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Do you believe the Bible is important?
by W. John Walsh
Do you believe the Bible is as important as other Christians?
Is it not true that Mormons believe that the Bible is the word of God "as far as it is translated correctly" and that the Book Of Mormon is the "most correct book in the world" including the Bible? Why then did you say that the Church accepts the Bible as the "foremost of the standard works?"
Latter-day Saints believe the word of God as contained in the Bible. We accept the Bible "as the foremost of [the Church's] standard works, first among the books which have been proclaimed as written guides in faith and doctrine. In the respect and sanctity with which the Latter-day Saints regard the Bible they are of like profession with Christian denominations in general" (AF, 1966 ed., p. 236). (See LDS Belief in the Bible) Yet, Church members are often attacked by other Christian denominations because we believe in continuing revelation, an open cannon of scripture, and modern prophets and apostles. (See Following the Prophets home page) For example, we believe the Book of Mormon is holy scripture equal in authority to the Bible. In the minds of some, our acceptance of the Book of Mormon as holy writ lessens our appreciation of the Bible.
To me this argument seems a little silly. Let's make an analogy. Does a mother with one child love her child more than a mother with two children loves her offspring? Is a mother's love lessened for a child as she has other children? Of course not. Does acceptance of the New Testament lessen appreciation of the Old Testament? Does love of the Gospel of John mean that you do not appreciate the letters of Paul? Of course not. Likewise, Latter-day Saints love both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Our devotion to one does not lessen our devotion to the other. The Articles of Faith state:
"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."
Occasionally, critics will take offense at the phrase "as far as it is translated correctly." This always surprises me. After all, what's the alternative? We believe in the Bible even when it's translated incorrectly? Latter-day Saints do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture, like some fundamentalists do (See Is the Bible Inerrant?). We believe the original thoughts as inspired by God were perfect, but as they have come down to us through mortal fallible men, errors and mistakes have crept into the records. This applies not only to the Bible, but all other scripture as well, including the Book of Mormon. For example, the Book of Mormon mentions the possibility for errors many times in the text itself:
"And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ." (Title Page of the Book of Mormon)
We do believe that the Book of Mormon is a purer translation than the Bible and for good reason. First, the Book of Mormon was translated by a prophet, seer, and revelator much more recently than the Bible (i.e., in 1830 versus thousands of years ago). Second, the Book of Mormon has been in the custody of the Church for most of the time since the original inspiration was given. On the other hand, the books that make up the Bible have a long and complicated history that goes back thousands of years. They have not been perpetually maintained by the Lord's prophets. Can anyone name the last apostle to actually touch the sacred text? After Moses wrote Genesis, who were each of the caretakers of the text down to our day? We don't have a clue. The vast majority of Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic scholars readily confirm that the Bible is imperfect and has been edited to suit the agenda of the compilers. Only the most narrow Fundamentalist Protestants do not accept this view and insist the Bible must be infallible and completely perfect. Still, despite the "cleaner" history of the Book of Mormon, errors have still crept into the text and have had to be corrected. (See Changes to the Book of Mormon) If these type of errors could creep into a text only 170 years old, how many more errors have crept into a text several thousands of years old?
The Book of Mormon has often been referred to as "the most correct book" of scripture. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Four 183942, p.194)
Elder James E. Talmage said the Bible is "foremost of [the Church's] standard works, first among the books which have been proclaimed as written guides in faith and doctrine." The Prophet Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was "the keystone of our religion" and "the most correct book". This presents us with an interesting situation. Are these statements contradicting? The critics seem so eager to dismiss Elder Talmage's words because of what the Prophet Joseph taught. Why haven't they taken the opposite approach? Dismiss the comment from Joseph Smith? After all, since Elder Talmage's comments were more recent, wouldn't they be more reflective of present Church emphasis? I haven't seen our critics eagerly spread the message "Mormons prefer the Bible to the Book of Mormon!" Why? It's because they have a certain agenda they want to attain. They want to convince people that Latter-day Saints don't respect the Bible, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
In reality, both of the statements are true. When the Prophet made this statement, he was not referring to the grammar or spelling of the Book of Mormon, he was referring to its message. The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrines of the gospel more clearly than any other book, including the Bible. Why is the Bible the foremost of our scriptural writings? While the Book of Mormon offers clearer doctrinal passages, the Bible contains the story of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, our Lord and God. It is only in learning about the life of Jesus Christ and emulating him can man be saved.
In conclusion, Latter-day Saints believe both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are the Word of God, as well as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. On an institutional level, the Church requires members to spend more time studying the Bible than other books of scripture. For example, our Sunday School classes are on a four year schedule. They spend one year each on the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants. High School students who enroll in daily seminary schedule also use a similar rotating schedule. You will note this means that Latter-day Saints formally study the Bible twice as much as either any other book of scripture and fifty percent of the study time is spent on that sacred text alone. On a personal level, I am more likely to quote from the Book of Mormon to teach people about Jesus Christ because that text testifies more clearly and precisely about the divinity of the Savior, but I spend most of my personal study time with the Old Testament because I believe that text holds many hidden doctrines for the last days. As President Brigham Young said:
"In the Bible are the words of life and salvation." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p.124)
(See LDS Belief in the Bible; The Canonical or Biblical Exclusion; The Book of Mormon home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Scriptural Writings home page)
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