As latter-day saints, our beliefs are often challenged by others. “How can you know that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is true?” they ask. Critics demand proof. Most often, our determined detractors are sectarian Christians who believe in Jesus Christ and the Bible. Typically, their opinion is that all truth must be weighed against the Bible. The unsaid assertion is that, if the Bible doesn’t address something, it cannot be true.
This is spurious reasoning, because the Bible doesn’t address many things that we know to be true. The ambiguities of the Bible have been the source of inter-Christian contention for centuries. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and hundreds of Protestant sects don’t agree what is meant by many important Bible passages. For example, they disagree on the manner of baptism, who can perform baptism, at what age baptism is to be performed, and whether baptism is necessary for salvation. Given that Jesus told his disciples that those who believe and are baptized will be saved and those who don’t believe and thus reject baptism will be damned, it seems like there ought to be clarity on this issue. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t give enough information for sectarian churches to come to an agreement.
The more important question is, how do we know anything is true? If the Bible is the only way to evaluate spiritual truth, then how can we know the Bible is true? There are different Bibles, some of which have a different canon of books. How did people who lived BEFORE the Bible was compiled know anything was true? Today there are literally hundreds of Christian sects, all of whom use the Bible and interpret it differently.
Both the Book of Mormon and the Bible teach that the Holy Ghost is the measure of all truth. Let’s look at a few examples from the scriptures, that relate the experiences of individuals who lived before the Bible was compiled. Coincidentally, these are appropriately considered during the Christmas season, because they have to do with the birth of Jesus Christ.
Before Jesus was born, Mary went to visit her cousin Elisabeth. Elisabeth was pregnant with John (the Baptist) at the time. When Mary arrived and entered the house, Elisabeth received a revelation by the Holy Ghost that Mary was also expecting and that her child would be the Messiah.
“And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:41-43)
If truth can only be known by comparing it to the Bible, how was it that Elisabeth could know that Mary was expecting and that her child would be the Redeemer? What scripture should she have consulted to verify this? Could Elisabeth have searched the Old Testament to know that her cousin was carrying the Son of God?
When Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds in the fields. The angel gave them a revelation, a sign by which they would identify their long-awaited Messiah. If they would go into the City of David–Bethlehem–and look for a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, there was their Savior. The shepherds followed the instructions and they found Mary and the Holy Child. They didn’t consult the scriptures. Where in the law and the prophets could they have validated the words of the angel?
Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to fulfill the law and present him before the Lord. They were coming to offer a sacrifice of two turtledoves. As they traversed the court of the temple, they encountered an old man named Simeon who had waited all his life for the advent of the Messiah. Luke wrote:
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)
Here we read that the Holy Ghost had personally revealed to Simeon that he would be blessed to see the Messiah before he died. What Bible passage could he have consulted to know this? On this particular day, the day Jesus’ parents would bring him to the temple, Simeon was moved by the Spirit to go to the temple also. Again, what Old Testament writings would have told him the exact day that God would fulfill his promise to him? Then, while in the temple, perhaps there could have been dozens of eight day-old male infants being brought to be presented. How would he have been able to identify Mary, Joseph, and their child? It could only have been by the Holy Ghost.
On this same day, in the temple, a pious elderly widow, whom the Bible calls a “prophetess” encountered the holy family and also identified the child as the Redeemer.
“And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)
Again, what passage of scripture told Anna that her long-awaited Savior would be in the temple on that day and help her to identify him and his family?
Peter explains that the ancient disciples had “a more sure word of prophecy.” (2 Peter 1:19) He knew of what he spoke. In the beginning of his apostolic ministry, Jesus asked Peter, “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter responded, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:15-16) Peter recognized who Jesus was–not only that he was the Messiah–but he also realized something that was not expected in the messianic tradition. He knew that the Messiah was not just a Davidic king who would rise to political and military power in Israel. Peter knew that Jesus, the Messiah, was God’s own Son. Jesus praised him and explained that this knowledge did not come to him from man or the scriptures written by men. This knowledge came by the spirit of revelation.
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)
What passages of the Old Testament could have given Peter greater knowledge than what he knew by the power of the Holy Ghost?
As we peruse the New Testament, we find instances where the Holy Ghost guided God’s servants. There was a day when Philip was told by an angel to head south out of Jerusalem toward the desert in Gaza. On his way, he found an Ethiopian sitting in a chariot reading the writings of Isaiah. The Spirit of the Lord spoke to him.
“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)
As the Ethiopian struggled to comprehend the writings of Isaiah, a living servant was inspired by the Holy Ghost to approach him. Note here that the Ethiopian HAD the scriptures. Shouldn’t they be plain and easy to understand if they’re our sole source of verifying truth? He was reading an important messianic prophecy and he couldn’t understand it. He needed a person who was guided by the Holy Ghost to explain it to him. Why wasn’t just believing enough to save him? Was it just chance that the Spirit directed a person who had authority to baptize to preach to the Ethiopian?
If the Ethiopian took the advice of our contemporary critics, he would have argued with Philip, using the scriptures in the same manner as the scribes and Pharisees. He might have gone to discuss with his rabbi or a member of the Sanhedrin to make sure Philip’s interpretation of the passage was correct. He could have spent years researching rabbinical commentaries and talking to learned me who knew the scriptures. After all, it was these same men whose education and religious training assured them that “out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” (See John 7:52) He might have gone to his grave trying to untangle the rhetorical traps and wresting of scripture by those with orthodox religious training.
Instead, the Ethiopian trusted in the Spirit of God and sought baptism at the hands of Philip. How great was his joy.
Saul of Tarsus was struck blind after a marvelous vision on the road to Damascus. Perhaps it was only such an event that could strip away the years of rabbinical training that blinded his eyes and hardened his heart. Nevertheless, the Holy Ghost had a critical role to play in his conversion. While Saul recovered in Damascus, the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision, sending him to baptize Saul and give him the gift of the Holy Ghost.
What scripture should have Ananias consulted before going into a potentially life-threatening situation to minister to a man who had arrested and jailed the saints of God? Was it not the scriptures and Saul’s supposed understanding of them that led him to persecute the Church? What scripture was it that changed his heart? Was it not the power of the Holy Ghost that inspired him from that moment forth to preach Christ in the synagogues?
How ironic it is that Paul should later write to Timothy:
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 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 Timothy 3:15-17)
Were it not for the ministrations of the Holy Spirit and the vision which took the “scales of darkness” from his eyes and from his soul, would the scriptures Paul had also known from his childhood have saved him? Or would he have persisted in kicking against the pricks? Paul is often cited by sectarian scriptorians as an example of relying upon the scriptures to be persuasive in their preaching. Yet Paul himself wrote:
“And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
This brings us to the point. God speaks to men in many ways. Scripture is just one of those ways. Scripture has an inherent weakness, in that written texts can be lost, altered, translated, and misinterpreted. Without the Holy Ghost, the Bible is not sufficient to be the sole measure of God’s truth. What is the best measure of truth? The Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost speaks to us spirit-to-spirit. It is a perfect communication from God that gives understanding.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:16-17)
The Spirit of God helps us express thoughts and feelings for which don’t even have words.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
The Holy Ghost is also called the Comforter. It will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance the words of Christ.
“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.” (John 14:26)
The communication from the Holy Ghost can not be known by those who have the “spirit of the world.” It is withheld from them. It teaches wisdom directly to the heart and mind that cannot be understood by those who don’t have faith. Its promptings are spiritually discerned.
“But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)
The message of the Bible is not that man is limited to reading the words in a book to discern truth. The message of the Bible is a “cloud of witnesses” that tells us that God reveals truth by the Holy Ghost to those who seek him. Angels, visions, inspired dreams, the voice of God, and spiritual impressions are all part of divine communication from heaven to men.
I have had sectarians tell me, “Nowhere in the Bible does it tell a person to pray to know the truth,” asserting that only the Bible can be their source of truth. They obviously forget the invitation of James, which tells us:
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” (James 1:5)
If you lack wisdom, if you need knowledge, if you can’t figure out what is the truth, you don’t have to depend on a man with a book in his hand telling you that his interpretation is the only correct one. Your salvation is not to be found in trusting in some man. You find truth by going to God in prayer and asking him humbly to reveal it to you. He will answer your prayers in an unmistakable way.
Why doesn’t everyone know that Joseph Smith was a prophet or that the Book of Mormon is true? Because very few people truly ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ. Most people have their own agenda. Unbelief isn’t so much that a person doesn’t believe; it’s that he already believes he has everything he needs and doesn’t seek anything more. More than anything else, that attitude is what keeps people from learning the truth.
I testify that you can know the truth for yourself. You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask of God. That’s the power of Mormonism–that God answers affirmatively that it is true. I have confirmed these things by my own experience and you can know exactly what I know if you’ll seach, ponder, pray, and commit to follow wherever the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost will lead you. The Holy Ghost is the measure by which all claims of truth can be evaluated confidently.