Those familiar with the Mormon “testimony” will frequently hear of the moment when the Mormon came the realization that the Book of Mormon was true. After being challenged to read and sincerely pray over the Book of Mormon, a prescription is offered which suggests that if a person’s bosom burns within him, then that is an indication of the Spirit’s confirmation that the Book of Mormon is true.
The prescription itself is found in Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-9 in reference to Joseph Smith’s admonition to Oliver Cowdery and the translation of the Book of Mormon. Smith would tell Cowdery,
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
The prescription, though, can be used to determine the veracity of other things as well. General Authority Bruce McConkie wrote,
[D&C 9:8-9] was given with reference to translating the Book of Mormon.
But it is also a pattern or a sample of how we can govern and regulate and control in all our personal affairs and in all the affairs of the Church or whatever enterprise we are engaged in. The Lord expects us to do everything that we can—all that in our power lies. We are to study and struggle and work and labor; we are to grapple with our problems and determine as best we can how to solve them, and then take the conclusions that we reach and present them to him; and if they are correct, and if the wise course has been chosen, then our bosoms will burn within us and we will know what we ought to do.1
When asked for a biblical precedent for such a prescription, the Mormon inevitably turns to Luke 24:32 as his point of reference. The context is the post-resurrection of Jesus Christ when he met with two disciples as they were going to a village called Emmaus. As they were conversing with each other over the recent crucifixion event Jesus, unbeknownst to them as to his identity, asked about their conversation. In a sad tone they conveyed to him what had occurred with Jesus the Nazarene, his death and resurrection, and their overall hope that he would have delivered Israel from Roman oppression. When they finished Jesus proceeded to explain to them from the Scriptures why the Christ had to suffer the way he did, which led them to invite him to stay a little while longer with them to explain even more. It was then that “their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.”
Upon his immediate departure they confessed that their hearts burned within them “while He was explaining the Scriptures to [them].” Therefore, the whole context of burning bosoms had to do with Jesus’ immediate presence and his powerful teaching ministry, especially as it related to God’s revelation. It was not about praying over a book to determine its veracity, much less any “personal affair” unrelated to Scripture.
As is common that a Mormon would allude to D&C 9:8-9 and Luke 24:32 to garner support for the “burning” sensation that is to accompany the affirmation that something is true, that sensation is often attributed to the presence of the Holy Ghost or Spirit. According to Ludlow, the burning in the bosom is, “A metaphorical description of the feeling that sometimes attends the enveloping Spirit of the Lord, particularly when one understands God’s word through the influence of the Holy Ghost.”2 The problem with such an allusion is the fact that in neither context is the Spirit mentioned anywhere. In fact, in D&C 9 the Spirit is not mentioned at all, and in Luke 24 the only mention of a spirit is in verses 37 and 39 where the disciples became frightened over Jesus’ sudden appearance, which they concluded was a spirit or a phantasm (cf. Matt. 14:26; Mk. 6:49).
Aside from one reference in Matthew 3:11 where John the Baptist informs a band of Pharisees and Sadducees about the coming of Jesus and the baptism of “the Holy Spirit and fire,” there are no biblical references which associates the Holy Spirit with burning. Again, Luke 24:32 are in two separate contexts, the latter of which is dealing with phantoms or ghosts. In Revelation 4:5 there are Seven Spirits who are burning before the throne of God, some of which have taken to be the Holy Spirit, but they are not “burning” anyone’s consciences or sensibilities to help understand if something is true. Finally, in Revelation 21:8 and 10 there is the mention of the Lake of Fire which burns (Gr. kaio) with fire and the presence of the Spirit which carries John away in a vision. But, once again, it is not the Spirit which is causing the Lake to burn. There simply is no biblical precedent for the Spirit to cause anyone’s heart to burn as a byproduct of a truth investigation. So, why would a Mormon assume as much?
The reason why Mormons assume that the Holy Spirit (“Ghost”) is present when a sudden emotional rush overcomes them during a time of “testimony” is because they have confused their feelings for the person of the Holy Spirit. Although Joseph Smith did not explicitly state to Cowdery in D&C 9:8-9 that one’s feelings were directly associated with Spiritual manipulation, several other Mormons have interpreted his words to mean that very thing. For example, in General Conference, October 1, 1966, Elder Delbert Stapley arose and commented,
The Holy Ghost inspires, uplifts, and motivates a sincere person to love truth and pursue righteousness. This feeling and power does not come without effort. One must ask of God after study and meditation if a thing is right. If true, one’s bosom shall burn within him; but if it is not right, an individual will have no such feelings but a stupor of thought shall prevail his being [emphasis added].
Elsewhere L. G. Otten and C. M. Caldwell in their book Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants makes the same argument as Stapley, asserting that the Lord “would also touch the heart by the Holy Ghost,” citing D&C 8:2 as their point of reference. They concede, however, that to describe the feeling is “difficult,” but then refer to two other General Authorities—H. Burke Peterson and Spencer W. Kimball—to help clarify the subjective nature of the experience. Unfortunately, neither Peterson, nor Kimball, offered anything of substance to prove that one’s feelings were being precipitated by the Holy Spirit.
Peterson, during a General Conference in October 1973 would tell his audience,
As you feel the need to confide in the Lord or to improve the quality of your visits with him—to pray, if you please—may I suggest a process to follow: go where you can be alone, go where you can think, go where you can kneel, go where you can speak out loud to him. The bedroom, the bathroom, or the closet will do. Now picture him in your mind's eye. Think to whom you are speaking, control your thoughts—don't let them wander, address him as your Father and your friend. Now tell him things you really feel to tell him—not trite phrases that have little meaning, but have a sincere, heartfelt conversation with him. Confide in him, ask him for forgiveness, plead with him, enjoy him, thank him, express your love to him, and then listen for his answers. Listening is an essential part of praying. Answers from the Lord come quietly—ever so quietly. In fact, few hear his answers audibly with their ears. We must be listening so carefully or we will never recognize them. Most answers from the Lord are felt in our heart as a warm comfortable expression, or they may come as thoughts to our mind. They come to those who are prepared and who are patient.
Kimball would follow during General Conference, April 1977, with the following:
In our day, as in times past, many people expect that if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earthshaking display. For many it is hard to accept as revelation those numerous ones in Moses’ time, in Joseph’s time, and in our own year—those revelations which come to prophets as deep, unassailable impressions settling down on the prophet’s mind and heart as dew from heaven or as the dawn dissipates the darkness of night. Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication.
When it comes to truth, revelation, and the Holy Spirit (“Ghost”) in Mormonism, there is nothing objective about any of them. It is all about how one individually feels. If one feels good and warm about something one subjectively believes to be from God, then it must be the case. Conversely, if one feels poorly or badly about something (“stupor of thought”), then that particularly feeling is not from God, but from an alien source. The real tragedy behind such subjective thinking is that just about anything can be justified in the name of God, so long as one can emotively convince whomever that whatever is from God, including polygamy, murder, and false prophecy, all of which regularly appear in Mormon history and doctrine and have been justified depending on the circumstances.
Nowhere in Scripture, though, are personal feelings—good, bad, or otherwise—confused with the Holy Spirit or his presence. Why? Because God knew that one’s feelings, especially in a fallen condition, would be too easily manipulated. “The heart is more deceitful than all else,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah, “And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Instead, the Spirit moves mysteriously in individual lives to convict, guide, and disclose based on things that God and Jesus have already revealed in Scripture (cf. Jn. 14:26; 16:13). He does not go about making up brand new revelation that has absolutely nothing to do with God’s already revealed plan and purpose, and he certainly does not burn in a person’s bosom to convince him that something is true or not.
Luke 24:32 is an abused passage used by Mormons to exalt themselves, not God. Such abuse is consistent with the subjective nature of Mormon thought, which has rejected all biblical precedent for its doctrinal development, and then sought to fill the vacuum created with personal opinions, feelings and emotions. “If it feels good, do it,” could easily be the slogan that Mormons follow, even though they want everyone to assume there is an objective basis for what they believe.
When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus had their bosom’s burn, it was out of emotional excitement caused by the Lord’s presence and teaching ministry. Nowhere is their experience repeated or prescribed for others to follow. Clearly if the Holy Spirit was causing the experience then there would be additional revelation and interpretation by the biblical writers to that effect. Yet, there is nothing. What we have is a one-time experience that the Mormons have capitalized on to build a major doctrine. It is something that all cults engage in, whereby a text is lifted out of its context to create a pretext for what eventually results in false doctrine.
Therefore, the next time two clean-cut Mormon missionaries show up at your door and bear their “testimony” that the Book of Mormon is true, simply ask them if they have experienced the burning in the bosom described in D&C 9:8-9 and Luke 24:32. If they have, ask them the source of the burning. If it turns out that the reply is the “Holy Ghost,” then have them explain where in the contexts the Holy Ghost or Spirit is even mentioned. Then ask them how they objectively knew that it was indeed the Holy Ghost or Spirit that was causing the warm sensation. If they are consistent, the visit will end abruptly and they will leave, but not until a seed has been planted which the Holy Spirit will use to either convict them of their error unto repentance or harden them in their error unto damnation. Either way the Christian has done what needs to be done by exposing the Mormon abuse of Scripture, with the prospect that God will graciously redeem the Mormon before it is eternally too late.