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.—the Eighth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“LDS”).
Hoo-boy, I think this is one of those posts that is going to irritate just almost everybody in one way or another. It touches on Scriptural and higher authority.
For so-called ecumenical Christians there is only one collection of authoritative Scripture—the Old and New Testaments of the collected writings in the Bible. While the LDS honors these texts as authoritative, it does not uphold them as the exclusive canon of the church. The scriptural canon within the LDS church officially includes three other documents: The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Book of Mormon.
It should be further noted there are differences in how the two traditions consider the effect of the pronouncements of its leaders.
When the Pope speaks, it does not supplant or replace or, plainly put, outrank scripture. The general rule of ecumenical Christianity is to test the words of a supposed prophet. Ignatius tells us that all the revelation of God, whether given in written form or in some other fashion must be consistent with the person of Jesus. He said:
I urge you, do not do things in cliques, but act as Christ’s disciples. When I heard some people saying, “If I don’t find it in the original documents, I don’t believe it in the gospel,” I answered them, “but it us written there.” They retorted, “That’s just the question.” To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that came by him. It is by these things and through your prayers that I want to be justified.
So, when we hear something, we are supposed to measure it against the scriptures and especially the words and life of Jesus, and while not every-body does this all the time, it is pretty much generally followed.
In the LDS Church, the words of the Prophet are superior to the scripture and the words of the latter prophets are greater than those of the earlier prophets.
On February 26, 1980, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, later the 13th Prophet, Seer and Revelator (or President) of the LDS Church spoke these words in an address titled “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” at Brigham Young University while he was then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
[See text of the talk here. The standard works of the LDS Church are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price.]
In its original form, the eighth Article of Faith read as follows: We believe in the Word of God as recorded in the Bible; we also believe the Word of God recorded in the Book of Mormon, and in all other good books. (Wilford C. Wood, in his book Joseph Smith Begins His Work.)
Here’s the thing: the LDS Church believes that the true gospel was only on the earth so long as the original Apostles of Christ were alive. [Semantics: Apostle generally means those who knew Jesus and carried his message to the world while to the LDS, an Apostle is a called position without the requirement to have walked with Jesus.]
Therefore, when Apostles were not replaced—because in ecumenical Christianity they could not be—then, according to LDS belief, the authority of Jesus was no longer on the earth and “many plain and precious things” were lost, including the correct and proper translation of the Bible. Since the Book of Mormon was, according to LDS belief a translation done with the active involvement of God, then it could not be in error.
It is because of the manner in which the Bible comes to us—through multiple translations—and the fallibility of man that it can only be trusted so far. The thing is valid only if one believes the Bible is inerrant—infallible. To achieve this standard, and there are many who believe it, requires that God spoke and the writers of the Bible wrote down exactly what was said to them and that God guided all the translations. Well, if he was active in the world, why not?
Most do not believe this. I do not. I do believe that contained in the Bible are many things that are good, but I do not believe the Bible in its entirety is a manual for living or that everything in it is what God approves. The most obvious example is Jephthah’s daughter, a virgin, was sacrificed to fulfill a vow made to God pursuant to a battle. I am sorry but I do not believe virgin sacrifice has anything to do with how we practice Christianity.
To read the Bible as a user manual is to misunderstand the Bible. The Bible is these things: the story of God’s actions in the world as experienced by those writing the stories, stories of how man interacted with God, stories of how people interacted with each other. In other words, life.
Is it inspired? Again, semantics. If one means that it was the literal words of God making it to paper through the hand of the writer, then, no, I do not believe this. To me it is the writer had an encounter with the divine and then wrote. I believe Mozart and Chopin and Bach were inspired and that in their music—especially Chopin’s Nocturnes—one can meet God. When it comes to history or how man interacted and often misunderstood God, I don’t think there needed to be much inspiration at all.
And if you believe the King James Bible to be the inerrant word of God, then you have to believe that God had a hand in the multiple translations to get it to that form and also guided the selection of the books contained in the Bible.
One of the defenses for the need for the Book of Mormon is that many things were left out of the Bible and the cited scripture from the Bible proving this is I Chronicles 29:29 which reads: Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer. Wouldn’t you like to read these omitted books you may be asked by an LDS person. The Book of Mormon is an ancient record brought forth in the Latter-Days. IN the 1960’s this was more compelling than it is now. Now, most are familiar with the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi scrolls, which contain things left out of the Bible and significant portions of the Bible which demonstrate the amazing accuracy of the translations through the centuries.
Some object to the new scripture based on this passage, among a few others, in The Revelation (the last words in the Bible:
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.
Oddly, the Book of Mormon has similar language in Ether 15:33 And the Lord spake unto Ether, and said unto him: Go forth. And he went forth, and beheld that the words of the Lord had all been fulfilled; and he finished his record; (and the hundreth part I have not written) and he hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them. Just begs the question what was left out and who guided the determination of the Book of Mormon canon.
The LDS position is that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from “reformed Egyptian inscribed on golden plates by the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni. Though the power of God. To perform the translation, Smith enlisted the help of his neighbor, Martin Harris as a scribe during his initial work on the text. I
In 1828, Harris, prompted by his wife, Lucy, requested that Smith lend him the current pages that had been translated. Lucy apparently stole or lost the first 116 pages of the translation after which, Smith said he lost the ability to translate and that Moroni had taken back the plates to be returned only after Smith repented. Smith later stated that God allowed him to resume translation, but directed that he begin translating another part of the plates.
Again, what was on these original plates?
Is there to be yet another “witness of Jesus Christ” to come forth and complete what was either not transcribed by the Book of Mormon prophets or stolen by Lucy Harris? And further, if God was in control, how was Lucy able to steal the translations? Or, once stolen, why was Smith not able to recreate them as they were originally translated if God was in control? Or, if they were not necessary, why did God waste time translating them? And it they were necessary to have spent the time translating them, what was lost when they vanished?
But, to be LDS is to accept it as the word of God. At the end of the first missionary lesson, they will turn to this passage in the 10th Chapter of Moroni:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
The LDS believe that if you follow the prescription above, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon will be revealed to you; if it has not yet been, keep praying sincerely. I am reminded of Linus looking for the most sincere pumpkin patch, but it is consistent with Chapter 1 of James: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. However, when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
I do not have to decide if the Book of Mormon is “true.” To me, this question is irrelevant because believing or disbelieving in its “truthfulness” should not have any effect on us. If Smith was inspired to write it, that is fine. You see, there is nothing counter to ecumenical Christianity in it; in fact, it has large portions of Isaiah in it and many of the words of Jesus. It is rather difficult to read, without regard to its status as scripture – think of Jeremiah and you get what I mean.