Monday, March 16, 2015

Why I Believe: Evidence Twenty-nine: Joseph Smith and that Old Serpent the Devil-Part 1

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith is a Prophet

Evidence Twenty-nine:
Joseph Smith and that Old Serpent the Devil-Part 1© 

I have two reasons for writing this installment. First, to point to another of the almost innumerable evidences that Joseph Smith was a divinely appointed prophet. Second, to introduce readers to a fine little book written by a friend and colleague of mine. I will start with the second.

The book is The Farm Boy Does It Again: Evidences of the Prophetic Calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  It was written by John Fowles, formerly a teacher at the Logan Institute. It is self-published and is available through Lulu.(1) John and I toyed with the idea of writing a book about evidence for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith when we were colleagues at the Institute.  For many reasons it did not happen, but since his retirement John has been active in seeing it through by himself.  I have been doing my version in this blog.  The text is 173 pages, with appropriate bibliography and index. I highly recommend this book; I learned much from it. Today I want to share with you one of John’s insights that is of particular interest to me. It regards one part of what Joseph Smith had to teach this generation about the reality of Satan and his work of opposition to God and his Son Jesus Christ. I hope this will be the first of two or three discussions of what Joseph Smith had to teach this dispensation about Satan.

Scholars are fond of pointing out that the Old Testament “speaks of Satan only very rarely.”(2) While many, if not most, recognize the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden story as Satan, the text does no so identify him. This can, and on occasion, has led to disagreements about the nature of the serpent who apparently walks on legs because part of the curse pronounced upon him is that “upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days thy life.”(3) In this day and age when schizophrenic “modern man” disbelieves the reality of Satan and yet produces endless horror flicks about poltergeist, demons, vampires, walking dead, and Satan himself, I believe it as a significant part of the mission of Joseph Smith to testify of the reality of Satan, to teach us of his powers, tactics, limitations, how to properly recognize him and his emissaries and deal with his influence.

In this respect brother Fowles points out that an important element found in Restoration scriptures regarding the Garden of Eden story is a clear identification of the serpent as Satan. It is found in the Book of Moses chapter 4.(4) The Book of Mormon makes the same identification.  In one of the most famous of Book of Mormon chapters–2 Nephi 2–Lehi says: “Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.”(5) Again, in another of the famous Book of Mormon chapters–2 Nephi 9–Lehi’s son Jacob discusses the Fall in these words: 
“8) O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!  For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. 9) And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light....”
Brother Fowles points out several interesting things about these passages. First, Moses 4:1-4, 2 Nephi 2 and 9 are all similar in explaining that Satan was an angel in the pre-mortal existence who fell from heaven and became the devil. Second, the similarity of the two statements in 2 Nephi 2 and 9 regarding the identity of the serpent he explains, is also interesting because Lehi learned what he knew about the Garden of Eden from the Brass Plates and it is likely that his son Jacob either learned it from him or from his own study of the Brass Plates. Third, brother Fowles points out that the Brass Plates were a pristine version of the Pentateuch or five books of Moses, but about the time of Lehi forces were at work among the ancient Israelites to alter the Biblical account, much of which apparently occurred in Genesis.(6) The Brass Plates preceded them and therefore were not missing explicit statements that the serpent was Satan.(7) How nifty is that?

Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Lets think together again, soon.

1.  John L. Fowles, The Farm Boy Does It Again: Evidences of the Prophetic Calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith, n.p., Frithurex Press, 2014.  You can order a hardback for $11.95 here:

2.  Xavier Leon-Doufour, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, updated second edition, translated by P. Joseph Cahill and E. M. Stewart.  Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 1988, p. 522.  This is simply representative of many like statements that could be cited.

3.  Gen. 3:14.

4.  Moses 44;1-6,which is also the JST version of Genesis.

5.  2 Ne. 2:18, all emphasis in scripture passages is added.  I would note that temple-going Mormons also know these same truths.

6.  I say this because there is so much of Genesis which was altered in the JST.  The book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price is the JST version of the first few chapters and note how much is added by way of revelation to Joseph Smith.  

Much of the literature written about the writing of and alterations in the Pentateuch have been the result of the work of the higher critics in the mid-twentieth century.  Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar who has made a life-long study of recovering the theology of the First (Solomon’s) Temple, has argued that the reforms of Josiah may have been part of a larger movement by an amorphous group of priesthood, royalty, scribes and theologians whom she calls “deuteronomists” who were writing and altering books of the Old Testament for their own theological and political ends, much as Nephi described in 2 Ne. 13 and in several of Joseph Smith's personal statements which may be found in Fowles, The Farm Boy Does It Again, pp. 84-85. In this she is consistent with Moses 1:41 where the Lord tells Moses that a day would come in which the people "shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write...."

7.  Fowles, The Farm Boy Does It Again, pp. 90-94.

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