Section 6: The Mormons and the Bible
The Mormons and the Bible
"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly," states the eighth article of the Mormon Articles of Faith. But it adds: "We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." Many wonder, though, why the need for other scriptures?
"Elder Bruce R. McConkie asserted: "There are no people on earth who hold the Bible in such esteem as [Mormons] do…But we do not believe…the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation."
In Jesus' day there was no "Bible." There was the Old Testament, but as Christ did away with the Law of Moses1, we know that salvation does not lie within those pages. The New Testament is a collection of writings (mostly letters) from the apostles to the church members (or "saints"), compiled by early Catholic leaders. Jesus did not compile them, nor the apostles, but Catholic leaders, several hundred years after Christ, and they could not agree on what the scriptures meant, hence the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, to determine the nature of God2. The Catholic church "canonized," or included in the Bible, only what they chose. Since neither Mormons nor Jehovah's Witnesses believe that God directs the Catholic church, it raises questions as to the reliability of their choices as to which records were or were not truly of God. The letters and writings that were later collected to make the Bible were surely treasured by those who received them, and they were shared with others, but there is no reason to believe that we have every correspendence from the apostles.
Mormons know that the Bible does not contain "all things necessary for salvation" because they have modern scriptures and prophets. The ancient Jews rejected the New Testament because they believed, like non-Mormon Christians of today, that what they had was sufficient. The New Testament, however, is proof there was more that God wanted to do and say. Many non-Mormon Christians of today believe in Biblical inerrency–that the Bible is complete and contains no error–but the Bible itself reveals otherwise:
The so-called lost books of the Bible are those documents that are mentioned in the Bible in such a way that it is evident they were considered authentic and valuable, but that are not found in the Bible today. Sometimes called missing scripture, they consist of at least the following:
- Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)
- Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18)
- Book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
- Book of Samuel the seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
- Book of Gad the seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
- Book of Nathan the prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29)
- Prophecy of Ahijah (2 Chronicles 9:29)
- Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22)
- Book of Shemaiah (2 Chronicles 12:15)
- Book of Jehu (2 Chronicles 20:34)
- Sayings of the Seers (2 Chronicles 33:19)
- An epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, earlier than our present 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:9)
- An earlier epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:3)
- Epistle to the Laodiceans (Colosians 4:16)
- Prophecies of Enoch, known to Jude (Jude 1:14)
- Book of the covenant (Exodus 24:7 (may or may not be included in the current book of Exodus))
- The Manner of the Kingdom, written by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:25)
- Acts of Uzziah, written by Isaiah (2 Chronicles 26:22)
- The “Acts of Abijah…in the Story of the Prophet Iddo” (2 Chronicles 13:22 (seems to not be the same as the Prophecy of Ahijah or the Visions of Iddo))
The foregoing items attest to the fact that our present Bible does not contain all of the word of the Lord that He gave to His people in former times, and remind us that the Bible, in its present form, is rather incomplete3.
Since we know that there are scriptures not in our possession, how can we say that the Bible has everything we need? We don't know what we don't have, right?
President Gordon B. Hinckley wrote in the pamphlet What of the Mormons? that the numerous different sects and churches "bear witness to the inadequacy of the Bible."
It does seem fair to say that if the Bible were more clear and concise, we would all agree on the doctrines of Christ instead of arguing over the interpretations of men. As Joseph Smith said,
…the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible4.
Jehovah's Witnesses love the Bible and they read it, just as Mormons do. When we get down to details, though, this is the core of all disagreements between the two groups: interpretation. The ancient church had the apostles to write letters or come visit and disabuse the church members of their errant beliefs and practices, as needed. When things needed to be interpreted, it was the apostles' job to speak authoritatively. Today, every church has their own interpretation of scripture, and that's why so many churches exist. Mormons believe that their modern prophets and apostles have the same authority to clarify scriptural interpretation as the apostles of old. God works in patterns, and is not a God of confusion5.
LDS writers express profound misgivings about the Bible's reliability because of alleged deletions and translation errors. Mormon apostle James E. Talmage, in his book A Study of the Articles of Faith, urges: "Let the Bible then be read reverently and with prayerful care, the reader ever seeking the light of the Spirit that he may discern between truth and the errors of men."
Whatever you think of the Bible, that's good advice, is it not? In the midst of all this doctrinal disagreement, should we not ask God what is right? More to the point, though, the method by which the Bible was created and transmitted through the years –hand copying– is known to be quite prone to deletion and other errors. The same people who transmitted the Bible texts to us through most of its history, the Catholics, report having the same problem with another, simpler, much younger text:
The lists of the signers [of the Nicaean Creed] have reached us in a mutilated condition, disfigured by faults of the copyists2.
Other Christians acknowledge such errors in the Bible, specifically.
Even though textual critics in secular studies readily acknowledge such errors when studying the writings of historians like Josephus, Tacitus, or Seutonius, critics of the Bible hypocritically reject the explanations involving copyists’ errors6.
So you see, this sort of thing happens. Luckily for Mormons, though, the Prophet Joseph Smith was able to spend some time after translating the Book of Mormon working on a translation of the Bible, and restoring lost and altered passages. This will be discussed in more detail further on in this section.
We should also address the issue of translation errors. As a student of the Choctaw language I have learned that translators often have great leeway in how a word or phrase gets passed on in another language. Choctaw is specific in ways that English cannot be. English has the word "arrived," but Choctaw has both ʋla ("to arrive here") and ona ("to arrive there"). Choctaw also uses context to imply things they assume the reader/hearer already understands. For example, a perfectly legitimate Choctaw sentence could be "Ona tuk." It is ona with a past tense marker. Literally, this means that an implied he, she, or it "Arrived there, at some point in the recent past" and assumes the reader/hearer already knows the subject. How can a translator from centuries later be expected to faithfully render a phrase as the writer intended? They can only try, but there is never a guarantee that they are right. That's why you will find multiple translations of foreign texts, each one rendering things differently, sometimes with great variation. Even the non-LDS Bible variations of today differ in ways that many readers feel is important7.
Orson Pratt, an early Mormon apostle, went further: "Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution?"
First of all, Orson Pratt was stating his opinion and not making an official declaration of belief. Second, remember that we do not have the original texts for any of the Bible. Therefore, in the absence of proof, Elder Pratt's proposition is just as possible as any other.
On this issue, though, the Mormons do not appear to be aware of all the facts.
All judgement aside, Mormons are just as interested in facts and truth as anyone else. For this reason, the fields of archaeology, Egyptology, and ancient scriptures, are inundated with members of the LDS faith. For years, the organization known as FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) published the most up-to-date findings, both LDS and non-LDS. FARMS is now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship is an academic research unit at Brigham Young University comprised of scholars whose primary interest is the study of religious texts and traditions.
Our scholars' contributions to religious scholarship includes oversight of the following initiatives:
- Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts
- Advances the study of Syriac literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other ancient texts through research, publications, and digitization.
- Christianity and the Bible Research Initiative
- Supports research and writing on Christian history, texts, and culture, and on the Bible.
- Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies
- Fosters research and writing on Restoration scripture, focusing chiefly on the Book of Mormon in ancient and modern settings.
- Middle Eastern Texts Initiative
- Studies and produces bilingual editions of important Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts.
- William (Bill) Gay Research Chair
- Supports scholarship in fields of study related to ancient scriptures, such as Egyptology and other relevant languages and disciplines8.
True, the Bible text has been copied and translated repeatedly over the years. Yet, the evidence of its essential purity is overwhelming. Thousands of early Hebrew and Greek manuscripts have been scrutinized alongside more recent copies of the Bible. For example, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, dated from the second century B.C.E., was compared with a manuscript dated over a thousand years later. Had serious corruptions crept in? On the contrary, one scholar's analysis stated that the few discrepancies found "consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling."
The first thing to note in this example is that Isaiah lived around the 8th century B.C.9 This means that the oldest copy we have was still six hundred years removed from Isaiah! The Jews noticed, and were bothered by, the many errors inherent in transcribed texts, so they developed a professional class of scribes who followed very strict practices to ensure minimal errors, but even they still made mistakes. These later scribes would have produced quite faithful reproductions of earlier texts, so it is no surprise that the later text would match closely. However, we are still left with six hundred years time during which Isaiah's writings may have been altered!
The aforementioned Dr. Hugh Nibley was professor of ancient scripture at BYU and very actively followed developments in his field, which included Biblical scholarship. He was fluent in the languages of the Old and New Testaments, and read the most up-to-date manuscripts as they were discovered, including the Dead Sea Scrolls. He once commented on the state of Biblical research and translation:
There are eight thousand different old manuscripts of the New Testament, no two alike. So there is a lot of collating, comparing, and arguing about which passages are which and what order they come in. Then when you have translation, there is no agreement about that. Year after year there are new revised translations coming forth. Well, if the last translation is reliable, why the new revised, improved Cambridge, or Anchor, or whatever it is, edition of the Bible? It's processing all the time10.
The next thing to note is that the corrections made in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible show that, while most of the errors were, indeed, minor, some were of great consequence. It is important to point out that even small changes ("slips of the pen") can alter spiritual truths and cause people to stumble. In 1969, Robert J. Matthews wrote an article for the journal BYU Studies, entitled "Some Significant Texts of Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible,"11 in which he documented some of the changes that were the most doctrinally important.
The first example the author provides is that of Exodus 32:14. The King James and New World Translation versions both say that God either "repented," "reconsidered," or "felt regret over" a decision He had made. This has puzzled many people. How can a perfect, omniscient Being repent? Did He sin? The only reason to reconsider or feel regret is that you believe you may have made a mistake. Is that possible with God? Only the Joseph Smith Translation gives a rendering that is consistent:
King James Version
And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
New World Translation
So Jehovah began to reconsider* [Footnote: Or "felt regret over."] the calamity that he had spoken of bringing on his people12.
Joseph Smith Translation
And the Lord said unto Moses, If they will repent of the evil which they have done, I will spare them, and turn away my fierce wrath; but, behold, thou shalt execute judgment upon all that will not repent of this evil this day. Therefore, see thou do this thing that I have commanded thee, or I will execute all that which I had thought to do unto my people.13
This brings us to the question of what makes an alteration "significant." Is it important to have a correct understanding of who God is, and what He is like? Of course. The change proposed by Joseph Smith in this verse eliminates what Mormons–and many others–believe is a misconception about God's nature.
A further example that might be chalked up to scribal error, but which probably was altered intentionally due to its doctrinal disagreement with the teachings of the Catholic church, is John 1:18:
King James Version
No man hath seen God at any time…
New World Translation
No man has seen God at any time…
This has caused confusion over the years, since the Old Testament records Abraham conversing with the Lord face to face, as well as Jacob, and others14. The equivalent passage in the JST makes an interesting clarification explaining that God the Father appears to men when necessary, to testify of the divinity of His Son, thereby qualifying the records of Abraham, Jacob, etc.:
Joseph Smith Translation
And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son…
Also remember that 200 B.C. was still almost 400 years after the Jews turned their backs on the true prophets and were no longer the chosen people15. The word of the Lord to the Jews ended with the Old Testament, circa 587 B.C., leaving nearly 600 years for the Bible, as such, to accumulate change. In his book, "Josephus-The Complete Works," William Whiston provides a translation of writings by Flavius Josephus, a Jewish Historian who lived from 37-100 A.D.16. Whiston's fourth dissertation is entitled:
Proving That The Copy Of The Books Of The Old Testament Laid Up In Herod's Temple, And Thence Used By Josephus, The Jewish Historian, In His Antiquities, Was No Other Than That Most Ancient Collection Or Library Made By Nehemiah, In The Days Of Artaxerxes, The Son Of Xerxes; And Was Free From The Several Additions And Alterations Made Afterwards In The Other Copies Which Are Now Extant.17
There follow nearly eighty proofs that Josephus used Nehemiah's older, more correct versions of the Old Testament books, instead of any of the later versions, which had been altered.
I wonder how many different versions of the Bible have popped up in just the past 200 years? I wouldn't necessarily say that the differences were enormous, just enough to change the meaning to a specific group or cause. There are Catholic Bibles, Women's Bibles, Children's Bibles, a New World Translation of the Bible, devotional Bibles, "non-denominational" Bibles, Ebonic Bibles, Gay Bibles, and so on. Each was put together by a specific group of people, with the intention of presenting the "truth" as they understand it, or of promoting their personal causes. Some have removed all reference to God as male, others have changed references to man to reflect both genders18. Many have sought to "clarify" or "simplify" verses, etc. At face value, none of these seem like "serious corruptions," but they lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Any time you change God's words, you no longer have what He actually said. And yes, religious groups with personal agendas existed around 200 B.C., among them the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Gnostics.
After a lifetime of intense study, former British Museum director Sir Frederic Kenyon testified: "The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without essential loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries." Thus, the psalmist's words are still true today: "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." (Psalm 12:6, King James Version)
So, when seeking to establish the truth of things claiming to be from God, we should turn to the British Museum director? Even "[a]fter a lifetime of intense study" of the Bible, does this man have any authority to dictate to the world what is true? Yes, the Lord's words are pure… when they leave His lips. But, unfortunately, the effect of having them written down and passed through the hands of men is not to purify them seven times, but to introduce corruption.
Do we really need more?
"Thou fool," reproaches The Book of Mormon at 2 Nephi 29:6, "that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible."
First of all, "The Book of Mormon" is not reproaching anyone, it is the Lord speaking in this verse. In essence, what He tells us people are saying is: "Someone already collected some of God's words, we don't need any more!" Let's see this verse from 2 Nephi in context, and find out what more we can learn:
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible , we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written19.
What is He saying?
- He's the God of the whole earth, not just the Jews.
- He wants everyone to have the Gospel, and has given it both to the Jews and His "other sheep."
- "Out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established."
- You may have a collection of His words as recorded by prophets, but that doesn't mean you have everything.
Every one of those things is either said or demonstrated in the Bible.
Many Mormons, however, have pondered the apostle Paul's stern counsel in the Bible at Galatians 1:8 (KJ): "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."
The "however" part is meant to imply that there is some sort of contradiction between 2 Nephi 29:6 and Galatians 1:8, but there is not. Believing in things that God said to other prophets in other places and times does not necessarily mean that there is "another gospel" being taught. Referring to Mormonism as "another gospel" is nothing but slander, akin to saying Mormons aren't Christian. Do we teach the same things the Jehovah's Witnesses teach? Of course not. Do we teach the same things Christ and the apostles taught? We believe so. Paul's statement was one example of the apostles counseling the members of Christ's church who were going astray, letting superstitions, pagan beliefs, Jewish customs, and other popular doctrines of the day creep in. Many of the apostles' letters contain similar warnings:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
[F]oolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth...?
1 Cor. 11:18
[W]hen ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you.
This only goes to show how easily the early saints fell away from the gospel without the proper authority–the apostles–to guide them in Christ's absence. This falling away, known as the Apostasy, was prophesied by the apostles:
"That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first20.
The apostles established branches of the church wherever they went, but being the only ones authorized to do so, they quickly moved on and the churches were left without the much-needed authority that the apostles had to answer doctrinal questions and settle disputes of interpretation.
LDS scholars explain that the new scripture is not beyond what is declared in the Bible but is only a clarification and complement thereof. "There is no tension between the two," writes Rex E. Lee, president of Brigham Young University. "Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon teach the same plan of salvation." Is there agreement between these books?
“I know a man who studied for the ministry,” President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has said. “Then just before his ordination he dropped out because there were so many unanswered questions. He still regarded himself as a devout, if somewhat disillusioned, Christian. He found another profession, married, and was raising a family when our missionaries found him.
“He made a very superficial study of the doctrines of the Church and found them tolerable enough. The fundamentals of Christianity were visible. But he was most interested in programs and activities that would benefit his family.
“It was after he was baptized that he made the discovery of his life. … He found answers which explained to his full satisfaction the deep questions that had left him unable to accept ordination as a clergyman.
“One doctrine [pre-earth existence] was completely new to him. Although he was a student of the Bible, he had not found it there until he read the other revelations. Then the Bible was clear to him and he understood.”21
The truth of the matter is: The only way you will ever know whether or not the Book of Mormon contains Biblically sound teachings is to READ IT! The only way I know that these books agree is because I HAVE READ THEM BOTH! Most non-Mormons have only heard a few passages from the Book of Mormon, and usually without any context. Atheists do the same thing with the Bible in order to make it sound unusual, too. Yet, millions of people have read it and been convinced of its truth. The answer is to read it for yourself! Then, ask God if it is true.
The LDS perspective on the Bible is summarized well in the statement of the seventh Church president, Heber J. Grant, who said, "All my life I have been finding additional evidences that the Bible is the Book of books, and that the Book of Mormon is the greatest witness for the truth of the Bible that has ever been published"…22
Consider the Mormon plan of salvation.
- Matt. 5:17
- The First Council of Nicaea, Catholic Encyclopedia. (http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=8436). See also The Ecumenical Councils and their Chief Doctrines, Catholic Encyclopedia. (http://www.catholic.org/prayers/councils.php)
- Are Books of Scripture Missing from the Bible?, FairMormon. (http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/are-books-of-scripture-missing-from-the-bible)
- Joseph Smith–History 1:12
- 1 Corinthians 14:33
- The Reality of Copyists' Errors, by B. Thompson and E. Lyons. (http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5system_moses/dh13_copyistError.aspx)
- Quick Comparison of Bible Versions, Chick Publications. (http://www.chick.com/information/bibleversions/comparison.asp)
- About the Maxwell Institute, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/about/)
- Isaiah, Wikipedia.
- Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1 > Lecture 1: Introduction, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1135&index=1)
- Some Significant Texts of Joseph Smith's Inspired Version of the Bible, BYU Studies. (https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=4826&linkURL=9.2MatthewsSomeSignificant-0a2636b6-d1c4-412a-9a7d-b9f766df985b.pdf)
- Exodus 32:14, New World Translation.
- JST, Exodus 32:14.
- Gen. 17:1; Gen. 32:30.
- Lam. 1:8; Dan. 9:5-10.
- Josephus, Wikipedia.
- Dissertation 4, The New Complete Works of Josephus. (http://books.google.com/books?id=kyaoIb6k2ccC&pg=PA1019&lpg=PA1019&dq=Proving+That+The+Copy+Of+The+Books+Of+The+Old+Testament+Laid+Up+In+Herod%27s+Temple,+And+Thence+Used+By+Josephus,+The+Jewish+Historian,+In+His+Antiquities,+Was+No+Other+Than+That+Most+Ancient+Collection+Or+Library+Made+By+Nehemiah,+In+The+Days+Of+Artaxerxes&source=bl&ots=HRNyySHLSc&sig=SxZPC_rz6jz_ZZsbj9O1pL9kEBM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ok91U68ihP2gBMqvgLAF&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false)
- See, for example: The Genderless God Bible. (http://genderlessgodbible.com)
- 2 Nephi 29:6-10
- 2 Thes. 2:2-3
- "In the Beginning”: A Latter-day Perspective, Robert J. Woodford, Ensign, Jan. 1998. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/01/in-the-beginning-a-latter-day-perspective?lang=eng)
- Bible (Encyclopedia of Mormonism) (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Bible)