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Is that the best they can do?

A look at the work of Jerald and Sandra Tanner

 

Left: the "light house" graphic on the Tanner's "light house ministry" web site appears to be inspired by an old barber's pole. The diagonal stripes on a barber's pole represent a cloth dipped in blood. This comes from old times when barbers used to act as amateur surgeons. But they killed to many of their patients. So now we leave surgery to those who know what they are doing.

Introduction

A critic recently wrote and said, "do not reply until you have read all these books." She then listed the usual anti-Mormon standards. Top of her list (predictably) was "anything by the Tanners."

It is over ten years since I read the Tanners' main book, "Mormonism - Shadow or Reality." At the time I thought it was quite impressive - lots of stuff I had never seen before, and all apparently backed up by original documents. So this week I took up the challenge again. I suppose I was a lot younger when I first read their stuff, but boy, was I ever disappointed.

See also: critics


General issues

Summary

Ten years on I know a little bit more about the church, and what seemed impressive when I was young looks a lot less impressive now. What is most surprising is that the Tanners are the "experts" in anti-Mormon information. Everyone else quotes from them. If the Tanners are this bad, it doesn't say much for the rest.

About the Tanners

Many church members have already torn apart the Tanner's work for shoddy standards, but I decided to ignore their comments and see for myself. I started at the "Utah Light House Ministry" web site (http://www.utlm.org/). This is where they sell their books and give away samples for free. (The Tanners make their money from attacking the church, which explains why they have to keep on publishing the same old stuff in new packaging.) They have made "anti-Mormon" business a lucrative career, mainly feeding off gullible Born Again Christians.

To be fair, the Tanners are better informed and more reasonable than most long-time critics of the church. They at least attempt to rely on documentary evidence (sort of), they have hesitated to jump on the bandwagon at times (e.g. regarding some aspects of the "salamander letter") and have criticized some of the more extreme anti-Mormon material. But to call them the best of the church's major critics is not so much a compliment, more an indictment of the generally low standards in the field.

Their main areas of focus

The Tanners are at their best when they attack church history. They have become expert at so many falsehoods and distortions in one pamphlet that it takes a year to untangle them all. I do not have that kind of time to waste, but I have included a review of just one page to give you a flavor.

The Tanners also take a few swipes at archaeology and the Book of Mormon, but they seem unable to keep up with the latest developments. Most of their arguments are based on outdated work, and are just not relevant to much of what has been published in the last twenty years.

They are a their weakest in the area of the Bible and Book of Mormon. This is because it is the one area where most readers can check the facts for themselves.

The purpose and methodology of this page

I wrote this page after reading the first four pamphlets that took my interest from the Tanners' "Utah Light House Ministry" web site. I chose those that dealt with issues that you, the reader, could most easily check on (e.g. comparing the Bible and Book of Mormon). Four may not sound like much, but each one is equivalent to many printed pages, and is densely packed with misleading information (see below). They were all equally disappointing. had I just stumbled across the four worst cases, and all the rest have higher standards? I doubt it.

I am sorry if you were expecting a complete response to all the Tanners' attacks on the church. But I really just wanted to see if the Tanners are worth reading in the first place.


Hypocrisy - or just ignorance?

The Tanners claim to be Christians - or at least they quote Bible verses a lot. But perhaps this is just in order to get more money out of Born Again Christians. They seem unaware that the arguments they use against the Book of Mormon are (a) irrelevant, and (b) far more destructive against the Bible.

The pamphlet "3,913 Changes in the Book of Mormon"

This seemed a good place to start. This claim always makes me laugh. The church makes no secret of minor changes in the Book of Mormon, and none of them is significant (see below). Even if they were, so what? The church is led by a living prophet. If God tells him to clarify some obscure passage, great! We still have the original 1830 edition to compare, so what is the problem?

The Bible, however, is different. There are literally dozens of major translations in English alone, and every one changes every verse! The Book of Mormon may have 4000 changes, but the Bible has had almost every word changed many times over. And some of the translations make serious changes (see which Bible do you believe in?) Even worse, none of these changes were inspired, none were made by a prophet, and we do not have the original texts for comparison.

So, by this Tanner measure, the Book of Mormon is innocent - but the Bible is in very serious trouble indeed.

The pamphlet "How do we test a prophet"

Here we have another example where the Tanners shoot themselves in the foot. They start by claiming that ther Bible does not say God speaks to us through feelings. Then I wonder what Jesus meant by John 14:26?

"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

If this does not refer to being taught by feelings, what does it mean?

Then they claim that a prophet must get every prophecy right, and not do anything that looks bad. In this case, plenty of Bible prophets fail the test. (For a list of mistakes and errors made by Bible prophets, see the FAIR web site at http://www.fair-lds.org/Questions/Answers/AN01005.html.) But Joseph Smith comes out very well. See the prophecies of Joseph Smith, and the various Bible prophecies fulfilled by the church.

So, once again, the church passes the Tanner's test, but the Bible fails it!

The pamphlet Bible Verses Relating to LDS Teachings on Temple Work

Here is yet another pamphlet where the Tanners rely on their readers being ignorant of the Bible.

They start by saying "There is nothing in the New Testament about 'eternal marriages'." Notice that they do not say "There is nothing in the Bible," just "nothing in the New Testament." They know that, taking the Old and New Testaments together, there is strong evidence for eternal marriage.

Of course, the Tanner's argument is based on the assumption that the Bible contains everything there is to know. But they have no evidence for this huge and danhgerous assumption. They choose to ignore plenty of evidence that there were secret teachings in New Testament times.

They then go on to pretend that the temple was not important to New Testament church. Yet the New Testament teaches that the temple was at the heart of Christian worship!

They say that the reference to baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29) was not a Christian practice. But the NIV study Bible (a favorite among conservative protestants) gives several possible interpretations for this verse. The number one intrepretation is exactly what the Mormons teach.

They say that all genealogy is condemned by the New Testament - which would mean that Matthew and Luke were not very good Christians (they begin their gospels with long genealogies of Christ).

And so they continue. They can only attack the Mormon church by contradicting the Bible.

The pamphlet "Bible and Book of Mormon Contradictions"

This is the funniest of the lot. The Tanners list supposed disagreements that are very easy to explain. But they seem unaware that the Bible contains far greater internal contradictions!

The Tanners say that nobody in Old Testament times knew that the Gentiles would receive the gospel. They should tell that to Abraham! God told Abraham that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him - not just the Jews. Or tell it to Simeon (Luke 2:25-32) - when he saw the baby Jesus, he already had the Holy Ghost and had been told that the light would come to the Gentiles.

The Tanners say that the church was not established until New Testament times. But they seem unaware that the word "church" just means a congregation of believers. Hence there is a church whenever people gather to worship.

The Tanners say that the name "Christian" could not be used in Old Testament times. But they forget that "Christian" is just a Greek word meaning "follower of Christ." "Christ" means "anointed one" or "Messiah." So any old word that meant "Messiah-follower" could be translated as "Christian" for an English speaking audience.

And so on and so on.

The Tanners' so-called contradictions are easily answered. But the internal Bible contradictions are far worse. There are hundreds of internal contradictions - names, dates, places, numbers, teachings, etc. See the anti-fundamentalist site at http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/ for details.

If this "contradictions" measure is valid, then the Book of Mormon passes the test, but the Bible is in serious trouble again.

Conclusion

I could go on, but you get the general idea. The Tanners claim to follow Bible teachings. But they use arguments that, if valid, destroy their own position, while leaving the Book of Mormon unharmed.


"Never mind the quality, feel the weight"

The first thing that becomes apparent when studying the Tanners' work, is the sheer quantity of rubbish packed into such a small space. It would take a whole book to untangle the confusion and distortion in just one pamphlet. Multiply that by all the books published by the Tanners, and it becomes clear that they intend to keep you busy for the rest of your life. Most Mormons have better things to do.

How many misleading statements can they pack into one page?

To illustrate this, I will start at the top of the first page I read. This one deals with changes in the Book of Mormon. You can read the whole thing at http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/3913intro.htm I cut and pasted this into a word processor, and just looked at the first page. It contains:

The Tanners are professional "anti"s. Their objective is not to discover any facts but to make you feel bad about the church. So they avoid making too many direct statements that can be tested, and rely instead on numerous more subtly misleading ideas.

Let's go for the world record!

This may seem very picky. Most of these are minor points- more serious points are dealt with elsewhere on this page. But they all add up to a serious attempt to mislead the reader at every opportunity.

  1. Title:
    The premise is that there is something wrong with changes, per se. But so what? What is wrong with changes? The Tanners are unable to show that any of the changes are significant.
  2. Number of changes:
    The claim is of "3,913 Changes" is unnecessary - would it make a difference if it was 300 or 30000? So why be so precise? This is the fallacy of "false precision," where you make a weak argument sound stronger by adding very precise sounding numbers. In this case, the numbers are not even accurate, as the text goes on to say "at least." My old physics teacher used to call this "spurious accuracy." It is a sign of sloppy work.
  3. Implied effort
    How the 1830 edition was obtained (copied from a University edition given by an apostle) falsely implies that an original copy is hard to get hold of, which might suggest the chuch had something to hide. But in fact, anyone can get hold of a copy. I have seen facsimiles at LDS bookstores, and there is even a digital version of the 1830 text on a popular CD-ROM available from Deseret Book!
  4. Implied secrecy
    The previous point, and the alleged denial of changes, suggests that the church is trying to hide the changes. This is not true. The church has published the fact through Ensign articles, and FARMS has some lengthy publications that explore the issues.
  5. "Additional changes"
    The statement that the 1981 edition made "additional changes" is misleading, as many of these changes restored the book to the state of the earlier editions.
  6. Relying on off-the-cuff remarks
    The passage misleadingly refers to a spoken sermon as if it was a book that had been proof-read. Spoken sermons, unless they are carefully checked, always contain generalizations and minor errors that scholars must allow for. (I expect that modern General Conference sermons are carefully planned, but this was not always the case.) These cannot be treated as a carefully prepared statement of church policy. To do so is unreasonable and misleading, a cheap journalistic trick.
  7. Ignoring part of the statement
    In particular, it is misleading to quote Elder Smith as saying that there were no changes, as he immediately qualified his statement, acknowledging that there were changes, but specifically denying contradictions or doctrinal changes.
  8. False accusation of lying
    It is wrong to say that Elder Smith was "not telling the truth." He was telling the truth. According to the evidence presented by the Tanners, there were no contradictions or doctrinal changes.
  9. An imaginary contradiction
    The Tanners imply that Elder Smith was wrong to say the printer was unfriendly. To support this, they quote a source which says the printer could not be blamed for changes. The Tanners are either confused, or trying to confuse the reader. There is no contradiction between the two quotations. It is possible to be both unfriendly and innocent of a particular act at the same time. There is evidence that the printer was unfriendly. For example, against Joseph Smith's wishes, he allowed passages of the Book of Mormon to be printed in a local newspaper before the official publication.
  10. Another imaginary contradiction
    Elder Smith mentioned that there was a small number of typographical errors in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Since the punctuation was added by the printer, and some minor changes were later made by the prophet, it is correct to say that the original punctuation was occasionally in error. However, the words themselves were faithfully reproduced. So in terms of the original wording, there may have been no typos, as B. H. Roberts observed. Thus Smith and Roberts are both correct.
  11. Imaginery mistakes
    The Tanners refer to "many mistakes" - yet the Tanners are unable to show even one!

All that in just one page! On my wordprocessor, that represents 11 misleading statements in 41 lines of text - and 18 of those lines were just quotations from church sources. That makes an average of about one misleading statement per two lines of text. No bad going! These people are professionals.

Remember that this page was the first one I looked at - there are probably even worse pages out there. Remember too that I have not even got round to checking their facts or their sources yet!

More about changes in the Book of Mormon

I am grateful for the changes - they make the Book of Mormon easier to read. The 3913 changes are almost all grammatical, and extremely minor. The Tanners list the most serious examples in their introduction, and they include such shocking changes as:

A small number of changes were made to clarify passages that some people found confusing. The worst change of all, according to the Tanners, was this in 1 Nephi 3:40: "the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father " was changed to "the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father"

If the Tanners had read the Book of Mormon more carefully, they would know that both statements are true. Jesus is the Father in the sense that he is the creator (see Mosiah 3:8). And Jesus is eternal. So we can refer to Jesus as our Eternal Father. However, it has become conventional to only use the words "Eternal Father" when referring to the one Jesus called "My Father," otherwise things get a little confusing! So the change, though not necessary, was helpful.

(By the way, Jesus made it clear that his Father, though one in purpose and power, was separate in body - see for example 3 Nephi 18:19-20, 18:27, 27:13).

Why were there changes?

The 1830 edition had terrible grammar. Yorgenson's audiotape "Little Known Evidences" tells how a non-Mormon, Sami Hanna was given the job of translating the Book of Mormon into Arabic (a Semitic language closely related to ancient Hebrew). He found it difficult. He was told by critics that the Book of Mormon been changed in thousands of places. So, he got hold of an 1830 copy, and found that there were even more changes han they had claimed. But the 1830 edition - with its bad English grammar - was much easier to translate into Arabic, as we would expect if it had originally been written in something like Hebrew. He later joined the church.


Are the Tanners descendants of Sanballat?

It appears that, if critics like the Tanners cannot dent someone's testimony of the gospel, they will at least keep us busy answering their endless accusations. But Mormons have more important things to do. The situation is rather like that of Nehemiah and Sanballat, when Nehemiah was busy building the walls of Jerusalem. The Tanners will accuse the church of anything they can think of, as long as it slows down the work of the ministry.

Nehemiah Chapter 6:

1 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;)

2 That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief.

3 And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?

4 Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner

5 Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand;

6 Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words.

7 And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together.

8 Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.

9 For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

 

The bottom line:

Is this the best the critics can do? Then maybe I should not waste any more time on them.

 

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