Section 11: Mormon Holy Writings

Mormon Holy Writings

IN ADDITION to the Bible and The Book of Mormon, the Latter-day Saints recognize a number of other writings.

"IN ADDITION to…" We get the point. Mormons "add" to the Bible. While a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Howard W. Hunter shared the following story:

Recently a young friend in the mission field wrote a letter to me regarding a question that had been asked of him concerning the concluding verses of the Bible and how they apply to the Book of Mormon. We remember that at the end of the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the author, John, issues a warning and a curse upon any man who adds to or takes away from the book. Specifically, these are the words he wrote:

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Rev. 22:18-19.)

These verses of scripture have been cited repeatedly by those attempting to discredit the Book of Mormon, claiming that Gods revelation to man is closed. Nothing more is to be added and nothing is to be taken away. They assert that the Book of Mormon is an attempt to add to the words of the Bible. These claims were made when the Book of Mormon was first published and have continued to be made, and are made today. Is there any validity to such assertions?

The answer to this query is really very simple. A careful reading of the words makes it clear that the warning against adding to or taking away does not refer to the whole Bible or even to the New Testament, but to use John's words, only to the words of the book of this prophecy. That is, the prophecy contained in the book of Revelation. This is substantiated by the fact that some of the books of the New Testament had not yet been written when John wrote the book of Revelation, and even those that had been written and were in existence at that time had not yet been gathered into one compilation.

The collection of writings consisting of the sixty-six books we know as the Bible were brought together and compiled into one volume long after John wrote the prophetic book that has been placed at the end of the collection. It is clear, therefore, that the terrible judgments pronounced upon those who add to the book could not possibly apply to the whole of the Bible or even to the New Testament, but only to the book of Revelation.

Secondly, the warning uses the words the prophecy of this book and also the words of the book of this prophecy. The word book in both instances is singular and could only refer to the book of prophecy written by John which is titled, in the King James Version, The Revelation of St. John the Divine and is often referred to as the Apocalypse-a Greek word which means revealed. Of necessity the word book would have been in the singular because when written it was not associated with any other book or books, and it was after many years and many ecclesiastical debates that it was added to the collection that became known as the new canon of scripture or the New Testament.

It is also interesting to note that John himself added to scripture after writing the book of Revelation, which is generally conceded to have been written while he was on the Isle of Patmos. It was long after John left Patmos that he wrote his first epistle. This fact standing alone would be sufficient to defeat the claim that revelation was closed and that man was enjoined from adding to scripture. This adds cumulative evidence that John had reference to the book of Revelation only.

In the Old Testament also are found similar vigorous denunciations and commands that there shall not be taken away or added to the words that were written. The first is found in Deuteronomy, written at the time Moses was exhorting Israel to live the law of the Lord. The Torah was oral law and had not been reduced to writing prior to the time of the codification of the law in Deuteronomy. Now that it had been reduced to writing by Moses prior to his death and assumed to be complete, Moses wrote:

"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." (Deut. 4:2.)

Later in this same book of the law, Moses repeated the admonition in similar words. He said, "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." (Deut. 12:32.)1

If the verse in Revelations was meant to be interpreted the way most modern Christians do, we should all be Jews–because Moses said it first!

Doctrine and Covenants: This is primarily a collection of what Joseph Smith called revelations from God. These have been revised at times as doctrinal and historical developments dictated.

Joseph Smith wasn't the only one to call these "revelations from God;" many others did, especially those for whom Joseph received the revelations when he told them things only God could have known. One such event is recorded in D&C 6:22-24, when a revelation was received for Oliver Cowdery:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?

Why were revisions made to the revelations?

Some of the early revelations first published in the Book of Commandments, in 1833, were revised by the Prophet himself in the way of correcting errors made by the scribes and publishers; and some additional clauses were inserted to throw increased light upon the subjects treated in the revelations…2

The Pearl of Great Price: This book contains Joseph Smith's revisions of the Bible book of Genesis, the 24th chapter of Matthew, and Smith's personal history. It also has Smith's translation of a papyrus he purchased in 1835. He declared it to be Abraham's own writing that told how an angel saved him when a priest tried to sacrifice him on an altar. The papyrus was relocated in 1967 and examined by a number of Egyptologists. They found, said one report, that "not a single word of Joseph Smith's alleged translation bore any resemblance to the contents of this document." It turned out to be the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian funeral document buried with the dead. Smith's original manuscript shows that he used 136 English words to translate the Egyptian hieroglyph for "lake."

This flimsy Book of Breathings accusation can be easily addressed, if the accusers will only listen. Let's start with whether or not the papyrus found in the 1960's was that used by Joseph Smith to obtain the Book of Abraham. The Prophet described the papyrus he used in translation in these words:

The record … found with the mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and a small part red, ink or paint, in perfect preservation."3

According to Michael D. Rhodes, researcher in ancient scriptures at Brigham Young University, the Book of Breathings papyrus does not match this description:

The Book of Breathings papyrus has no writing in red ink and is in an extremely poor state of preservation.4

As for the clumsy heiroglyph accusation, I refer you to a professional:

In his edition of the Book of Breathings Pap. Louvre N. 3279, J. C. Goyon warns the student that the vignettes [Heiroglyphic illustrations] that accompany the text "have often only a very remote connection with the substance…of the writing." For example, Tableau ii of this Breathings text actually belongs "to the illustrations of the Chapters of the Gates of Hades, in the Book of the Dead," and it is only "as an exception" that "the title of the text [under Tableau iv] corresponds to the drawing that adorns it. …"5

Common Egyptian practice was to attach vignettes to unassociated texts. Although the Abraham papyrus was found to have been attached to a Book of Breathing, there has been no association found between the two. Also, anyone even remotely familiar with the Egyptian language knows that it, much like Hebrew, assigns multiple meanings to single words:

The word Sensen itself is used in the Breathing texts with a number of different but related meanings…The Berlin Dictionary … gives a wealth of meanings for the word snsn, … First there is the idea of air and breath … being to smell, breathe; …to exude an odor; …to inhale air or the breath of life; …"der Odem," the breath of life itself; … the stench of a corpse…Snsn is the air that infuses and pervades: "Thy nostils inhale (snsn) the air, thy nose breathes (snsn) the north wind, thy throat gulps in air, thou incorporatest life into thy body."…snsn, as we have seen, means "kiss." The queen of Egypt became pregnant "when the aroma of Amon penetrated all her members." Snsn, then, is indicative of the closest and most intimate association. In the 13th Dynasty King Neferhotep prays "that I may associate (snsn) with all the gods …," According to the Wöerbuch, snsn, … can mean … to join a company, unite with a group … to unite, fraternize, become a friend of; hence, … to join the company of the gods (said of the dead); … to reach heaven and mingle with the stars; … to enter a bond of brotherhood, to marry with; … to unite oneself with the King, or … to praise or honor a king or god—hence praise, honor; … to unite oneself with one's image (said of a god coming to his temple); … to unite oneself with the light. The two main ideas of snsn, breathing and joining, meet and fuse in such meanings as … "fragrance, light, air, as joining themselves to something"; hence … adornment, things adorning the body; … to invest another object or fuse with it.5

Joseph Smith never claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from the papyri now known as Book of Breathing texts, though IF HE HAD it would have been to his credit to have used "136 English words to translate the Egyptian hieroglyph for 'lake.'" In reality, Joseph Smith and others attempted to create, or compile, an Egyptian alphabet during or after work on the Book of Abraham. None of the characters in this alphabet have "136 English words" in the definition. You can view this document at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website6.

Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible: In 1830, Smith began a revision of the King James Version of the Bible, which he never completed. He revised some 3,400 verses and added much material, including a prophecy at the end of Genesis about his own coming as "a choice seer." Since the manuscript remained with Smith's widow, who did not follow Brigham Young, the Salt Lake church seldom quotes from it, though it is accepted as correct.

Although the LDS Church does not publish its own version of the Bible, the Joseph Smith Translations are incorporated into the footnotes of the LDS edition of the King James Bible; they are frequently quoted, and are without question considered vital by Latter-day Saints. The Pearl of Great Price, mentioned above, is comprised mostly of lengthy exerpts from the JST7.

In 1867, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published an edited version of Joseph Smith's translation known as The Inspired Version of the Holy Scriptures. This has never been used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it is felt that the Prophet never completed the revision chapter by chapter.

Although excerpts from the JST were published in Church newspapers and as a broadside tract during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, the entire work was not published in his day, even though he had intended and had expended considerable effort to accomplish it. The distraction of persecution, the demands of Church business, and the lack of financial means prevented him from completing and authorizing a manuscript ready for the press8.

On February 10 of 1867, Emma Smith Bidamon (Joseph Smith's wife, now remarried) in a letter to her son, Joseph Smith III, wrote:

My heart is made glad by your report of your progress in the New Translation as you know something of my fears with regard to its publication, on account of what your Father said about the unfinished condition of the work.9

You can view some of the actual manuscript pages from Joseph Smith's revision of the Old Testament at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website10.

In 2011, LDS scholars held a symposium celebrating the 400 Year Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, during which they also discussed the Joseph Smith Translation. One scholar, “Dr. Kent P. Jackson… is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and is currently serving as the associate director of the Jerusalem Center. Dr. Jackson has published extensively on the Joseph Smith Translation.” Here are a few of his comments:

@16:00

When some of the early leaders spoke of the Bible being full of errors and insertions of men, they were speaking specifically of the ITALICS, which uninspired men added to clarify the text according to their own understanding!

@17:00

The italics are frequently where Joseph Smith’s translations begin.

@25:27

“The prophet taught that truths were lost even before the Bible was compiled. So, some JST corrections may reveal teachings or events that never were recorded in the Bible in the first place.”

@28:22

Some JST changes correct only the KJV translation, but others correct what is in all Bibles. “The phrase “no man hath seen God at any time” is found in the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts and is translated correctly in the KJV, but the statement is false! It contradicts evidence in the Bible itself, where several instances are recorded of prophets seeing God. Joseph Smith’s change would be needed in any Bible translation.”

@29:18

“Many changes do not respond to problems in the KJV but simply make its wording more precise.”

You can hear Dr. Jackson's complete presentation in Episode 30 of the Mormon Channel program, Insights, entitled "The King James And Joseph Smith Translations."11

Further "inspired" doctrines: These may be handed down by the church's living prophet at any time and are equal in authority to the Holy Bible. The King Follett discourse presented in 1844 is one example. Smith gave this funeral sermon for Elder King Follett in which he explained the doctrine of deified man and humanized God. It appears in the Journal of Discourses, a collection of lectures by Smith, Young, and other 19th-century Mormon authorities.

The phrase "deified man and humanized God" is a gross misrepresentation of LDS belief, intended to make it sound like we are making ourselves higher than God. In truth, what Joseph Smith taught was that as the children and offspring of God, as dictated in scripture, mankind is of the same race as God, and therefore all men have the ability to become like God, if they will conform to His commandments.

Speaking to "an estimated 20,000 people who filled Madison Square Garden in New York City on 26 April," 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley "also emphasized modern revelation":

Christians generally and our Jewish and Muslim brethren and sisters revere the prophets of old who spoke words of revelation as they were moved upon by the Holy Spirit. The times in which they spoke were less complicated. The ways of society were relatively simple. If there was need for revelation then, is there not an even greater need for revelation in this highly complex and difficult age in which we live? If God spoke to Abraham anciently, shall He not speak to prophets in this season of the world? We believe in modern revelation, and I stand before you and can testify in humility but with certainty that we are blessed with it in the guidance of this Church in this day and time. God has not forsaken us, nor will He if we will live in obedience to His commandments12.

Notes

  1. No Man Shall Add to or Take Away, Howard W. Hunter, Ensign, May 1981, 64. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/05/no-man-shall-add-to-or-take-away)
  2. History of the Church, 1:173. See chapter 14, footnote 13.
  3. History of the Church, 2:348. See chapter 25.
  4. "Why doesn’t the translation of the Egyptian papyri found in 1967 match the text of the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price?." I Have a Question, Ensign. July 1988. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/07/i-have-a-question?lang=eng)
  5. "The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri." Hugh Nibley, SLC: Deseret Book, 1975. (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/book/the-message-of-the-joseph-smith-papyri/)
  6. Egyptian Alphabet, JS and Oliver Cowdery Scribe, circa July–circa December 1835 (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/egyptian-alphabet-js-and-oliver-cowdery-scribe-circa-july-circa-december-1835#!/paperSummary/egyptian-alphabet-js-and-oliver-cowdery-scribe-circa-july-circa-december-1835&p=4)
  7. Our Pearl of Great Price: From Mission Pamphlet to Standard Work by James R. Clark, Ensign, Aug. 1976. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1976/08/our-pearl-of-great-price-from-mission-pamphlet-to-standard-work?lang=eng)
  8. Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (JST), Encyclopedia of Mormonism. (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Joseph_Smith_Translation_of_the_Bible_(JST))
  9. "Joseph Smith's Translation of the Bible: A History and Commentary." Robert J. Matthews, SLC: Deseret Book, 1998. Accessed via GospeLink CD-ROM, 2001. Available for purchase from the BYU Bookstore. (http://www.byubookstore.com/ePOS/form=robots/item.html&item_number=0-8425-2237-9&store=439&design=439)
  10. Old Testament Revision 1, Joseph Smith Papers Project. (http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/old-testament-revision-1#!/paperSummary/old-testament-revision-1&p=2)
  11. http://www.mormonchannel.org/insights/30
  12. "News of the Church," Ensign. July, 1998. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1998/07/news-of-the-church?lang=eng)