Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Chapter 7

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Response to claims made in "Chapter 7: The Bible"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Mormonism 101, a work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Response to claims made in Mormonism 101, "Chapter 7: The Bible"

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Response to claim: 97 - Mormons consider the Bible to be "insufficient"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The chapter on the Bible begins with a short excerpt from a pamphlet that the authors title "The Bible an Insufficient Guide," by Orson Pratt:

Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose that the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original? [1]

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

To begin, our authors have incorrectly attributed their excerpt. Orson Pratt's work was not called "The Bible an Insufficient Guide." Its title was The Bible and Tradition, Without Further Revelation, an Insufficient Guide. It was published in Liverpool in 1850 as the third of three pamphlets addressing the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The authors show a consistent pattern of presenting the worst possible image of the LDS Church, both past and present, and consistently ignoring conflicting or corrective statements issued by the leaders of the LDS Church both past and present. There is a significant difference between the two titles, the complete title showing Pratt's intent in writing the pamphlet, while the title provided by the authors clearly portrays an attack on the Bible-which better proves their asserted reason for writing this chapter.
  • What is the imperfection of which Pratt speaks at the beginning of the citation? He spells it out in his text as follows:

We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times, which few quote the names of some twenty other books which are lost, and it is quite certain there were many other inspired books that even the names have not reached us. What few have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons; and we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know, were written by inspiration. [2]





Question: Do Latter-day Saints consider the Bible "insufficient?"

Half of all of the organized study of the scriptures for members of the LDS Church is spent on the Bible

Some Christians interpret the following statement by Orson Pratt to mean that the Bible is "insufficient."

"Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose that the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original?" [3]:195-196

One of the fundamental programs for teenage members of the LDS Church is the Seminary program. Over the course of the four high-school years, a year is spent on each of the following standard works: the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants/Pearl of Great Price. This is a revolving course of study, and guarantees that each teenager will get all four courses. Of course, this is merely an indicator that the Bible is held in as high a standing as the other standard works. The LDS Church's Sunday School curriculum for those over fourteen years of age likewise follows a similar pattern. The Book of Mormon was the subject for Sunday School lessons in 2000, the D&C was the subject of Sunday School lessons in 2001, while 2002 and 2003 will be devoted to the Old and New Testaments respectively. Half of all of the organized study of the scriptures for members of the LDS Church is spent on the Bible.

Pratt's observations at the time were valid. There is no question that the manuscripts of the Bible are not in agreement

What is the imperfection of which Pratt speaks at the beginning of the citation? He spells it out in his text as follows:

We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times, which few quote the names of some twenty other books which are lost, and it is quite certain there were many other inspired books that even the names have not reached us. What few have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons; and we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know, were written by inspiration.[3]:195-196

Pratt also makes the following observations:

Would God reveal a system of religion expressed in such indefinite terms that a thousand different religions should grow out of it? Has God revealed the system of salvation in such vague uncertain language on purpose to delight Himself with the quarrels and contentions of His creatures in relation to it? Would God think so much of fallen man, that He would give His Only Begotten Son to die for them, and then reveal His doctrine to them in a language altogether ambiguous and uncertain? [3]:196-197

What is the solution according to Pratt? Divine revelation. Both on an individual basis, and through prophets called by God.[3]:198 This is his theme, and it reflects the core beliefs on scripture of the LDS faith.

Pratt's observations at the time were valid. There is no question that the manuscripts of the Bible are not in agreement. We have the addition or subtraction of whole chapters, particularly in the Old Testament where differing traditions place two substantially different versions of the Book of Jeremiah for example. Or, the only English translation of the Bible available to Pratt, the King James Version, which contained the Johanine Comma: a passage in 1 John long recognized as a corruption which has since been removed from nearly every modern translation of the text. The fact that the oldest manuscripts did not agree in all points everywhere has not changed since Pratt wrote this. Does this invalidate the text? No. Does Pratt indicate that this invalidates the text. No, he does not. Instead, he suggests that because of these evidences-evidences which are based in clearly observable facts, that the Bible itself cannot stand as its own witness to its truth.

This concept has been repeated again and again, and not just within LDS circles. The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy admits that only in the original autographs (the original documents penned by the apostles and the other inspired writers) were the Biblical texts inerrant. Do we have such a document? No. Can such a condition or belief guarantee then that the inspired word is provided with complete accuracy? No.

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.[4]

This same document also stresses the need for the witness from the Spirit of God as to the truth of the document

Here, the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy indicates that the scripture is insufficient as its own witness, just as Pratt wrote:

The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.[5]

Would not this witness of the Spirit of God qualify as divine revelation?

The Roman Catholic Church in 1943 issued a Papal Encyclical by Pope Pius XII entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. This document officially recognized within the Roman Catholic Church the need for the church to recognize textual criticism to restore the text of the Bible to as close to its original form as was possible. Of the Encyclical, the following two passages are noteworthy:

Wherefore let him diligently apply himself so as to acquire daily a greater facility in biblical as well as in other oriental languages and to support his interpretation by the aids which all branches of philology supply. This indeed St. Jerome strove earnestly to achieve, as far as the science of his time permitted; to this also aspired with untiring zeal and no small fruit not a few of the great exegetes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although the knowledge of languages then was much less than at the present day. In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern; this can be done all the more easily and fruitfully, if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text.

In the present day indeed this art, which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Divine Oracles. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries. [6]

We may ask, what is the difference between Pratt's remarks and the above? To most of us there is very little difference. The major point of disagreement is that Pratt sees that only God can restore the original truth given the likelihood of producing the original text. Both of the other documents state that scholarship can restore to us the original text as far as is both possible and necessary.

Now, let's examine the LDS Church's characterization of the Bible. Brigham Young said in July of 1853, in a General Conference of the Church:

I have acknowledged the Bible from the time I could be taught by my parents to revere it. They taught me that it was the sacred word of God. And as far as it could be translated correctly from the Hebrew and Greek languages, it is given to us as pure as it possibly could be given. The Bible is mine, and I am not prepared to have you rob me of it, without my consent. The doctrine in it is mine, which I firmly believe.[7]

Joseph Smith remarked, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers." [8] This is the same thing that the drafters of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy would state more than a century later.


Response to claim: 97 - "the connection between the Bible and Christianity is a reason why the LDS Church began an advertising campaign in the United States in 1997 offering free King James Version Bibles"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors speculate that "the connection between the Bible and Christianity is a reason why the LDS Church began an advertising campaign in the United States in 1997 offering free King James Version Bibles."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

The Bible has always been one of the most important standard works of the Church, and the Church has always claimed to be "Christian."



Response to claim: 98 - The authors claim that Latter-day Saints don't fully read the Bible because they don't find it "trustworthy"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that Latter-day Saints don't fully read the Bible because they don't find it "trustworthy."

(Author's sources: *McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, 160, 161, 164.)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

This claim is without foundation. The Church spends fully 50% of it Sunday School and Seminary time devoted to the Old and New Testaments. One year out of every four is devoted to the New Testament, and one is devoted to the Old Testament.



Response to claim: 97-98 - The LDS Church attempts to lend itself legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the Christian world by borrowing from the legitimacy of the Bible

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors now bring into the equation a 'conspiracy' of sorts-an attempt by the LDS Church to lend itself legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the Christian world by borrowing from the legitimacy of the Bible. They write:

There can be no better way to legitimize a church's existence and make it look like the Christian mainstream than by showing how the movement accepts the Bible in this way, quoting it in an attempt to support their doctrine on one hand while severely criticizing it on the other. Historically, LDS leaders have used the Bible in this way, quoting it in an attempt to support their doctrine on one hand while severely criticizing it on the other.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda and/or spin - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Here we see that they intend to show by the citations from early and current LDS leaders that the LDS faith is critical of the Bible. However, what they are not going to show are the statements which are consistently used throughout the body of LDS literature that paint a positive picture of the Bible and its place within the LDS Church. The real evidence indicates that the LDS Church's study of the Bible as sacred scripture is neither limited in scope nor is it of recent origin.



Response to claim; 98 - The authors suggest that Mormons have a lack of interest in the Bible because they think that it is not trustworthy

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim the following:

When Mormons ask us if we have read the Book of Mormon-which we have-we find it interesting when we turn the tables and ask if they have ever read the Bible. Although many will say they've read parts, our hearts are saddened because so few have spent much time doing so, let alone having read the entire Word of God. Could this lack of Biblical interest be a result of the LDS leaders' assertions that the Bible is not fully trustworthy?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is a falsehood - The author has disseminated false information

In 1979, the Church produced its own King James Bible, complete with a set of footnotes and cross references, as well as translational notes and study helps. Prior to this publication, the Church purchased most of its King James Bibles from Cambridge University Press. Does this sound like an organization that is using the Bible merely as a public relations gimmick? If so, millions of members were never told. The Church and its members have a deep love and appreciation for the Word of God as found in the Bible.
  • This bold assertion is amusing. There is no presentation of statistics, only the anecdotal idea that first, LDS members do not read the Bible and are not familiar with it, and second, that we hear constantly from our leaders that the Bible is less than trustworthy.



Question: Do Mormons consider the Bible to be untrustworthy?

Early LDS leaders' views on the problems with biblical inerrancy and biblical translation would seem mainstream to most today

It is claimed that Latter-day Saint leaders diminish the Bible as untrustworthy.

Do the Latter-day Saints detract from the Bible? Do they criticize it? No more so than the majority of Biblical scholars.

Early LDS leaders' views on the problems with biblical inerrancy and biblical translation would seem mainstream to most today. Only those who completely reject modern biblical textual criticism would find LDS leaders' views radical or evil. In fact, LDS beliefs on the matter accord well with many other Christian denominations. Those who vilify LDS belief on this point tend to be at the extreme end of the debate about scriptural inerrancy, and would also reject a modern creedal, orthodox scholar's views.

The Latter-day Saints believe that the Bible is true. It is inspired and inspiring, having been inspired by God and written by prophets, apostles, and disciples of Jesus Christ.

In 1979, the Church produced its own King James Bible, complete with a set of footnotes and cross references, as well as translational notes and study helps

Prior to this publication, the Church purchased most of its King James Bibles from Cambridge University Press. Does this sound like an organization that is using the Bible merely as a public relations gimmick? If so, millions of members were never told. The Church and its members have a deep love and appreciation for the Word of God as found in the Bible.

The bold assertion that the LDS do not value the Bible is amusing. There is no presentation of statistics, only anecdotal claims that first, LDS members do not read the Bible and are not familiar with it, and second, that they constantly hear from their leaders that the Bible is less than trustworthy.

In a survey published in July 2001, Barna Research Group, Ltd. (BRG) made the following observations:

The study also revealed that barely half of all Protestant adults (54%) read the Bible during a typical week. Barna pointed out that Mormons are more likely to read the Bible during a week than are Protestants-even though most Mormons do not believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God.[9]

BRG is not affiliated with the LDS Church, nor was the LDS Church involved in the survey. Members of the LDS Church likewise would not categorize their faith in this fashion—they do, in fact, regard the Bible as authoritative and the Word of God. Yet the survey indicated that they certainly do read the Bible consistently. Also, over the course of two years out of every four years, every member of the Church is asked to read and study the entire text of the Bible as part of the Church's Sunday School curriculum. Asked by whom? By the leaders of the LDS Church.

Early LDS study of biblical languages

One of the often-neglected events in LDS history happened in 1836. Joseph Smith arranged for a Hebrew scholar to come and teach Hebrew to the members of the LDS Church in Kirtland Ohio. The members of the Church had already been studying the Hebrew language, having purchased some grammars, a Hebrew Bible, and a lexicon, and had previously attempted to hire a teacher. The Hebrew scholar who came was Joshua Seixas. He spent several weeks instructing many of the members of the Church in Hebrew.[10] Why the interest in the Hebrew we might ask? Clearly it was to be able to (in the words of Pope Pius XII) 'explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern.'

What this shows is that not only were the early LDS aware of the challenges associated with the Bible, but that they were just as interested in going back to the original language and to the original texts (if possible) as was the rest of Christendom who were aware of these discrepancies. Despite the critics' unfounded assertions to the contrary, there has never been a leader of the LDS Church who has ever suggested that the Bible was not suitable for study and for learning the Gospel due to any shortcomings it may have.

The Book of Mormon on the Bible

Critics often discuss two of Nephi's statements regarding the Bible as found in the Book of Mormon. Nephi's perspective is that of modern Latter-day Saints: The Bible contains truth from God. However, it is still the work of men, and is only as reliable as the men who wrote, translated and copied it.

It is interesting that the Book of Mormon itself has begun to be seen as a witness to the textual criticism of the Bible. Source critical theory of the Old Testament splits the story of David and Goliath into two separate accounts that were later merged into the common story that we have today.[11] Scholars believe these two traditions represent an earlier source and a later source. One of the primary evidences for this argument is the fact that some of the added material is missing from the Septuagint (LXX). In a paper presented at the 2001 FAIR Conference, Benjamin McGuire presented evidence that Nephi, in borrowing from the story of David and Goliath, relied on a text that did not have the added or late material.[12] This would be in harmony with current scholarship of the Old Testament, which indicates that this material was added at the time of the captivity in Babylon, and certainly after Nephi had left Jerusalem with his Brass Plates.


Response to claim: 99 - the authors highlight four principle uses of scripture...Teaching God's truths...Rebuking others...Correcting one another...Training for righteousness

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Writing on 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the authors highlight four principle uses of scripture, as follows:
  1. Teaching God's truths and the doctrines we are to believe
  2. Rebuking others, such as Jesus' example with Lucifer in Matthew 4:1-11
  3. Correcting one another when we stray from Gods truth
  4. Training for righteousness

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

Referring to this passage, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states the following:

Any message that comes from God to man by the power of the Holy Ghost is scripture to the one who receives it, whether in written or spoken form. Paul wrote to Timothy that "all [written] scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness". Further, every person may receive personal revelation for his or her own benefit. God, however, has always designated prophets to speak for him, thus resulting in holy writ or scripture. [13]

The LDS Church recognizes these roles of scripture, and the passage in Paul is applied to all of the standard works of the Church-including the Holy Bible.



Response to claim: 100 - "The early church gave a stamp of authority to the writings of the apostles"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Where we begin to question the assumptions of our authors however, is when they start discussing the process that gave the scriptures authority. Speaking of the passage in 2 Peter 3:15-16, they write that, "The early church gave a stamp of authority to the writings of the apostles."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

This is almost certainly the case, but the proof text is not evidence of that process. In the passage, Peter accords to Paul's epistles the status of scripture-but we must remember that this was referring to contemporary scripture, not to a formal series of writings that had been established. This is made more clear when the authors quote Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (emphasis theirs):

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

It should be noted that Paul is not speaking of a written text-as he states 'which ye heard of us.' The word which they spoke was recognized as the inspired word of God. This is not a bold assertion of authority for a text, or a book, but rather for a message-a message delivered by the apostles through the Holy Spirit. It is authority for revelation from God. To the Christians at Thessalonica, this was not written scripture, but modern revelation, revealing the will and mind of God.

Yet, for this same principle, our author's condemn the Latter-day Saints-and for what? They cite the following written by Dallin H. Oaks (an LDS apostle):

What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation. [14]





Response to claim: 100 - The First Presidency said, "The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors note a message from the First Presidency of the LDS Church, issued on June 20, 1990. They quote the following: "The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations." [15]

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

These points are exactly right.



Question: Is textual criticism of Biblical texts superior to receiving revelation on that text through a prophet of God?

Textual criticism is still a discipline that is often controversial and unreliable in its ability to ascertain an original text

Let us ask ourselves-if God is continuing to reveal His will and word to men, either to individuals or to prophets through the Holy Spirit, which would you prefer? The knowledge of scholars who cannot guarantee truth, or the witness from God? And, which is more reasonable? The fact that God allowed His word to be corrupted, and then intended to reveal the truth of His word, over several hundred years of textual criticism in an effort to identify original truth? Yet, textual criticism is still a discipline that is often controversial and unreliable in its ability to ascertain an original text. The alternative is that it was God's intention that we study the scriptures and go to Him to gain a witness of the truth through His Spirit. While the LDS Church has never denied the importance of text-critical tools and language studies to more correctly understand the text, they also state firmly that only revelation from God can give us confidence in His Word and in any interpretation of it.

Scholarship is insufficient to produce the inspired autographs of the Bible

Consider this relevant question. It has long been recognized that the Greek Old Testament (frequently cited in the Gospels) is in many places grossly different from the traditional or Masoretic text. Because it was a translation, it was long believed that these differences were due, at least in part, to the translational process. Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament were all Greek (the LXX). [16] These included the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Vaticanus. One of the more obvious differences in the text occurs within the Book of Jeremiah, where the LXX preserves a text that is approximately twenty percent shorter than the Jeremiah found in the traditional text and modern Bibles. However, at Qumran, amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest copy of Jeremiah known to exist (4QJer b) is a Hebrew copy of the shorter form. [17] So, the question now arises, which version is more authentic? Both have claim to great antiquity, both are very well attested to in ancient times, and both cannot be original. So scholarship cannot yet determine the truth. Likewise, at the time of Joseph Smith, scholars were reasonably convinced of the originality of the Johanine Comma, and actively defended it. [18] Yet today, no serious scholar would ever propose that the text is original. Unless we are assuming that the science of textual criticism has been perfected, and that there will be no more discoveries that change the world of biblical studies, we can only conclude that scholarship is insufficient to produce the inspired autographs of the Bible. We can only turn to God. Yet, it is precisely this type of revelation that is denied by the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.


Response to claim: 101 - "It is doubtful that our many modern-day translations were produced by unprincipled people who wanted to keep God's truth hidden"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors proceed to discuss what the LDS Church means in its eighth Article of Faith:

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.

On the translation of the Bible the author's note the following:

It is doubtful that our many modern-day translations were produced by unprincipled people who wanted to keep God's truth hidden. In actuality, quite the opposite is true. The motivation behind a new translation is, in most cases, to give a clearer understanding of what God wants to reveal to His people. Granted. Some translations do a better job at achieving this goal than others.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources





Question: Why do Mormons use the King James Version of the Bible?

There is nothing in Church policy or official Church teaching that forbids Latter-day Saints from reading other Bible translations in their personal study

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the Authorized (King James) Version as its official Bible. So, why does the Church insist on using the Authorized ("King James") Version as its official Bible, even though more modern translations are easier to read, are more accurate, and include more recent manuscript discoveries? Some reasons include:

  • historical continuity with the restoration, since the KJV was used by the first generation of prophets and Church members
  • Church leaders feel the benefits of standardization avoid, for example, unprofitable disputes about which member's Bible is a "better" translation
  • theologically, the Church disagrees with some modern trends in some Biblical translations (e.g., removing references to priesthood offices not embraced by some denominations, gender-neutral language when referring to God, etc.)

However, there is nothing in Church policy or official Church teaching that forbids Latter-day Saints from reading other Bible translations in their personal study. Many do so.

Translations always show clear theological preferences

Some critics write of the LDS position write:

It is doubtful that our many modern-day translations were produced by unprincipled people who wanted to keep God's truth hidden. In actuality, quite the opposite is true. The motivation behind a new translation is, in most cases, to give a clearer understanding of what God wants to reveal to His people. Granted. Some translations do a better job at achieving this goal than others.[19]

This is of course only partially correct. Consider, for example, the popular version the New Living Translation. In its introduction we read the following:

The translators have made a conscious effort to provide a text that can be easily understood by the average reader of modern English. To this end, we have used the vocabulary and language structures commonly used by the average person. The result is a translation of the Scriptures written generally at the reading level of a junior high school student.[20]:xvii

A little earlier they admit to a bias within the translation. This translation was prepared by "ninety evangelical scholars…commissioned in 1989 to begin revising The Living Bible."[20]:xv This is fine if you are an Evangelical, but, if you are not, then the translation shows clear theological preferences in its translation. The King James Version, the New International Version, and all other translations generally come with a theological perspective in the translation of the text. Some are criticized much more than others (like the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses). The LDS Church has chosen the King James Version as its official Bible. The reasons for this were twofold. First, it is a well-respected and easily accessible translation (even if a bit dated), and second, it was the only English translation of the Bible available to the early leaders of the LDS Church, and so all of their biblical citations are taken from it.


Response to claim: 101 - The authors try to show that by the term translation in the eighth Article of Faith, we really mean transmission

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors try to show that by the term translation in the eighth Article of Faith, we really mean transmission. They write:

Some Mormons have recognized that the word translated as used in the Articles of Faith is not entirely correct. Knowledgeable Mormons who have studied the methods of translating languages admit that the transmission, not the translation, of the biblical texts concerns them.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The Articles of Faith were written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was not interested in the transmission at all, but rather in the translation. He studied Hebrew and Greek in an attempt to come closer to the original language of the Bible. When we do this, we become aware of some startling problems with the translation of the New Testament.



Question: Does the eighth Article of Faith statement about believing the Bible "as far as it is translated correctly" imply that Bible translators are trying to hide God's truth?

Latter-day Saints believe that only by the Spirit of God can we make these determinations

Some who are critical of the Church try to show that by the term translation in the eighth Article of Faith, we really mean transmission. For example, one writes:

Some Mormons have recognized that the word translated as used in the Articles of Faith is not entirely correct. Knowledgeable Mormons who have studied the methods of translating languages admit that the transmission, not the translation, of the biblical texts concerns them.[21]

Said one LDS student of the scriptures:

Speaking as a 'knowledgeable Mormon who has studied the methods of translating languages,' I respectfully disagree. The Articles of Faith were written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was not interested in the transmission at all, but rather in the translation. He studied Hebrew and Greek in an attempt to come closer to the original language of the Bible. When we do this, we become aware of some startling problems with the translation of the New Testament.

Take for example, a passage from Paul used to support the doctrinal teaching of celibacy in the church (1 Corinthians 7). One of the fundamental problems with interpretations of this chapter revolve around the topic's introduction in the first two verses. The following are two separate translations of the text as found in popular translations of the Bible. The KJV, and those Bibles that follow the more traditional reading, use the first line of text as an introduction, and then have Paul raising the subject of discussion:

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.[22]

In other words, as a response to the things which the Corinthians wrote to Paul, his response is "It is good for a man…" It thus puts the concept of a man not touching a woman into the mouth of Paul. Other translations move the first line of text into the introduction, as the words of the Corinthians to Paul, as in the following text:

Now for the matters you wrote about. You say, "It is a good thing for a man not to have intercourse with a woman." Rather, in the face of so much immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.[23]

In other words, the Corinthians asked Paul if it was good for a man not to touch a woman. And Paul responds negatively. Two completely different interpretations, both being absolutely correct translations syntactically from the exact same passage in Greek. Yet, it has a profound change on the message that Paul is giving in this passage of his epistle. Is this an issue of translation or transmission? McKeever and Johnson earlier stated that "Translation means to take words from one language and put them into the words of another."[24] This is an oversimplification that does not do justice to the subject. At the very least, some concern should have been given to the idea that translation also means to preserve, as closely as possible the intent of the author.

In cases like the example above, where an original text (which might have given more information) is not available, the translation will largely be determined by the predisposition of the theology of the translator. In this case, it is the doctrine that determines the translation. If this were an isolated incident, it would not be such an important factor. But it becomes important when we realize that many of these difficulties are found in core doctrines of the Church. Raymond Brown, a well-known Catholic theologian, only finds three verses in all of the New Testament where Jesus is clearly called God, the rest being questionable on either syntactical grounds or because of manuscript evidence presenting significant challenges to originality.[25]:171–195 He then adds that of these three, none show a predisposition towards a doctrine of the trinity.[25]:195, note 20 This is not to say that I (or Brown) question the divinity of Jesus Christ. Merely that translation and interpretation play a much larger role than the one suggested by McKeever and Johnson. As Brown puts it: "Firm adherence to the later theological and ontological developments that led to the confession of Jesus Christ as 'true God of true God' must not cause believers to overvalue or undervalue the less developed NT confession."[26]

Is translation important? Clearly it is. Latter-day Saints believe that only by the Spirit of God can we make these determinations. Scholarship often cannot help us answer questions concerning the effect of doctrine on translation, particularly in ancient documents where the source is not available.

The challenges of textual criticism—an example

Consider now a published study entitled "Asyndeton in Paul: A Text-critical and Statistical Inquiry into Pauline Style."[27] The authors of the study were working with an ancient rhetorical device called asyndeton, the practice of leaving conjunctions (like the word 'and') out of the text to add impact. It was generally used in oration-an indication that Paul's works were meant to be read aloud. The authors identified more than 600 instances of asyndeton in both epistles to the Corinthians and in the epistle to the Romans. They then tracked these asyndeton through the available manuscript history, and tracked how many were lost when copyists and scribes inadvertently changed the text because they did not recognize the rhetorical device.

The results were fascinating. First, it was clear that the older a manuscript was, the fewer changes could be found. Even more interesting was what they discovered within textual apparatuses available to translators. An apparatus is a combination text with variant readings, used to create the base text from which a translation is made. These include the Nestle-Aland text, the UBS text, and the Textus Receptus prepared by Erasmsus from which the King James Version was translated. What they discovered was that even the earliest manuscripts had been modified in more than thirty percent of the instances, while the latest texts had lost as much as fifty to fifty-five percent. The Textus Receptus, as a majority text, had lost almost seventy percent of the instances of asyndeton. The best of the apparatus texts, that used by the UBS, was still worse than the worst of the earliest manuscripts. The authors of the study left the reader to draw their own conclusions.

What this means is that textual criticism of the Bible is still in its infancy. While it brings us closer to the original texts, there are no guarantees, and no way of telling how far we still have to go. Until then, we are in the same situation with regards to an original text as some critics claim of Mormons:

However, this is an argument from silence, since the same detractors cannot produce any untainted manuscripts from which to measure the "tainted" ones.[28]

If this is true, then it is also an argument from silence to speak as though we have a good replica of the original autographs, which consequently do not exist. If this isn't an argument from silence, then from what source the critcs are speaking, if not pure conjecture?


Response to claim: 102- whatever test for accuracy that could be applied to James 1:5 could also be applied to every other Bible verse as well

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors ask,

How do we know if James 1:5, the verse that Joseph Smith used to draw him to the "Sacred Grove," was indeed correct? For that matter, how can anyone trust other proof texts used to support Mormonism? It would seem reasonable that whatever test for accuracy that could be applied to James 1:5 could also be applied to every other Bible verse as well.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The answer is clear. As Orson Pratt put it, The Bible and Tradition, Without Further Revelation, an Insufficient Guide. Revelation, whether personal revelation from God or through a prophet called by God, is capable of answering that question. Without the Holy Spirit, we are left to rely on the strengths and weaknesses of man, working with textual criticism to produce something as close to the original text as possible.



Response to claim: 102 - Why doesn't the Mormon prophet fix the alleged errors in the Bible?

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors ask,

If the LDS Church has a prophet who has direct communications with God, then it would seem plausible for him to fix these alleged errors. After all, D&C 107:92 states that one of the "gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church" is the role of translator. If the God of Mormonism was able to help Smith translate the Book of Mormon from the golden plates, he could also be able to help the prophet with these alleged errors. Although the LDS Church does not officially publish the Joseph Smith Translation as a bound volume, Smith's corrections are included as footnotes and endnotes in the LDS-published version of the King James Bible. Many Mormons are unaware that Smith failed to "correct" many of the so-called problematic verses.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

There are a number of issues here, and I wish to address them as appropriately as I can. These are not the only answers, but they may be helpful. First, we have the issue of why the LDS Prophet does not provide us with a complete and perfect text for the Bible. The answer to this is simple. If God wanted us to have a perfect text, then He would provide it to us in whatever fashion He deemed appropriate. However, we have to ask-why didn't God manage to keep His word in the Bible perfect for the last 2000 years? And, why would He choose to provide us with a perfect text now, after so many of His children have had to deal with it in an imperfect form? The answer lies within the nature of the text itself. LDS doctrine is that we rely on the Spirit and revelation to confirm truth for us. This means that we do not have to rely on scholars, on textual criticism, or on the fruitless search for the original autographs of the scriptures.



Response to claim: 102 - If Mormons have problems with changes made to the Bible, do they also have a problem with the many changes made to the Book of Mormon over the years?

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors ask,

If Mormons want to make a great deal about the small percentage of questionable material in the Bible-none of which affects essential doctrine-then do they also have a problem with the many changes made to the Book of Mormon over the years?

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

It is ironic that the most significant changes to the Book of Mormon text are attached to the footnotes. It is true that there have been many changes. Anyone who picks up a facsimile copy of the first edition of the Book of Mormon will notice them. However, anyone who actually reads through them will also realize how most of them reflect a hundred and fifty years of changes to the language. And while we could discuss each of the changes, this is neither the time nor the place. The issue here is the Bible, and LDS doctrine regarding the Bible.



Question: Why were textual changes made to the Book of Mormon over the years after it was first published?

The few significant modifications were made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify the meaning of the text, not to change it

The published text of the Book of Mormon has been corrected and edited through its various editions. Many of these changes were made by Joseph Smith himself. Why was this done?

The authenticity of the Book of Mormon is not affected by the modifications that have been made to its text because the vast majority of those modifications are minor corrections in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The few significant modifications were made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify the meaning of the text, not to change it. This was his right as translator of the book.

These changes have not been kept secret. A discussion of them can be found in the individual articles linked below, and in the references listed below, including papers in BYU Studies and the Ensign.

Joseph Smith taught "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."[29] As the end of the preceding quote clarifies, by "most correct" this he meant in principle and teaching. The authors of the Book of Mormon themselves explained several times that their writing was imperfect, but that the teachings in the book were from God (1 Nephi 19:6; 2 Nephi 33:4; Mormon 8:17; Mormon 9:31-33; Ether 12:23-26).

There are over 100,000 insignificant changes that have been made to the Book of Mormon

If one counts every difference in every punctuation mark in every edition of the Book of Mormon, the result is well over 100,000 changes.[30] The critical issue is not the number of changes that have been made to the text, but the nature of the changes.

Most changes are insignificant modifications to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and are mainly due to the human failings of editors and publishers. For example, the word meet — meaning "appropriate" — as it appears in 1 Nephi 7:1, was spelled "mete" in the first edition of the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. (This is a common error made by scribes of dictated texts.) "Mete" means to distribute, but the context here is obvious, and so the spelling was corrected in later editions.

Some of these typographical errors do affect the meaning of a passage or present a new understanding of it, but not in a way that presents a challenge to the divinity of the Book of Mormon. One example is 1 Nephi 12:18, which in all printed editions reads "a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God," while the manuscript reads "the sword of the justice of the Eternal God." In this instance, the typesetter accidentally dropped the s at the beginning of sword.

The current (1981) edition of the Book of Mormon has this notice printed at the bottom of the page opposite 1 Nephi, chapter 1:

Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Some Book of Mormon changes were corrections of transcription or printing errors.

There are a few significant changes that have been made to the Book of Mormon

Changes that would affect the authenticity of the Book of Mormon are limited to:

  • those that are substantive AND
    • could possibly change the doctrine of the book OR
    • could be used as evidence that the book was written by Joseph Smith.

There are surprisingly few meaningful changes to the Book of Mormon text, and all of them were made by Joseph Smith himself in editions published during his lifetime. These changes include:

The historical record shows that these changes were made to clarify the meaning of the text, not to alter it.

Many people in the church experience revelation that is to be dictated (such as a patriarch blessing). They will go back and alter their original dictation. This is done to clarify the initial premonitions received through the Spirit. The translation process for the Prophet Joseph may have occurred in a similar manner.


Notes

  1. Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945), 195-196.
  2. Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945), 195-196.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945).
  4. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Section III, Paragraph e. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was produced at an international summit conference of evangelical leaders sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in the fall of 1978. It is nearly universally accepted by Evangelicals and holds wide support among other groups of Protestants.
  5. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Section I, paragraph 3.
  6. Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, paragraphs 16-17. (emphasis added)
  7. Brigham Young, "Effects and Privileges of the Gospel, Etc.," Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 24 July 1853, Vol. 1 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1854), 238-239.
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 327. off-site
  9. The full survey, entitled "Protestants, Catholics and Mormons Reflect Diverse Levels of Religious Activity," can be found at the Barna Web site at www.barna.org.
  10. Perhaps as many as 120 members of the LDS Church studied under Seixas while he was in Kirtland.
  11. See, for example, Emmanuel Tov, "The Composition of 1 Samuel 16-18 in the Light of the Septuagint Version," in Jeffrey H. Tigay, Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985), 97-130.
  12. Benjamin McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi" (text), or video.
  13. A. Gary Anderson, "Scripture: Words of Living Prophets," Encyclopedia of Mormonism, edited by Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992), 3:1281.
  14. Ensign (January 1995), 7, quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 100.
  15. "Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible," LDS Church News (20 June, 1992), 3, quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 100.
  16. The LXX, or the Septuagint is a very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, translated into the Greek around the third century BC. Besides the traditional books of the Old Testament, it also contained the pseudo-canonical books of the Apocrypha. The Roman Orthodox Church adopted the Greek text, and from it was translated the Latin Vulgate. The LXX provides a great deal of information to biblical scholars not only because of its age and available early manuscripts, but also because it is a translation and thus provides assistance from time to time in understanding the original Hebrew. It is also worth noting that the New Testament, when it quotes the Old Testament, frequently quotes the LXX and not the traditional text.
  17. There are several publications that contain a discussion on this topic. For example, see Eugene Ulrich, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible," Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999), xviii, 309.
  18. See for example John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1811), 662-664.
  19. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 7, p. 101. ( Index of claims )
  20. 20.0 20.1 Holy Bible New Living Translation (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1996)
  21. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 101.
  22. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 (both the KJV and NIV).
  23. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, REB and NRSV.
  24. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 101.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1994).
  26. Benjamin McGuire, responding to chapter 7 of McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101 (See "A FairMormon Analysis of Mormonism 101: Response to Chapter 7: The Bible)
  27. Eberhard W. Güting and David L. Mealand, "Asyndeton in Paul: A Text-critical and Statistical Inquiry into Pauline Style," Studies in the Bible and Early Christianity, No. 39 (Mellen, 1998), xiv, 203.
  28. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 101.
  29. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 2:139. ISBN 0941214133. Quoted in Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461. Volume 4 link See also Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 194. off-site
  30. Royal Skousen, "Changes In the Book of Mormon," 2002 FAIR Conference proceedings.
  31. Daniel K. Judd and Allen W. Stoddard, "Adding and Taking Away 'Without a Cause' in Matthew 5:22," in How the New Testament Came to Be, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2006),159-160.