James 1:5 and the Discerning of Truth

James 1:5 is widely-used in Mormonism as the foundation for asking people to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  It says: “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.”  Since many Christians are not that familiar with this verse, they often struggle to respond.

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The most important thing to note is that this verse isn’t even talking about truth!  It addresses a person who is lacking wisdom.  Wisdom and truth are two completely different things.  For example, the Bible says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Jesus was truth personified.  But it also says that, as a boy, he “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). Truth is objective while wisdom is the subjective and wise application of truth.  Some people might know the truth but they aren’t wise if they don’t correctly act on that truth.

The context of James 1:5 shows that the specific wisdom James is referring to is the understanding of God’s purposes for giving trials and then the wise response to that.  The broader Scriptural principle is that we can ask the Spirit for help whenever we are struggling in wisely applying a biblical teaching to a particular situation.

Mormonism, as stated above, stresses that the way to discern truth is through prayer. The Bible, however, states that the litmus test for evaluating religious truth is by comparing it with Scripture.  One striking passage making that point is Galatians 1: 8-9: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”  Many Christians like to use this passage with Mormons especially because Paul’s mention of an angel closely parallels Mormonism’s belief that the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith to reveal truth to him.

I, however, prefer using Deuteronomy 13: 1-3.  “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul.”  I prefer referring to this passage because

1) Most Mormons aren’t familiar with it while numerous ones are familiar with Galatians 1, and

2) It talks about the possibility of such a false prophet doing signs and wonders – a fact that disarms the LDS claim that Joseph Smith had to be inspired by God because no ordinary boy could have made up the Book of Mormon.

The most important result of referring to either Galatians 1 or Deuteronomy 13 is that both passages focus the discussion where you want it : on a comparison of the teachings of Mormonism with the Bible.  Using these passages as a springboard, you can compare the man-centered teachings of Mormonism with the Christ-centered teachings of the Bible.

May sharing the great things Christ has done for you always be your goal.  Beware of spending more time debating Mormonism than witnessing Christ.  Bear your testimony  that you know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that you are right with God - because Jesus has done everything for you.  May giving Jesus all the glory and credit for your salvation be the beating heart of all your witnessing.