Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jesus born on April 6? Um, no.

This year in Sunday school, we're studying the Doctrine and Covenants. It can be a little painful because I would love to be able to speak up and say, "By the way, the date of this revelation was changed in order to make it seem more prophetic," or, "Did you know that revelation was actually edited by Joseph Smith a few years later?" But I don't. It would serve no purpose.

Last week (err... a few weeks ago; we've been out of town), the topic was "The Only True and Living Church." I could tell it was going to be a good one, and it did not disappoint. I have plenty of notes from the class, but I'll just share one thing that really stuck in my craw.

The teacher read D&C 20:1, which says:

The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April—

He then asked, "What is special about April 6, the day the church was founded?" I started thinking, hmm, maybe it was Passover in 1830. Or maybe he's referring to the fact that temple construction was both started and completed on April 6, forty years apart. Someone in the room raised his hand and said, "Well, we believe that Jesus was born on April 6, so that was the perfect day for the Lord to bring back the restored church."

Uhhhh. I don't know why I continue to be surprised when people say things like this in church. The church was not organized on April 6 because it was Jesus' birthday. The only reason people believe Jesus was born on April 6 is because they misinterpret D&C 20:1, which established the church! The reasoning is dizzyingly circular.

Read the passage again. The whole thing is basically five dozen words of flowery language in order to say, "Today is April 6, 1830, and we're organizing a church." That's it. It does not mean Jesus was born on April 6, any more than the Book of Mormon's claim that Jesus was born in "the land of Jerusalem" means that he was born within the city limits. Even Michael Ash, a prominent Mormon apologist, has a page that debunks this popular Mormon myth for crying out loud.

These kinds of Mormon myths drive me crazy. They spread like wildfire and everyone believes them without question. Ask me about the Three Nephites sometime. But anyway, was Jesus born on April 6? Sure, maybe. But without much better evidence than a flowery prelude, I don't see any reason to believe so.


Sabayon said...

Oh so that's why Mormons think Jesus was born on April 6. I have been wondering about that for ages. Clearly I should not have skipped the D&C year of seminary. Although if I recall it is specifically mentioned in that Apostle's testimony of Christ that came out a few years back. In any case, if you believe in the existence of a historical Jesus he was born somewhere in the region of Spring as that is the Roman tax season.

Saganist said...

Yep, assuming Jesus did actually exist (which I'm not sure about), spring seems reasonable. Declaring the date to be April 6, though, seems to go a little too far.

I don't think they mentioned a specific birthdate in The Living Christ. But a few General Authorities have referred to April 6 specifically as Jesus' birthday, which (as outlined in the linked Michael Ash article) can be traced back to the misinterpretation of D&C 20:1.

I just think it's silly that there is such a strong desire in the LDS church to take everything so damn literally, and to have a pat answer for every conceivable question. Sometimes it really is okay to say "I don't know".

Saganist said...

Oh yeah, and I forgot to comment on your first sentence, which made me smile. "So that's why Mormons believe that!" I've been coming across these weird little doctrines for a long time, and I've noticed them especially since I was an evangelical Christian for years before becoming a Mormon. It's kind of a relief once you figure out where these things originate, isn't it? I've got plenty more, and I'll probably post about more of these Mormon foibles every once in a while.

klhebdon said...

Below is a quote out of general conference from the prophet of the church. I know Harold B. Lee was a prophet, and it was declared in general conference. That is good enough for me.

“April 6, 1973, is a particularly significant date because it commemorates not only the anniversary of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this dispensation, but also the anniversary of the birth of the Savior, our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 4; or Ensign, July 1973, 2 ).

Saganist said...

I'm glad that's good enough for you, klhebdon. For me, the word of Harold B. Lee in 1973, based on a flowery rendition of the date in 1830, hardly counts as evidence. April 6 is as good a guess as anyone else's, but still, a guess is all it is.

That's not even to mention all the things that have been said by prophets in General Conference that today would be considered apostasy. Not minor points of doctrine either, but foundational truths that have radically changed. Not everything that is spoken by the prophet in General Conference is infallible.