Mormonism and the Bible/Biblical accuracy

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Biblical accuracy

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Gospel Topics: "As the Bible was compiled, organized, translated, and transcribed, many errors entered the text"

"Bible, Inerrancy of," Gospel Topics on LDS.org,

The Latter-day Saints have a great reverence and love for the Bible. They study it and try to live its teachings. They treasure its witness of the life and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith studied the Bible all his life, and he taught its precepts. He testified that a person who 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, 56).
As the Bible was compiled, organized, translated, and transcribed, many errors entered the text. The existence of such errors becomes apparent when one considers the numerous and often conflicting translations of the Bible in existence today. Careful students of the Bible are often puzzled by apparent contradictions and omissions. Many people have also been curious about references by biblical prophets to books or scriptural passages that are not currently in the Bible.[1]


Question: Is the Bible without error?

The textual evidence before us makes an inerrant Bible text untenable

Some Christians claim the Bible texts, at least in their pristine form, were inerrant. Therefore, it is incorrect for Joseph Smith to teach that the Bible contains errors, mistakes, or omissions.

The textual evidence before us makes an inerrant Bible text untenable. Furthermore, the doctrine of inerrancy is not a Biblical doctrine, and so can only be imposed upon the text from outside, not drawn out of the teachings of the purportedly "inerrant Bible."

The Latter-day Saint stance of honoring the Bible and seeking to understand it, while appreciating that it is the Word of God only insofar as fallible humans have faithfully transmitted that Word to us, is consistent with both Biblical teaching and the evidence available to us.

Insisting on Biblical infallibility is a theological and ideological presupposition, not a natural consequence of Bible teachings.


Question: Does the Bible itself claim to be inerrant?

The Bible nowhere makes the claim that it is inerrant

As Blake Ostler observed of the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy":[2]

The doctrine of inerrancy is internally incoherent. In my opinion, numerous insuperable problems dictate the rejection of inerrancy in general and inerrancy as promulgated in the Chicago Statement in particular. First, the Chicago Statement is self-referentially incoherent. One cannot consistently assert that the Bible is the basis of his or her beliefs and then assert that one must nevertheless accept biblical inerrancy as asserted in the Chicago Statement...This statement contains a number of assertions, propositions if you will, that are not biblical. Inerrancy, at least as recently asserted by evangelicals, is not spelled out in the Bible. Nowhere do the words inerrant or infallible appear in the Bible. Such theoretical views are quite alien to the biblical writers. Further, inerrancy is not included in any of the major creeds. Such a notion is of rather recent vintage and rather peculiar to American evangelicalism. Throughout the history of Christian thought, the Bible has been a source rather than an object of beliefs. The assertion that the Bible is inerrant goes well beyond the scriptural statements that all scripture is inspired or "God-breathed." Thus inerrancy, as a faith commitment, is inconsistent with the assertion that one's beliefs are based on what the Bible says. The doctrine of inerrancy is an extrabiblical doctrine about the Bible based on nonscriptural considerations. It should be accepted only if it is reasonable and if it squares with what we know from scripture itself, and not as an article of faith... However, it is not and it does not.

The Chicago Statement can function only as a statement of belief and not as a reasonable observation of what we find in the Bible. The Chicago Statement itself acknowledges that we do not find inerrant statements in the Bible, for it is only "when all facts are known" that we will see that inerrancy is true. It is very convenient to propose a theory that cannot be assessed unless and until we are in fact omniscient. That is why the Chicago Statement is a useless proposition. It cannot be a statement of faith derived from the Bible because it is not in the Bible. It cannot be a statement about what the evidence shows because the evidence cannot be assessed until we are omniscient.[3]


Question: What evidence demonstrates that the Bible has been altered?

The current evidence of Biblical manuscripts demonstrates unequivocally that corruption and tampering with Biblical texts is the rule, not the exception

Old Testament

Emmanuel Tov[4], J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, and editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls publication project wrote:

  • "All of [the] textual witnesses [of the OT] differ from each other to a greater or lesser extent."
  • "There does not exist any one edition [of the OT] which agrees in all of its details with another."
  • "Most of the texts—ancient and modern—which have been transmitted from one generation to the next have been corrupted in one way or another." (emphasis in original)
  • "A second phenomenon pertains to corrections and changes inserted in the biblical text. . . . Such tampering with the text is evidenced in all textual witnesses."
  • "Therefore, paradoxically, the soferim [scribes] and Masoretes carefully preserved a text that was already corrupted."
  • "One of the postulates of biblical research is that the text preserved in the various representatives (manuscripts, editions) of what is commonly called the Masoretic Text, does not reflect the 'original text' of the biblical books in many details."
  • "These parallel sources [from Kings, Isaiah, Psalms, Samuel, etc.] are based on ancient texts which already differed from each other before they were incorporated into the biblical books, and which underwent changes after they were transmitted from one generation to the next as part of the biblical books."
  • "S[eptuagint] is a Jewish translation which was made mainly in Alexandria. Its Hebrew source differed greatly from the other textual witnesses (M[asoretic], T[argums], S[amaritan], V[ulgate, and many of the Qumran texts]). . . . Moreover, S[eptuagint] is important as a source for early exegesis, and this translation also forms the basis for many elements in the NT."
  • "The importance of S[eptuagint] is based on the fact that it reflects a greater variety of important variants than all the other translations put together."
  • "Textual recensions bear recognizable textual characteristics, such as an expansionistic, abbreviating, harmonizing, Judaizing, or Christianizing tendency."
  • "The theory of the division of the biblical witnesses into three recensions [Masoretic, Septuagint, and Samaritan] cannot be maintained . . . to such an extent that one can almost speak in terms of an unlimited number of texts."
  • "The question of the original text of the biblical books cannot be resolved unequivocally, since there is no solid evidence to help us to decide in either direction."
  • "We still have no knowledge of copies of biblical books that were written in the first stage of their textual transmission, nor even of texts which are close to that time. . . . Since the centuries preceding the extant evidence presumably were marked by great textual fluidity, everything that is said about the pristine state of the biblical text must necessarily remain hypothetical."
  • "M[asoretic] is but one witness of the biblical text, and its original form was far from identical with the original text of the Bible as a whole."
  • "As a rule they [concepts of the nature of the original biblical text] are formulated as 'beliefs,' that is, a scholar, as it were, believes, or does not believe, in a single original text, and such views are almost always dogmatic."
  • "During the textual transmission many complicated changes occurred, making it now almost impossible for us to reconstruct the original form of the text."
  • "many of the pervasive changes in the biblical text, pertaining to whole sentences, sections and books, should not . . . be ascribed to copyists, but to earlier generations of editors who allowed themselves such massive changes in the formative stage of the biblical literature."
  • "It is not that M[asoretic text] triumphed over the other texts, but rather, that those who fostered it probably constituted the only organized group which survived the destruction of the Second Temple [i.e., the rabbinic schools derived from the Pharisees]."

The Dead Sea Scrolls also indicate that the text differed, and this was not unique to Qumran, where they were discovered:

There is nothing in the biblical texts [found at Qumran] to suggest that they are specific to Qumran or to any particular group within Judaism. In fact, everything we know about the biblical text prior to the end of the first century C.E--for example, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, Rabbinic quotations--indicates that the text was pluriform. The Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and Josephus demonstrate bountifully that there were variant literary editions of the books of Scripture in the late Second Temple period (emphasis added).[5]

New Testament

A similar situations confronts us with the New Testament. Leon Vaganay and Christian-Bernard Amphoux[6] wrote in An Introduction to New Testament Criticism:

  • "They [ancient methods of rhetorical interpretation] are used to reveal a secret code, only accessible to the learned or initiated. If the 'Western' text is seen from this perspective, it becomes less of a product of a certain theology than of a certain system of meaning. . . . But this sophisticated kind of coded writing is not suitable for general circulation. For wider distribution, the text had to be adapted to the mentality of the people who were going to receive it, it had to be revised and changed so as to make it acceptable to an audience who were not expecting to have to look for hidden meaning."
  • "The wide stylistic gap between the two main New Testament text types, the 'Western' on the one hand and all the other types on the other hand, cannot have arisen by chance."
  • "In AD 178 the secular writer Celsus stated in polemic against the Christians: some of the believers . . . have changed the original text of the Gospels three or four times or even more, with the intention of thus being able to destroy the arguments of their critics.' (quoted in Origen, Contra Celsum, SC 132, 2, 27). Origen does not deny the existence of such changes." Indeed, Origen wrote, "It is an obvious fact today [third century A.D.] that there is much diversity among the manuscripts, due either to the carelessness of the scribes, or to the perverse audacity of some people in correcting the text, or again to the fact that there are those who add or delete as they please, setting themselves up as correctors."
  • "It is therefore not possible to reconstitute with certainty the earliest text, even though there is no doubt about its having existed in written form from a very early date, without a preparatory oral stage."
  • "In the period following AD 135, the recensions proliferated with a resultant textual diversity which reached a peak before the year 200."
  • "Thus between the years 150 and 250, the text of the first recensions acquired a host of new readings. They were a mixture of accidental carelessness, deliberate scribal corrections, involuntary mistakes, a translator's conscious departure from literalness, a reviser's more systematic alterations, and, not least, contamination caused by harmonizing to an extent which varied in strength from place to place. All these things contributed to diversification of the text, to giving it, if one may so put it, a little of the local colour of each country."

Who made the changes?

Christian writers often accused heretics (such as Marcion of the second century AD) of altering the Bible text. However, there is another more disturbing finding for those who insist on an inerrant Bible text:

...recent studies have shown that the evidence of our surviving manuscripts points the finger in the opposite direction. Scribes who were associated with the orthodox tradition not infrequently changed their texts, sometimes in order to eliminate the possibility of their "misuse" by Christians affirming heretical beliefs and sometimes to make them more amenable to the doctrines being espoused by Christians of their own persuasion.[7]

Thus, the "orthodox" Christian tradition required the original texts to be reworked to support their views or oppose the views of those with whom they disagreed. It seems strange, then, to now accuse those who do not wholly accept the "orthodox" view of "violating scripture," since that very scripture was originally tampered with by those we now label 'orthodox,' which is merely another way of saying that they won the battle to define their view as the 'proper' one.

As Bruce Metzger observed:

Odd though it may seem, scribes who thought [for themselves] were more dangerous than those who wished merely to be faithful in copying what lay before them. Many of the alterations which may be classified as intentional were no doubt introduced in good faith by copyists who believed that they were correcting an error or infelicity of language which had previously crept into the sacred text and needed to be rectified. A later scribe might even reintroduce an erroneous reading that had been previously corrected. …The manuscripts of the New Testament preserve traces of two kinds of dogmatic alterations: those which involve the elimination or alteration of what was regarded as doctrinally unacceptable or inconvenient; and those which introduce into the Scriptures ‘proof’ for a favorite theological tenet or practice....[8]


Question: Are the Biblical textual variants theologically significant?

Non-LDS scholar Kenneth Clark addressed this notion

Non-LDS scholar Kenneth Clark addressed this notion.[9] Each citation has the specific page number in brackets following it.

  • “It is important to know what the original text and the original meaning were, but it is also important to recognize the subsequent revision of text and thought in the course of the church’s history. In the current edition of the Nestle NT, for example, we have more than a single text, for in the apparatus criticus we are confronted with thousands of textual variants that involve a difference of form and interpretation” (2).
  • “Although a variant which is a departure from the original text may be described as spurious, yet every intentional and sensible variant has a claim to authenticity in the history of Christian thought. It will be valuable to form a judgment, in the light of all modern textual discoveries and researches, of the extent to which the Greek text of our NT has been subject to revision and made to carry differences of thought” (2).
  • “About 250 years ago, John Mill of Oxford… [in which it was] reported that his manuscript sources revealed 30,000 variants” (2, citing Mill, Novum Testamentum… (Oxford 1707). “A hundred years ago F. H. A. Scrivener [A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, I.3] estimated that the text of the Greek NT showed variance ‘at least fourfold that quantity,’ i.e., 120,000” (2).
  • “In 1886 Benjamin Warfield estimated between 180,000 and 200,000 ‘variant readings’ [Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, 13]” (2-3).
  • “And in 1937 Vaganay acknowledged a range of 150,000 to 250,000” (3).
  • “Now in our time, the International Greek New Testament Project can report on 300 manuscript collations of Luke, and the estimate for the entire NT perhaps 300,000 variants” (3). He quotes several scholars from 1700 to his own day, that not one variant affected the fundamentals of Christian faith: Richard Bentley, Daniel Whitby, Benjamin Warfield, FHA Scrivener, Vaganay, Frederic Kenyon, FC Grant, Harold Greenlee, Kee-Young-Froelich NT introduction (3-4).
  • “There has been, of course, a contrary opinion. Hort himself admitted that ‘it is true that dogmatic preferences to a great extent determined theologians, and probably scribes, in their choice between rival readings….’ [Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek., 2.283]” (4).
  • “Recently CSC Williams has expressed the judgment that textual alteration derives ‘no less frequently from dogmatic than from other motivation’ [Williams, Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (1951): 7]” (4).
  • “In reality, the amount of textual variation is a considerable portion. Of course it is true that the great bulk of text shows little or no record of variation…. So in the NT text it is the doubtful portion that stands in need of refinement. Its importance far exceeds its fractional size” (4).
  • “How shall we measure the theological clarification derived from textual emendation where a single word altered affects the major concept in a passage? …. By calculating words it is impossible to appreciate the spiritual insights that depend upon the words. We would not contend that even the most theological of variants create a doctrine or cancel out a doctrine, but it is defensible to maintain that variants do ‘affect’ or ‘alter’ or ‘modify’ doctrine” (4-5).
  • “The only objective and justification of textual criticism is that its emended text should give access to a clearer insight and a deeper faith. Textual variation does not imperil belief in God but it can and does contribute to elucidation of the character of God and of his relation to man…. There is far more in Christian doctrine than a brief creedal summation, and the exegesis of variant texts contributes to the enrichment of doctrine” (5).
  • “We can agree with Hort that ‘perceptible fraud’ is not evident in textual alteration, that ‘accusations of willful tampering…prove to be groundless,’ and that dogma has not motivated ‘deliberate falsification’ [Hort, 282f]…. Willful and deliberate, yes. But not tampering, falsification, and fraud. Alteration, yes; but not corruption. Emendation, yes; but not in bad faith. These denials of evil or unethical intention can well be sustained, but such intention is not a proper allegation by the textual critic. He must analyze the text constructively to understand the theological value of any variation, and its place in historical theology” (5).
  • “It is also a false assurance, offered by many, that textual criticism can have no effect upon Christian doctrine” (5). “Let us no longer implant the belief that Christian doctrine is unaffected by textual emendation, whether for better or worse. The earliest intentional changes in the text of the Gospel of Mark are still to be seen recorded in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke, revising the sense” (6).
  • Marcion made revision of the text of Luke at many points, for the sake of reinterpretation…. At Luke 18.19 he adds pater…. Although Origen also adds this word, Epiphanius makes clear the deliberate motivation on the part of Marcion. It is Jerome who explains Marcion’s omission in Gal 1.1 of the phrase ‘and God the Father,’ so as to read: ‘…through Jesus Christ who raised himself from the dead.’ In Rom 1.16 Marcion excinded proton, thus repealing the priority of the Jews: ‘the gospel is the power of God for salvation…to Jew and Greek’—a reading followed even by Tertullian and later preserved in Vaticanus and in the Sahidic version” (6).
  • “So also Origen revised the primitive text at points, although with greater caution and restraint…. In John 11.25 Jesus speaks: ‘I am the resurrection and the life;’ but Origen dropped the latter term, recording rather: ‘I am the resurrection,’ and his revision is retained by Cyprian and in P45 and also in the Sinaitic Syriac codex” (6). “Tatian also made revision in the NT text…. Mark 1.41…. ‘Jesus was moved with pity [splagchnistheis]’ Tatian reports however that ‘Jesus was moved with anger [orgistheis],’…. Tatian introduced a different interpretation at Matt 17.26” (6-7).
  • “In the recently acquired gnostic Christian documents of the second century there are instances of textual alteration which revises the meaning in highly important aspects” [Gospel of Thomas 55 & Luke 14.26; GosTho 109 & Matt 13.44]…. It does illustrate the freedom with which the account in Matthew was treated from the beginning” (7).
  • “Thus far we have recalled only a few of the many examples of textual revision within a century after the recording of the gospel—revision made by fellow evangelists, in patristic interpretations of second-century fathers, and in a pseudonymous gospel of gnostic color. These revisions clearly were made with deliberate intent and, furthermore, they do alter the sense of the text and affect the interpretation” (7).

The paper then discusses the differences between the RSV and the comparable Catholic edition, both agreed upon by the Catholic Church and the National Council of Churches:

  • “This English translation as originally produced by Protestant American scholarship is basically acceptable to Catholic scholarship as well. The extent of revision in the CE is minimal, amounting to only forty-five changes in the entire NT: thirty-three occurring in the gospels and twelve in the Pauline epistles. Eighteen instances are accounted for by the single change to ‘brethren’ instead of ‘brothers,’ all instances intended in the original RSV to refer to blood brothers of Jesus [CE changes occur in Matt 13.55; Mark 12.31 ff., par; J 2.12; 7.3f; Acts 1.14; I Cor 9.5]” (8).
  • “Besides the alterations in the English text, the CE introduces nineteen new footnotes. Eleven of these refer to the value of money…. Another footnote is found six times in I Corinthians, to the effect that parthenos means ‘virgin.’” (9).
  • “It is of greater importance, however, to comment on those alterations in the CE which involve change in the critical Greek text itself. There are only sixteen such places, all of them in the gospels. Eight of these readings are in Luke, of which six are found in the account of the resurrection. All sixteen variants represent the same textual attitude; that is, they are restorations of passages which were present in the King James and Rheims-Douai versions but have been omitted from the RSV. They are all present in the Textus Receptus but rejected by Westcott-Hort and Nestle…. The formula used in both the RSV and the CE is similar, but the textual judgment is reversed. The RSV omits the passage from the text and in the footnote reports its presence in ‘some ancient authorities;’ whereas the CE returns each passage to the text (as does Knox), and a footnote reports that ‘other ancient authorities omit. Notably these sixteen restorations include the traditional ending of Mark and the Johannine pericope adulterae; and both these textual phenomena are fully and accurately explained in footnotes. To restore the pericope adulterae to its traditional position within the Gospel of John would appear to be erroneous, especially against the fresh testimony for omission by both P66 and P75. The CE note on p. 239 acknowledges that the passage ‘is not by St. John’ but is held to be inspired and canonical” (9).

Regarding the Long ending to Mark:

  • “Before the middle of the second century, Justin in his ‘first’ Apology [1.45] writes a short passage notably verbatim with Mark 16.20 which looks like a direct quotation. Similarly, Irenaeus quotes from Mark 16.19 [AH 3.10.6]. Tatian’s text had the long ending. The earliest translations—Latin, Syriac, and Coptic—all possess it” (9-10).
  • “What theological relevance is to be recognized in the textual alteration of the CE? First, it may be said that few Catholic-vs.-Protestant issues are apparent. Rather, the difference is one of scholarly judgment. Further, there is no consistent theological tendency in the textual revision” (10-11).
  • “There are two other restorations in the CE which, on the other hand, probably were interpolations into the original text [Mark 10.24: ‘for those who trust in riches.’ And Luke 8.43: woman who spent her money on physicians]” (10-11).
  • “The most impressive alteration in the CE which involves the Greek critical text is the series of six readings in the account of the resurrection in Luke 24.6, 12, 36, 40, 51, 52. These are all valid scholarly alterations, in which no theological tendency is to be found” (11). Another major undertaking currently in progress is the International Greek New Testament Project, whose objective is the publication of a new apparatus criticus…. In the preparation of the initial volume, on the Gospel of Luke, the texts of approximately 300 MSS have been collated completely, and this is the most massive attack ever made upon the problem of textual variation…. The master file for the Gospel of Luke contains, it is estimated, about 25,000 variants of all sorts…. Variants of substantial alteration [yields] about 2 per cent, much higher than the earlier estimates of Hort, Ezra Abbot, and others” (11-12). “But the effect upon exegesis is hardly to be measured by such statistics, when we consider the theological implication of a single letter as in eudokias of Luke 2.14; or the addition of theon in 2.12, where Gregory Thaumaturgus speaks of the ‘swaddled God;’ or the omission of a full verse at Luke 23.34, thus losing the prayer of Jesus: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (12).
  • “…about 500 variants of more substantial character…. It would seem to be more meaningful to consider longer passages which contain clusters of textual alterations” (12).
  • Luke 1.26-35. “…city of Galilee” although Sinaiticus et al state that this city was in Judea, and Bezae e al omit to name Nazareth in particular” (12) others mentioned.
  • “Such freedom of treatment is quite incongruous with a traditional conception of Scripture. With many of the variant forms, it is easy to recognize primary and secondary text, and yet all the variant forms become part of the narrative in the history of the church” (12). Luke 2.1-7: ‘in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus. “An Old Latin MS of the fifth century omits the explanation ‘that all the world should be enrolled.’ The Protevangelion reports instead that the residents of Bethlehem must register, whereas Bezae reports the residents of Jerusalem, and Codex Boreel the residents of Judea” some mss say they went to enroll, each to his own polis; some to a man’s patris; others to his chora; an Old Latin ms of his regionem. The manger becomes a cave (13).
  • Luke 2.16-22: the shepherds ‘went hurrying,’ becomes in one ‘went believing.’ (13).
  • Luke 2.33-35: his father and his mother marveled at what was said.’ ”Origen protests that Joseph is not properly called father, and accordingly a second-century variant would remove the earthly father and refers instead to ‘Joseph and his mother.’ On the other hand, some Byzantine scribes simply wrote ‘his parents.’…. Some manuscripts omit the prediction: ‘this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel” (13).
  • Luke 9.18-23: ‘it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him.’ Bezae says nothing of praying, Vaticanus reports that the disciples rather came up to join him. ‘Who do the people identify as the Son of man?’, at least, that is the record in Justin’s Dialogue. …Peter’s response is variously reported: ‘the messiah’; ‘God’s Messiah;’ ‘Messiah God;’ ‘Messiah, Son of God’; ‘Messiah, Son of man;’ ‘Son of the living God; or simply ‘Son of God’. A patristic omission is the clause’ ‘rejected by elders, chief priests, and scribes.”” (133-4).
  • “So our inquiry could be greatly extended, passage by passage, to demonstrate the freedom of alteration and interpretation, the substantial portion of the text involved in variation, and the theological quality of many textual alterations…. Extended analysis could demonstrate the theological quality of each individual witness and distinguish the threads woven into the larger pattern” (14).
  • “If we should now concentrate upon one Ms, Papyrus 75, we find further evidence that variation in the text and alteration in the sense appeared early…More than a thousand differences between the two manuscript copies [P75 and P66], and about a hundred of these are of greater importance” (14). John 4.14; 6.5; 6.69; 8.57 “the Jews do not query, ‘Have you seen Abraham?’ but rather, ‘Has Abraham seen you?’; 9.17; 12.8;. Such alterations are early, and many, and are neither errors nor heresy. Many of them are mild changes, but they all form a cumulative exegetical mood” (14-5).
  • “The Gospel of Luke in P75 we have selected about 125 substantial variants out of about 1500 differences from the TR” (15). “In Luke 11.11 there appears a unique reading heretofore unreported: ‘if a son should ask his father for bodily strength, the father will not give him a serpent in place of a fish.’ 15.24: “’my son was dead and has come alive, he was lost and then was found; and the father became joyous’” (15).
  • 17.14; 22.62-23.23: ‘Judas went out and wept bitterly,’ and also that his captors ‘beat Jesus.’” (15). 24.26: ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his kingdom?’ The last word is the unique term, and it was later altered by a corrector to the term now usual to us: his ‘glory.’” (15). “The papyrus vividly portrays a fluid state of the text at about AD 200. Such scribal freedom suggests that the gospel text was little more stable than an oral tradition, and that we may be pursuing the retreating mirage of the ‘original text.’” (15).
  • “The amount of textual change that involves theological alteration is a small proportion but it is a nugget of essential importance for interpretation…. In the course of transmission thousands of textual alterations have appeared in the legitimate lineage of theological interpretation, and all of these must be taken into account in exegesis and doctrinal exposition” (15).
  • We may well begin to ask if there really was a stable text at the beginning. We talk of recovering the original text, and of course every document had such a text. But the earliest witnesses to NT text even from the first century already show such variety and freedom that we may well wonder if the text remained stable long enough to hold a priority.” (16, (emphasis added)).
  • “The NT text and the theology of each church father, of each regional text such as fam. 13, or of each major recension such as the Caesarean text—especially where departures from the common text are notable” (16).


Question: What did early Christians think about alterations to the scriptures?

Early Christians complained that the scriptures had been altered

Justin Martyr, a second-century Christian author, complained that the Jews had altered scripture:

And I wish you to observe, that they [the Jews] have altogether taken away many Scriptures from the translations....[10]

Origen, a third-century Christian author, bemoaned the problem of poor textual transmission even in his era:

The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.[11]

Textual scholar Bruce Metzger quoted this passage, and then observed:

Origen suggests that perhaps all of the manuscripts existing in his day may have become corrupt....[12]

The Book of Mormon describes how "plain and precious things" (1 Nephi 13:28) were removed from the Bible—Origen here complains of "deletions," from the scriptures, which would be the hardest changes to detect. An alteration may be detectable, but a deletion is simply gone forever.

Corinthian bishop Dionysius complained in the second century:

When my fellow-Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so. These the devil's apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others. For them the woe is reserved. Small wonder then if some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts.[13]


Question: Do Mormons believe that the Bible has less value because it contains errors?

Latter-day Saints revere the Bible as Holy scripture

The 8th Article of Faith states:

We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

The proviso that the LDS believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly seems to shake some persons' confidence in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a Bible-believing church. There is no reason that this should be, for it is hardly a matter of dispute that when men translate words from one language to another they can easily err, and have often done so. Simply comparing different English-language versions of the Bible should demonstrate conclusively that some people understand ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (the source languages of the Old and New Testaments) quite differently in some cases.

Latter-day Saints spend 50% of their Sunday School curriculum studying the Old and New Testaments, and the other 50% studying the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. The Bible clearly receives the majority of attention.

Latter-day Saints wish to defend the Bible

While not believing that the Bible—or any book—is inerrant, the Latter-day Saints are far more concerned with defending the Bible's value than in denigrating it. Harold B. Lee observed, in 1972:

I believe that the problem of our missionaries in our day too might be not so much to prove that the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are indeed the word of the Lord, but that the Bible, which is generally accepted as the word of God, is being doubted as having been derived from the words of inspired prophets of past generations.

In this day when the Bible is being downgraded by many who have mingled philosophies of the world with Bible scriptures to nullify their true meaning, how fortunate that our Eternal Heavenly Father, who is always concerned about the spiritual well-being of His children, has given to us a companion book of scriptures, known as the Book of Mormon, as a defense for the truths of the Bible that were written and spoken by the prophets as the Lord directed....

It is only as we forsake the traditions of men and recover faith in the Bible, the truth of which has been fully established by recent discovery and fulfillment of prophecy, that we shall once again receive that inspiration which is needed by rulers and people alike.[14]


Question: Is any book of scripture perfect?

No book of scripture is "perfect"

Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to the conservative Protestant belief in scriptural inerrancy. We do not believe that any book of scripture is perfect or infallible. Brigham Young explained:

When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities.... Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings.[15]

So while the Book of Mormon has come down to us with fewer doctrinal errors and corruptions than the Bible, even it could be improved if we were ready to receive further light and knowledge.

Infelicities of language are also to be expected when produced by revelators with little education, said George A. Smith:

The Book of Mormon was denounced as ungrammatical. An argument was raised that if it had been translated by the gift and power of God it would have been strictly grammatical.... When the Lord reveals anything to men, he reveals it in a language that corresponds with their own. If you were to converse with an angel, and you used strictly grammatical language he would do the same. But if you used two negatives in a sentence the heavenly messenger would use language to correspond with your understanding.[16]


Question: What can textual criticism tell us about the Bible?

The flaws in the Biblical text present a problem to those who believe the Bible is without error, but not to Latter-day Saints

What can textual criticism tell us about the Bible? Does it have anything to say about the Bible being without error, as some Christians claim?

Most Latter-day Saints are not interested in searching the Bible for errors, or highlighting its flaws, though they readily admit that no text can be perfect or without error when mortals are involved in writing, transcribing, transmitting, or translating it. (See Book of Mormon—Introduction.)

The flaws in the Biblical text present a problem to those who believe the Bible is without error, but not to Latter-day Saints. Some additions or removals might have been corrections that came from earlier unknown sources (see the example for Hebrews 1:3 above in this page, and "Words missing in Alma 32:30" as an illustration), but still in a scholarly point of view, it is evident that the Bible has been changed many times and contains errors.

Bart Ehrman was a Biblical inerrantist when he entered the study of the New Testament (he started off at the very conservative Moody Bible Institute), but ultimately lost his faith over the 200,000 to 400,000 variant New Testament readings.[17] As he wrote, "There are more variations among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament."[18]

Ehrman's slide into agnosticism illustrates the dangers of inerrantism. His inability to have complete confidence that every word of the Bible was correct led to an inability to trust any of the Bible's witness about Jesus as Lord, Son of God, and Savior.

Latter-day Saints do not rely on scripture—biblical or otherwise—for their knowledge of Christ. They rely instead upon that which provided the scripture in the first place: revelation by the Holy Ghost. They treasure the scriptural witnesses, but do not require perfection from any mortal or mortal work to have faith in the revelations of God.

Textual criticism is a branch of philology or bibliography that is concerned with the identification and removal of errors from texts and manuscripts

Let's begin by defining "textual criticism":

Textual criticism or lower criticism is a branch of philology or bibliography that is concerned with the identification and removal of errors from texts and manuscripts. Ancient manuscripts often have errors or alterations made by scribes, who copied the manuscripts by hand. The textual critic seeks to determine the original text of a document or a collection of documents, which the critic believes to come as close as possible to a lost original....[19]

"Criticism" in this case does not mean "faultfinding." It's a technical term referring to the methods of studying texts or documents for the purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, and analyzing their content or style.[20]

Latter-day Saints reject both Biblical inerrancy and Biblical infallibility

Many fundamentalist Christians believe the Bible is inerrant or infallible. They reject the possibility that the Bible could have errors. For many inerrantists this belief only applies to the original manuscripts of the Bible as written by their authors; some, however, believe that infallibility extends to modern printed Bibles or to a specific translation of the Bible.[21]

Latter-day Saints reject both Biblical inerrancy and Biblical infallibility. They believe that no book of scripture is "perfect" (in any definition of the word) because, although it contains the will of God, it is communicated through the writings of fallible human beings. This includes not only the Bible, but also the Book of Mormon and other modern scriptures.[22]

Latter-day Saints also claim that the Bible has undergone many changes since it was written. Joseph Smith taught:

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.[23]

The LDS Church does not take any position on which verses in the Bible are accurate and which are not. From a point of faith we use the Bible as a spiritual guide and don't try to pick it apart. Textual criticism is the realm of the scholar. The Church is an institute of faith and revelation, not scholarship.

From the scholarly point of view, the differences in various Biblical manuscripts are well-documented

A few well-known variants include:

  • John 7:53-John 8:1-11, traditionally known as the pericope adulterae, is not contained in the earliest and best manuscripts and was almost certainly not an original part of the Gospel of John. Among modern commentators and textual critics, it is a foregone conclusion that the section is not original but represents a later addition to the text of the Gospel. Critical text scholar Bruce Metzger summarizes: "The evidence for the non-Johannine origin of the pericope of the adulteress is overwhelming."[24]
  • Mark 16:9-20 does not exist in the earliest and best manuscripts. Virtually all scholars believe it was a later addition, added by scribes who felt the original ending was unsatisfactory.
  • 1 Jn 5:7-8 — "in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth" — the infamous Comma Johanneum, is accepted as a later insertion by virtually every scholar. It is most interesting that it is the only explicit reference to the Trinity in the New Testament, yet it is not part of the original epistle, but dates from probably the fourth century.
  • Matthew 5:22 The phrase "without a cause" appears in some early manuscripts and some writings of early church fathers, but this phrase does not appear in the earliest manuscript (Papyrus 67 dated AD 125-150) nor in the earliest church father writing (Justin dated about 165 AD) of Matthew 5:22. Virtually all scholars believe that this phrase was added by the third century. (It is notable that this phrase is in the King James Bible but it is not in the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 5:22.)[25]
  • John 1:18 is notoriously difficult because various manuscripts read either monogenes theos ("the only God") or ho monogenes huios ("the only son").
  • Hebrews 1:3 reads "reveals (phaneron) all things" in the Codex Vaticanus, while most manuscripts read "sustains (pheron) all things". This is particularly interesting because there's a scribe's marginal note in the CV that reads "Fool and knave, leave the old reading, don't change it!", indicating contention over an intentional change in the passage.

(Additional variant readings can be found on Wikipedia's article on textual criticism.)


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). [26] 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. [27] 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. [28] 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.


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.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.

Notes

  1. "Bible, Inerrancy of," Gospel Topics on LDS.org.
  2. On the Chicago Statement, see Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, rev. and exp. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 181–185.
  3. Blake T. Ostler, "Bridging the Gulf (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 103–177. off-site (italics in original)
  4. These examples are taken from 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. References to Tov's original work may be found in footnotes 26–49.
  5. Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible (Eerdmans, and Leiden 1999) 9–10
  6. These examples are taken from 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. References to Vaganay and Amphoux's original work may be found in footnotes 52–58.
  7. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 53. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  8. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (second edition 1979; first edition 1964), 195, 201.
  9. Kenneth W. Clark, “The Theological Relevance of Textual Variation in current criticism of the Greek New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 85 (1966): 1-16.
  10. Justin Martyr, "Dialogue with Trypho," in Chapter 71 Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff (Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886)1:234. ANF ToC off-site This volume
  11. Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15.14 as quoted in Bruce M. Metzger, "Explicit References in the Works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament manuscripts," in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, ed. J Neville Birdsall and Robert W. Thomson (Freiburg: Herder, 1968), 78—79; reference from Erhman, 223.
  12. Bruce Metzger, The Text of the New Testament. Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (second edition 1979; first edition 1964), 152; citing Metzger, “Explicit references in the works of Origen to Variant Readings in New Testament Manuscripts,” in Biblical and Patristic Studies in Memory of Robert Pierce Casey, ed. J.N. Birdsall (1963): 78–95.
  13. Cited in Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 53. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  14. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 158-159. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  15. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:311. [13 July 1862]
  16. George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 12:335. [15 November 1863]
  17. The estimate is Ehrman's; see Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 89. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  18. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 90. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  19. "Textual criticism," Wikipedia (accessed 11 September 2007).
  20. Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), Random House, Inc., s.v. "criticism" (accessed 11 September 2007).
  21. For further reading, see the Wikipedia articles on "Biblical inerrancy" and "Biblical infallibility".
  22. }The authors of the Book of Mormon disclaim inerrancy/infallibility at least five separate times: Title Page ("And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men"); 1 Nephi 19:6; Mormon 8:17; Mormon 9:31-33; Ether 12:23-26.
  23. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 327. off-site
  24. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (United Bible Societies; 2nd Revised edition, 2005), 187.
  25. 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), 157-174. ISBN 1590386272.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. See for example John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1811), 662-664.
  29. 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.
  30. Perhaps as many as 120 members of the LDS Church studied under Seixas while he was in Kirtland.
  31. 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.
  32. Benjamin McGuire, "Nephi and Goliath: A Reappraisal of the Use of the Old Testament in First Nephi" (text), or video.