Mormonism and the Bible/Completeness

Completeness of the Bible

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If these new revelations contain only what has been already made known, where is the necessity for them? and if they reveal what is not to be found in the Bible, how are we to know that they are from God, and not from Satan, who is transforming himself into an angel of light, imposing upon men by his lies?

—Samuel Haining, Mormonism Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary, and Found Wanting: The Substance of Four Lectures (Douglas: Robert Fargher, 1840), 56. off-site
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Question: Does the Bible alone contain all necessary or essential knowledge to assure salvation, thus making the Book of Mormon and modern prophets unnecessary?

The Bible nowhere makes the claim for sufficiency or completeness

Other churches claim the Bible contains all necessary or essential knowledge to assure salvation. Therefore, things like modern prophets or additional scripture (such as the Book of Mormon) are unnecessary or even blasphemous.

Claiming inerrancy and completeness:

  • is not a Biblical doctrine
  • has not been sufficient to prevent a vast range of Biblical interpretations and Christian practices, all of which cannot be correct
  • ignores that the Biblical canon is not unanimous among Christians, and ignores non-canonical books which the Bible itself cites as being authoritative
  • ignores that the Bible contains some errors and internal inconsistencies

However, Mormons cherish the Bible. Those who claim otherwise are mistaken. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:

Occasionally, a few in the Church let the justified caveat about the Bible—“as far as it is translated correctly”—diminish their exultation over the New Testament. Inaccuracy of some translating must not, however, diminish our appreciation for the powerful testimony and ample historicity of the New Testament...

So when we read and turn the pages of the precious New Testament, there is a barely audible rustling like the quiet stirrings of the Spirit, something to be 'spiritually discerned.' (1 Corinthians 2:14). The witnessing words came to us—not slowly, laboriously, or equivocally through the corridors of the centuries, but rather, swiftly, deftly, and clearly. Upon the wings of the Spirit these words proclaim, again and anew, “JESUS LIVED. JESUS LIVES!”[1]

The Bible nowhere makes the claim for sufficiency or completeness.

Furthermore, the thousands of Christian sects and groups provide ample testimony that the Bible has not been sufficient to encourage unanimity among Christians about proper authority, doctrine, or practice. Critics would like us to accept that their reading is the correct one, but this means we must appeal to some other standard—one cannot use their reading of the Bible to prove their reading of the Bible!

There is also no unanimity among Christians concerning what constitutes the "true" Bible canon—once again, some other standard is needed to determine which Bible is the "true" or "inerrant" version.

There are also other writings which the Bible itself refers to as authoritative, and yet these books are not in the present Bible canon. Either the Bible is wrong in referring to these writings as authoritative, or some modern Christians are wrong for arguing that the Bible is a complete record of all God's word to His children.

Mormons consider the Bible an inspired volume of scripture of great value, but they also recognize that there are some errors and contradictions

While the LDS do not like to denigrate the Bible or call attention to its errors, since they consider it an inspired volume of scripture of great value, they also recognize that there are some errors and contradictions in the Bible which are the result of human error or tampering. This does not reduce the Bible's value in their estimation, but it does call into question any claims for the Bible's "inerrancy."

Said early LDS leader George Q. Cannon:

This book [the Bible] is of priceless worth; its value cannot estimated by anything that is known among men upon which value is fixed. ... But in the Latter-day Saints it should always be a precious treasure. Beyond any people now upon the face of the earth, they should value it, for the reason that from its pages, from the doctrines set forth by its writers, the epitome of the plan of salvation which is there given unto us, we derive the highest consolation, we obtain the greatest strength. It is, as it were, a constant fountain sending forth streams of living life to satisfy the souls of all who peruse its pages.[2]

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We are not called to teach the errors of translators but the truth of God's word. It is our mission to develop faith in the revelations from God in the hearts of the children, and "How can that best be done?" is the question that confronts us. Certainly not by emphasizing doubts, creating difficulties or teaching negations.... The clause in the Articles of Faith regarding mistakes in the translation of the Bible was never intended to encourage us to spend our time in searching out and studying those errors, but to emphasize the idea that it is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found.[3]


Question: What does the Book of Mormon mean when it says that "plain and precious" things have been taken out of the bible?

So called "lost scripture" is in reference to writings mentioned or cited within the present Biblical record, but which are not in the Bible itself

I've heard about "lost scripture" mentioned in the Bible. What is this about, and what implications does it have for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency?

1. Biblical writers considered writings not in the present canon to be scriptural writings.
2. Christian groups do not agree on what constitutes the Biblical canon—any claim that the canon is closed, complete, and sufficient must answer:

a) which canon?
b) what establishes this canon as authoritative and not some other?

3. Differences in canon between Christian groups and Biblical authors' clear belief in the scriptural status of other non-Biblical texts argue against a coherent doctrine of Biblical sufficiency and inerrancy drawn from the Bible itself. Such a claim must come from outside the Bible.

Stephen E. Robinson said the following of this subject:

"The Book of Mormon teaches that "plain and precious" things have been taken out of the Bible (1 Nephi 13:24-29). Both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals often assume this means that the present biblical books went through a cut-and-paste process to remove these things...However, I see no reason to understand things this way, and in fact I it is largely erroneous. The pertinent passages from the Book of Mormon give no reason to assume that the process of removing plain and precious things from Scripture was one exclusively or even primarily of editing the books of the present canon. The bulk of the text-critical evidence is against a process of wholesale cutting and pasting...

It is clear to me, therefore, that "the plain and precious truths" were not necessarily in the originals of the present biblical books, and I suspect that the editing process that excised them did not consist solely or even primarily of cutting and pasting the present books, but rather largely in keeping other apostolic or prophetic writings from being included in the canon. In other words, "the plain and precious truths" were primarily excised not by means of controlling the text, but by means of controlling the canon."[4]

So called "lost scripture" is in reference to writings mentioned or cited within the present Biblical record, but which are not in the Bible itself. Some of these writings are known from other sources, and some are not.

Examples of "lost scripture"

Lost writing Biblical citation to the lost writing
Book of the Wars of the Lord Numbers 21:14
Book of Jasher Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18
Book of the Acts of Solomon 1 Kings 11:41
Book of Samuel the Seer 1 Chronicles 29:29
Book of Gad the Seer 1 Chronicles 29:29
Book of Nathan the Prophet 1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29
Prophecy of Ahijah 2 Chronicles 9:29
Visions of Iddo the Seer 2 Chronicles 9:29, 2 Chronicles 12:15, 2 Chronicles 13:22
Book of Shemaiah 2 Chronicles 12:15
Book of Jehu 2 Chronicles 20:34
Sayings of the Seers 2 Chronicles 33:19
Lament for Josiah 2 Chronicles 35:25
Paul's epistle to Corinthians before our "1 Corinthians" 1 Corinthians 5:9
Paul's possible earlier Ephesians epistle Ephesians 3:3
Paul's epistle to Church at Laodicea Colossians 4:16
1 Enoch 1:19 and The Assumption of Moses Jude 1:14-15
1 Enoch "It influenced Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 John, Jude (which quotes it directly) and Revelation (with numerous points of contact)…in molding New Testament doctrines concerning the nature of the Messiah, the Son of Man, the messianic kingdom, demonology, the future, resurrection, the final judgment, the whole eschatological theater, and symbolism."[5]

Examples of canonical differences among Bibles

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Christians have not always agreed on the "canon"—that is, they have not always agreed upon which writings were "scripture" and which were not.

Some examples of these variations:

Christian Person or Group Difference in canon from Protestant Bible (e.g., the KJV)
Catholics Apocrypha is canonical
Orthodox Apocrypha is canonical
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200) Included in canon:
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Epistle of Clement
  • The Preaching of Peter[6]
Roman Christians (circa A.D. 200) Included in canon:
  • Revelation of Peter
  • Wisdom of Solomon

Excluded from canon:

  • Hebrews
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 3 John[7]
Origen (date) Included in canon:
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Shepherd of Hermas[8]

Excluded from canon:

  • James
  • Jude
  • 2 John
  • Those disputed by Rome (see above)[9]
Syriac Peshitta Excluded from the canon:
  • 2 Peter
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation of St. John[10]
Armenian Church Included in canon:
  • 3 Corinthians

Excluded from canon:

  • Revelation of St. John prior to 12th century[11]
Ethiopian Church Included in canon:
  • Sinodos
  • Clement
  • Book of the Covenant
  • Didascalia[12]
Martin Luther Considered Epistle of James "a right strawy epistle."[13] Also didn't agree with Sermon on the Mount because didn't match his "grace only" theology.

Implications for inerrancy and sufficiency doctrine of the Bible

All these canons cannot be correct. Why must we accept that the critic's Bible is complete and inerrant? By what authority is this declared? Such an authority would have to be outside the Bible, thus demonstrating that there is some other source for the Word of God besides the Bible.

Furthermore, one should remember that Biblical writers were not aware of the Bible canon, because the Bible was not compiled until centuries later. Thus, Biblical writers cannot have referred to completeness and sufficiency of the canon, because the canon did not exist.

The clear evidence of "lost scripture" from the Bible was a common early LDS argument. See, for example:

  • J. Goodson, "Dear Sir," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3 no. 1 (October 1836), 397–99.


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Neal Maxwell, "The New Testament—A Matchless Portrait of the Savior," Ensign (December 1986), 20. (italics in original)
  2. George Q. Cannon, "The Blessings Enjoyed Through Possessing The Ancient Records, etc.," (8 May 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:261-262.
  3. George Q. Cannon, "?," The Juvenile Instructor 36 no. ? (1 April 1901), 208.
  4. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 63. ISBN 0830819916.
  5. E. Isaac, "1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch," in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, 2 vols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 1:10; cited in Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  6. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  7. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  8. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site; citing Clyde L. Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the World, 2d. ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1985), 52.
  9. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  10. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site; citing Kurt Aland, Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, 5th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), 769–75; see also Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992), 190–219, who provides almost 1,500 quotations, allusions, and parallels between noncanonical sources and the New Testament.
  11. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site
  12. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site
  13. Timothy George, "'A Right Strawy Epistle': Reformation Perspectives on James," The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Fall 2000), 20–31.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims