Moses with Joseph Smith face holding the ten commandments tablets on Mount Sinai

Latter-day Sinai

by Fred Anson, Pam Hanvey, and Michael Flournoy

The Apostle Paul’s Law v. Grace Dichotomy

If you’re a Latter-day Saint who has talked theology with Evangelicals, chances are you’ve walked away exasperated more than once. I’m willing to wager you’ve thought, “How can these people misrepresent my church so much? Do they understand my beliefs at all?” Perhaps, you think the most blatant example is when Evangelicals show scriptures that say the Law doesn’t save and then give that smug “gotcha” look. The problem should be obvious, but it isn’t.

You don’t follow the Law of Moses, you believe in the restored gospel. And you’ve said it enough times that Evangelicals should get it by now, right? But we all get stuck in battle debate mode and just have to win, don’t we? So it’s easy to keep pushing an argument in vain.  We all know how it goes, don’t we? 

As a result, we are going to express what Evangelicals have been trying to say all along, but typically don’t know how to because they aren’t bi-lingual and speak both Mormonese and Christianese as your intrepid reporters here do.  

First, both sides agree that Mormonism is a restoration. Yes, you heard that right, it is a restoration. However, Evangelicals see it as a restoration of the Old Testament Law of Moses, not New Testament Christianity. That is, to put it into Mormonese: It’s a restoration of the Lesser Law not the Higher Law as Mormonism claims. (Evangelicals, see BYU Professor Larry E. Dahl’s article, “The Higher Law”, Ensign, February 1991 for a good primer on the difference between the two from the Mormon perspective.) 

Study this out in your mind and see if it is right: When Paul wrote his letters he made a distinction between grace and Law. Since Mormonism claims to be a restoration of New Testament Christianity, not Old Testament Judaism, it stands to reason that it should fit soundly into one of Paul’s categories, right?  So let’s dig in and see why the above thesis is true. 

Similarities with the Law

How dare Evangelicals equate the LDS gospel with the Law of Moses, right? After all, Latter-day Saints don’t sacrifice animals, nor do they consider circumcision an essential covenant or ordinance of the gospel. Plus, the Word of Wisdom doesn’t require abstinence from consuming pork, shellfish, or other non-kosher food, does it?

So, why do Evangelicals equate the LDS gospel with the Law of Moses? Evangelicals are not merely looking at outward practices, but rather, they are going deeper; looking at the principal(s) behind the practices. Very early on in the Old Testament, this principle is established in the Law of Moses.  

I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God.
(Deuteronomy 11:27-28, KJV) 

The  principle of blessings for obedience is also  included in LDS scripture.  

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
(D&C 130:20-21) 

Comparing the two, the Law of Moses (Old Covenant) clearly delineates laws/commandments to be obeyed in specific situations by a specific group of people (Israelites); obedience or disobedience resulted in temporal blessings or curses for the nation of Israel. 

In Galatians 3:24, Paul explains that the Law of Moses, “was given to be a tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith”. Obedience to the Law has never been the means by which men enter into eternal life. Eternal Life has always been a blessing given by grace through faith.

In contrast, D&C 130 only presents a principle of blessings for obedience (no curses for disobedience). It then takes the principle of blessings for obedience and doubles down on it;  making obedience to laws a requirement for all of God’s blessings – up to and including Eternal Life.[2] This leaves no room for eternal life to be granted by grace through faith (see definition below). As a result, many of the practices found in the Law of Moses continue to exist in Mormonism. 

After all, you still covenant to sacrifice all that the Lord blesses you with, don’t you? Doesn’t the LDS Church require a mandatory tithe – even though the tithe was a covenant-keeping ordinance of the lesser Law? Don’t you consider baptism an essential covenant akin to circumcision? And aren’t coffee, tea, and alcohol essentially non-kosher foods that cause one to break covenant if one consumes them? 

Further, don’t both the lesser Law and higher Laws require making and keeping covenants with God in a temple? Weren’t the unworthy Gentiles forbidden from even entering the temple foyer, let alone the washing and anointing area? Ditto for Jews who didn’t keep their covenants? Weren’t women forbidden from holding the Priesthood? Ditto for male children below a certain age?  Wasn’t there a special class of men who could hold the Priesthood out of all the men on earth? Weren’t there classes or castes of priests within the Priesthood rather than a single Royal Priesthood? 

And, aren’t both systems so overwhelmingly arduous, demanding, and ultimately impossible that they drive us to ultimate failure, condemn us and point us to our ever-present, all-surpassing need for a savior. In short, the Law and the LDS gospel serve to bring us to a knowledge of sin. Thus, both systems condemn us just as Paul said so well in his epistles: 

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become ||guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
(Romans 3:19-20, KJV) 

We know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted
(1 Timothy 1.8-11, KJV)

As one of our authors (writing under the pen name “Marie Johnson”) said well: 

The Old Covenant sacerdotal system, which came 430 years after God made his promises to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3) was never designed to give eternal life. Its purpose was to act as a tutor and a disciplinarian; teaching people about the depths of their sinfulness. As their custodian, it watched over them and kept them in check until the fullness of time came and they could be justified by faith in Jesus (Galatians 3:19-24). Just as the promise was not the reality, the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant were only a foreshadow of the good things that were coming in Christ. (Hebrew 10:1-2)

Inaugurated with the shed blood of animals, the Mosaic covenant had a very distinct beginning. When Moses took the blood of calves and goats and sprinkled the book of the covenant and all the people, the Israelites were bound to abide by the Law of Moses (Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:19). They were required to continually perform sacrifices for the temporary covering of sins (Hebrews 10:11). If they intentionally defied the Mosaic Law, they would be cut off from Israel; that is, put to death (Numbers 15:30, Hebrews 10:28). No Hebrew was exempt from this obligation to the law until, “the fullness of the time was come, [when] God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5,KJV)P

(Pam Hanvey (writing as “Marie Johnson”), “The Bible v. The Book of Mormon Gospel”, Beggar’s Bread website, April 17, 2016) 

The Jews under the Old Covenant had to make a sin sacrifice once a year because they kept sinning. The LDS sacrament is essentially the same thing. It is a repeated ordinance that renews the covenant. The New Covenant, as Paul emphasizes again, again, and again in his epistles, does not need to be renewed at all. In this, Paul merely affirms and validates what Christ, Himself said on the cross, “It is finished” (see John 19:30).

So to review:
  

  • Both systems have tithing. 
  • Both systems honor the Sabbath. 
  • Both systems uphold the ten commandments.
  • Both systems require making and keeping covenants. 
  • Both systems overwhelm us and condemn us. 
  • And both systems point us our need for a Savior.


Dissimilarities with Grace

The other problem is how dissimilar Mormonism is with grace as the Bible defines it. For example, Mormonism commits a classic “Fallacy by Definition” error by reframing the primary definition of grace as, “the help or strength given through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ” (see “Grace” official LDS Church website; https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/grace?lang=eng

However, the words for grace in the Bible (“charis” in New Testament Greek and “chen” in the Old Testament) are generally defined as first and foremost, “the free and unmerited favour of God” (see “Divine grace” Wikipedia website; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_grace). That is the definition of the word that not only the Christian world uses, but the world in general does. For example, consider this definition from Dictionary.com (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/grace) which is about as generic a dictionary as they come: “favor or goodwill; a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior”.[1]

Can you see what just happened there, my Latter-day Saint friend? By simply defining the word correctly and giving it its true meaning, suddenly the atonement has shifted away from what I must do to gain God’s favor through Law-keeping to simply receiving the favor that God has so freely already given me through faith and trust in the atonement of Christ. Suddenly, as two of the authors of this article explained in a previous article, we move from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross of Golgotha: 

Though the difference between Gethsemane and Golgotha might appear to be a trivial technicality, it underscores the vast differences between orthodox Biblical Christianity and Mormonism. By situating it at Golgotha, mainstream Christianity locates the atonement in the sacrifice of Christ; by situating it in Gethsemane, Mormons locate the atonement in the obedience of the believer.

It’s the difference between grace and works. On the one hand, there is the truly finished work that the believer looks to in faith; and on the other, there is the completed demonstration that the believer aspires to recreate (albeit metaphorically). In the latter, Christ might show the way, but he stops short of becoming the way, thus the believer is thrust back on his own efforts to secure the goal. As Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker noted, Mormonism is more about attainment than atonement, (Adam Gopnik, “I, Nephi: Mormonism and its Meanings”; The New Yorker, August 13, 2012). But such a focus denies the Christ-centered redemption narrative that’s at the very core of the gospel message and so rightly cherished by Christians the world over.
(Fred W. Anson & Michael Flournoy, “Behold the Man Upon the Cross”, Beggar’s Bread website, September 30, 2018; https://beggarsbread.org/2018/09/30/beholdthemanonthecross/

And this is a shift that’s reiterated again, again, and again in the Bible: 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
(Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV) 

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
(Galatians 2:21, KJV)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
(Galatians 5:4, KJV) 

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
(Romans 11:5-6, KJV) 

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(John 1:17, KJV) 

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
(Romans 6:14, KJV) 

For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
(Galatians 3:18, KJV)

In the aforementioned article, Pam Hanvey summed things up nicely when she said, 

Because Jesus redeemed those under the law, the Old Covenant became obsolete when the New Covenant was ratified in his blood. (Hebrews 8:13, 10:9-10). Jesus addressed this in the parable of the wineskins. New wine can’t be poured into old wineskins: The old skins will burst and both will be ruined. (Matthew 9:14-17). The two covenants can’t be mixed. [Yet] In spite of Paul and Jesus’ teaching, the Book of Mormon asserts that people who were under Old Covenant law could freely partake of the New Covenant and claim remission of sins through Jesus’ atonement…

Splattered throughout the pages of the Book of Mormon, this concocted gospel attempts to mix the Old and New Covenants, only to rip apart the fabric of the Old Covenant and trample underfoot the New Covenant.
(op cit, Hanvey) 

This is the focus of the entire book of Galatians, which may best be summarized by this passage: 

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified…

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
(Galatians 2:16,21, KJV) 

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes further to press home the fact that those trying to justify themselves by Law-keeping are actually putting themselves under a curse: 

For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.
(Galatians 3:10-12, KJV) 

He even goes so far as to say that law-keeping is a yoke of bondage, rather than freedom, 

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
(Galatians 5:1 KJV) 

So my dear Latter-day Saint friend, if you feel like that pressures and demands of the conflated, mish-mash, of the false Mormon Gospel of intermingled Old Testament Law and New Covenant grace that your church teaches is enslaving and crushing you, Paul would simply say to you, “You’re right, it is!”  

And then I would imagine that he would simply look you in the eye, and ask this paraphrased version of his infamous Galatians 3:1 question,  

“O foolish Mormon, who hath bewitched you?”

NOTES

[1] This isn’t to say that the LDS Church’s definition isn’t included in or a subset of the biblical definition grace, it is. However, it’s a secondary effect or by-product of “the free and unmerited favour of God”, nothing more. This is as Louis Berkhof explains so well in his Systematic Theology: 

The word “grace” is not always used in the same sense in Scripture, but has a variety of meanings. In the Old Testament we have the word chen (adj. chanun), from the root chanan. The noun may denote gracefulness or beauty, Prov. 22:11; 31:30, but most generally means favour or good-will. The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of finding favour in the eyes of God or of man. The favour so found carries with it the bestowal of favours or blessings. This means that grace is not an abstract quality, but is an active, working principle, manifesting itself in beneficent acts, Gen. 6:8; 19:19; 33:15; Ex. 33:12; 34:9; I Sam 1:18; 27:5; Esth. 2:7. The fundamental idea is, that the blessings graciously bestowed are freely given, and not in consideration of any claim or merit. The New Testament word charis, from chairein, “to rejoice,” denotes first of all a pleasant external appearance, “loveliness,” “agreeableness,” “acceptableness,” and has some such meaning in Luke 4:22; Col. 4:6. A more prominent meaning of the word, however, is favour or good-will, Luke 1:30; 2:40, 52; Acts 2:47; 7:46; 24:27; 25:9.

(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, 1949), pp. 426-427: https://smile.amazon.com/Systematic-Theology-Louis-Berkhof-ebook/dp/B078QB75G6)

So the problem isn’t so much that the LDS Church’s definition of grace is wrong as much as it’s both “cart before the horse” and incomplete. 

[2] For our non-Mormon readers, Even though there are six (6) types of salvation in LDS soteriology, Mormons will still use the generic term “salvation” without specifying which of the six they’re referring to. Here is the list followed by the full explanation from an official, correlated LDS Church source. 

1) Salvation from Physical Death.

2) Salvation from Sin. 

3) Being Born Again. 

4) Salvation from Ignorance.

5) Salvation from the Second Death.

6) Eternal Life, or Exaltation.

And here, in its entirety is that source: 

Salvation
In the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the terms “saved” and “salvation” have various meanings. As used in Romans 10:9-10, the words “saved” and “salvation” signify a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this covenant relationship, followers of Christ are assured salvation from the eternal consequences of sin if they are obedient. “Salvation” and “saved” are also used in the scriptures in other contexts with several different meanings.

Additional Information
If someone were to ask if another person had been saved, the answer would depend on the sense in which the word is used. The answer might be “Yes” or perhaps it might be “Yes, but with conditions.” The following explanations outline six different meanings of the word salvation.

Salvation from Physical Death. All people eventually die. But through the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected—saved from physical death. Paul testified, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). In this sense, everyone is saved, regardless of choices made during this life. This is a free gift from the Savior to all human beings.

Salvation from Sin. To be cleansed from sin through the Savior’s Atonement, an individual must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37-38). Those who have been baptized and have received the Holy Ghost through the proper priesthood authority have been conditionally saved from sin. In this sense, salvation is conditional, depending on an individual’s continuing in faithfulness, or enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God (see 2 Peter 2:20-22).

Individuals cannot be saved in their sins; they cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring a belief in Christ with the understanding that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives (see Alma 11:36-37). However, through the grace of God, all can be saved from their sins (see 2 Nephi 25:23; Helaman 5:10-11) as they repent and follow Jesus Christ.

Being Born Again. The principle of spiritual rebirth appears frequently in the scriptures. The New Testament contains Jesus’s teaching that everyone must be “born again” and that those who are not “born of water and of the Spirit … cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). This teaching is affirmed in the Book of Mormon: “All mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:25-26).

This rebirth occurs as individuals are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It comes as a result of a willingness “to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5). Through this process, their “hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [they] are born of him” (Mosiah 5:7). All who have truly repented, been baptized, have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, have made the covenant to take upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, and have felt His influence in their lives, can say that they have been born again. That rebirth can be renewed each Sabbath when they partake of the sacrament.

Salvation from Ignorance. Many people live in a state of darkness, not knowing the light of the restored gospel. They are “only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12). Those who have a knowledge of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the purpose of life, the plan of salvation, and their eternal potential are saved from this condition. They follow the Savior, who declared, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Salvation from the Second Death. The scriptures sometimes speak of salvation from the second death. The second death is the final spiritual death—being cut off from righteousness and denied a place in any kingdom of glory (see Alma 12:32; D&C 88:24). This second death will not come until the Final Judgment, and it will come to only a few (see D&C 76:31-37). Almost every person who has ever lived on the earth is assured salvation from the second death (see D&C 76:40-45).

Eternal Life, or Exaltation. In the scriptures, the words saved and salvation often refer to eternal life, or exaltation (see Abraham 2:11). Eternal life is to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and dwell with Them forever—to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom (see John 17:3; D&C 131:1-4; 132:21-24). This exaltation requires that men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and that all Church members make and keep sacred covenants in the temple, including the covenant of eternal marriage. If the word salvation is used in this sense, no one is saved in mortality. That glorious gift comes only after the Final Judgment.

See also Atonement of Jesus Christ; Baptism; Eternal Life; Grace; Kingdoms of Glory; Plan of Salvation(“True to the Faith” (2004), LDS Church manual, pp. 150-53; https://www.lds.org/topics/salvation?lang=eng&old=true; retreived 4/26/2017)

ALSO RECOMMENDED
“Plan of Salvation Overview”,  LDS Church Book of Mormon Teacher Resource Manual, (2004), pp. 7–10; https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-teacher-resource-manual/plan-of-salvation-overview?lang=eng

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