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How can I explain the Church’s attitude regarding the Bible?

TitleHow can I explain the Church’s attitude regarding the Bible?
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1985
AuthorsMatthews, Robert J.
Issue Number7
Date PublishedJuly 1985
KeywordsScripture Study; Translation

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How can I explain the Church’s attitude regarding the Bible? A friend of mine objects to the fact that we have additional scriptures and that we believe in the Bible only “as far as it is translated correctly.”

Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Education, Brigham Young University. We esteem four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These “standard works,” the written canons of our faith, are complementary rather than competitive; each supports and corroborates the others.

Because the Church has four books of divine scripture, some observers have misunderstood our attitude toward the Bible. Saul (later known as Paul) probably had similar feelings when he heard the early New Testament Saints tell of their faith in Jesus Christ; the new revelations and experiences seemed to be a threat to and a replacement of the Old Testament. But Paul’s resentment gave way to understanding; he not only became converted to the “new” doctrine and history, but even wrote a large portion of what is now called the New Testament. Paul learned that it is not necessary to reject the Old Testament in order to accept and believe the New Testament.

Similarly, acceptance of the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day Saint scripture does not mean rejection of the Bible. As one becomes familiar with all of the revelations God has given, he understands and reveres each volume all the more.

For people living in the first centuries of the Christian era, the Old and New Testaments were two separate collections of sacred writings. Only with the passage of time have modern Christian people come to think of the Bible as one book. With that change in attitude, the connotation of the word Bible has unfortunately changed from plural (“the books”) to singular (“the Book”). The singular meaning of Bible is too restrictive and is historically inaccurate; the original meaning—which does not exclude the possibility of additional books being added to the canon—is more correct.

Latter-day Scriptures Testify the Bible Is True

The Book of Mormon is a second witness of the Bible. Book of Mormon prophets possessed the Old Testament, from Genesis to Jeremiah, and frequently quoted from it, affirmatively and repeatedly referring to many specific events and personalities in various parts of those scriptures.

The Book of Mormon also witnesses to the truthfulness of the New Testament. Book of Mormon prophets saw in vision the life, ministry, and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They tell of a series of glorious visits by Jesus himself to the American continent after his resurrection and ascension. They also teach of faith, prayer, fasting, repentance, baptism, revelation, visions, and other biblical themes.

In these and other ways the Book of Mormon not only supports the biblical record, but actually confirms its ancient existence and historical authenticity. Even more important, the Book of Mormon joins with the Bible to serve as an ancient witness for God and Jesus Christ. Its subtitle—“Another Testament of Jesus Christ”—clearly states its purpose.

The Book of Mormon preserves an ancient prophecy by Joseph in Egypt in which the Bible and the Book of Mormon “shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace.” The mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith, described in this same prophecy, was not only to bring forth more of the words of the Lord unto the children of men, but also “to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them.” (2 Ne. 3:11–12.)

Promise of a Restoration of Lost Material

Scholars and some clergy have long recognized that there are errors, variations, omissions, and minor contradictions in the Bible. As is evident in its many versions and translations, the Bible lacks certain clarity and completeness which it once enjoyed. This is the condition referred to in our eighth article of faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”

Referring to the “lost books”—scriptural books mentioned in the Bible that are now missing—the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “It seems the Apostolic Church had some of these writings, as Jude mentions or quotes the Prophecy of Enoch, the seventh from Adam.” (History of the Church, 1:132.) On other occasions, the Prophet noted: “From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled. … 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, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 9–10, 327.)

The Book of Mormon tells of the original plainness and accuracy of the Bible and of the loss of certain precious parts. But it also prophesies a restoration of these parts in the latter days. In vision, Nephi saw the Bible going forth among the nations of the earth in its imperfect form—and the subsequent latter-day restoration of scripture:

“And after it [the Bible] had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets [the Old Testament] and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [the New Testament] are true.

“And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, … shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them. …

“And the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed [the Book of Mormon], as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb [the New Testament]; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.” (1 Ne. 13:39–41.) The restoration of the lost material has come through the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, which are among the “other books” spoken of by Nephi.

The textual variants have not negated the original truth of the Bible, nor removed the essential message of God’s dealings with mankind and the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. From latter-day scripture we learn that the most serious changes in the Bible do not consist so much of erroneous statements as the loss of extensive portions of the text.

Church Leaders Testify the Bible Is True

All of the Presidents and leaders of the Church have strongly advocated our use of the Bible. Joseph Smith was a Bible student all his life; it was from reading and feeling the power of James 1:5 at the young age of fourteen that he was led to pray vocally and subsequently to receive his first vision from the Lord. He later spoke of the truth of the “sacred volume”—the Bible—in these words:

“He that can mark the power of Omnipotence, inscribed upon the heavens, can also see God’s own handwriting in the sacred volume: and he who reads it oftenest will like it best, and he who is acquainted with it, will know the hand [of the Lord] wherever he can see it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 56; italics added.)

President Brigham Young often spoke of his confidence in the Bible. “We have a holy reverence for and a belief in the Bible,” he said. “The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances. They who observe the precepts contained in the Scriptures will be just and true and virtuous and peaceable at home and abroad. Follow out the doctrines of the Bible, and men will make splendid husbands, women excellent wives, and children will be obedient; they will make families happy and the nations wealthy and happy and lifted up above the things of this life.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, pp. 124–25.)

In recent years, the First Presidency has issued statements in support of National Bible Week, encouraging members of the Church everywhere to read the Bible and to teach it to their children.

Use of the Bible in Church Instructional Classes

The Lord specified to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1831 that the elders and teachers of the Church “shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.” (D&C 42:12.) This command has been in force in the Church continually since that time and is conspicuous in the procedures of the Church in missionary work, in Sunday worship, and in the curriculum of Church schools.

Every LDS missionary studies and teaches from the Bible regularly. The missionary lessons make repeated use of the Bible in teaching the doctrines of Jesus Christ.

Instructions sent from Church headquarters have asked every local bishop to place a copy of the Bible and the other standard works on the pulpits and in the libraries of every meetinghouse throughout the Church so they may be available for frequent use. (See Bulletin, Feb. 1982, no. 20.)

All Church members are encouraged to study the scriptures individually and as families. Every fourth year the course of study for priesthood quorums and Sunday School and Relief Society classes is the Old Testament. The following year’s course of study is the New Testament. Similarly, high-school-age seminary students study the Old and the New Testaments every four years. On the college and university level, Bible courses are offered every semester.

During the years when the Bible is not the principle book studied in Church curriculum programs, the curriculum follows the other standard works. These other scriptures are so intertwined with biblical history and doctrine, however, that the Bible is in constant use throughout the Church.

LDS Edition of the Bible

Until 1979, the Church had purchased the Bible from various publishers, chiefly, but not exclusively, Cambridge University in England. However, in 1979, the Church officially published for the first time its own edition of the King James Version—with chapter headings, footnotes, a reference system, a dictionary, and a topical guide. The production and use of this edition is a major evidence of the Church’s high regard for the Bible.

The Topical Guide, a major feature of the LDS edition of the Bible, deserves special notice. It is perhaps the greatest literary evidence of the harmony of the scriptures. Although each book of scripture is a separate record originating in different parts of the world, among different peoples, under differing circumstances, and at different times, all four books were inspired by the same God for the same purposes—and they are witnesses for each other. In the Topical Guide, some 3,495 gospel topics are listed alphabetically, followed by the numerous passages that have a bearing on the subject. These passages are listed in each instance first from the Old Testament, then the New Testament, then the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. The reader soon becomes aware of the unity and harmony of the four standard works as they support and complement one another.

On 15 October 1982 the Layman’s National Bible Committee presented an award to the Church at ceremonies held in Salt Lake City. The citation reads:

“Presented to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In appreciation of outstanding service to the Bible cause through the publication of its own new edition of the King James Version which features interpretive chapter headings, a simplified footnote system and the linking of references to all other LDS scriptures—thereby greatly enhancing the study of the Bible by its membership.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley, upon accepting the award on behalf of the Church, explained that the Bible project was developed to “help the people become better Bible scholars.” He said that the Latter-day Saints read, believe, and love the Bible, and that they are trying to live in accordance with its teachings and to “have a personal witness that Jesus is the Christ.” (Church News, 23 Oct. 1982, p. 3.)

There can be no question as to the attitude of the Church toward the Bible: (1) It is one of the four standard works that serve as guides for faith and doctrine. (2) It is a true and authentic ancient record, but (3) is not the only record God has caused to be written. (4) Many important concepts once in the Bible but now missing have been restored through the Book of Mormon and other latter-day revelations. (5) These additional scriptures prove that the Bible is true; thus, the Bible’s position is stronger than if it had to stand alone. (6) The use of the Bible has been constant in the Church from the beginning in 1830 and is on the increase, along with the study of all the sacred scriptures.