Mormons and the Bible:
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Many people know that Latter-day Saints ("Mormons") have a book called the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately, many people don't recognize that we also revere the Holy Bible as scripture. This page deals with the Bible and the LDS view of scripture, seeking to answer many common objections and questions. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there.
Also consider my "Book of Mormon Evidences" page.
You can order a free copy of the Book of Mormon at Mormon.org.
Latter-day Saints accept and revere the Bible as the word of God. We use both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and find tremendous value in both, for both testify of Christ, the Messiah, and teach us precious truths about God. Latter-day Saints learn Bible stories and scriptures from their childhood and throughout their lives. The Bible is used and studied in our Sunday School classes, our youth classes, our daily seminary program, college classes sponsored by the Church (Institute) and on Church campuses such as BYU.
A passage from the Bible, James 1:5, was the catalyst that moved Joseph Smith to inquire of God which church he should join, leading to his remarkable First Vision that initiated the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith and all subsequent prophets have used the Bible heavily in their teachings. Joseph quoted from it more than any other scripture in his sermons and writings, and said the reader of the Bible could "see God's own handwriting in the sacred volume, and he who reads it oftenest will like it best" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 56). Even angelic messengers sent to Joseph Smith as part of the process of the Restoration quoted heavily from the Bible.
As part of a long history of encouraging people to study the Bible, the First Presidency of the Church in 1983 issued a statement encouraging the entire world to turn to the Bible: "We commend to all people everywhere the daily reading, pondering and heeding of the divine truths of the Holy Bible." They said the Church "accepts the Holy Bible as essential to faith and doctrine," explaining that when "read reverently and prayerfully, the Holy Bible becomes a priceless volume, converting the soul to righteousness. Principal among its virtues is the declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, through whom eternal salvation may come to all."
Unlike many other Christian churches, Latter-day Saints believe that revelation from God has not ceased and that the canon of God's revelations is not closed. We believe that we should live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4) and that God continues to reveal His words and to make sacred scripture available today as in days of old. One precious example of this is The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, an inspired translation of an ancient document from people in the New World who knew of the Messiah and had prophets of God among them. The Book of Mormon and the Bible together are part of the sacred writings accepted by Latter-day Saints. They are both part of the word of God, and we believe that God will yet reveal many other great things in the future. (The common objection about not adding to the word of God is dealt with below in detail - I'll just note that while no man has the right to add anything to God's word, God can speak as often as He wants and has historically added to His word whenever He has had prophets and apostles on the earth, as He does today.)
According to the Eighth Article of Faith, written by Joseph Smith to summarize LDS doctrine, Latter-day Saints "believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Though we revere the Bible as the word of God, there is no doubt that human errors are possible in the translations we have today. In some cases, differing translations directly contradict each other. Since none of the original manuscripts are available, it is also possible that some parts of the original text may have been lost or otherwise altered, though the good agreement between the available ancient manuscripts suggests that most of the early manuscripts we have are generally reliable. Still, the Bibles we have today are the result of many human interventions with room for error. Thus, relying on any text "as far as it is translated [and transmitted] correctly" is a reasonable approach. But the Bible remains inspired, holy, and highly reliable, in spite of some minor problems.
On the other hand, the original compilation, transmission and translation of the Book of Mormon was a process entirely under the direction of inspired prophets of God, not of committees of men over the ages. While the translation process was divinely inspired, there is still the possibility of human errors in the text due to factors such as printing errors, typos on the original engravings on gold plates, spelling and grammatical difficulties during the translation, etc., some of which have resulted in the need for updated versions and truly minor changes in the Book of Mormon.
A very useful article on the possibility of errors in both volumes of scripture is John Tvedtnes, "The Mistakes of Men: Can the Scriptures be Error-Free?" at FairMormon.org, as of Dec. 10, 2003.
In addition to the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Latter-day Saints also accept as scripture two smaller volumes containing revelations primarily given to Joseph Smith. The Doctrine and Covenants is a compilation of revelations given largely in the early days of the Church as part of the Restoration of the Gospel, with many details relevant to the operation of the Church in this era. The Pearl of Great Price contains the small Book of Abraham and Book of Moses given through the power of revelation to Joseph Smith, and also contains the History of Joseph Smith, an inspired translation of Mathew 24, and the LDS Articles of Faith.
Since we have the Book of Mormon and other writings in addition to the Bible, it should be obvious that we don't accept the Bible as the complete, ultimate, infallible revelation of God and the final authority on all matters. In fact, the final, ultimate, infallible authority on all matters is God Himself, not any finite work printed by human hands and translated by human minds, however inspired. No one volume can give God's answer on every future issue. A primary tenet of our faith, and of the faith of the earliest Christians, is that continuing revelation is essential for the operation of God's Church. God gave apostles and prophets to guide His Church through revelation (Eph. 4:11-14; Eph. 2:18-20), and we need the same today.
To understand our reservations about relying on the Bible or any other book apart from ongoing prophecy and revelation from God, let's assume for a moment that the Bible really is an infallible and complete revelation from God. If so, then we must ask: Which Bible? Grasping the importance of this question requires some additional reflection about the origins of the Bible, as set forth below.
Many Christians assume that Paul referred to the whole Bible, with both the Old and New Testament, when he said that "all scripture is inspired of God" in 2 Timothy 3:16. However, there was no such thing as the New Testament at that time. In fact, the term "New Testament" was first used by Tertullian in A.D. 200 - long after the books of the New Testament were written. Even the Old Testament was not a settled compilation but was still being formulated. The definitive canon of the Old Testament would not be selected by the Jews until later, but the early Christians generally used the Greek Septuagint which contained many Apocryphal (or "deuterocanonical") books not in the Protestant Bibles of today. If Paul was referring to a specific existing collection of writings, it would likely have been the Septuagint. However, I think Paul referred to scripture in general in 2 Timothy 3:16: that which is scripture is inspired of God - true of past, present, and future scripture. In no way did he mean that there was a finished and complete New Testament canon at the time of his writing. In fact, if that is what he meant, one wonders why he kept writing after verse 16.
The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. No original manuscripts exist, and there are distinct differences - though often minor - between the various manuscripts that have survived. Mike Parker, in e-mail from 2002, has suggested several references on the issue of these variants in the Bible, which point to changes over time. A book on the doctrinal tampering of the New Testament is The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0195102797) by Dr. Bart Ehrman, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to Dr. Ehrman, "My thesis can be stated simply: scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make the more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views" (p. xi). There is abundant evidence for this unfortunate fact. A book showing many variants in Old Testament passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls is The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible,San Francisco: Harper, 1999 (ISBN: 0060600632). See also Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd edition, Fortress Press, 2001 (ISBN: 0800634292), which shows hundreds of examples of textual variants between the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Old Testament sources.
In fact, there are many Bibles which differ not only because of different translations but also because they include different selections of writings (e.g., apocryphal books or other books that are not considered canonical by everyone). It therefore becomes difficult to accept the idea that the Bible is an infallible, perfect document when it is not clear which documents really belong in the Bible or which varying manuscripts should be used in the translation, not to mention the inherent uncertainties and problems that arise in translating any of the existing early manuscripts. The Bible is inspired, but there is no denying that it has been touched by human hands!
If the Bible is the ultimate authority, then which Bible? Might it be the Armenian Bible, which includes books such as Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles? Will it be the Catholic Bible with its many apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles? Perhaps we should use the Ethiopic Bible or other versions that have other books not familiar to most Americans and Europeans? (I hope it's not the first modern Hmong Bible that I purchased, which is missing quite a few chapters from a number of books - perhaps due to translator fatigue.)
To understand the large variety in canons, we need to look back in history. For example, the Codex Sinaiticus, which is the oldest New Testament collection available, a fourth century manuscript found in a monastery on Mount Sinai, contains two writings which are excluded in the modern New Testament, the Shepherd of Hermas and Barnabas. And yet even in the other books of that Codex, there appears to be a tendency to omit passages, leading to some shorter versions of Bible verses than we have in the King James text (J. M. Ross, "Some Unnoticed Points in the Text of the New Testament," Novum Testamentum Vol. 25, 1983, pp. 59-60, as cited by John Gee, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, pp.68-70).
In A.D. 200, a Christian in Rome wrote a list of books considered to be canonical (see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian?, Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991, p. 51). This list is now known as the Muratorian Canon, named after the man who discovered it in Milan. The list does not include Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, or 2 Peter, and includes only two of the letters of John. The canonical works did include the Apocalypse of Peter and the Wisdom of Solomon.
The earliest Christians had no New Testament canon. As the Protestant scholar David F. Payne explains:
"Their Bible, and that of the Jews to this day, consisted of the Old Testament; this was the Canon of Holy Writ accepted by Jesus Himself, and referred to simply as 'the scriptures' throughout the New Testament writings. It was not until A.D. 393 that a church council first listed the 27 New Testament books now universally recognized. There was thus a period of about 350 years during which the New Testament Canon was in process of being formed."
(David F. Payne, "The Text and Canon of the New Testament," in The International Bible Commentary, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 1005.)
Excellent information on the origins of the Bible was summarized by Father A. James Bernstein in "Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament," The Christian Activist, Vol. 9, Fall/Winter 1996, p. 1,4-7. Father Bernstein discusses his discoveries as he explored Biblical origins, many of which surprised him and challenged his old views about scripture. For example, he explains how the canon we accept today differs in some ways from the writings used by early Christians:
"[T]he early Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. This translation . . . contained an expanded canon which included a number of the so-called "deuterocanonical" (or "apocryphal") books. Although there was some initial debate over these books, they were eventually received by Christians into the Old Testament canon.
In reaction to the rise of Christianity, the Jews narrowed their canons and eventually excluded the deuterocanonical books - although they still regarded them as sacred. The modern Jewish canon was not rigidly fixed until the third century A.D. Interestingly, it is this later version of the Jewish canon of the Old Testament, rather than the canon of early Christianity, that is followed by most modern Protestants today.
When the Apostles lived and wrote, there was no New Testament and no finalized Old Testament. . . .
[T]he first complete listing of New Testament books as we have them today did not appear until over 300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ. (The first complete listing was given by St. Athanasius in his Paschal Letter in A.D. 367.) . . . Most [early Christian] churches only had parts of what was to become the New Testament. . . .
During the first four centuries A.D. there was substantial disagreement over which books should be included in the canon of Scripture. The first person on record who tried to establish a New Testament canon was the second-century heretic, Marcion. He wanted the Church to reject its Jewish heritage, and therefore he dispensed with the Old Testament entirely. Marcion's canon included only one gospel, which he himself edited, and ten of Paul's epistles. Sad but true, the first attempted New Testament was heretical.
While Marcion was excluding many books he did not like, many early Christians accepted other New Testament books that most modern churches no longer have or no longer accept. For example, there were many competing "gospels" besides Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Before the Gospel of John had been written, Saint Luke wrote that there were many others writing related accounts, saying "Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us . . . it seemeth good to me also . . . to write to you an orderly account." (Luke 1:1,3). There would later be controversy over which of the Gospels to use, including controversy concerning the Gospel of John. The Roman Church resisted John, while the church in Asia Minor embraced John. The Syrian Church did not accept all four Gospels of the modern Bible until the fifth century, and "also ignored for a time the Epistles of John, 2 Peter, and the Book of Revelation" [Bernstein, p. 5]. As Stephen Robinson notes (pp. 52-53),
One of the most important of the Greek new Testament manuscripts, known as D or Codex Claramontanus, contains a canon list for both the Old and New Testaments. The manuscript itself is a product of the sixth century, but most scholars believe the canon list originated in the Alexandrian church in the fourth century. This canon omits Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Hebrews, but includes the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Acts of Paul (not our Acts), and, like the Muratorian Canon, the Apocalypse of Peter. . . .
Before the fifth century the Syrian Christian canon included 3 Corinthians and Tatian's Diatessaron. . . .
The Abyssinian Orthodox church has in its canon the twenty-seven books of the modern New Testament, but adds the Synodos of Qalementos (both attributed to Clement of Rome), the Book of the Covenant (which includes a post-resurrection discourse of the Savior), and the Ethiopic Didascalia. To the Old Testament the Abyssinian canon adds the book of Enoch (cited as prophetic by the canonical book of Jude) and the Ascension of Isaiah.
Part of the problem may have been the rarity of authoritative writings, which had to be copied by hand. Few churches had a complete set of apostolic letters, and it was undoubtedly difficult to tell a correctly written copy from a forgery or an errant copy. Many members might be unfamiliar with a given work cherished by other saints in a different area. New or unfamiliar writings might have been rejected or questioned, and many controversies are easy to imagine.
Eusebius, known as the Father of Church History, was a fourth century bishop of Caesarea who disputed the books of James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John and 3 John [Bernstein, p. 5]. He absolutely rejected the book of Revelation. Origen in the third century questioned the authenticity of 2 Peter and 2 John. Here was a respected Christian leader who accepted a different canon than many modern Christians. Does that make him unchristian? An apostate? A cultist? Was he subtracting from the Word of God? Some modern Protestants condemn Latter-day Saints for such reasons. Ironically, that logic would not only condemn respected early Christians like Eusebius, but the father of Protestantism himself, Martin Luther.
Martin Luther called the Epistle of James "a right strawy epistle" (ein rechte stroern Epistel) because it has "no Gospel quality to it" [D. Martin Luthers Werke (Weimar: Böhlaus, 1929), Ser.3:6:10, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, Offenders for a Word: How Anti-Mormons Play Word Games to Attack the Latter-day Saints, Aspen Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, p. 125; see also T. Carson, "James," in The International Bible Commentary, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 1533]. Elsewhere he branded it as worthless [Luther (1906): Ser.1:32:299]. In the forward to his early translations, he challenged the apostolic origin of James and also said that Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation did not belong among "the true and noblest books of the New Testament" [see W.G. Kümmel, "The Continuing Significance of Luther's Prefaces to the New Testament," Concordia Theological Monthly, 37 (1966): 573-581, as cited by Robinson, p. 53]. Some later editions of Luther's translations even labeled Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation as apocryphal or noncanonical. Even more surprising, Luther was unhappy with the Sermon on the Mount, calling it a masterpiece of the devil: "Das heist ein meister stuck des Teuffels [sic]" [Luther (1906): Ser.1:32:299] since it gives so much emphasis on works and behavior rather than Luther's doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Martin Luther, like many Christians before him, had his own opinions about what the proper Biblical canon should be. Those opinions differed from many before him and many after him. This does not make Luther a non-Christian cultist, but shows that there has long been uncertainty about what the canon should be.
Interestingly, when Luther and other Protestants rejected the Septuagint text and its Latin translation in the Vulgate, thus rejecting the Apocrypha, and instead used a smaller collection of Old Testament books from the Masoretic Hebrew text, they diverged from centuries of Christian tradition. As a result, the Roman Catholic Bible now has about twelve books more than the Protestant Bible, meaning that about 200 pages of text have been "subtracted" - one could say - from the Protestant Bible relative to the "traditional" Catholic Bible. Though there was a time when many Protestants and Catholics accused each other of being anti-Christian, they now generally accept the right of the other to have a different canon. Shouldn't the same privilege be extended to their fellow-Christians, the Latter-day Saints, who have the Protestant Bible plus the Book of Mormon and two other books in their canon?
The popular concept of Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency (in which it is asserted that the Bible as is contains no flaws and is a complete and perfect canon) is hard to square with the centuries-old uncertainty and controversy over what should be in the Biblical canon in the first place. If Martin Luther openly attacked the canonical status of some books in the Protestant Bible, it seems odd that his followers would later claim that the Bible is infallible, complete, and perfect. The Bible makes no such claim for itself.
Technically, the concept of Biblical inerrancy should mean that the words originally written by prophets and apostles under inspiration of God are correct. Most Latter-day Saints would agree with that. However, when many people speak of biblical inerrancy, they have extended a rather reasonable concept to mean that a particular modern translation (esp. the King James Bible) is absolutely perfect and infallible, a proposition that is simply untenable. Unfortunately, since we have absolutely none of the original scriptures as penned by the prophets and apostles, the possibility of inerrancy in the original texts has only limited bearing on the accuracy of what we now have, though it appears that a great deal has been preserved accurately.
Where did the popular concept of the inerrancy of modern Bibles come from, if not the Bible? If Luther questioned the Sermon on the Mount and other parts of the Bible, it obviously was not from him (though he did teach that the scriptures were sufficient for salvation). The Protestant writer Lloyd Averill argues that the modern "fundamentalist" view of Biblical inerrancy does not derive from the great Reformers, but is a more modern development:
"It is clear that Calvin cannot be credited with the scriptural literalism affirmed by present-day fundamentalists. Nor, indeed, can any other major figure in the history of Christian thought prior to 1800. Contrary to fundamentalists claims, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as they have formulated it is not a return to primitive Christianity or to Christian orthodoxy. Rather, it was an innovation fashioned scarcely more than a hundred years ago as a weapon to be used against the modernist movement." [Lloyd J. Averill, Religious Right, Religious Wrong: A Critique of the Fundamentalist Phenomenon, Pilgrim Books, New York, 1989, pp. 73-74, as cited by Peterson and Ricks, p. 127.]
My point is not to attack the Bible or the canons that are accepted today, but to point out that there is much room for uncertainty and little ground to claim that what we have now is the only acceptable, infallible, complete canon of scripture. Some argue that to be a Christian, one must accept only one particular canon and no other, but such a requirement would exclude Christ and the early Christians who did not have the Bible as we know it today, and who used Old Testament writings differing from those deemed authoritative by modern Protestants. In addition to the early Christian use of the Septuagint with its Apocryphal writings, the Bible itself mentions many other sacred writings which appear to have been lost, or, in some cases, removed from the modern canon. A partial list of these "lost scriptures" is given below.
Once we understand that there is not just a single, original manuscript to work with, but many different ancient texts, all of which are removed from the originals by many years, then it is easier to understand the genuine complications that we face in dealing with the Bible as a divine document that still has been through human hands. We can understand that outright contradictions might exist between the different ancient sources we have for the Bible. For example, their are contradictions about the ages of the Patriarchs at the birth of their successors when we compare the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint. We find that the Masoretic Text offers 720 years as the length of time from Abraham's birth to the Exodus, while the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch give 505 years. There are may similar examples, all pointing to the obvious fact that different ancient Bibles don't all give the same text. And even different translations from a common ancient manuscript will differ in many ways. So if the Bible is to be infallible, then we must begin with the question, "Which Bible?" And then we must ask, is that really all there is?
More information is provided by John Tvedtnes in "A Bible! A Bible! The Canon and Ongoing Revelation," a book review at SHIELDS-research.org. Also see Barry Bickmore, "Does the Bible Claim to Be Inerrant?" at FairMormon.org.
We agree with Paul that all scripture is profitable and inspired of God. of that set of "all scripture" includes the divinely-inspired, Christ-centered Book of Mormon. I make no excuses for that, for it is unmistakably and truly the Word of God, as is the Bible. If you haven't read the Book of Mormon, please do so. Call 1-877-537-0003 to receive a free Book of Mormon or order a free copy at Mormon.org.
The Bible and the Book of Mormon go hand in hand, the latter being a second witness of the former, but offering further rich and powerful insight into the Atonement of Christ, the relationship between mercy and justice, the nature of the resurrection, the salvation of little children, and many other precious Gospel truths. The Book of Mormon confirms the divinity of the Bible and is a "must-read" for those who rejoice in the words of Christ. As the seventh Church president, Heber J. Grant, 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" [Improvement Era, 39 (Nov. 1936):660].
Even apart from the little-appreciated problem of uncertainties in the canon, the uncertainties in translating any passage of Biblical scripture raises serious problems for those claiming Biblical inerrancy for existing translations. There is no single original Hebrew or Greek manuscript available, but we have hundreds of copied documents with slight variations (typically minor, but variations all the same). Translators must deal with these varying manuscripts and decide which sources are most reliable, often picking and choosing between the various manuscripts. Even if all translators agreed to use the same manuscripts, there would still be significant uncertainties in the translation - sometimes because the text in the available documents is unclear or corrupted, or because there are numerous possibilities in translating Biblical language.
In the following table, I present three respected translations of one of my favorite passages, Job 19:23-29. Job 19:25,26 is a favorite scripture among LDS missionaries, showing the reality of a physical resurrection and indicating that "in our flesh" we will see God. When I tried to use that scripture in a teaching opportunity on my mission in Switzerland, I was shocked as I read from my German Bible a verse that seemed to contradict what I had learned from the King James Version. The German verse said that while our flesh would vanish, we would see God, with no mention of being in our flesh when we see Him. That experience taught me that human translation offers many possibilities for weakness and error in our modern Bibles. The many differences between the following English translations of Job 19 raise the important question: just which Bible is inerrant?
|King James Version||New English Bible||Jerusalem Bible|
|23 Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
24 That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another, though my reins be consumed within me.
28. But ye should say, Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is found in me?
29 Be ye afraid of the sword: for wrath bringeth the punishments of the sword, that ye may know there is a judgment.
|23 O that my words might be inscribed, O that they might be engraved in an inscription,
24 cut with an iron tool and filled with lead to be a witness in hard rock!
25 But in my heart I know that my vindicator lives and that he will rise last to speak in court;
26 and I shall discern my witness standing at my side and see my defending counsel, even God himself,
27 whom I shall see with my own eyes, I myself and no other.
28 My heart failed me when you said, 'What a train of disaster he has brought on himself! The root of the trouble lies in him.'
29 Beware of the sword that points at you, the sword that sweeps away all iniquity; then you will know that there is a judge.
|23 Ah, would that these words of mine were written down, inscribed on some monument
24 with iron chisel and engraving tool, cut into the rock for ever.
25 This I know: that my Avenger lives, and he, the Last, will take his stand on earth.
26 After my awaking, he will set me close to him, and from my flesh I shall look on God.
27 He whom I shall see will take my part: these eyes will gaze on him and find him not aloof. My heart within me sinks . . .
28 You, then, that mutter, "How shall we track him down, what pretext shall we find against him?"
29 may well fear the sword on your own account. There is an anger stirred to flame by evil deeds; you will learn that there is indeed a judgment.
Even with inspired translators, human errors in printing generally result in errors in printed texts, especially for printed editions before the days of computerized proofreading tools. Numerous printer's errors affected not only the Book of Mormon, but also the King James Bible. Thus, some details of the text could differ among printed editions. This important fact is explained in some detail by Alister F. McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, in In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001, pp. 213-214):
The early printings of the King James Bible included many errors. Many of these arose from weaknesses in the book production processes of the period. Proofing was often a haphazard business. From what we know of the book production methods of this period, it seems that the greatest effort was put into the process of typesetting. . . . Most printers had only or two presses at their disposal, and were reluctant to waste too much time by checking for typographical errors. It seems that the first printed sheet to be "pulled" from the press was checked for such errors, while printing continued.
Contemporary sources suggest that a "reading-boy" would then read the proof copy aloud to the compositor, who would check it against the original copy. Errors could arise in all kinds of ways - such as homophones (words that are pronounced identically, yet have different meanings and are spelled differently - such as "there" and "their"). It is thus little cause for surprise that Bibles should contain at least some errors, despite the best standards of the day being employed in an attempt to eliminate them.
A further factor contributing to the large number of errors in English Bibles was the constant pressure to reduce their production costs. . . .
McGrath goes on to note some examples of printing errors, including the confusing of Jesus and Judas in Matthew 26:36. He also points out that printing errors could not be easily corrected due to the nature of the printing process, but as hard as they were to repair, they were viewed as "scandalous by some." According to McGrath (pp. 215-216):
William Kilburne issued a vigorous denunciation of these in 1659, when he published his Dangerous Errors in Several Late Printed Bibles to the Great Scandal and Corruption of Sound and True Religion. Kilburne claimed to have identified as many as twenty thousand errors in various recent printings. Some of these errors were bizarre.
For example, a warning to the Israelites about the devious ways of the Midianites took an unusual turn, thanks to an amusing misprint in one edition (Numbers 25:17-18): "Vex the Midianites, and smite them: For they vex you with their wives." The possibilities suggested by this passage are immense and intriguing, to say the least. Yet "wives" was merely a misprint for "wiles."
More serious was the misprint in an edition of 1631, which rendered Exodus 20:14 as follows: "Thou shalt commit adultery." The omission of the word "not" was speedily corrected, but not before this had caused some consternation among the Bible's readers. Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the printers of this "Wicked Bible" - as it came to be known - were fined severely for this unfortunate lapse.
The first edition of the King James Bible to be published by Oxford University Press appeared in 1675; this was followed in 1682 by a sumptuous edition prepared by the Oxford printer John Baskett. The value of the edition was greatly reduced by its many printing errors. For example, it made reference to the "Parable of the Vinegar" instead of the "Parable of the Vineyard" - an error which led it to being nicknamed the "Vinegar Bible." Its amused critics panned it as "a Bastkett-full of Printer's Errors." Such printing errors were perhaps inevitable, given both the complexity of the text being produced, and the generally poor quality of English printing and proofing methods during the seventeenth century.
Other corrections to the text were introduced later to avoid possible misunderstandings. For example, the original printing of Acts 24:24 in 1611 referred to Drusilla, the wife of the Roman governor Felix, as a Jew; in 1629, this was altered to "Jewess." The original translation of Mark 10:18 read thus: "there is no man good, but one, that is, God." This could be misunderstood as implying that God was a human being. A small alteration was introduced in 1638, avoiding this implication: the text now read "there is none good but one, that is, God."
So if you wish to maintain that the Bible is infallible and error free, I'd like to know not only which translation, but also which printed edition. But heaven help you if you're going to claim a 1631 edition of the King James Version as your inerrant text.
"Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it...."In Rev. 22:18-19, John echoed the words of Moses as he concluded writing the Book of Revelation:
"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:Moses and John were absolutely correct: no man has authority to add or subtract from the word of God. But Deut. 4:2 did not keep Moses from writing additional chapters, nor did it prohibit Isaiah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Paul, and even John from writing later scripture as directed by God. It did not mean that God could give no more revelation or scripture, but that the inspired words of God given to his apostles and prophets should not be altered by men.
"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."
As one simple illustration, consider the writings of Jeremiah as recorded by Jeremiah's scribe, Baruch. See Jeremiah 36, where we learn that Baruch wrote all the words from Jeremiah that were recorded in a book (vss. 4, 17, 18) Unfortunately, King Jehoiakim of Judah burned the book that contained the words of Jeremiah (vss. 21-25). The Lord commanded Jeremiah to prepare his document again, writing "all the former words that were in the first roll" (vs. 28). In verse 32, Jeremiah then commanded his scribe, Baruch, to write on another roll the words of Jeremiah, "and there were added besides unto them many like words." Many like words added? This doesn't sound like original dictation straight from the mouth of God, perfectly preserved and unchangeable. Prophets speak or dictate by inspiration, but there can be later changes and additions.
Robert Boylan kindly sent me further information on this topic in 2006:
You might also like to know that Jeremiah 36:32 is not the only example of prophets revising their prior revelations. Moses revised the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), as seen when one examines Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In addition, Isaiah 36-39 is a revision of 2 Kings 18:13 - 20:19, and Jeremiah 52 is a revision of 2 Kings 24-25. Joseph Smith's actions, contra critics (e.g., chapter 3 of "Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?") are entirely consistent with the actions of Biblical Prophets.
Read the text carefully of Revelation 22:18-19 and ponder what John is talking about. At the time, there was no Bible as we know it. The new Christians had the Septuagint (which included the Apocrypha) and scattered writings of some of the apostles, but there had not yet been any known attempt to establish a New Testament canon or to bring the Gospels and epistles into a single volume. John, who was in exile on the Isle of Patmos, is obviously referring to the newly written text before him when he speaks of "this book," the Book of Revelation. He refers to the unique contents of his book: its prophecies, its descriptions of plagues, its discussion of the holy city, and urges that no one change what he has written. Even though the Book of Revelation has been placed last in our Bible, it was not necessarily the last book written, but may have preceded other writings of John himself by a couple of years. In fact, many Christian canons over the centuries did not include the Book of Revelation at all, and even Martin Luther questioned its status. The first church council that listed most of the canonical books in our present Old and New Testaments, the Council of Laodicea that met in A.D. 363, still did not include the Apocalypse of Saint John [Bernstein, p.5]. The common idea that this was the last book added to an existing canon of New Testament scripture by John is erroneous, as is the idea that John meant that there could never be any more scripture.
Latter-day Saints fully agree with John: no man should change what God has spoken. However, God has the authority to speak what and when He wants. God spoke to other prophets after Moses and many of their divinely commissioned writings have been preserved in the Bible. God also speaks today to living apostles and prophets in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we should be willing to accept those whom God has sent and hear their inspired words.
When God speaks to prophets, they write words that become scripture. Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, John, and many others all added scripture. One of the surest signs that the Church of Jesus Christ has really been restored is that new scripture has been added! The Jews at the time of Christ claimed to revere dead prophets but rejected living ones and rejected newly added scripture. They were in apostasy. Those who reject new prophets and new scripture from God in our day are likewise in apostasy and need to repent and come unto Christ more fully.
To the evangelical ministers who rail against us for "adding to the word," I am tempted ask - with tongue in cheek - by what authority they use a Bible from which many books of scripture accepted by the early Christians have been subtracted? Where is the Book of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocryphal writings of the Septuagint, Psalm 151 of the Septuagint, or other missing scriptures? They may insist that their Bible is complete and perfect, but where is the missing scripture from which Paul quotes the words of Christ in Acts 20:35, "It is more blessed to give than to receive"? Where is the scripture that contains the prophecy that Christ would be a Nazarene, which is cited as fulfilled in Matt. 2:23? If God restored those missing writings, would our critics accept the new scripture with gratitude, or reject it because it offends their sensibilities? Ask this question and you may be surprised, as I have been, at the answer. One devout man told me that he would have to reject any new writing, no matter how authentic, even if it had been written by an ancient apostle under inspiration from God, was perfectly preserved and unmistakably contained directly quoted words of Christ, because to admit the possibility of additional scripture would mean that we could not accept the existing Bible as the perfect, complete, and infallible final authority. (I almost wonder if some people worship the Bible rather than God.) On the other hand, Latter-day Saints are taught to anxiously accept every word that comes from God, and to look forward to many future revelations and the discovery of other ancient volumes of sacred scripture. The word of God is not finished yet!
By the way, some modern Christians seem to think that the Apocrypha was never seriously accepted by Christians of the past, in spite of being included in their canons. However, "the conciliar decree De canonicis scriptures, issued on 8 April 1546 by Session IV of the Catholic Council of Trent, declares all who do not accept the Apocrypha as Christian scripture - in other words, the Protestants - to be anathema or accursed" [Peterson and Ricks, p. 118]. If Latter-day Saints are to be condemned for adding to scripture, can the Protestants justify themselves in subtracting from scripture? But clearly there is not yet a single, universal, indisputable standard for what the Christian canon should be, so I suggest we stop the condemnation and allow different groups to use different canons. The ideal, of course, is that we would "all come to a unity of the faith" - a process which requires receiving and following revelation from God (Eph. 4:11-14) and accepting His inspired additions to scripture.
Remember, the Bible says nothing about itself to imply that the canon is complete. As one of many passages implying incompleteness, consider John 21:25, which states:
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."
John understood that there could have been many other books written to describe all the words and deeds of Christ. What he and others offered was limited to a minute fraction of what could have been written. It is a purely human assumption that all of the truly important material has been recorded and preserved, and an even more ridiculous assumption that we have no need for anything more. We must live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4), and as long as He lives, He will have words to speak, if only we are willing to listen. As we read in Acts 11:26,27, one of the only places in the Bible that uses the word "Christian," the people that were first called Christians had the benefit of having prophets among them. Doesn't it make sense that modern Christians ought to accept every word of God, including those of modern revealed scripture and those provided through God's living prophets and apostles?
Ah, this claim of so many Christians - and from so many different, contradicting churches - is based on genuine ignorance of Christian history. Those making this claim have often grown up steeped in views and philosophies that have developed for centuries, views such as the Trinity or original sin, which guide and inform their reading of the Bible, when those views themselves are not at all "straight from the Bible."
The history of modern "mainstream" doctrine needs to be better understood by its adherents. After the Apostolic Era, when the Church had lost the Biblically mandated organization lead by prophets and apostles (see Eph. 4:11-14; Eph. 2:18-20; 1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 1), a variety of doctrinal changes occurred. Much was fueled by the effort to make Christianity seem more acceptable to intellectuals of the day, who were steeped in Greek philosophy. At this time, in the late second century, the Christian leader Tertullian seemed to have recognized the apostate threat of Greek philosophical influences on the Church. He said, "Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition!" ("On Prescription Against Heretics," Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 1885; reprint, Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1994, as cited by L. Midgley, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1999, p. 31). Another of Tertullian's comments seems to apply well to the gulf between the Hellenized metaphysics of the creeds and the approach of early Christianity:
"What is there, then, about them that is alike, the philosopher and the Christian - the disciple of Hellas and the disciple of Heaven - the dealer in reputation and the dealer in salvation - one occupied with words and one with deeds - one creator of error and its destroyer - friend of error and its foe - the despoiler of truth and its restorer - its robber and warden?" (Tertullian, Apology, 46.18, as cited by Midgley, p. 31).
Tertullian's concerns about the influence of philosophy were justified. For example, Augustine, the father of so much of the doctrinal framework of both Protestant and Roman Catholic theology, seems to have considered himself a philosopher. He placed little emphasis on revealed truth but much on "natural philosophy," which "turns out to be what philosophers, and specifically what he, believed were Plato's views concerning divine things.... Augustine argued that Plato ... provided a necessary intellectual grounding for a mature Christian faith" (Midgley, p.37). Many of his teachings find little support in the Bible, but are the result of wresting the scriptures to comply with the demands of human philosophy. This becomes painfully apparent, for example, in considering his views on original sin and the guilt of infants, or in the relationship between faith, works, and salvation (see, for example, Faith, Grace, and Works: the Biblical LDS Position or Adam and the Fall of Man).That Augustine is the source of much modern theology is a point that many non-LDS scholars recognize. Even some evangelical writers have stated as much, in spite of the popular evangelical assumption that their theology comes straight from the Bible. It may come largely from the Bible, but the framework for understanding and interpreting the Bible is one that has been developed over many centuries, and the father of much of that framework is Augustine. Thus, the evangelical writers Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1995, p. 431, as cited by Midgley, p. 65) declare that Augustinianism "was the major soteriological framework that informed Western Christianity. Both Roman Catholics an Protestants are indebted to the Bishop of Hippo [Augustine]." Further, they state that "both Catholics and orthodox [evangelical?] Protestants have a common creedal and Augustinian doctrinal background. Both groups accept the creeds and confession and councils of the Christian church of the first five centuries. Both claim Augustine as a mentor" (Geisler and MacKenzie, p. 17, as cited by Midgley, pp. 65-66). Protestants often feel that their doctrines come straight from the Bible, even when many core doctrines are set in language borrowed from philosophers, not the Bible. Doctrines such as the Trinity, original sin, salvation by grace alone, and others are not found taught in the Bible - certainly not in the language and forms used to describe these doctrines, language which, ironically, is used as a litmus test to determine who is a true Christian and who is not. Personally, I share Tertullian's prescient discomfort with Christianity mixed with philosophy, and its emphasis on words rather than deeds. The test of faith for true Christians should not be acceptance of the metaphysical formulations of a combative post-Biblical committee of philosophers - but faith in Jesus Christ, expressed in part by deeds based on His teachings. And I would encourage more reading and thinking for those who think they take their religion straight from the Bible without recognizing the profound influence of post-Biblical creeds and extra-Biblical philosophy on the way in which approach the Bible. Can you really read the Sermon on the Mount or the Gospel of John with no preconceptions and still accept doctrines like original sin, infant guilt, salvation without keeping commandments (see Matt. 19 or Luke 10), predestination to heaven or hell, and a Trinitarian God without body, parts, or passions, one in substance and essence (see John 17)? For more information on this topic, see my page, "Questions About Apostasy and Restoration."
What is the Bible but a collection of revelations that God gave to "living authorities" - His prophets and apostles? Did the death of Moses, Peter, or Paul add any intrinsic value to what they had written and revealed? Must a prophet be dead and distant to have honor? Were the revelations that God gave to John as he wrote his books of scripture less valuable that what God had previously given to prophets who were dead at the time? 2000 years ago, were the newly spoken words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount less valuable than the words of God to Jeremiah or Ezra? If anything, modern revelation can be more timely and immediately pertinent than past scripture, just as the words of God to Noah about building an ark probably were much more relevant and valuable to Noah's fellow men just prior to the Flood than were the previous words of God to Enoch or Adam. But an established human weakness has been to reject modern revelation in favor of what is old - and thus many died when the Flood came.
In Matthew 23, Christ spoke some very strong words to those who claimed to revere dead prophets yet rejected living ones:
29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.
36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
The Latter-day Saints have suffered greatly under the hands of mobs stirred up ministers who claimed to revere dead prophets, but sought to kill living ones.
Yes, we do have living prophets and apostles, and God can speak to them and reveal His word. We accept their official words as the word of God when they are moved upon by the Spirit of God, in accordance with the following principle that was revealed to Joseph Smith (Doctrine and Covenants, 68:4):
And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
A general test of inspiration of the words of the leaders of the Church, who are still human beings and not infallible as individuals (no mortal prophet or apostle ever was infallible!), is whether they agree with the scriptures that have been openly accepted by the body of the Church. In some rare cases, modern revelations will be officially added to the canon of LDS scripture, which is done through revelation to the combined First Presidency and by the common consent of the body of the Church at one of the semi-annual General Conferences.
No. God the Father is the final authority. We trust and worship Him above all. While we love and cherish His word in the Bible, I believe that no single volume can contain all His revelations and instructions for all time and all situations, especially when that volume has been strongly influenced by human hands in selecting, editing, copying, translating, and typesetting those words. If the Bible were the final authority, we must ask, "Which Bible?" - an issue discussed above. Thus, we rely on revelation from God as the rock upon which His Church is built (as Christ taught in Matt. 16:16-19).
I recently received e-mail from John Tvedtnes offering a relevant quote from a Protestant scholar, Floyd V. Filson, discussing the tendency of many modern Christians to believe that the Bible is the sole and final word of God (F. V. Filson, Which Books Belong in the Bible, pp. 20-21):
If it will not seem too facetious, I would like to put in a good word for God. It is God and not the Bible who is the central fact for the Christian. When we speak of "the Word of God" we use a phrase which, properly used, may apply to the Bible, but it has a deeper primary meaning. It is God who speaks to man. But he does not do so only through the Bible. He speaks through prophets and apostles. He speaks through specific events. And while his unique message to the Church finds its central record and written expression in the Bible, this very reference to the Bible reminds us that Christ is the Word of God in a living, personal way which surpasses what we have even in this unique book. Even the Bible proves to be the Word of God only when the Holy Spirit working within us attests the truth and divine authority of what the Scripture says. Faith must not give to the aids that God provides the reverence and attention that Belong only to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope is in God; our life is in Christ; our power is in the Spirit. The Bible speaks to us of the divine center of all life and help and power, but it is not the center. The Christian teaching about the canon must not deify the Scripture.
No. Christ taught that we must repent, believe, and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:16; Matt. 4:17; John 3:3-5). Baptism, for example, requires more than just the Bible: it requires water and someone with authority to perform the baptism. The Bible teaches that Christ organized a Church and gave His apostles special keys and authority - authority to seal in heaven (Matt. 16:16-19), in fact, and that His Church was guided by revelation from Christ to His apostles and prophets which would provide unity and direction to believers (Eph. 4:11-14). Men claiming to rely on the Bible alone - cut off from prophetic revelation - have resulted in so much disunity and confusion about the Gospel that there are something like 3,000 Christian churches today with many contradictions in doctrine and ritual. Something more is needed for the work of the ministry: revelation and guidance from God through His chosen and authorized leaders.
Martin Luther and others have taught the doctrine of "sola scriptura," meaning "only the scriptures," the doctrine that all we need for salvation is contained in the scriptures. But does the Bible actually teach that? It simply does not. The Bible teaches that the word of God is great and valuable, but that word includes the word of God through living prophets (Amos 3:7) as well as written scripture. Was reliance on the Bible alone part of early Christianity? No - if only for the simple fact that the Bible as we know it did not exist. Many people have the idea that Paul and his followers carried around the New Testament with them and that the scriptures were widely available the early Christians. The reality is otherwise. During the early centuries, "most churches had only a few, if any, of the apostolic writings available to them. The books of the Bible had to be painstakingly copied by hand, at great expense of time and effort. Also, because most people were illiterate, they could only be read by a privileged few. The exposure of most Christians to the Scriptures was confined to what they heard in the churches - the Law and Prophets, the Psalms, and some of the Apostles' memoirs" [Bernstein, p. 4]. Early churches functioned without a complete Bible. How grateful we should be to have the Bible - but let us not assume that it alone brings salvation, nor let us make it an object of worship ("bibolatry"?). Rather, let us worship God and seek to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth.
Ironically, some modern ministers teach that all we need is the Bible and nothing else, while simultaneously calling LDS people non-Christian because we reject the post-Biblical creeds. Their position seems to be that we need to accept these creeds in addition to the Bible to be considered a Christian. That seems to be the antithesis of the sola scriptura position. They may argue that the creeds are just a summary of what the Bible teaches, but they go far beyond that, using declarations and abstract philosophical concepts nowhere taught in the Bible. For example, the incomprehensible Trinity without body, parts, or passions, is hardly a summary of anything in the Bible. The word Trinity does not even occur in the Bible, nor do other words essential to the doctrine of the Trinity (coequal, consubstantial, and others - see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian, Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991, p. 72). The statements of philosophy and metaphysics found in the creeds may arguably be consistent with the Bible (I suggest they are not), yet undeniably go beyond what is taught there and are much more than just a summary or repetition. The creeds are extra-Biblical and post-Biblical. To require Christians to accept them to be saved is to admit that sources other than the Bible are necessary. (But by whose authority has this extra-Biblical material been sanctioned? By authorized apostles or committees of men?)
We need the truths of the Bible and of the Book of Mormon, but salvation would still be possible if they were all destroyed or we were made blind and unable to read, as long as the truths of the Gospel were taught to us and we could receive baptism and other ordinances (e.g., receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands) that Christ has instituted for us to enter into a saving covenant with Him.
For one thing, because there are obviously missing sacred writings which the Bible refers to that are no longer known or no longer contained in the Bible. Mike Parker has compiled the following well known examples of lost sacred writings mentioned in the Old Testament:
The New Testament also refers to the Book of Enoch in Jude 14; a missing epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (Eph. 3:3); a missing Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9); and a missing Epistle to the Colossians, written from Laodicea (Col. 4:16). These writings were important enough to quote or refer to in subsequent writings preserved now as scripture. In addition, Matthew 2:23 cites a now fulfilled prophecy from "the prophets" that Christ would be a Nazarene (someone from Nazareth), but this prophecy is not found anywhere in any existing Old Testament canon. Matthew was citing scripture which is missing now. Another example of missing scripture is the text containing the words of Christ that Paul quotes in Acts 20:35: "remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." This saying of Christ appears in none of the Gospels. Here Paul was writing to foreign converts who were not around to hear Christ preach, so how were they to "remember" those words? Paul obviously must have been citing it from a sacred writing that they had. We no longer have that writing. Something is missing.
Without question, the Bible alone shows that there are sacred writings that early Christians and Jews respected as scripture but which we no longer have. I could also add to that the many books such as the Shepherd of Hermas (available online at the Early Church Fathers section of ccel.org) which were respected by many early Christians as scripture but which are no longer included in modern canons (see my discussion of the origins of the Biblical canon above).
Non-LDS Bible scholar Margaret Barker makes this interesting comment in her book Temple Mysticism: An Introduction (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2011), pp. 27-28:
The Qumran texts have shown beyond reasonable doubt that what Justin claimed [namely, deliberate altering of the Hebrew scriptures, including removal of entire passages] did happen. . . . Hebrew texts of special interest to Christians were changed or disappeared. One of the proof texts at the beginning of Hebrews is in the LXX and in a Qumran fragment, but "Let all God's angels worship him" (LXX Deut. 32:43; Heb. 1:6) is not in the MT [Masoretic text]. This key verse shows that Jesus was identified as Yahweh, the first born. Yahweh, the LORD, is not usually identified as the first-born son, but that was the original belief. Yahweh was the son of God Most High--as Gabriel announced to Mary (Luke 1:32)--and so the Hebrew scriptures witness to Father and Son. The Christian proclamation "Jesus is LORD" meant Jesus is Yahweh. The human manifestation of the LORD, the son of God Most High, was at the heart of temple mysticism, but was one of the crucial pieces of evidence that did not become part of the MT. Nor did the verse about God Most High dividing the nations among "the sons of God", of whom Yahweh received Jacob (Deut. 32:8). The sons of God became in the MT the incomprehensible "sons of Israel". There are many examples, as we shall see, in the course of reconstructing temple mysticism.
The evidence for some degree of loss in our scriptures has become quite strong.
Those arguing for an inerrant Bible will say that whatever books we now have must be the ones God intended for us to have, and thus there can be no missing books worthy of being scripture or else He would have put the in the text. This is not a Biblical doctrine, to be sure (chapter and verse, anyone?). And it again raises the issue of which Bible God has chosen to personally compile (not to mention translate). Would that be the Bible that Timothy had as a child (some form of the Septuagint), or the Vulgate, or the Protestant Bible? And would that be with or without the disputed Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7,8)? Perhaps would that include the Book of Enos that Jude and other early Christians saw as scripture? Perhaps it would include the Pastor of Hermas, viewed as scripture by other early Christians? Or did God not decide to offer a complete Bible until about 1000 A.D., when the subset of writings now found in modern Bibles was canonized for the first time? Ah, but all of this misses the obvious point. The committees and groups that selected writings for publication in the various editions of the Bible, as well as those who performed the translations thereof, were not the Godhead or angelic representatives of the Godhead, but humans - and not even prophets or apostles at that. The Bible is inspired, and it's a great miracle that it has been preserved so well - but it both unbiblical and illogical to state that it must be complete and perfect. (Neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon is complete and perfect.) That doctrine verges on idolatry - elevating the Bible above God. God is the ultimate, complete, an living authority - not an inanimate work that has passed through human hands, minds, and print shops. Those who lack or reject God's prophets and apostles have lost the guidance of modern revelation and perhaps must fall back on an indefensible faith in the completeness of the Bible rather than admit that the ship of the church has lost its rudder (see Eph. 4). But the position is unjustified. The concept of Biblical inerrancy and self-sufficiency developed only after Christians realized that they no longer had continuing revelation. Good news, though: it's back!
Regarding the Johannine Comma mentioned above, that term refers to 1 John 5:7, which is one of several New Testament passages not found in all of the ancient manuscripts available to us. In fact, the Johannine Comma is particularly questionable. According to Dr. John Tvedtnes (and many other scholars of the scriptures), the words "the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" from the verse in question "are missing in 250 Greek New Testament manuscripts and are found in no manuscript from before the seventh century A.D. They only appear in four manuscripts written after 1400. Most scholars believe that a scribe added these words as an explanatory gloss." See the article "A Bible! A Bible! The Canon and Ongoing Revelation," by John Tvedtnes at SHIELDS-research.org. Also discussed are other apparent examples of scribal addition to the text in Mark 16 and John 8, as well as many examples of lost material. One interesting further example from Dr. Tvedtnes regarding possibly lost material involves Ezekiel:
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are two fragmentary copies of a document (4Q385, 4Q386) that have been termed "Pseudo-Ezekiel" because it has passages from the biblical Ezekiel that vary from what is found in the standard Masoretic Hebrew text. Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century A.D., declared that Ezekiel had written two books of prophecies (Antiquities of the Jews 10.5.1), though only one is found in the Bible.
Concerning the accuracy of the modern Bible, Joseph Smith said:
I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.
[Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.327].
Some time after completing the translation of the Book of Mormon, Joseph was commanded to perform a "translation" of the Bible in which important missing or corrupted items would be restored. Though the work was not completed, the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible makes many changes to existing Bible passages that often bring questionable or troublesome passages closer to the spirit of the Bible, clarify unclear passages, or add revealed material completely missing. In performing this "translation," Joseph used the King James Version rather than Hebrew or Greek texts, and sought guidance through revelation about corrections that were needed. Though we use the King James Version, LDS people regularly do and should use information form the Inspired Version in studying the scriptures.
There are many interesting examples of the correction. For example, when Mary encounters the Resurrected Lord in the garden before Christ has ascended to heaven, the King James Version of John 20:17 has Christ saying, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father. . . ." The Joseph Smith Translation instead has "Hold me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father" which actually proves to be in excellent agreement with the best available Greek texts for that passage.
For other examples of the nature of the corrections made, I'll quote from the article, "Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible" in Vol. 2 of Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
In the KJV [King James Version] the wise men ask Herod about the birth of the "King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2); in the JST [Joseph Smith Translation] they pose a more searching question: "Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?" (JST Matt. 3:2). . . . When Herod inquires of the scribes, he is told that it is written that Christ should be born in Bethlehem, "For out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel" (Matt. 2:6); the JST reads, "for out of thee shall come the Messiah, who shall save my people Israel" (JST Matt. 3:6).
In the JST a transitional passage without a KJV equivalent is inserted between the end of KJV Matthew chapter 2 and the beginning of Matthew chapter 3:And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come. And he served under his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. And after many years, the hour of his ministry drew nigh [JST Matt. 3:24-26].
At age twelve, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, the KJV (Luke 2:46) records that Jesus was "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions." The JST reads, "they were hearing him, and asking him questions" (JST Luke 2:46).
The KJV account of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness states that Jesus went there "to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered" (Matt. 4:1-2). The JST reads: "Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil" (JST Matt. 4:1-2). Luke's record (KJV) says that Jesus was "forty days tempted of the devil" (Luke 4:2). The JST reads, "And after forty days, the devil came unto him, to tempt him" (JST Luke 4:2).
The KJV states that "the devil taketh" Jesus to a "pinnacle of the temple" and also to a "high mountain" (Matt. 4:5-8; Luke 4:5-9). The JST says it was "the Spirit" who transported Jesus to these places (JST Matt. 4:5-8; Luke 4:5-9).
In the KJV John 3:23 states that Jesus performed baptisms, but John 4:2 largely negates Jesus' activity as a baptizer by stating: "Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples." The JST reads, "Though he himself baptized not so many as his disciples; For he suffered them for an example, preferring one another" (JST John 4:3-4).
Jesus' parables are touched upon in many JST passages. One of the most important is a statement, presented as the words of Jesus himself, explaining why he used parables to veil the spiritual message when speaking to certain individuals: "Hear another parable; for unto you that believe not, I speak in parables; that your unrighteousness may be rewarded unto you" (JST Matt. 21:34).
In Mark 7:22-24 (KJV) Jesus enters a house "and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid." JST Mark 7:22-23 reads, "and would that no man should come unto him. But he could not deny them; for he had compassion upon all men."
Luke reports that while Jesus was on the cross, he cried out, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (KJV Luke 23:34). The JST adds a parenthetical clarification: "(meaning the soldiers who crucified him)" (JST Luke 23:35).
President Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., wrote:
"We are all aware that there are errors in the Bible due to faulty translations and ignorance on the part of the translators, but the hand of the Lord has been over this volume of Scripture nevertheless, and it is remarkable that it has come down to us in the excellent condition in which we find it." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:191)
There is no question that some parts of the text have been corrupted. Of the thousands of early Greek and Hebrews manuscripts and fragments that scholars have to work with, there are many small and some serious differences that make it impossible to propose one single, standard text that one might hope to be free from errors. In fact, Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, two non-LDS writers, say that there are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts or fragments to work with, containing roughly 250,000 variants among them. They say that "it would be difficult to find a sentence, even part of a sentence, for which the rendering is consistent in every single manuscript. That certainly gives plenty of food for thought." (Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux, Initiation a la critique textuelle du Nouveau Testament [An Introduction to New Testament Textual Criticism], translated by J. Heimerdinger, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p.2, as cited by Kerry A. Shirts, Journal of Mormon Apologetics, Vol. 1, 1999, p. 94.)
Some of the errors are obvious and can be found by an inspection of the Bible alone. Many such problems are discussed by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe in their excellent book, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992). Though written from a faithful Protestant perspective to support the Bible, Geisler and Howe regularly acknowledge that some minor problems and contradictions are due to copyist errors. For example, 1 Kings 4:26 says Solomon had 40,000 stalls when 2 Chronicles 9:25 says he had 4,000. "This is undoubtedly a copyist error" (p. 181). That particular problem is one of many examples of problematic large numbers in the Hebrew text. In 1 Samuel 13:1, a word is missing in the Hebrew (Geisler and Howe, p. 159). The first phrase of that verse literally says that "Saul was the son of ... years when he became king." Translators must fill in the missing word with a numerical estimate, resulting in many contradictions among translations (NKJV gives "one year", NASB gives "forty", and the NIV gives "thirty"). A verse with a word missing shows that the Biblical text cannot be utterly infallible with no missing or corrupted elements. But this is only one of many problems.
Some problems may be minor errors due to translation problems, such as Leviticus 11:20, which speaks of "fowls that creep, going upon all four" (KJV - some other translations offer "insects" instead of "fowls," which makes more sense in the context but still seems biologically puzzling). Listing a bat as a "bird" and a hare as a cud chewer in Deut 14 (verses 7 and 18, respectively) also raises arguably trivial questions about biological accuracy (though it's even more serious than the apparent biological errors anti-Mormons mock in the Book of Mormon).
Further, there are many examples of contradictions within the Bible, though they are usually of minor or non-doctrinal importance, such as the numerical contradiction mentioned above. Other examples of contradictions include I Chron. 21:5 and 2 Samuel 24:9; 2 Sam. 10:8 and 1 Chron. 19:18; 2 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chron. 36:9; Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7, and 2 Chron. 22:2 and 2 Kings 8:26. Some of these are so plain that even defenders of Biblical inerrancy must at least admit the likelihood of copyist errors (Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, p. 199, comparing 2 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chron. 36:9 where Jehoiachin's age when he began to reign is given as 18 and 8 years, respectively).
Some errors in the Biblical appear to be simple, easily understood accidents, such as Matthew misattributing a quote from Zechariah (Zech. 11:12-13) to Jeremiah in Matt. 27: 9-10. Others are harder to resolve, though generally still minor, such as the apparent contradiction between Mark 6:8, Luke 9:3, and Math. 10:10, where the staff is forbidden in Matthew and Luke but permitted in Mark's account of Jesus' instructions to his disciples.
Of slightly more significance are the differences in the three Biblical accounts of Paul's vision on the road to Damascus. These differences can be explained as due to slight errors in memory and should not detract from our acceptance in the Bible. But they do show that even great apostles are not infallible in all things, just as the Bible itself is not infallible in every little detail.
Paul relates his story three times in the Bible (Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26), and each time there appear to be differences, even contradictions. There are many details that differ between the three accounts. A well-known problem concerns the other witnesses who were with Paul. Look at the three accounts:
-- Acts 9:7 --
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
-- Acts 22:9 --
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.
--Acts 26:14 --
And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me. . .
Did the others hear the voice or not? Did they fall or remain standing? (Does it really matter?) Anti-Mormon critics would revel in an apparent contradiction of this magnitude in the Book of Mormon or in the history of Joseph Smith, but they are quick to gloss over such problems in the Bible. I think we need to be generous with Paul and recognize that the peripheral details are not essential for his message. Perhaps the apparent contradictions just relate different aspects of a single story, with others who may have heard the voice and may have been standing initially, but then later fell and did not hear part of the message. Frankly, it looks like a minor contradiction, perhaps resulting from a lapse in memory concerning details of the event, but it does not bother me because I do not require the Bible to be infallible in minor details to still be scripture from God.
There are several more differences in the three accounts of Paul's vision worth noting. Some of the differences seem minor and easily compatible. For example, Acts 9 and 22 simply say the light that Paul saw appeared around him, while Acts 26 say the light was around him and those that were with him. All three agree that the Lord said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" and that Paul said, "Who art thou, Lord?". However, in Acts 9, the Lord says "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" before Paul responds, while Acts 26 has the Lord say that after Paul responds, and Acts 22 makes no mention of that statement from the Lord.
More analogous to the Joseph Smith First Vision accounts, the accounts in Acts 9 and 22 conclude by telling how Paul regained his sight and make no mention of statements from the Lord about Paul's future mission. Later, though, in Acts 26, Paul does not even mention his blindness and his miraculous recovery, but says instead that the Lord prophesied to him of his future mission among the Gentiles. If Paul were Joseph Smith, critics would accuse him of fabricating new twists to his story and contradicting himself, but I feel it's more fair to believe that both Paul and Joseph were relating different parts of their visionary experiences. Initially, Paul may have been most concerned about the healing of his eyes, while later his recollection of the Lord's words about his mission to the Gentiles became a more important part of the vision.
Anti-Christian critics in the early Christian era "also noted that a number of verses from the Hebrew Bible were incorrectly quoted in the New Testament. For example, they compared Deuteronomy 6:5 with Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27. How could Jesus be the Messiah, the gainsayers asked, if Jesus and his disciples were ignorant of verses that even the youngest child would know?" (Darrick T. Evenson, The Gainsayers: A Converted Anti-Mormon Responds to Critics of the LDS Church," Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, Utah, 1989, pp. 43-44, citing Daniel J. Lasker, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages, New York, KTAV, 1977, p. 5). Again, these minor problems do not detract from the divinity of the Bible's message, but should temper our expectations about the inerrancy of any record produced with human assistance.
There are also some examples of prophecies that don't seem to have been fulfilled in the expected or logical way. I discuss several of these on my LDSFAQ page, Questions about Prophets in Latter-day Saint Religion. One obvious example is the story of Jonah, who was told by God to prophecy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah prophesied that the people would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4) - no loopholes were offered, just imminent doom. God changed things, however, when the people repented and He chose to spare them - much to the chagrin of that imperfect (yet still divinely called) prophet, Jonah. Jonah, in fact, was "displeased ... exceedingly" and "very angry" (Jonah 4:1) about this change from God, perhaps because it made Jonah look bad. In spite of an "incorrect" prophecy and in spite of the obvious shortcomings of Jonah, he was a prophet of God and the Book of Jonah in the Bible is part of the Word of God.
Another problematic prophecy is found in 2 Samuel 7:4-17, where Nathan the prophet tells David that his royal house and kingdom will "be established forever" (v. 16). No conditions are given. The Babylonian invasion later overthrew the throne of David and that kingdom, and it certainly is not in place today. However, we do find conditions in a related prophecy in I Kings 9, given when the Lord appeared to Solomon (v. 2 - one of many reminders that God does appear to some of His prophets, in spite of some anti-LDS claims to the contrary). The Lord told Solomon that He would "establish the throne of thy kingdom for ever, as I promised to David thy father" (v.5) - IF Solomon would walk in the ways of the Lord (v. 4). Solomon failed to follow the Lord and committed terrible sins. Soon the house of David lost the northern kingdom of Israel, and later the throne of David was overthrown. But what Nathan spoke in 2 Samuel 7 was not tempered with any explicit conditions and thus could be branded as an incorrect prophecy. Whatever the case, 2 Samuel 7 is problematic.
On the issue of problems with dates in the Bible, Kevin Hill sent e-mail with the following comments:
The dating/chronology problems in the Bible are legion. Just check out a good Bible Dictionary under the article "Chronology." A few examples:
- The ages of the Patriarchs upon their successors' births (and in some cases their ages at death) vary wildly among the Masoretic Text, the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint. Which are correct?
- The Masoretic Text has 720 years from Abraham's birth to the Exodus; the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch have 505 years. Again, which is correct? Why the discrepancy if the Bible is perfect?
- The Septuagint has 10 fewer years from the Exodus to the founding of Solomon's temple (as compared to the Masoretic Text). Where did they go?
- There are numerous instances where the biblical data does not match the testimony of Assyrian and Babylonian records, and for various reasons scholars have a high degree of confidence in those secular records.
- Luke at 2:2 mentions that Jesus was born at the time of a census when one Quirinius was governor of Syria. We know from Roman records that P. Sulpicius Quirinius conducted an assessment in 6-7 C.E. [far too late to be Luke's census] while governor of Syria; he was not governor during Herod's reign. There have been various attempts to resolve this problem.
(As an aside, some of our Bible-believing critics who get bent out of shape over apparent quirks in the chronology given by Joseph Smith in his writings ought to be careful about making too much of such problems unless they are prepared to fully resolve the problems with chronology in the Bible.)
Another example discussed on my page about Prophets in Latter-day Saint Religion is the case of Tyre and Ezekiel's prophecy of its destruction. I don't think that the problems with this prophecy can be refuted. This small example of a clear difficulty doesn't mean that the Bible is false at all - but that we must understand that it must be interpreted with caution and an open mind, and that it is not strictly inerrant. The only truly inerrant authority is God - that's why continuing revelation through His apostles and prophets is so important for His Church (the true, restored Church of Jesus Christ).
Finally, some people expect the Bible to be not only an infallible guide to faith, but an infallible guide to science as well. They will be disappointed to find (minor) technical "errors" that challenge such assumptions. The PUZZLING description of "fowls that creep upon all four" in Leviticus 11:20 has already been mentioned. Also, in Joshua 10:12-13, when daylight hours were miraculously extended for a battle, we read that "the sun stood still, and the moon stayed" - as if the sun goes around the earth. (This may have been an accurate description of what was observed, but it doesn't make good science for those who expect every statement to be scientifically precise.)
Don't Be Quick to Condemn!
In dealing with the Bible as well as any other scripture, we must strive to consider how apparent conflicts might be harmonized and avoid the tendency to criticize and reject truth out of our own ignorance. We must have an open-minded willingness to look past minor problems in order to understand the priceless message of the Word. This faithful approach to scripture is well illustrated in Laurence E. Porter's discussion of the differences between the Gospels of Mark and Luke in their relation of events at the empty tomb of Christ, differences which some see as further examples of (minor) contradictions in the Bible ("Luke," in The International Bible Commentary, ed. F.F. Bruce, Zondervan Publ. House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1986, p. 1226):
Luke's story is in general outline very much like Mark's, but there are considerable differences in detail.
(a) Mark has one young man at the sepulchre, Luke has "two men". (Matthew incidentally has an angel, John has two angels.) These are not necessarily contradictions. The "clothes that gleamed like lightning" of Luke suggests supernatural beings (cf. 9: 29). The difference between one angel or two may be due to nothing more than the fact that two were present, but that one only engaged in speech. At all events, the descriptions that we have are expressions in human words of a phenomenon that far transcended human experience.
But the truth of the story of the empty tomb does not depend on our ability to devise a satisfactory scheme of harmonization, but in the tremendous effect that the event had on the disciples, and on subsequent history.
(b) The lists of women's names in the two Gospels are slightly different. But neither of them is necessarily complete.
(c) Luke omits the message reported by Mark that Peter and the disciples are to meet Jesus in Galilee. The post-resurrection appearances recorded by Luke are all in Judea, but the disciples are reminded of teaching He gave them in Galilee.
(d) In Mark, the women were so startled by the events at the tomb that they found themselves unable to give the message to the disciples. In Luke on the other hand, they go and report to the disciples all that has happened, though of course there is no message of a rendezvous in Galilee for them to convey.
The fact of the resurrection is one of the best historically attested facts of ancient history. For a clear and concise survey of the evidence, see J. N. D. Anderson, The Evidence for the Resurrection (London, I950).
Porter refuses to stumble over minor apparent difficulties and seeks to understand how they might be resolved. That approach is needed by any Christian to benefit from the Bible.
Those who put their faith in a perfect, complete Bible worship a fictional idol, not the living God. I really worry about those who have this belief, for they will become disillusioned once they do a little serious study. They might give up on God altogether once the former object of their worship proves to be incomplete and imperfect, at least as imperfect as human language and much more so due to obvious glitches in the text.
I recently received this message:
"If [the Bible] really is the Word of God, then it most surely is perfect, complete, and true because God is perfect, complete, and true. In other words, there is no inbetween - if God is perfect, so is His word."
I asked this person if there was any biblical basis for his assumption. It is an entirely human assumption that every tiny aspect of a text must be perfect for it to come from God. On the face of it, though, since human language is obviously imperfect, no text in human language can be transcendently perfect and complete, but that doesn't mean the text did not originate from a perfect Being. Now apart from the limitations of language, if a sentence or two in the book of Amos is garbled, for example - as several sentences most assuredly are, or if a few words are missing in some parts of the Old Testament such that translators just have to guess at the meaning (clearly the case), how does that detract from the value of what has been preserved? It's only a problem if one assumes that the text is the final authority - in other words, that the text IS God and thus must be perfect to be worthy of worship. Such an object of worship will not withstand much scrutiny. Please don't worship the text - worship the living God.
Conclusion: The Bible is true, in spite of some minor problems. It is not infallible and inerrant, but true and divinely inspired, though it required the work of human hands to produce it.
I believe it's primarily because the original Book of Mormon text was perfectly preserved over time after being engraved on metal plates by inspired prophets, and then was translated under divine inspiration by a prophet of God. This is radically different from the process in which the many differing Biblical manuscripts were transmitted to our age and translated. Dr. Hugh Nibley discussed this issue briefly during one of his classes on the Book of Mormon. I quote from a transcript published in the volume Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p.3:
Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the oldest manuscript we had of the books of Moses (the first five books) was from the ninth century A.D., the Ben Asher Codex. 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 time. The Bible is a very human document, of course it is. So is the Book of Mormon. It covers thousands of years. It has many authors; it was edited, etc. But it was handed to us in a single passage. Bang, just like that, the whole thing - all edited, all in order, all translated. We don't have to argue about any of that stuff. If it is true, it comes to us whole, and there is nothing to slow us down on it - nothing to hold us up until we have decided what this passage means, or what that is. It was translated directly by the gift and power of God. There is no need to argue about it. It is in words of exceeding plainness. . . .
The Book of Mormon still has the potential for human errors - typos, printing errors, grammatical errors - but it was translated with divine guidance by a prophet of God and can be considered as the most correct book on earth.
Evangelical critics of the Church often get riled over our statement that we believe the Bible as far as it is translated correctly, but our position is actually quite close to that of many evangelical churches. An Evangelical scholar, Dr. Craig L. Blomberg, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, explains this issue in How Wide the Divide? by Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997). This book, by the way, is a MUST READ for those wishing to understand the similarities and differences in the LDS and Evangelical positions on key issues such as the scriptures, the nature of God, the divine potential of humans, and salvation. Here's a relevant quote from Dr. Blomberg (pp. 34-35):
Dr. Blomberg's co-author, Dr. Stephen E. Robinson of Brigham Young University, offers an LDS perspective on the issue of inerrancy, referring to Dr. Blomberg's position (p. 56):
Not all Evangelicals are comfortable with the term inerrancy because it can suggest a degree of precision that cannot be squared with various details in the Scripture themselves. This discomfort led to a decade of intense study, as a large interdenominational body of Evangelical scholars and theologians met for a series of conferences from 1978 to 1988 and published numerous works under the auspices of an organization called the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Perhaps the most famous product of this council was the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy," now widely used to articulate what a broad cross-section of Evangelicals can agree on when they use the term.
An abbreviated version of that ten-page declaration by one if its shapers may form the foundation of our discussion here:Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs [as written by the authors] and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical or life sciences.
There are at least five important qualifications in this declaration of Scripture's truthfulness, the first one being "when all facts are known." ... The second qualification is "in their original autographs." We recognize that the Scriptures have not been preserved flawlessly as they were copied through the centuries, because the manuscripts that exist vary from each other in numerous (though mostly minute and theologically insignificant) ways. But the vast numbers of early manuscripts (over five thousand for parts of the Greek New Testament alone) that have been preserved enable scholars to reconstruct, with a very high degree of confidence, what the writers of the Old and New Testaments most likely wrote.
As Prof. Blomberg points out, the LDS view of the nature of Scripture is actually closer to the Evangelical view than is the view held by liberal Protestants or Catholics. We take the Scriptures to be literally true, and we hold symbolic, figurative or allegorical interpretation to a minimum, accepting the miraculous events as historical and the moral and ethical teaching as binding and valid. What separates Latter-day Saints from evangelicals is less our view of the nature of scripture and more our view of canon....
The eighth article of faith, written by Joseph Smith in 1842 states that "we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God." Evangelicals sometimes take offense at the phrase "as far as it is translated correctly" but this should not be so. The wording is intended to communicate exactly the same caution to Latter-day Saints that the phrases "when all facts are known," "in their original autographs," and "properly interpreted" from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy are intended to convey to Evangelicals. By setting these very similar parameters, both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals stipulate that the present text of Scripture may contain errors, and neither Mormons nor (most) Evangelicals would insist that any modern version can claim absolute inerrancy.
Robinson also points out that current printings of the Book of Mormon mention that past printing errors have been corrected, and that Mormons make no claim of total perfection for the text. However, it is in a different category, having been through fewer hands and having been translated from the original with divine assistance.
Looking at the previous verse, we see Paul telling Timothy that Timothy knew the scriptures since childhood. What scriptures would that be? The New Testament did not exist at the time of Paul's letter, and certainly not during Timothy's childhood. The scriptures that Timothy knew undoubtedly were the scriptures of the Old Testament, probably the Septuagint. Paul was referring primarily or even exclusively to the Old Testament when he wrote that passage. If it means that there can be no more scripture, then the whole New Testament must be abandoned.
Clearly, Paul does not mean that the Old Testament was the end of God's word. He is not revealing some new limitation on what God can speak, but simply describing the nature of scripture - of all scripture - namely, that it is inspired of God (literally, "God-breathed"). I, too, believe that all genuine scripture is inspired of GOd - including the New Testament, including the Book of Mormon, including the Doctrine and Covenants, and including whatever other words that God will reveal. We should live by every word of God (Matt. 4:4), not just those we've inherited by tradition. Since all scripture is given by God, shouldn't we be willing to accept it? All scripture? I hope so!
All scripture requires interpretation to be understood. So if we are not to rely on our private interpretations, what authoritative source do we look to when there is confusion? Might I suggest that the Lord already solved this problem. That is precisely why the Church of Jesus Christ needs to have living apostles and prophets, as Paul explained, that we might not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-14). And the good news is that this living Church of Jesus Christ is on the earth right now, fully functioning with living apostles and prophets, just as in ancient times. We have openings right now, so please contact your local missionaries and ask how to join! (Tip: You can have missionaries bring you your own free copy of the Book of Mormon by making a request at Mormon.org.)
Many modern scholars have argued that the Old Testament was written by men to justify or strengthen their political ambitions, or, at best, was a hopeful means of justifying the importance of Israel. As part of this view, it is argued that passages of fulfilled prophecy were all written after the fact, fraudulently in essence. In general, the authorship of Old Testament books is questioned. For example it is said that the Moses had little to do with the books of Moses, but that they were written much later by various priests to strengthen their position, and it is likewise argued that books such as Isaiah were written by multiple people. Great and foundational stories, such as the miraculous exodus from Egypt, probably never have really happened, but were invented by later generations and exploited by priests inventing books of scripture.
One very influential scholar who has espoused some of these views is Richard Elliott Friedman, author of Who Wrote the Bible (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), which I read recently. He presents a seemingly powerful case that the Books of Moses are a combination of different documents from much later times that were written to justify political ambitions of priests and kings. Chapters and verses are dissected according to apparent influences from differing political views, and the resulting view of the Bible is one of a fraudulent document with, nevertheless, great literary value.
Friedman offers his own form of the popular "Documentary Hypothesis," which holds that the Pentateuch was patched together from a variety of different documents. The Documentary Hypothesis has a great deal of evidence in its favor, though there are also many criticisms that can be made of its conclusions. For an overview, see Wikipedia's entry on the topic, and for an excellent discussion of the many different LDS responses that have been offered, see Kevin Barney's "Reflections on the Documentary Hypothesis," Dialogue, vol. 33 No. 1 (Spring 2000), pp. 57-99. (Barney's text is also available at Archive.org.)
I agree with many of Dr. Friedman's points. There are some obvious and undeniable textual problems with traditional views that ascribe all of the Books of Moses to Moses (e.g., how could Moses write about his own death?), and with the view of Biblical inerrancy and divine origin of every word. There certainly are some legitimate authorship questions. But I find the justification for the schizophrenic dissection of verses and chapters into many different authors is overdone and at times questionable. On this I would generally concur with a comment of Kevin Barney from the Dialogue article mentioned above:
I do accept the theory, or at least portions of it.... As a working model, I accept the hypothesis in the form articulated by Richard Friedman, which includes retention of an early date for J, retention of a separate E, and an understanding of P as predating D. I am well aware, however, that just because I find Friedman to be the most articulate exponent of the theory, this does not necessarily make him right in his views. Furthermore, the farther we move away from the differentiation of discrete blocks of material toward microsurgery on individual verses, the more agnostic I become on the ability of the hypothesis to support such fine distinctions. I similarly tend toward a certain agnosticism on dating issues; I find the various arguments over dating to be the weakest parts of the theory. [emphasis added]
While the Documentary Hypothesis in general makes sense to me in understanding some of the puzzles in the text of the Bible, I feel Friedman is too quick to accept the assumption that different original authors must be invoked to explain verses that use different phrases, images, words for God, or other literary tools, or that seem to offer fuel for differing opinions on political matters. Using that assumption, the text is forcibly dissected, perhaps overly dissected, and then the fact that the separated chunks of text seem to be consistent with the original assumption is used to justify the original assumption, arguably without a fair evaluation against the hypothesis that a single prophet may have been author of some of the dissected passages. The brilliant interweaving at a nearly microscopic level of contradictory texts that Friedman calls for to produce the Old Testament is to me less reasonable than the assumption that individual prophets wrote substantial passages, many parts of which may have been altered over time. (But I really appreciate Friedman's insight into the ancient tabernacle and its relationship to the temple: he has made some marvelous discoveries that are reported in his book.)
The Book of Mormon, if it is true (and it is!), provides some evidence that the revisionist approach of modern scholars is incomplete. Yes, it does offer strong evidence of textual alterations and supports, for example, the work of Margaret Barker who points to major changes brought about by King Josiah and his Deuteronomist reformers. On the other hand, it reports that in 600 B.C., the Nephites had the writings of Moses and other Old Testament prophets, and that they knew of and spoke of now disputed Biblical events as historical. The Exodus from Egypt, at least to them, was real. Joseph was a real ancestor of Nephi who left actual prophetic writings for his posterity. Isaiah was a real prophet who wrote at least major passages of the Book of Isaiah, including prophetic passages that were fulfilled after his life (some of these are quoted in the Book of Mormon). The Book of Mormon gives us direct insight into the world of the Old Testament and refutes some of the major claims of modern scholars. In light of the Book of Mormon, we can see that the Old Testament is more than just a man-made document, in spite of genuine problems. It is scripture, though it has gaps. It contains the Word of God (as far as it is "translated" and transmitted correctly), with at least significant portions produced by the hand of real prophets. If you want to gain a confirmation that the Bible has divine origins, I urge you to read the Book of Mormon.
One "inquirer" accused me of "slandering" God's word by "twisting" Rev. 22 and Deut. 4 to suit my own purposes, and insisted that the Bible is exactly what it says it is. ("Slander," in this context, means "not agreeing with my views.") Here is a response:
May I ask just what it is that the Bible says about itself? And just which Bible do any such passages refer to? In answering that question, may I ask if you know when and how the various books of the Bible were selected, brought together, and organized into the form currently known as the Bible? And may I ask if you are aware that the selection of books in typical Protestant Bibles is only one of many, many different compilations that have been proposed by various committees and groups over the centuries - and differs from older Catholic Bibles, for example, in many ways, such as having "subtracted" a variety of books. And when Paul or Christ refer to "scripture" or "scriptures," do you know what they were referring to? (One hint: before the New Testament had been written and compiled, those referring to scripture around A.D. 30-50 were probably referring to the Septuagint - which differs in several important ways from the text used to produce the Old Testament of most Protestant Bibles.)
I'm afraid you won't find any passages in the Bible that use the word "Bible" or refer specifically to Protestant canons or the translation of your choice. In fact, it may be very difficult to find out what the "Bible" says about the "Bible" without thinking about what the Bible is, what scripture is, and how you got whatever canon and translation you have chosen to us. But if you have a canon and translation that is perfect and complete, exactly as God wants it, please let me know - for my King James Version, as much as I love it, clearly is not, in spite of the many hundreds of helpful changes that have been made in it since its first edition in 1611.
Here's an excerpt from a question received Sept. 2001:
I noticed you contradict yourself on more than a few occasions. For example, concerning the bible, you go to great lengths to establish that there exist possible (and even definite) errors and "missing" passages or even whole books throughout the Old and New Testaments. Okay, fine. But in other sections you attempt to use the scripture as your authority to "back-up" other discussions . . . [T]he bottom line remains that either you believe it IS or it IS NOT of God. If it really is the Word of God, then it most surely is perfect, complete, and true because God is perfect, complete, and true. In other words, there is no inbetween - if God is perfect, so is His word.
I agree that whatever God says is perfect. Your ability to understand it, write it, interpret it, and apply it properly may not be quite as perfect, unless you are a rather exceptional human.
There is a huge difference between what God says and what man understands, then writes, copies, translates, and publishes. Much of the Bible is not quotations given directly from God, but history or letters created in the first place by inspired humans, who then expressed their inspired knowledge in human language. But the very obvious limitations of human language alone means that it is utterly unreasonable to expect any text in a human language to be perfect and complete, for there are inherent limitations in what can be expressed and how accurately it can be expressed. The very fact that there are multiple competing and sometimes contradictory translations of the Bible shows that printed Bible texts cannot be perfect and complete. For example, which of the numerous editions of the King James Bible was the perfect one? The 1611 version, perhaps? Or is it an entirely different translation like the New English Bible? Which of the dozens of differing Greek manuscripts is the perfect one to translate from? And for the Old Testament, is the Septuagint the perfect version (that's the one that the early Apostles knew and quoted from), or is it one of the variants of the Masoretic text? Perhaps the Aramaic Targum?
Remember, unless God himself is the writer, copyist, translator, publisher and typesetter, any book, no matter how inspired and divine at its core, is subject to some degree of error. That's why we worship God, not the Bible, and need ongoing revelation from Him to ensure that we stay on course, as Paul taught in Eph. 4:11-14.
We can use human logic coupled with human assumptions to convince ourselves that the Bible must be perfect and complete like God, written as if he had dictated every word and guided every act of each copyist, translator, and typesetter, resulting in a crystal-clear perfect text utterly free of error and human influence, but - and I will be blunt here - this takes one to a fantasy land utterly out of touch with reality. You cannot dig into the Bible without realizing that there are NO original manuscripts that have been preserved, and many differing secondary manuscripts that leave numerous uncertainties in the text with easy-to-demonstrate errors and other problems. You cannot even walk into a Christian bookstore and look at the Bible section without realizing that there are many competing translations of the Bible.
It is shear fantasy to think that God has eliminated all human influences to preserve one sole original manuscript and one perfect, complete translation into English that allows the Bible to be the perfect, complete final authority, possessing the very nature of God, perfection and completeness. It's almost as if some people want to worship the Bible and give it the attributes of God.
Amazingly, it can be demonstrated that MUCH of the Bible has been preserved among various competing manuscripts. The core messages of the Bible are not subject to question due to textual problems. It is entirely acceptable to believe that the Bible is the word of God as far as it has been properly preserved and translated, with reliance on additional texts and ongoing revelation to clarify uncertainties or correct possible errors. The Book of Mormon is one such additional text, serving as another witness of Jesus Christ and a powerful CONFIRMATION of the truth of the Bible on numerous key issues, and providing confirmation of the accuracy of existing manuscripts for some specific Bible passages such as many parts of Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount.
Acceptance of the Bible as the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly is the most logical approach for a true, faithful Christian who understand the Bible text and its origins. And it has been the approach of the Latter-day Saints from the beginning.
One thing that confounds me is the ever-changing positions and text in your scriptures. The Bible is the same as it always has been.... Not so with the Book of Mormon, which changes. LDS followers are encouraged to accept the latest version as is.
I would think that if the books are inspired by God, they would not change. I know of specific cases where those trying to learn of the original text contents and meaning were reprimanded. Have you read the text from the original books? In the case of the Bible, I have. In fact I can get them at the local Christian bookstore and have several copies in my house. Not so with the Book of Mormon.
Do you realize that the King James Version of today has hundreds of changes compared to the 1611 printing? And do you realize that the selection of manuscripts used in its translation contain many thousands of variations relative to other possible selections of manuscripts? (And there definitely are NO surviving original manuscripts to work with - the earliest are still removed from the originals by many, many decades or centuries.) One example where clear problems arise is the famous Johannine Comma, where the King James version has a passage (1 John 5:7,8) with two verses from relatively late manuscripts that are not attested in earlier manuscripts - suggesting a late addition by somebody to buttress the doctrine of the trinity. Most modern translations of the Bible no longer have those two verses because the earliest manuscripts all lack them. Of course, it's hard to be sure on such issues because there are no original manuscripts and many variations in the existing manuscripts. Most is clear, of course, but there are thousands of areas where change and uncertainty exists. The Bible is of God and inspired - but it has clearly been through human hands and must not become an object of worship. It is helpful to recognize the truth about what it is and what it is not. For such information, please see https://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_Bible.shtml [that's this Web page].
In addition to the numerous revisions of the King James Bible, there is strong evidence that revisions have occurred in the ancient manuscripts. A small sampling of the evidence is given in the following quotation from Kevin Barney (e-mail of April 24, 2000):
Matthew 24:36"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."
The text originally most likely read "...neither the angels of heaven *nor the son*, but my Father only". The words "nor the son" (Greek *oude ho huios*) are present in the best representatives of the Alexandrian, Western and Caesarian text types, but absent from the Byzantine texts on which the KJV was based. The words are also attested in the parallel at Mk. 13:32. They appear to have been intentionally deleted by scribes because of the perceived doctrinal difficulty of the Father knowing something the Son does not (which indeed would appear to be a difficulty in later Trinitarian thinking)....
Col. 2:2"That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ."
There is a bewildering array of variants for the confusing end of the verse (following "of the mystery"):
(1) of God, Christ
(2) of God
(3) of Christ
(4) of God and Christ
(5) of God which is Christ
(6) of God which is in Christ
(7) of God the Father in Christ Jesus
(8) of God the Father and of Christ
(9) of God even the Father of Christ
(10) of God even the Father and of Christ
The JST [Joseph Smith Translation] makes its own contribution here: "of God, and of Christ, who is of God, even the Father." I have argued elsewhere [see Kevin L. Barney, "The Joseph Smith Translation and Ancient Texts of the Bible," Dialogue 19/3 (Fall 1986): 92-93] that this change was primarily intended to correct the unfortunate translation in the KJV, "of God, and of the Father, and of Christ," which creates the misimpression that God and the Father are separate beings. (As you can see from my translation, the Greek *kai* here should be an intensive, not a conjunction.)
These two of many related passages indicate the possibility of either deliberate scribal "corrections" or corrupted text that led scribes to generate variants in their effort to make sense of a passage. In any case, one thing is certain: Greek texts have been changed, for good or evil, resulting a Bible that most clearly has undergone changes.
The same is also clearly true for the Hebrew text, as we have discussed above. (Also see the question about scribes below.)
For additional perspective, here is an interesting passage from Bart D. Ehrman, "Textual Criticism of the New Testament", in Hearing the New Testament: Strategies for Interpretation, edited by Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), pp. 127-145 (sent to me by Ted Jones, 2004):
To this point we have been speaking chiefly in the abstract about scribes inadvertently and intentionally modifying the texts of the NT that they copied. What, though, are the concrete realities? Were there in fact a large number of such errors? For us to realize the extent of the problem, some basic data may prove useful. At present, we have over 5360 manuscripts of all or part of the NT in Greek (the language in which all its books were originally written). These manuscripts range in size from tiny fragments the size of a credit care to hefty volumes that include all twenty-seven books of the NT. They range in date from the early second century [note 5: 'p52, which contains several verses form John 18. It is usually dated to the first half of the second century'] to the sixteenth century (some copies were made by hand even after the invention of moveable-type printing). What is striking is that among these thousands of manuscripts, with the exception of the smallest fragments, no two are exactly alike in all of their particulars.
The manuscripts themselves thus leave no question that scribes made changes in their texts, and many such changes. How many differences are there among our surviving manuscripts? While estimates typically put them in the hundreds of thousands, no one knows the real number for certain because no one has yet been able to count them all. What we can say with confidence is that there are more differences among the manuscripts than there are words in the NT. (pp. 129-130)
Now if you were really being accurate in stating that the Bible does not change and stands as is, it would require that you be using a 100% accurate translation of original manuscripts. And even then, I would ask which canon are you using? Catholics have one selection of texts, Protestants another, and there have been dozens of different selections proposed and used over the centuries. Which is the true canon? early Christians accepted the Book of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, and other texts as part of their canon. I think you do not - but why? Why have their been changes in the canon, not to mention changes in the manuscripts, not to mention changes among the competing translations, not to mention changes even in a single translation like the King James Version?
What you really meant, I think, is that the 20th century edition of the particular translation you prefer (King James?) has not been through any revisions that you are aware of. But to say that it's in a different class that the Book of Mormon is inaccurate.
Understanding what the inspired and wonderful Bible is helps us appreciate what the Book of Mormon is. Neither are inerrant, 100% accurate texts. That can never be the case as long as human translators and printers are involved, for one thing. The final authority on all issue must not be a book printed by humans, but God the Father. We can trust the printed word as far as it is translated and printed correctly - but we must look to revelation from Him through His prophets and apostles when there are uncertainties in interpretation or when new information is needed.
As for the charge of many changes in the Book of Mormon, please see https://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_changes.shtml. They have been minor changes, largely grammatical and typographical, with a deliberate effort to be true to the original manuscripts from Joseph's translation. The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon is readily available - and no one is reprimanded for digging into it. Of course, no one should just use the 1830 edition, in my opinion, because they would missing many useful resources (useful division into verses, chapter headings, footnotes, an index, etc.) if they aren't using the modern printings, which have also corrected a number of errors introduced in previous editions. It's hard to get perfection when things go through human hands and human printers - but the Book of Mormon comes about as close as one could hope for. Like the Bible, it is the word of God. Don't reject either for the changes they have been through or the occasional human influence inherent in any translated, printed text.
There is a myth among some circles that ancient scribes were so incredibly cautious, making sure that every letter was perfectly copied, that they never produced any mistakes when copying the manuscripts, and thus all ancient manuscripts agree with each other. This is entirely bogus - a deceptive lie or statement of shear stupidity. The great Hebrew scholar, Emmanuel Tov, for example, has discussed numerous scribal problems in Hebrew manuscripts. In a 1994 lecture entitled "The Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls," Dr. Tov explains what we learned about ancient scribes and Hebrew manuscripts with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Let me explain the importance of having discovered these documents from a very early period relating to the Hebrew Bible. Before these discoveries were made in 1947, the earliest sources for the Hebrew Bible were the texts found in the Cairo Geniza. The Geniza is a storeroom in which discarded writings considered to be holy or that contained the name of God were placed [when they were worn out]. The earliest of these document are from the eighth century of the Common Era [A.D.]. Until 1947 we had no ancient records in Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible. You might say we had no really good evidence of what the Hebrew Bible looked like, until the discoveries of Qumran. It turns out that our knowledge was rather good, but we had no evidence in our hands. So, the first time that we were able to see what an ancient Hebrew Bible looked like was after these documents were found near the Dead Sea. We now know what is meant by a copy of the Hebrew Bible from early periods. We now know that the text was written in a scroll, and when we say scroll, we really mean something which was rolled. We mean that these were sheets of leather sewn to each other or glued to each other, on each of which you could have a number of columns of writing. Each column is what we would probably call a page, and so normally you'd have three or four columns on each sheet, with a fixed number of lines. We now see what the text looked like. We see that there are scribes who wrote well, and we see that there are scribes who were rather sloppy. One of the scribes was a terrible scribe, the scribe who wrote the Isaiah scroll. When I say terrible, I mean terrible. This is a scribe who made a mistake in every second, third, or fourth -- well, let's say every fifth word. Already the second word of that scroll has a mistake. It starts with the vision of Isaiah, and in that word Yisha'yahu the third letter, the 'ayin, he simply forgot, because this is a guttural letter, which he (like I) did not pronounce, so he just wrote yod shin yod hay vav and then afterwards when he realized what he did, he, or a reader, put the 'ayin above the line. Mistakes in guttural letters in that scroll abound. Words are omitted. Words are added. Words are added in the margin. This is sloppy handwriting. We simply must remember that this is a human scribe of blood and flesh who wrote this scroll and hence produced a product which, in his case, was not a good product.
(Emmanuel Tov, "The Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls," Seventh Annual F.A.R.M.S. Lecture, Feb. 20, 1994, Document TOV-94, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1994, pp. 6-7; see also Emmanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, 2nd edition, Fortress Press, 2001)
It's not just that some scribes were sloppy. They were condemned as a class by the Lord for their unrighteousness ("Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" in Matt. 23:39). Evidence supports the idea that changes were deliberately made due to their religious bias. Some early Christians reported that Hebrew scriptures had been changed to take out some clear prophecies of Christ, which was an entirely logical but corrupt response from those who kept the manuscripts and hated Christianity.
One thing is clear: there are numerous variants between the different ancient texts, both in Greek and Hebrew. While the manuscripts agree with each other in many ways, there are thousands of differences due to the vagaries of human activity. Scribes were imperfect. They were not infallible. Their products cannot possibly be considered infallible, perfect and complete. One can ignore the abundant evidence, but it's time to recognize that only God is the final and perfect authority, and that's why we need continuing revelation from his authorized prophets and apostles. The Bible is scripture and needs to be studied with faith, but also with a recognition that it is a book printed by humans, translated by humans, copied by humans, and even originally written by inspired humans, none of whom were infallible. Mistakes happen. Errors creep in. Translations create unintended meanings. This is mortality, and these kind of things happen. Thank goodness there is a mechanism to overcome these problems when it's critical, and that mechanism is continuing revelation, which was meant to be an integral part of the Church of Jesus Christ from the beginning, and which has been restored in our day.
Here is a related question that was posed to John Tvedtnes:
How does the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Mormon belief that the Bible was changed through the translations over the years? In my understanding, these scrolls, which were written before the apostasy, closely match the Masoretic Texts written during the apostasy, which closely match the scripture that we use today. Am I missing something?
Here is John's answer, received in e-mail from 2004:
The Dead Sea Scrolls include portions of all of our Old Testament canon except Esther, along with many texts that were not included in the Bible as we know it, though some are known from other ancient manuscripts. There are, however, many variants and, in fact, different versions. For example, there are several different versions of Exodus and Samuel (1 and 2 Samuel were a single book at that time). One of the Samuel manuscripts has information found in no other Bible versions, while others have material found in the Greek Septuagint of the 3rd century B.C. but not found in the Hebrew texts from which English Bibles have been translated. The late Yehezkel Kutscher of the Hebrew University wrote an entire book on the variants between the larger Isaiah Scroll found in cave 1 and the Massoretic Hebrew text that has been used in synagogues for centuries and was the basis for our English Bibles. Fundamentalist Christians, believing that the Bible is complete and inerrant, take exception with Latter-day Saint views of the Bible, but the scholarly evidence suggests that there have always been problems of transmission of Bible texts. Some of the Isaiah variants from the Dead Sea Scrolls support the Book of Mormon quotes from Isaiah, while others support the Massoretic text and still others support neither.
The same person had a related question:
And for the New Testament, I've read that the 5,000+ manuscripts are in 99% agreement with each other, with the oldest copy dating to A.D. 130. (I'm not being very detailed because I'm assuming you've argued this before and already know the history) These seem like pretty good numbers...what is your view on why the New Testament is inaccurate? My friends were under the impression that the NT has been translated from language A to language B to language C, and so on, and that over the years, the original meaning of the scriptures was lost. But as far as I know, each time the Bible is written it is translated from one of the original texts. Comments?
Here is John's reply:
There are not 5,000+ manuscripts, since most are fragments rather than complete manuscripts. For example, the one you note from ca. A.D. 130 is one of the smallest fragments and contains only portions of two verses from John. (Another early fragment has a few words from Matthes.) To date, non-Latter-day Saint Bible scholars have catalogued more than half a million variants in the Greek texts of the New Testament. Many are, of course, scribal errors, but there is much evidence for manipulation of the text. See, for example, Bart Ehrman's book, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. If you are really interested in looking into this, I can suggest other books that also discuss the subject. Indeed, I have written about 80% of a book that I entitle As Far as It Is Translated Correctly: Problems in the Transmission and Translation of the Books of the Bible, which I hope to finish next year.
I should add that there are no Bible manuscripts from before the fourth century A.D. Prior to that time, each book was written on a separate scroll. Some of the first bound Bibles lack New Testament books like 2 Peter, 2-3 John, Jude, and Revelation, but include books no longer in our Bibles, such as Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, and 1 Clement. >From the writings of the early Church Fathers, we know that many early Christians accepted other books that did not end up in the Bible. Indeed, even today, the Russian Orthodox, Abyssinian (Ethiopic), and other eastern churches have Bibles that contain books missing from our western Bible, which came via the Roman Catholic Church.
"A Bible! A Bible! The Canon and Ongoing Revelation," by John Tvedtnes. (This is a book review at SHIELDS-research.org.)
Are Mormons Not Christian Because of Their Disbelief in the Bible? - Kerry Shirts sets the record straight on LDS respect for the Bible as scripture. Of course we believe in the Bible!
"Revelation and the Open Canon: A Process-Relational Perspective on Mormon Theology" at Patheos.com by Bruce Epperly, a non-LDS theologian reflecting upon the LDS view of the canon while discussing Terry Given's book, The God Who Weeps.
New York Times Report: The Bible, as History, Flunks New Archaeological Tests - Take this with a grain of salt, but those who claim that archaeology proves the Bible to be true are falling through very thin ice. Finding evidence for scriptural history can be difficult, especially when there is the possibility that some details may not have been recorded accurately.
The Problem of Large Numbers in the Old Testament - a supplement to the LDS Old Testament Student Manual that discusses some of the many problems involving large numbers reported in the Hebrew text. The link is to a small PDF file.
"What's the Oldest Hebrew Inscription?" by Christopher A. Rollston, Biblical Archaeology Review 38:3, May/June 2012. Good discussion of the complexities of identifying very early Near Eastern texts that may look like Hebrew.
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Last Updated: Aug. 24, 2014