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.:SHOULD WE TRUST THE BIBLE? —A Response to Mormonism’s Attack Upon the Bible’s Accuracy
WHAT IS THE BIBLE?
The Bible is a compilation of 66 books that we call the “canon” (rule or standard) of Scripture. The Bible is divided into two sections: The Old Testament which covers the period of human history from Creation to the Hebrew prophet Malachi in 400 B.C., and the New Testament which covers the period from the Birth of Christ (4 A.D.) to the Revelation of John in 95 A.D. The majority of the Old Testament was canonized long before Christ’s birth with two marginal books being solidified into the final Jewish canon at the Council of Jamnia in 90 A.D. Most of the New Testament books were accepted by 100 A.D. with the exception of six debatable books that were officially recognized into the Christian canon at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. 1.
God is the supreme Author of Biblical Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” 2. When one considers the broad range of human contributors to the Bible from different timeframes, various backgrounds, and completely different locations, writing on many controversial subjects, and yet all agreeing with one another, one can see the Divine origin of the Bible, for no book of human origin has ever accomplished this task. The following list of facts summarizes the uniqueness of this great book of Scripture:
HOW DO MORMONS VIEW THE BIBLE?
Mormons regard the King James Version of the Bible as Scripture but they add three books that were “translated” and dictated by their founder, Joseph Smith, to complete their open canon of Scripture called “The Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” These additional Scripture books are the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Of these four books, the Bible is trusted the least. Although Mormons believe the Bible is an authoritative work of Scripture, they claim that many errors have crept into the text so that one cannot be sure that what is recorded in the Bible today is truly the Word of God as written by the Jewish prophets and apostles of Biblical centuries. The eighth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states:
Notice the qualification, “as far as it is translated correctly,” placed upon the Bible while no qualification is given to the text of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith declared that “ignorant translators, careless transcribers …corrupt priests have committed many errors” in copying the text of the Bible. 3. Thus, Smith claimed that he restored and clarified the truths missing from the Bible through his publication of the Book of Mormon:
By claiming that the Book of Mormon stands apart from “any other book” as “the most correct of any book on earth,” Joseph Smith placed the Book of Mormon above the Bible as the standard by which a “man would get nearer to God.” If one is to believe Joseph’s Smith’s claim that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct” book on earth, one cannot help but question the integrity of the Biblical text as one reads the wholesale attack upon the Bible’s accuracy found in the pages of the Book of Mormon. Seven times in the space of seven verses quoted below from First Nephi chapter thirteen, the Book of Mormon dogmatically asserts: “there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.”
Although the Book of Mormon adamantly stresses that precious truths were “taken away” and “kept back” from the “gospel of the Lamb” by the “great and abominable church,” it makes no attempt to “restore” these alleged lost truths. There is not a single doctrine revealed in the Book of Mormon that is not already mentioned in the Bible. Not only is there no sign of the so-called “plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb” that are allegedly missing from the Bible, but gone from the Book of Mormon are many of the unique doctrines of the Mormon gospel—such as baptism for the dead, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, God having a body of flesh and bones and the Word of Wisdom (food and drink law of Mormonism). These are all requirements that the LDS Church claims are necessary for a Mormon to be exaltated into the highest degree of Heaven, yet they are missing from the “precepts” of the book that Joseph Smith claimed would get a man “nearer to God…than…any other book.” Furthermore, Jesus in the Book of Mormon warns against adding to His doctrines when He says:
Is the Mormon Church guilty of declaring “more…than” Jesus’ doctrine by adding “precepts” not found in the Book of Mormon? You be the judge. In the meantime, we must ask why the Book of Mormon not only fails to “restore” these missing doctrines of Mormonism, but it contradicts the words of Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God, who promised:
Who are we to believe? Are we to believe Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon that claim that “plain and precious parts” of Jesus’ words passed away? Or should we believe Jesus’ promise to preserve His words? Jesus wasn’t the only one in the Bible to promise that God’s words would not be lost, the Prophet Isaiah made the following promise in the Old Testament and the Apostle Peter reiterated this promise in the New Testament:
JOSEPH SMITH’S INSPIRED VERSION OF THE BIBLE
In spite of God’s promise that His Word would not be lost, Joseph Smith went so far as to produce his own version of the Bible in which he added hundreds of words to the text of Scripture without manuscript support whatsoever. His translation is called The Inspired Version of the Bible or The Joseph Smith Translation (JST). The Mormon Church published some of Smith’s revisions in the footnotes and appendix of its LDS version of the King James Bible and all of Smith’s revisions are currently published in the book entitled, Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible, by Herald Publishing House owned by the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or RLDS).
Although Joseph Smith claimed that he finished his translation of the Scriptures in July of 1833, 6. most Mormons think that he did not finish it because the LDS Church has never published a full manuscript of it. Yet, not only did Joseph Smith testify to his completion of the Scriptures, he proclaimed that God commanded that his Bible translation should be printed.
If Joseph Smith never finished translating his Bible Scriptures as many Mormons today claim, what was Smith doing with so many revelations allegedly from God stating that he should print his Bible Scriptures? Why would God command him to print an unfinished translation? Despite revelations that claim that God commanded that Smith’s Bible translation should be printed, the Mormon Church has never printed a full manuscript of it. Why? The LDS Church does not own the copyright to it. When Joseph Smith died and Brigham Young took over the leadership of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith’s first wife Emma refused to give the manuscript to Young and instead gave it to a group called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints led by her son who in turn published Smith’s translation in 1867.
It is fascinating to study Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible because one will discover many changes and alterations that he made to the text of Scripture to validate his own unique views. Some of the significant doctrinal changes Smith inserted into the text of his Bible are as follows:
Joseph Smith even added an entire section to his Bible consisting of 15 verses and over 800 words between Genesis 50:24-26 to create a prophecy about himself. The following verse where he mentions himself by name is taken from this prophecy that Smith added to Genesis chapter fifty:
Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Version” creates many difficulties for the LDS Church, not only because the Church violated the revelations of Doctrine and Covenants when it didn’t print the full version of it, but also because Smith’s version does not correct the most problematic Biblical Scriptures that condemn the heretical beliefs of Mormonism. Verses such as Isaiah 44:6 and 8 that condemn Smith’s “plurality of gods” concept 9. and Isaiah 43:10 that condemns the Mormon idea that men can become gods 10. are left intact in Joseph Smith’s translation. Likewise, Joseph Smith’s version makes no attempt to restore the alleged “missing books” that Mormons claim were removed from the Bible.
Finally, in the thousands of manuscripts of the Bible that have been uncovered, some dating as far back as the 2nd Century B.C., not a single manuscript supports the changes that Joseph Smith made to the text of his Bible. If the “plain and most precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb” were truly “taken away” and “kept back” by the “abominable church” of the middle ages, as the Book of Mormon claims, 11. why is such evidence completely missing from the manuscripts that we possess today of the Holy Bible that date prior to the formation of the Catholic Church? Why is it that Smith’s changes disagree with the manuscripts that the Book of Mormon says were pure at that time? 12. Such discrepancies between Smith’s translation and the ancient manuscripts only suspect Joseph Smith of serious fraud and deception.
HOW THE BIBLE WAS TRANSMITTED TO OUR DAY
Since the Bible was written over a period of fifteen hundred years, two to three thousand years before the invention of the printing press, it was preserved through the process of handwriting and copying manuscripts onto a variety of materials: Papyrus (most common ancient writing material made from papyrus reeds), Parchment (prepared skins of sheep, goats and other animals), Vellum (prepared from calf skins, often dyed purple and written upon with gold or silver), Ostraca (unglazed pottery), Clay tablets (engraved when wet and dried to make a permanent record), Stones (inscribed with an iron pen), and Wax tablets (flat wood covered with wax). 13. Due to the availability of papyrus, parchments, and vellum, most ancient manuscripts we possess of the Scriptures today consist of these materials and were prepared into either a scroll (a roll) or a codex (book form). Although we possess thousands of copies of the ancient manuscripts of the Bible, none of the original autographs have survived to our day.
Throughout the centuries, multiple translations of the manuscripts have been made into other languages. Thus, as noted earlier, the LDS Church’s eighth Article of Faith states that Mormons “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Upon hearing the phrase “translation,” one might naïvely assume that a Mormon’s concerns about the accuracy of the Bible could easily be satisfied by utilizing the many Greek and Hebrew resources available to compare the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic text of the Bible against the modern language translations of the Bible that we posses today. While this would be a fairly easy task to undertake with the proper tools, it would not satisfy the Mormon’s doubts about the Bible’s accuracy because their concerns stem from a misunderstanding about the process by which the Bible was transmitted from one generation to another.
Many Mormons mistakenly assume that because scholars do not possess the original manuscripts of the Bible today, they believe it is impossible to know what the original writers of the Bible wrote. They inaccurately attribute the phase “to translate the Bible” as a process by which they think the Bible was translated from one language to another language, to yet another language and so forth from one language to the next until we come to today’s English version of the King James Bible. With this view of Bible transmission, one can easily understand how a Mormon can become convinced that “many plain and precious” doctrines of the Mormon gospel have been “taken away from the book” 14. of the Bible and apostate doctrines of Christianity substituted.
While this distorted view of Bible transmission may seem plausible, its erroneous conclusions become apparent when one considers the overwhelming manuscript evidence that proves the Bible has been preserved to 99.5% accuracy. Although many “translations” of the Biblical manuscripts have been made over the years, the vast majority of these modern “translations” have relied upon copies made from the original language manuscripts. Thus, “translations” made into other languages were only considered as a secondary source for understanding the meaning of difficult passages.
THE PRESERVATION OF THE HEBREW OLD TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS
The Jews took the safeguarding of their Scriptures seriously. Thus, they trained special people called “scribes” to copy the Scriptures with great care and meticulously check and recheck for errors. Jewish scribes of the Masoretic era (500 A.D. to 950 A.D.) checked for errors in their copies by comparing the number of letters in the original manuscript with the number of letters in the copy and verifying whether the middle letter of the original document agreed with the middle letter of the copy. If the slightest discrepancy was found in the copy, it was rejected and the process of copying the original manuscript started over from scratch. It was through this process of scribal care that the accuracy of the Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts was preserved.
The earliest complete manuscript copy of the Hebrew Old Testament that we possess today is the Leningrad Codex (L) dated at 1008 A.D. Prior to the riots in Israel in 1947 when the Aleppo Codex of 900 A.D. was damaged, it was the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript of the entire Old Testament. These manuscripts along with partial manuscripts that we possess of the Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures dating from the 8th to the 10th Centuries form the basis of the Hebrew Masoretic Text from which all Bible versions today are translated. 15. In 1947, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Qumran caves, about 25 kilometers east of Jerusalem, fragments of all of the Old Testaments books (except for Esther) were found in these scrolls dating back to the 2nd Century B.C. The most significant find was a complete Hebrew copy of the book of Isaiah. When this scroll from the 2nd Century B.C. was compared with the oldest known text of Isaiah from approximately 900 A.D., scholars were amazed to find the text of Isaiah virtually unchanged with 95% accuracy in over 1,000 years of copying! The majority of the 5% variations between the manuscripts consisted chiefly of slips of the pen and obvious spelling errors that did not affect the message of the text. 16. Thus, one can have confidence in the accuracy of the Hebrew manuscripts that scholars use today to translate the Old Testament portion of our Bible into the modern languages of today.
THE PRESERVATION OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT MANUSCRIPTS
While the Jews assigned the task of copying the manuscripts of the Old Testament to trained scribes, the New Testament Christian Church did not have this process for their Scriptures. Rather, as the New Testament Scriptures circulated among the churches of the first century, individuals indiscriminately made copies for personal and congregational use. Thus, minor discrepancies proliferated between the copies just as one would expect when precision in copying is not emphasized to the extent that it was by the Hebrew scribes.Most of these discrepancies (textual variants) consist of minor spelling errors that are easy recognized by the scholar and the incidental addition or deletion of a marginal note that often has no bearing upon the overall message of the script. In most cases, a comparison of multiple manuscript copies can easily determine the original author’s intent.
Scholars today have over 24,000 partial and complete manuscripts of the New Testament from which to compare texts. 5,686 of these manuscripts are in Greek and 19,284 are ancient language translations. Most of the Greek manuscripts were copied between the 9th to the 16th Century, several hundred copied between the 4th to the 8th Centuries, and a few ancient papyrus manuscripts date back to the 2nd and 3rd Century. The oldest manuscript is Papyrus 52 (P52) of the Gospel of John, copied at 125 A.D.
The oldest manuscript of the complete New Testament is the Greek Codex Sinaiticus from 325 A.D. It along with the Codex Vaticanus, also from the 4th Century, form the basis of Brook Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort’s The New Testament in the Original Greek of 1881. These manuscripts contain not only the entire Greek New Testament but a large portion of the Greek Septuagint Translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was preserved in them as well. Thus, together these manuscripts are considered the oldest manuscripts that we possess today of the entire Bible in Greek. The following charts, adapted from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 17. provides a breakdown of the total number of surviving New Testament manuscripts available today:
Compare these manuscript totals with that of any other book of antiquity and you will discover that there are no ancient manuscripts that compare to the manuscript support we have for our New Testament text. This is demonstrated by the following chart from Josh McDowell’s New Evidence That Demands a Verdict: 18.
THE NEW TESTAMENT PRESERVED IN QUOTATIONS FROM THE CHURCH FATHERS
Quotations of the New Testament Scriptures from seven early church fathers 19. starting with Justin Martyr (100 A.D.) to Eusebius of Caesarea (339 A.D.) number 36,289 by the time period of the Council of Nicea. As if this number of early church father quotations of the New Testament were not impressive enough, one could add the quotations of church fathers contemporary with Augustine of Hippo (354 A.D) and many subsequent fathers to come up with a total of 86,489 quotations. 20. Josh McDowell notes:
Indeed, manuscript support for the New Testament Scriptures leaves no doubt of the fact that we posses today all of the content in the original Scriptures dictated by the Prophets and Apostles of our first century faith.
HOW SCHOLARS OF THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT RESOLVE TEXTUAL DISCREPANCIES
Mormons often contend that textual variants (discrepancies) between the manuscripts of the Scriptures prove that the Bible is inaccurate. This accusation is simply not correct, as we will demonstrate by our examination of the process by which textual scholars scrutinize multiple copies of the Scriptural manuscripts to determine the essential meaning behind the variants.
Our first example is Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) who studied six partial Greek manuscripts of the New Testament to create a single manuscript called the Textus Receptus (Received Text) that formed the basis of the New Testament portion of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible. He evaluated the variants in these manuscripts to determine which renderings were most correct. One of the passages to which he gave considerable attention was 1 John 5:7–8. The Latin Vulgate of the Middle Ages added many words to the text that is unsupported by the Greek manuscripts. This textual variant is now called the Comma Johanneum and in the Old Latin Vulgate it read:
1 JOHN 5:7-8
Because the Latin Vulgate was the common Bible of his day, Desiderius Erasmus received much criticism when his first and second editions of his Greek manuscript did not contain the extra words of the Comma Johanneum. His critics accused Erasmus of supporting the heretical belief of “Arianism” that denied the Trinity and taught that Jesus was not God. Since Erasmus was unable to find a single Greek manuscript that supported these additional words, his note in the Annotations of his first two Greek text editions read:
When Erasmus challenged his critics to present him with a Greek manuscript that supported the rendering of the Comma Johanneum at 1 John 5:7-8, they presented Erasmus with an Irish manuscript (Codex Montfortianus) that many believe was fabricated and translated into Greek at this passage from the Latin Vulgate itself. Remaining true to his word, Erasmus reluctantly inserted the Comma Johanneum into his third edition of the Textus Receptus with the following note:
To this day, the Textus Receptus and all Bible translations based upon this manuscript (i.e., the King James Version and the New King James Version), contain the additional words of the Comma Johanneum, while all other translations exclude it based upon the evidence of thousands of manuscripts (including the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) that all exclude the Comma Johanneum from their texts.
Times have changed from the days of Erasmus’s half dozen Greek manuscripts. Scholars now have over 24,000 partial and complete manuscripts of the New Testament from which to compare texts. Given the availability of thousands of manuscripts, it is easy for modern scholars to determine what the original authors of the New Testament manuscripts wrote in their texts. While we have discussed the Comma Johanneum which is one of the more critical textual variants of the New Testament, most variants are incidental and have no bearing upon the general meanings of the text. Some of these variants are as follows:
As noted in the examples given in the above chart, most of the textual variants have to do with the addition or exclusion of the words “God,” “Jesus”, or “Christ” to the word “Lord” or “Spirit” or the substitute personal pronoun of “Him” for “Christ” in the manuscripts. Although the majority of the oldest Greek manuscripts favor the rendering of modern translations, such as the New American Standard Bible illustrated above, none of the variant renderings change the inherent meanings of the text. Through comparison, such as these illustrated above, one can easily determine the essential message of the original authors of the New Testament. Thus, as Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek note:
IS THE BIBLE MISSING BOOKS?
Mormons often point to the names of books cited in the Bible, not found in the text of Scripture, as evidence that the Bible’s Scripture is incomplete. Some of the common books mentioned in the Bible that Mormons consider “lost” or “missing” are as follows:
It is important to note first of all that these books were not “lost” from the Bible. These books were common knowledge to the people of their day and some have even survived down to our day, like the book of Enoch listed above. The reason they are not found in our Bible is because they were never considered Scripture in the first place! Mormons incorrectly assume that if a book is mentioned in the text of Scripture, that book itself must also be considered Scripture as well. This is a false assumption because most of the unscriptural books mentioned in the Bible were merely journals of the prophets and the seers or historical books, like the “book of the wars of the LORD” mentioned at Numbers 21:14. There is nothing in the text of Scripture that indicates that God intended these unscriptural books to be preserved in His Holy Word, the Bible. Furthermore, when one examines these books that have been preserved to our day (like the book of Enoch), one finds that these books lack divine authority and/or contain inaccuracies in the text that prevent them from being canonized into the Scriptures. This is why none of the unscriptural books mentioned in the Bible were considered Scripture by the people of their day. However, it is worth discussing the alleged missing epistles of Paul as most of his epistles (unlike the other books in the list above) are considered Scripture.
Was Paul’s letter of mystery lost (Ephesians 3:3-4)?
At Ephesians 3:3-4, Paul makes mention of an earlier writing in which he discussed the mystery that God made known to him by a revelation. It is important to realize that Paul’s letters did not always stay with the particular church addressed, but were often copied and circulated among other churches. This was certainly true of the book of Ephesians as Paul wrote this letter with the specific intention of circulating it to all of the churches of Asia Minor. Thus, it is quite possible that the “revelation” of the “mystery” that Paul wrote about earlier is a reference to an earlier letter, possibly 1 Corinthians where Paul wrote about the “mystery” of God (1 Corinthians 2:7-10) “in few words” (Ephesians 3:3). Since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from the city of Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8), it is quite reasonable to conclude that the Ephesians still had access to a copy of this Corinthian letter that Paul wrote during his stay there.
Was Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians lost (1 Corinthians 5:9)?
At 1 Corinthians 5:9, Paul stated: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators.” Regarding this passage, Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe comment:
Was Paul’s epistle from Laodicea lost (Colossians 4:16)?
At Colossians 4:16, Paul commands the church at Colossae: “When this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.” Some argue that the “epistle from Laodicea” is a lost letter of Paul because none of Paul’s letters in our New Testament bear this title. However, the text says this letter was “from Laodicea” — not that the letter was called by that name. There is good evidence that the letter “from Laodicea” is a reference to the book of Ephesians. There are several reasons for this. First, Paul wrote Ephesians at the same time that he wrote the book of Colossians. Second, Ephesians was a kind of cyclical letter that Paul sent throughout the churches of Asia Minor, and three early Greek manuscripts do not contain the words “at Ephesus” in Ephesians 1:1 in the phrase: “to the saints which are at Ephesus.” Thus, many believe that the letter coming “from Laodicea” mentioned in Colossians 4:16 was in fact a reference to Paul’s Ephesian letter. 24.
IS THE BOOK OF MORMON MISSING BOOKS?
While Mormons are quick to assert that cited books not included in the text of Scripture are proof that the Bible is incomplete, they fail to apply this same standard to their Book of Mormon which has no less than 10 books cited that are not included in its text. Are we to argue that the Book of Mormon is incomplete because these books are not included? No Mormon would agree to this.
We must remember that God the Father and Jesus Christ Himself promised that the Word of God would endure forever (Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25). Thus, if one book of Scripture were lost, we would have to question the strength of God to keep His promises. Indeed, such is not the case for Scripture declares that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2)!
IS THE BIBLE COMPLETE OR SHOULD WE LOOK FOR NEW REVELATION?
Mormons boast in the ability of their LDS prophets to reveal new Scripture to the church today. Thus, their canon of four Scripture books is never considered closed, but the “inspired words” of living LDS prophets become “scripture” to them as well. 25. Just as a child boasts of his “new” toys to his playmates, so Mormons boast of their “new” revelation from the Book of Mormon that taunts Christians who cling to the “old” revelations of the Bible:
To respond to these accusations, Christians often look for a verse from the Bible that teaches that the canon of Scripture was closed at Revelation—the final book of the New Testament. Unfortunately, this Scripture does not exist, although many often incorrectly appeal to Revelation 22:18-19:
In context, Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the book of Revelation, not to the Bible as a whole. Although no Scripture speaks of the fact that the canon of Scripture was closed with writing of the last book of the Bible, Scripture does claim that “all the counsel of God” has been declared and that God has already given us “all things” that pertain to life and godliness:
If “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” and “all the counsel of God” have already been declared to us through the Bible, what need do we have of new “counsel” from God in the form of additional Scripture? As we have already proved, none of God’s words have been lost, so there is no need for a “restoration” of “plain and precious” gospel truths through a so-called “Book of Mormon” Scripture. Furthermore, in regard to the concept of receiving latter-day revelation, Scripture gives the following strong warnings:
When one measures Latter-day (Mormon) “Scripture” against these guidelines, one finds that it fails on all five accounts. Fundamentally, it is an issue of whom you trust. Do you trust Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon that claim that Jesus failed to keep His promise to preserve His Word (1 Nephi 13)? Or do you trust Jesus Christ and His promises (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33)? He warned:
The “fruits” of this Mormon “false prophet” are evident. One cannot have it both ways, for to believe the Book of Mormon is to call Jesus a liar. MAY IT NEVER BE!
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
1. These six books are Hebrews, 2 Peter, James, 2 John, 3 John, Revelation.
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