In 1842 Joseph Smith, the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wrote down 13 of the religion’s fundamental beliefs. Number 8 on the list says this:
“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.”
And right about now anyone outside our religion is probably thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of blasphemy crammed into one sentence.” Don’t worry! We’re gunna talk through this.
In this episode we’re going to look at two questions:
- Is the Bible perfect and unerring?
- And, can scripture exist outside the pages of the Bible?
We’ll lightly touch on The Book of Mormon, but we’ll get much deeper into what that is in a later episode.
Yes, we believe the Bible is scripture *asterisk* as far as it is translated correctly. We do believe errors can exist in the Bible. We believe God inspired men in their writing, but they were mortal men that wrote it. It wasn’t written literally by the finger of God like the 10 commandments. Fallible men wrote it, other fallible men canonized it, other fallible men translated it over and over and over again. Hopefully, none of them have been intentionally trying to mess things up, but Latter-day Saints do leave the door open to possible human error in biblical text.
Here’s one pretty innocent example: When Saul is on the road to Damascus with several other people a light appears and he’s visited by the resurrected Christ. Acts 9:7 says: “And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.”
But when the story is re-told in Acts 22:9 Paul says: “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.”
It’s a tiny issue and one that doesn’t affect the story of the Bible much, but here’s the thing: If you believe the Bible is flawless, you have to reconcile these two scriptures somehow. And people have indeed come up with ways to do that. Latter-day Saints may try to reconcile them, too, or we might just look at them and say, “Hm … that’s weird. Guess somebody didn’t quite record that story accurately.”
We believe the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not a teaching evident in the Bible itself. How could it be? The New Testament as we know it would not exist for another 200 years or so after the last book was written. None of the authors were writing on behalf of a cohesive Bible, but rather their own separate works with some commentary on past works they had available. And none of those works claim to be perfectly accurate.
Additionally, we believe many extremely important “plain and precious truths” have been lost from the Bible over the centuries. They include but aren’t limited to: the true nature of God, emphasis on gospel principles and ordinances, especially in Old Testament times, teachings about our pre-mortal life, and more.
As a whole, the Bible is an inspired source of truth, but we don’t believe it’s perfect nor is it all God had to say to us. On the contrary, the Bible is evidence that God has always called prophets to deliver His word to his children, wherever they are. The Bible is the record of those prophetic teachings from Africa, Asia, and Europe. We believe God also called prophets in the Americas. The record of their teachings is called The Book of Mormon. “Mormon” simply being the name of a prophet, like Moses or Peter.
Some people, understandably, are wary of The Book of Mormon because the Bible clearly says in 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.” There we have it, right? The Bible is the last of God’s written word. Anything else claiming to be scripture is heretical, right?
It’s an understandable interpretation, but again, we’ve got to remember that when this verse was written, the New Testament did not yet exist. This verse only applies to the Book of Revelation, he even says “the prophecy of this book.” Revelation was a stand-alone work at the time. On top of that, similar scriptures exist in the Old Testament, but we choose to interpret them differently, otherwise they would be condemning most of the Old and all of the New Testament. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that scripture cannot exist outside of those 66 books chosen to be canonized. We believe that is an extra-biblical teaching, which is kind of ironic.
In fact, the Bible itself even references other books of scripture that we don’t have in the Bible.
Now, lest ye doubt, know that Latter-day Saints love the Bible. I’ve read every word of it, and I believe it to be scripture. Latter-day Saints cling to the Bible, as we do with The Book of Mormon. We believe that both are inspired of God and that they work hand in hand to teach about faith in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Book of Mormon, of course, I don’t expect you to take my word for it that it’s scripture. Just as you’ve had to discover for yourself that the Bible is true, you must do the spiritual work required to know that The Book of Mormon is as well. You should probably start with reading it. If you want to take a crack at it, check out the link in the description below, there’s also a link to a more expansive article on our website about this subject, there’s also a link to live chat with missionaries if you want to. Let us know if you have questions and keep an eye out for an episode solely dedicated to The Book of Mormon coming out soon.
There are two ways of looking at the Bible that Latter-day Saints don’t share. One is that the Bible is perfect and contains everything that we need to know to guide our faith. But in addition to inconsistencies and mistranslated parts, the Bible hints at beliefs and practices and then doesn’t explain them. That could mean that these beliefs and practices were very well known in early Christianity, or that elaboration is just missing now but used to exist. We can’t assume that we have every single letter (epistle) that Paul wrote. We have just a few.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15: 29, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” It’s in the Bible, but no Christians except Latter-day Saints have any other information or practice baptism for the dead. We believe everyone who has ever lived must have the chance to accept or reject Christ. If that doesn’t happen during their mortality, then they will have the chance in the Spirit World before their resurrection. But a spirit can’t be baptized, so we have to do that work for them by proxy. We have information from modern prophets and other scriptures to help us know the doctrine and the practice, as did the earliest Christians.
For another example, Paul said in verses 40 and 41, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” It’s hard to know what Paul is talking about. Except that we have the record of a vision shared by Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon in the presence of others wherein they saw the three degrees of glory in heaven and described and recorded that vision in modern scripture. Perhaps Paul also described a similar vision in an epistle, but it no longer exists.
Another way of looking at the Bible that Latter-day Saints don’t share, is that the word of the Bible is the final authority to guide Christian belief. That this can’t work is obvious because there are 48,000 distinct denominations of Christianity all relying on the Bible for doctrine. God gives His authority to one living church, and there must be a prophet at its head.
Why doesn’t the Bible talk about The Book of Mormon?
The Book of Mormon was recorded by descendants of the tribe of Joseph who were led out of Jerusalem before Babylon destroyed it around 600 B.C. Thus, it is a record of Joseph to add a second witness to the Bible, which is a record of Judah. Ezekiel alludes to this second record in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 37: 16 – 19):
Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these?
Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
If the Bible is imperfect, is God imperfect?
No, God is perfect, but He is forced to work with us, and we are all imperfect. Prophets are imperfect, too. Writing is imperfect. Translating is imperfect. Even though all of this is imperfect, it all gives us enough to seek God and find Him.
Some use these verses to claim that the Bible is perfect:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The word “profitable” doesn’t mean “perfect.” The word “perfect” in the second verse is translated from the Hebrew to mean “whole” or “complete.” We are completed by Christ and through His grace to be accepted into His presence to become co-heirs with Him. Inspiration comes from God in pure form, but we are imperfect receivers, doers and translators of His word.
What about the curse in the Book of Revelation?
BibleStudyTools.com (not a Latter-day Saint website) shows the chronological order of the books of the New Testament pretty reliably. Here they are:
- James – 50 A.D.
- First Thessalonians – 52-53.
- Second Thessalonians – 52-53.
- Galatians – 55.
- First Corinthians – 57.
- Second Corinthians – 57.
- Romans – 57-58.
- Philippians – 62-63.
- Colossians – 62-63.
- Philemon – 62-63.
- Ephesians – 62-63.
- Luke – 63.Acts – 64.
- First Timothy – 65.
- Titus – 65.
- Second Timothy – 66.
- Mark – 66.
- Matthew – 67.
- Hebrews – 67.
- First Peter – 67-68.
- Second Peter – 68.
- Jude – 68.
- Apocalypse – Book of Revelation – 68.
- John – c. 85.
- Epistles of John – 90-95.
John still had a lot of writing to do after the Book of Revelation, so the curse at the end of the Apocalypse belongs to itself and not the entire Bible. Various Christian faiths have canonized various books in certain orders, too.
Do Latter-day Saints claim to have all scripture?
NO! The Book of Mormon says that Christ visited the 10 Lost Tribes after He visited the descendants of Joseph in the Americas. They surely have scriptures they will bring back with them when they return. Parts of the Book of Mormon were sealed and Joseph Smith not allowed to translate them because we aren’t yet worthy to read them. In the Book of Mormon it says that Joseph who was sold into Egypt wrote, and we are not yet worthy to have his words, and that the same is true of writings of John the Baptist. Maybe during the millennium, those writings will be revealed. Here’s what Christ said to the Book of Mormon peoples:
And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.
And it shall come to pass that the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites shall have the words of the Jews; and the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel; and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews.
And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one. And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever (excerpted from 2 Nephi 29).