Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ben Spackman Attacks the Prophet Lehi’s Teachings


By Dennis B. Horne 

In a recent blog post, Ben Spackman wrote:

“I believe Lehi in 2 Ne 2 was doing as prophets do; he “spoke in part and prophesied in part” per 1 Co 13:9. Lehi was reading Genesis through his sixth-century Israelite “experience and knowledge,” as is apparent from some other things in that chapter; the fact that it appears in the canonized and inspired Book of Mormon does not automatically render it an ultimate revelation of eternal scientific fact from the mind of  God, which overturns all evidence to the contrary.”


Spackman has smeared a little phraseology frosting on this statement of selective belief to try and lessen its startling impact, but there really are insurmountable problems with this thinking from a fundamental doctrinal standpoint. Our Article of Faith 8 tells us that we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. It also states that we believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, with no disclaimer for bad translating/transmission attached. The Book of Mormon is simply the word of God; the keystone scripture of the restoration. It is revelation; it was written and abridged by inspired prophets and translated by a prophet and is believed and sustained today by all the prophets and apostles.

If we accept the hypothesis that Lehi spoke his opinion and erred, instead of speaking inspiration, then we must also accept that Mormon, the prophet-historian who compiled and abridged the Book of Mormon, erred by including that portion of Lehi’s teachings in his amalgamation and abridgment of all the extant plates. He kept the small plates of Nephi in the Book of Mormon even though some of it is now declared by Spackman to be false opinion. And we have to figure out which parts of the chapter are revelation and which are not; after all, even though Spackman has told us he may have gotten it wrong.

This whole notion opens up a pandora’s box of ideas for removal of text. Spackman doesn’t like verses 22-23 because they tend to destroy the theory of evolution which he is trying to push and promote. So along with those verses, one might presume he wouldn’t like verse 19 and especially 20, because they also destroy evolution. Now we have at least four verses that have been decreed Lehi’s uninspired opinion. But wait; we also have Moses 5:11 and 6:48, which teaches exactly the same doctrine, and therefore Spackman will need to call that the uninspired opinion of Enoch—and get rid of it. Now we are starting to designate portions of another standard work—revealed scripture—uninspired.

But wait, someone else comes along and dislikes something else that Lehi said, or perhaps Nephi (I have heard of this also), and says that is uninspired. Maybe it has to do with skin color, or the murmuring of Laman and Lemuel, or something to do with feminism, or the rankings of the seriousness of sin, or who knows what. Those passages must now also go because they are the uninspired opinions of some Book of Mormon prophet. And since the same subjects are found in other books of scripture, those must go also (such as D&C 77).

Have we not just turned the Book of Mormon into a pamphlet?  I guarantee we can find enough people in the restored Church who think current science (or so-called social justice or some other worldly philosophy) should prevail over the text of the scriptures; that eventually we would have all our scriptures tossed out, and have nothing left. (Many an offshoot cult has already done such.) Or we could just join the Community of Christ church, which is a superb example of what occurs when you start by tossing out the Book of Mormon.

Now, the question might be asked: who is Ben Spackman to be declaring Lehi’s views to be in error since they conflict with modern scientific theories? The quick and simple answer is: no one. He has no authority or position or special revelation to speak for anyone. Not only are we under no obligation to buy what he is selling, we are under obligation NOT to buy it.

Regarding these very passages of scripture that Ben Spackman says are Lehi’s uninspired opinion, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has forcefully contradicted him: 

Continuing his non-chronological commentary, the Lord says: “And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air” (Moses 3:1-19). It is of this account of the paradisiacal creation of all things—repeat, all things—that Lehi, in words dictated by the Holy Ghost, shows the difference between the life of all things before and after the fall. “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen,” Lehi tells us, “but he would have remained in the garden of Eden.” Death came after the fall when the true mortality first prevailed, death for Adam, death for all things. Only mortal beings can die; Adam was immortal before the fall. Hence, without the fall, he would have remained in Eden forever. “And all things which were created”—nothing is exempt—“must have remained in the same [paradisiacal] state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.” Plants, fowl, fish, animals, and man—all things—would have continued to live as immortal or spiritual or paradisiacal beings if there had been no fall. 

Elder McConkie says the prophet Lehi’s words were “dictated by the Holy Ghost” and Ben Spackman says those words were simply his own uninspired opinion. They cannot both be right. Spackman is teaching false doctrine; Elder McConkie is sustaining and supporting the inspiration of a prophet of God and the standard works as they have been canonized. One is using a scientific theory to attack an ancient prophet’s teachings; the other is declaring that we accept revelation from God first, before anything mankind and science comes up with.

Ben Spackman is part of a (sorely misguided) project at BYU (the Biology program) which seeks to harmonize science and religion. It seems that when they cannot be harmonized, he goes with science over scripture. Others at BYU, such as Jamie Jensen and Steven Peck, are doing the same thing—putting the theories of science ahead of the revelations that contradict them. Of course, there are many places where science and religion fit together well and are harmonious, but some others where science has not caught up with revealed truth. The theory of evolution is one of those conflicting areas.

Of the effort to harmonize science with religion, President Dallin H. Oaks wrote (this quotation is found in his official biography): “Because our knowledge of the truths of the gospel is still evolving with continuing revelation, and because the ‘truths’ of science are also very dynamic, I am skeptical about bringing them together at present, though I know that they will each be gloriously consistent when all truths are known.” All truths are certainly not yet known!

This is one reason the Church does not have an official position on evolution: which or whose version of that theory would it take such a position on?—and how long would a position take to become obsolete as science changes? Would it take 25 years. or 50 or 75 to substantially revise evolutionary science?—enough to make a Church position on it obsolete. On the other hand, the Church has taken a position on the creation of man, with the First Presidency issuing two formal statements (1911 and 1931). The most modern scientists are always saying they have now discovered the truths that their predecessors thought they had but did not. How can such theories be trusted in the same way that the revelations can be trusted?

From Joseph F. Smith, to James E. Talmage to Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, among others, we have a number of prophetic statements insisting that the standard works govern members of the church in matters pertaining to doctrine, faith, and practice. They, in concert with the teachings of modern prophets, constitute the iron rod of Lehi’s and Nephi’s visions—and we will be judged out of them, not out of scientific textbooks. In his last general conference address, Elder Adam S. Bennion of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “The basic belief, ‘the glory of God is intelligence,’ puts a premium on the search for truth. Men are encouraged to reach out for enlightenment wherever it is worthily to be found. But they are also charged with the responsibility of proofreading their thinking against good common sense and against the revealed word of God.”

We have declarations from intellectual academics weakening or marginalizing the standard works, seeking to make room for modern society’s views.

For example, Grant Hardy said the following in a widely publicized interview:

“Sometimes we’re embarrassed by the Book of Mormon. We’re embarrassed by the lack of evidence for its historicity, by the racism and the absence of women, and about how it uses the King James Bible, particularly the New Testament. There are things in the Book of Mormon that are problematic, and I don’t think we should skip over those. Nephi had attitudes that we would regard as racist today. Apparently even prophets do not always live up to their ideals or to their revelations.” (see: https://religionnews.com/2024/01/04/juicing-up-your-book-of-mormon-reading-this-year-part-1-with-grant-hardy/)

Though Hardy uses the collective “we”—as far as I am concerned he can only speak for himself; he certainly does not speak for me or most members I know. I am not embarrassed by the Book of Mormon nor anything in it. Again, it is the word of God (and not as far as translated correctly or as far as it fits with some scientific theory or the philosophies of men). It was translated correctly by the gift and power of God. Hardy has written a 900-page book filled with annotations (explanations) of various kinds about the Book of Mormon. If he is embarrassed by the book, how sound and stable and correct would many of his commentaries be? How much of the learning and theories of men/scholars would it contain instead?

Ben Spackman says that the best way to figure out what the scriptures teach is to learn how the ancient Hebrews would have understood them—something much less than 1% of members of the Church would ever do. On the contrary, Elder McConkie says the best way to figure out what they are saying is to get the same Spirit of the Lord that the prophets had when they first wrote them. This is far more likely to happen for those with the Gift of the Holy Ghost who apply themselves and pray about what they are reading; no ancient Hebrew knowledge needed. After all, the Book of Mormon was written for our day and times. I know Elder McConkie’s method works for me. “In the full and final sense,” he said, “the only perfect and absolute way to gain a sure knowledge of any truth in any field is to receive personal revelation from the Holy Spirit of God. This heaven-sent boon is reserved for those who keep the commandments and obtain the companionship of the Holy Spirit.”


            The way to achieve a high state of gospel scholarship is first to study and ponder and pray about the Book of Mormon and then to follow the same course with reference to the other scriptures. The Book of Mormon contains that portion of the Lord’s word which he has given to the world to prepare the way for an understanding of the Bible and the other revelations now had among us. We have been commanded to search the scriptures, all of them; to treasure up the Lord’s word, lest we be deceived; to drink deeply from the fountain of holy writ, that our thirst for knowledge may be quenched.

Paul says the scriptures are able to make us “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15.) They lead us to the true Church and the legal administrators whom God has appointed to administer his work on earth. It is far better for us to gain our answers from the scriptures than from something someone else says about them

            And then, 

It is true that we oftentimes need an inspired interpreter to help us understand what apostles and prophets have written for us in the Standard Works. But it is also true that many explanations given by many people as to the meaning of scriptural passages are somewhat less than true and edifying.

We are in a far better position if we are able to drink directly from the scriptural fountain without having the waters muddied by others whose insights are not as great as were those of the prophetic writers who first penned the passages found in the accepted canon of holy writ

And this from Pres. Benson: 

The world worships the learning of man. They trust in the arm of flesh. To them, men's reasoning is greater than God's revelations. The precepts of man have gone so far in subverting our educational system that in many cases a higher degree today, in the so-called social sciences, can be tantamount to a major investment in error. Very few men build firmly enough on the rock of revelation to go through this kind of an indoctrination and come out untainted. Unfortunately, of those who succumb, some use their higher degree to get teaching positions even in our Church educational system, where they spread the falsehoods they have been taught. 

            Ben Spackman and Grant Hardy have effectively disposed of or weakened “the accepted canon of holy writ.”  

Those who put science on the same footing as revelation and take the former over the latter where they contradict, are not hearing or understanding the things of God, but instead are demoting the prophets to mere uninspired men. Those who write articles and books commenting on these things, that reinterpret the statements of the First Presidency, are surely “less than true and edifying.” Another way Elder McConkie put this thinking is this, which he ofte said to family and also to Church religious educators: “Streams of living water flow from the Eternal Fountain, and they flow in scriptural channels prepared by the prophets. Here is a bit of wisdom most of you will understand: Don’t drink below the horses,”

            I have not investigated for myself, but from reviews I have seen online, I understand that Joseph Spencer has written a book about Isaiah in the Book of Mormon that contains material discussing the subject, viewing the Book of Mormon as an 1830 production, and not as the ancient book prepared by God that it is. In other words, discussing Isaiah in the Book of Mormon as a volume written (not translated) by Joseph Smith or someone else that lived in the 1830s. That rids the person that accepts such theories of Joseph Smith’s testimony concerning Moroni’s visit, the obtaining of the plates, and his translating the record by the gift and power of God.

            The standard works are precious; three of them combined become one of several miraculous things that separate the restored Church of Jesus Christ from every other organization or belief system in the world. I concur with these words from Elder McConkie, that he has echoed from other apostolic special witnesses before him: 

The Standard Works are scripture. They are binding upon us. They are the mind and will and voice of the Lord. He never has, he does not now, and he never will reveal anything which is contrary to what is in them. No person, speaking by the spirit of inspiration, will ever teach doctrine that is out of harmony with the truths God has already revealed.

These words of President Joseph Fielding Smith should guide all of us in our gospel study: “It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.

“You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.

“Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:203–4; also cited in Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], p. 609.) 

            I am amazed that these instructions need to be repeated and reinforced, but acedemia is oft the enemy of revelation and the prophetic voice.

            If we were to get a little creative and try to give Ben Spackman the benefit of the doubt, and use this bit of truth from Elder McConkie, could we do such?: 

But every word that a man who is a prophet speaks is not a prophetic utterance. Joseph Smith taught that a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. 

            No, we could not—the fact is that the Book of Mormon is true and God Himself testified that such is indeed the case (see D&C 20 for God’s own statement of testimony that His book is true). If it contains a few minor weaknesses of men, I would trust the prophet to point them out and not one Ben Spackman or Grant Hardy of Joseph Spencer or any other alleged academic.

            Someone tried to point out that Lehi didn’t know anything about evolution, so how could his words found in 2 Nephi refute it? Pres. Ezra Taft Benson has answered: 

As a watchman on the tower, I feel to warn you that one of the chief means of misleading our youth and destroying the family unit is our educational institutions. President Joseph F. Smith referred to false educational ideas as one of the three threatening dangers among our Church members. There is more than one reason why the Church is advising our youth to attend colleges close to their homes where institutes of religion are available. It gives the parents the opportunity to stay close to their children; and if they have become alert and informed as President McKay admonished us last year, these parents can help expose some of the deceptions of men like Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, John Dewey, Karl Marx, John Keynes, and others. 

President Benson followed up that counsel with this: “If your children are taught untruths of evolution in the public schools or even in our Church schools, provide them with a copy of President Joseph Fielding Smith's excellent rebuttal in his book Man, His Origin and Destiny.”

             He also stated: 

            Increasingly the Latter-day Saints must choose between the reasoning of men and the revelations of God. This is a crucial choice, for we have those within the Church today who, with their worldly wisdom, are leading some of our members astray. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., warned that  “the ravening wolves are amongst us from our own membership and they, more than any others, are clothed in sheep's clothing, because they wear the habiliments of the Priesthood. ... We should be careful of them.” (The Improvement Era, May 1949, p. 268.) 

            And speaking specifically to the Book of Mormon itself, 

Now, we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. Our families may be corrupted by worldly trends and teachings unless we know how to use the book to expose and combat the falsehoods in socialism, organic evolution, rationalism, humanism, etc. 

President Benson felt the Book of Mormon to have application in overcoming the false philosophies and science of our day beautifully.

            The Book of Mormon is true, of that I testify, including the teachings of Lehi, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni, Alma, Abinadi, Enos, Ether, Samuel, and all the other prophets who speak inspiration “from the dust” to us.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to give you a brutal review of everything wrong with your article. Sorry in advance, so here goes. You have one misspelled word. Often ends with an "n".