


[1] Robert Boylan, “Double Standards and Intellectual Laziness,” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), May 30, 2020.

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Moroni’s Marvelous Move from Mesoamerica to Manchester

Moroni Delivering the Plates to Joseph Smith (C.C.A. Christensen)

Robert Boylan, a Mormon apologist blogger, has written a series of blistering attack posts attempting to discredit my book Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions. Boylan has described it as a “joke of a book”[1] and a “mess of a book,”[2] and he has churned out at least twenty posts in the past few weeks attacking it (and at least a couple more posts about me that are not about the book!). Given Boylan’s quantity (which is not the same as quality) of output, it is doubtful that I will be able to respond to all of his posts in which I am mentioned (I tend to be almost Monk-like in writing, laboring long to make everything I write as close to perfect as I can get it).

Bibliographical Nitpicking

In one of his attack pieces, Boylan takes me to task for a brief comment I made in the book about Moroni’s supposed journey from Mesoamerica to what is now upstate New York.[3] Boylan characterizes my comment as “an attempt to call its plausibility into question.” He quotes part of what I said on the matter, offers a defense of the plausibility of Moroni’s journey, and lambasts me for failing to interact with Book of Mormon scholar/apologist John L. Sorenson’s defense. Not content to make his point, Boylan engages in his usual poke-in-the-eye style of polemical rhetoric:

This only proves again, notwithstanding the attempted appearance of producing a scholarly work, in reality, it is just typical counter-cult “boundary maintenance” that is cleaned up (basically, the literary form of a pig with lipstick—it is still a pig you are trying to make look pretty). The target audience is clearly not informed Latter-day Saints but gullible Evangelicals who know next to nothing about “Mormonism”….

This harsh assessment is rather absurd, given that the book in question is just 300 pages long but has over 600 footnotes citing 475 sources—including citations from over 230 sources pertaining to Mormon studies.[4] Boylan justifies his dismissive comments about the whole book on the basis of two sentences in the book that Boylan apparently thinks should have been turned into a page or more of interaction with a particular Mormon scholar on the issue. Sorry to disappoint those who wanted a book of three thousand pages, but I wanted to produce a book people might actually read.

Avoiding the Main Point

Let’s put my full comment about Moroni’s journey on the record here:

The fact that Joseph did not look at the gold plates when dictating his “translation” means that the Book of Mormon need have no relation to the supposed gold plates at all. Joseph’s method of producing the text of the Book of Mormon in effect renders the gold plates irrelevant. There was no need for Moroni, whom the Book of Mormon identifies as its last ancient author, to carry the gold plates (weighing forty pounds or more according to Joseph’s associates, though if they really were gold they should have weighed closer to two hundred pounds) thousands of miles from Central America to upstate New York (a tall order, to put it mildly) in order to bury them for Joseph to discover fourteen centuries later. (The people of ancient Mesoamerica had no pack horses or other beasts of burden, so Moroni would have had to carry the plates, along with the stone spectacles and the breastplate, on his own.) Yet Joseph did not need the plates, the stone spectacles, the breastplate, or anything other than what he already had, his small treasure-hunting seer stone and his hat, along with the divine revelation Mormons claim he received.[5]

As anyone can see by reading the whole paragraph, the point I was making was that Joseph did not need the plates, the stone spectacles, the breastplate, or anything else Moroni might have carried from Central America to upstate New York, in order to translate the Book of Mormon. Of course, it would be possible. I merely mentioned the difficulty of him doing so while carrying perhaps two hundred pounds of stuff (and it would still have been very heavy even if we accept the 40+ pounds estimates for the plates Joseph had, since the stone spectacles and the breastplate would have added to the burden). I did not elaborate or argue the point because I was not arguing that Moroni could not possibly have pulled it off but that he need not have done so because there was no reason for him to do so. I made this point explicitly four times in four of the five sentences in the paragraph, three of which Boylan omitted from his quotation. Although this was clearly the point I was making, Boylan said nothing about it. Thus, Boylan made absolutely no attempt to respond to the main point of the paragraph that he partially quoted. Instead, he focused on arguing that the trip was “plausible” and “not fantastic.”

Did Moroni Leave the Land of the Lamanites?

Boylan, like most contemporary Mormon apologists, assumes that Moroni traveled from Mesoamerica (probably starting somewhere in southeast Mexico or possibly northwest Guatemala) to what is now upstate New York, depositing the gold plates in the hill near Joseph’s home where he would obtain them fourteen centuries later. This scenario appears to be required by the conventional LDS academic model of Book of Mormon geography, according to which essentially all of the events described in the Americas took place in that small region of Mesoamerica, and the conventional understanding that Joseph found the gold plates buried in a box near his home because that is where Moroni had buried them shortly before his death. Hence, John Sorenson (the LDS scholar Boylan scolds me for not engaging on the issue of Moroni’s journey), referring to the gold plates as “the Codex,” wrote, “How did the Codex get to a hill in New York from southern Mexico after the final battle involving the Nephites? The obvious answer is that someone carried it there, over a vast distance.”[6]

One problem with this scenario is that there does not seem to be any basis for it in the Book of Mormon itself. Here are the relevant bits of information that the narrative provides:

  • ca. AD 385: The final battle at Cumorah, just before which Mormon hid most of the plates in the hill Cumorah except the ones he gave to his son Moroni, who had led an army of ten thousand and was one of a dozen Nephite survivors (Mormon 6:1-12)
  • ca. AD 400: Mormon has died along with others of the few surviving Nephites; Moroni is alone, with no friends or relatives, and nowhere to go (Mormon 8:1-7)
  • ca. AD 400—: The Lamanites engage in seemingly endless warfare with one another (Mormon 8:8)
  • Undated: Moroni is finished writing about the Lamanites and is going to hide the record (Mormon 8:13-14)
  • Undated: Moroni has abridged the record of the people of Jared (the Book of Ether). He is taking care not to make himself known to the Lamanites, who are still killing Nephites, and so is wandering to remain safe from them (Moroni 1:1-3)
  • ca. AD 421: Moroni adds some final words before sealing up the records (Moroni 10:1-2)

The precise dates are not particularly important here since our focus is on the relative dating of these events in relation to one another. The key passage is Moroni 1:1-3, in which Moroni states that he is randomly moving around from place to place to keep from falling into the hands of the Lamanites, who are still killing whatever Nephites still remain. We are not told when Moroni wrote this, but it would have to be after about 400 and before about 420. His statement entails that the Lamanite threat remained a significant issue throughout his wandering, which means that he is not referring to a journey taking him thousands of miles from the Lamanite-dominated region. The text does not absolutely preclude such a journey that does not happen to be mentioned, but the natural reading of the text is that Moroni’s wandering to stay out of the Lamanites’ grasp continued until at least close to his death.

One other chronological consideration should be mentioned here, and that concerns Moroni’s age. There is no precise information about his age given, but it is reasonable to surmise that he would have been at least in his 20s if not older when he led an army of ten thousand men. From Mormon 2:3 we are given to understand that Mormon was born about AD 310, making him about 75 years old at the final battle at Cumorah, when he says he was getting old (Mormon 6:6). This information suggests a rough date of around 350 for the birth of Moroni, which would make him about 35 years old at Cumorah and a little over 70 years old when he finished the record.

If Moroni had made a journey from Mexico to Manchester, it would have begun sometime after AD 400 and been completed shortly after AD 420. The implication of Moroni 1:1-3 is that he spent at least a considerable amount of those twenty years, if not all of them, on the run from the Lamanites. Boylan is flat wrong, then, when he asserts that “Moroni had 35+ years” to make the trip, “from ~AD 385 with the final battle at Cumorah to AD 421 with the burial of the plates.” According to Mormon 8:1-7 and Moroni 1:1-3, sometime after AD 400 Moroni was still in the land dominated by the Lamanites and moving around to avoid capture by them. This means that Moroni had less than twenty years to make the trip, if we assume that he must have made it (again, Moroni 1:1-3 is against any such trip occurring).

Since the Book of Mormon provides no information about this supposed journey, we cannot determine its route. The most direct route for someone walking from the Veracruz region in southeast Mexico (where Sorenson’s model would indicate as the starting point) to Palmyra, New York, would be over 2,700 miles. This calculation assumes a route that hugged the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico up into east Texas, through modern-day Houston, then northeast through Memphis, Cincinnati, and then along Lake Erie and east to Palmyra. Of course, this is a best-case scenario and ignores the specific challenges that Moroni would have faced along the way. If we accept the Mormon tradition that Moroni traveled through the American Southwest to Utah and then east before getting to upstate New York, the trip would have been over 5,000 miles![7]

Critics of Mormonism are not the only ones who think Moroni would not have made the trip. First of all, many Mormons are convinced that the climactic events of the Book of Mormon took place in the Great Lakes region where Joseph’s boyhood home was located. There is a bustling cottage industry devoted to this model of Book of Mormon geography that produces books, videos, and websites defending this view, and that holds regular conferences and provides guided tours of supposed Book of Mormon locations in America.[8]

Second, at least one fairly prominent Mormon scholar who adheres to the more academically conventional Mesoamerican model has concluded that Moroni probably did not travel to upstate New York during his mortal lifetime. Brant Gardner, a Mormon anthropologist who has written a six-volume commentary on the Book of Mormon, admits in that work that the book’s narrative suggests that Moroni never left Mesoamerica during his lifetime. Commenting on Moroni 1:2-3, Gardner observes, “The danger he feels confirms that he is still in Mesoamerica.”[9] Earlier, in his comment on Mormon 8:4, Gardner offers some speculation as to how the gold plates got to the hill in the Palmyra/Manchester area: “If Moroni as an angel could take them away at the close of the translation, then as an angel he could also deposit them within walking distance of Joseph Smith’s home.”[10] In other words, Moroni as a mortal might have hidden the plates somewhere in or near Mesoamerica, where they remained until the 1820s when Moroni as an angel was able to retrieve them and bury them near Joseph’s home! The explanation is so obviously ad hoc (why rebury the plates rather than simply handing them to Joseph?) that Gardner himself does not seem confident about it. Rightly so: Joseph’s accounts of the discovery of the plates tacitly indicate that Moroni had buried the plates in the hill near Joseph’s future home before Moroni’s death. This understanding is close to explicit in Joseph’s 1838 statement reported in the Elders’ Journal:

Moroni, the person who deposited the plates, from whence the book of Mormon was translated, in a hill in Manchester, Ontario County, New York, being dead, and raised again therefrom, appeared unto me, and told me where they were; and gave me directions how to obtain them.[11]

Gardner is at least partially correct: Moroni hypothetically could have hidden the plates anywhere in Mesoamerica, died, become an angel, and then miraculously whisked the plates from their hiding place to Manchester in order to deliver them to Joseph Smith. The reason why no one (to my knowledge) really believes this is what happened is that Joseph claimed to have found the plates buried in a stone box in a hill near his home and that this was the place where Moroni had buried them. It would make no sense for Moroni to rebury the plates and other artifacts in a stone box in the ground, and it would even have been deceptive, making it appear as though that was where they had been buried for fourteen centuries. Moreover, Joseph’s own statement reported in the Elders’ Journal appears to rule out that explanation.

At the end of his commentary, Gardner admits, “There is no way to know how the plates arrived at Cumorah,”[12] meaning the place near Joseph’s home that Mormons traditionally have called Cumorah.

Sorenson’s Defense of the Trip’s Plausibility

Boylan’s main criticism in his blog post is that I failed to engage Sorenson’s argument for the plausibility of Moroni’s journey. As I have already emphasized, Sorenson’s argument was irrelevant to the point I was making in my book. My point was that there seems to have been no need for Moroni to have undertaken such a journey carrying such a heavy load, since Joseph did not even look at the plates while dictating the text of the Book of Mormon.

That having been said, Sorenson’s treatment of the matter is far from successful in defending the plausibility of Moroni making such a journey.

In 1589 three English sailors trekked 3,000 miles from Tampico, on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, to Nova Scotia, more or less the same length as the journey Moroni(2) would have made to reach New York. They had been put ashore in Mexico from their privateer ship and decided to try to reach northeastern North America in hope of being found by a ship from Europe that might put in there. The original party was as large as 100 but en route all but three stopped off to join Amerindian groups. Upon completing the nine-month trip, the three men happened upon a French ship in Nova Scotia that agreed to take them back to England. Years later, a royal inquiry in their home country elicited from the only survivor, one David Ingram, his account of the journey through dozens of American Indian “kingdoms.” Some of the story he told is laced with fantastic detail, but the basic facts remain plausible and in some ways confirmed.[13]

Sorenson’s source for this story is a 1979 article in American Heritage magazine by Charlton Ogburn. According to Ogburn, if Ingram’s story is true it was “perhaps the outstanding walk in human history.”[14] One should not pass over this statement lightly. Granted that such a journey might be accomplished, it would still be an extremely unusual, spectacular accomplishment. And yet Moroni says nothing whatsoever about it!

Ingram’s journey to Nova Scotia, if it happened, took place in a period of about twelve months in 1567-1568, reaching England in 1589, not nine months in 1589, as Sorenson mistakenly claimed.[15] One fact that Sorenson omits is that Ogburn is not sure that the journey actually happened, at least the way Ingram told it. Ogburn admits, “I am not so sure about anything involving Ingram. I seem to have been left in the midst of intractable, if fascinating, contradictions.”[16] One of those contradictions concerns the starting point of Ingram’s journey. Was it near Tampico in Mexico, as the story of Ingram’s fellow sailor Miles Phillips indicated, or was it on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico in western Florida, as Ingram’s own account stated? Putting the starting point of Ingram’s journey in western Florida would, as Ogburn observes, shorten the journey by some 1,200 miles and make it far more plausible. He concludes that Ingram’s account was deliberately falsified “to make Ingram’s walk more credible” as support for the cause of financing the search for a “northwest passage” across the American continent.[17] The “fantastic detail” that Sorenson admits to have been part of Ingram’s story appears alongside descriptions that were either inaccurate or common knowledge, making it difficult to corroborate that Ingram made the walk at all.[18] One historian, David B. Quinn, concluded that a French ship likely picked up Ingram along the Gulf of Mexico or perhaps the Atlantic coast of Florida or South Carolina, which would have cut the distance they walked by more than half.[19] Ogburn himself concludes, rather tentatively, that we should probably accept Ingram’s story, but its reliability on the question of the actual route taken seems far from settled. Nathan Probasco points out in his dissertation that “scholars have long doubted its reliability,” though he admits, “The walk was clearly possible, whether or not Ingram completed it.”[20] Probasco concludes, “He probably made the walk, but during his interrogation he also exaggerated and forgot details.”[21] Unfortunately, Probasco does not address the issue of where Ingram’s walk actually began.

One detail worth pointing out is that Ingram did not make his journey (whatever its actual course) alone. He started with a large group of men, most of whom dropped out along the way, and he arrived in Nova Scotia with two other English sailors. It would be much easier for three men to make such a long journey together than for one man alone. Three men would be much less likely to be attacked than one man. They could take turns keeping watch at night if necessary, work together in complementary ways by utilizing their differing skill sets, and provide encouragement and moral support to each other.

Finally, Sorenson’s example of the three sailors walking from southern Mexico to Nova Scotia completely ignores the difficulty of transporting the materials Moroni supposedly carried a similar distance. The issue is complicated by disagreement as to the composition of the plates. The lowest estimate of their weight according to Joseph’s handpicked witnesses was about 40 to 50 pounds. If they were pure or mostly gold, they would have weighed closer to 200 pounds. In addition to the plates themselves, Moroni would have been carrying the breastplate and the stone spectacles. We have even less information about these objects, but presumably these items weighed close to ten pounds. One assumes that Moroni would have carried other objects—perhaps a weapon, surely some personal items—and would have needed one or more sturdy packs in which to carry all of these things. Accepting the lowest estimate of the weight of the plates, Moroni’s total load would have weighed at least 50 or 60 pounds, likely more. Given the chronological information we have in the Book of Mormon (as discussed above), he would have been carrying this load when he was in his late 60s.

Appeals to supernatural help here are completely ad hoc and therefore out of order, since the Book of Mormon does not even mention the journey, let alone indicate any supernatural aid in carrying the plates and other items. With this in mind, I will offer some very brief answers to the crucial questions regarding this alleged journey of Moroni from Mexico to Manchester.

Is it possible? Yes.

Is it plausible? Not really.

Would there have been any point to it? No.

That last point was, as I have explained, the point I was making in the paragraph of my book that Boylan quoted out of context. Granting for the sake of argument that such an arduous trip might have been possible for Moroni, the fact remains that there was no need for him to make it. Joseph was not going to use the plates when producing the English text known as the Book of Mormon. The historical evidence also shows that Joseph did not use the stone spectacles, at least when dictating the translation to Oliver Cowdery.[22] Yet Joseph claimed, as we documented above, that Moroni had buried the plates and other artifacts in the hill near Joseph’s future home while Moroni was still a mortal, then appeared to him in the 1820s to reveal where Joseph would find them.

We are left, then, with the notion, for which there is no evidence within the Book of Mormon narrative, that Moroni as an old man made an extremely difficult journey of some three thousand miles on foot, carrying a load of likely 50 to 60 pounds or more, in order to bury the plates and other items in the ground near what would become Joseph Smith’s home. The purpose of this herculean journey was to provide Joseph with the plates as a prop assuring his family and supporters that they existed, though most of them would never see the plates and though Joseph did not actually look at the plates when producing his translation.

No, Mr. Boylan, that’s not credible.


[1] Robert Boylan, “Resurrection vs. First Vision?” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 14, 2020.

[2] Robert Boylan, “Book of Mormon Central, ‘Joseph Smith’s First Vision,’” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 23, 2020.

[3] Robert Boylan, “Could Moroni Have Travelled from Modern-Day Mexico to New York?” Scriptural Mormonism (blog), April 5, 2020.

[4] See Robert M. Bowman Jr., “Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Complete Bibliography,” at Academia.edu.

[5] Robert M. Bowman Jr., Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism (Tampa, FL: DeWard, 2020), 281–82.

[6] John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 2013), 693.

[7] See H. Donl Peterson, “Moroni, the Last of the Nephite Prophets,” in Fourth Nephi, From Zion to Destruction, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1995), 235–49. This itinerary is mentioned as a serious possibility by Michael R. Ash, “Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: How Moroni and the plates may have made it to Hill Cumorah,” Deseret News, Feb. 28, 2011 (originally in Mormon Times).

[8] See, e.g., the website BookofMormonEvidence.org.

[9] Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume 6: Fourth Nephi–Moroni (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 334.

[10] Gardner, Second Witness, 6:110. Ash, “Challenging Issues,” echoes Gardner’s statement here in almost the same words, without mentioning Gardner, as one possible explanation.

[11] Joseph Smith, “Answers to Questions,” Elders’ Journal 1 (July 1838): 42–43.

[12] Gardner, Second Witness, 6:422, emphasis added. Ash, “Challenging Issues,” is equally noncommittal, saying that “we may never know if Moroni buried the plates during his mortal ministry or as an angel.”

[13] Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 693–94; see also John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Foreword by Leonard J. Arrington, Truman G. Madsen, and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret; Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985), 45.

[14] Charlton Ogburn, “The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey,” American Heritage 30.3 (April/May 1979): 4–13.

[15] See Nathan J. Probasco, “Researching North America: Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s 1583 Expedition and a Reexamination of Early Modern English Colonization in the North Atlantic World,” PhD diss. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2013), 126–27.

[16] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 1 (page numbers cited here for this article refer to web pages, not the printed magazine).

[17] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 3–4.

[18] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 2–3.

[19] Ogburn, “Longest Walk,” 4.

[20] Probasco, “Researching North America,” 132–33.

[21] Probasco, “Researching North America,” 134 (see 126–37).

[22] Bowman, Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions, 270–75.

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