Monday, November 01, 2004

Another Body at the Morg: LDS Position on the Bible

In a continuing review of the misconstrued position of the LDS Church at the poorly researched website, (or as I like to call it: MORG), I will take up their FAQ points dealing with the LDS view of the Bible: "Why do you trust the Bible as the Word of God? Hasn't it been corrupted like everything else over time? (" and "The Bible or the Book of Mormon? (Gregory Koukl)".

Previous reviews of their FAQ's have found them wanting in both scholarship and facts. It seems they are like the young woman who could not explain to her new husband why she had cut the end off the roast. Her mother had taught her to do it. So they asked the mother. Her mother had taught her to do it. So then they asked the grandmother. Well, her mother had always done it that way. So they visited the 95 year old great grandmother to ask her the reason for this carving off of the roast. "Oh that", she said. "My oven wasn't big enough to put the roast in without cutting off the end."

Morg seems to be very gifted at reading what other anti-Mormons have written, but not burdened by the effort of having done much of their own research. At least, not into Mormonism.

Mormons believe this about the Bible:

Article of Faith 8 "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."

Mormons also believe this about the Bible: It contains the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just like the Book of Mormon.

D&C 42:12
And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.

But we also believe:

1 Nephi 13:28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

How can these be reconciled? I like the words of Bruce Metzger, considered by many the greatest New Testament scholar of our times. Not LDS by the way. In his book, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration (3rd Ed.), Oxford University Press, 1992, page 246, he concludes by giving this advice:

"All known [ ancient copies of Bible books] are to a greater or less extent mixed texts, and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors... Occasionally none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and [the textual critic] will be compelled to choose the reading which he judges to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. In textual criticism, as in other areas of historical research, one must seek not only to learn what can be known, but also to become aware of what, because of conflicting [ancient Bible texts], cannot be known."

Sounds very much like the LDS 8th Article of Faith. Or this:

The Interpreter's Dictionary Of The Bible (Under "Text, NT") reminds us that:

It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform. (This is a secondary source. I have not personally seen this particular citation, but there is no reason to doubt its accuracy. See

This also sounds like the 8th Article of Faith, by a group called the Christian Defense Update, which incidentally classifies Mormonism as a non-Christian cult. Under the heading of Bible Contradictions: A Brief Explaination we find their third explanation as follows:

(3) Bad translation. Not all Bibles are good translations. Whenever you translate from one language to another you have the potential for mistranslations. Also some cult groups have bad translations that are slanted to match thier doctrine. The New World Translation of The Holy Scriptures (Jehovah's Witness Version) is a good example of a very bad translation.

But wait, you say, what about all the Josh McDowell "Evidence That Demands a Verdict" type stuff. Five-thousand texts of the New Testament cannot be wrong.

Well, frankly, Bible proponents (and I am one myself) tend to dramatically overstate the evidence because most people do not have the ability to investigate for themselves. Of the 5,000+ manuscripts of the New Testament, no two are identical. None. They have huge areas of general agreement, but there are literally hundreds of thousands of variations between the texts. Most are totally unimportant, because the correct renderings of what the original text said is pretty obvious. But not always.

And that is sort of the problem. There is not one original of any of the Gospels, letters or epistles in anyone's possession today. Not one. The earliest manuscripts are at least 50 years after the original documents were written. It is broadly agreed the earliest fragment of the Bible dates from about 125 A.D. But before anyone puffs their chest out, it contains less than a one complete verse from the Gospel of John, and that is it. The first complete Bible is not to be found until 380 AD. That is over 300 years after the texts were written.

Let's compare that to the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is treated by the LDS Church identically to the way the Bible is treated by Christianity as a whole. Thousands of errors have crept into the published version of the BoM, mainly because of printing errors in the very first edition. This is far fewer than in the Bible texts, but still significant. Fortunately we have about 26% of the original manuscript mostly copied down by Oliver Cowdery. And we have the original Printer's Manuscript, used by the printer. Like the existing ancient manuscripts of the Bible, there is no punctuation in the documents. So the printer gave it his best shot. He also "fixed" some spelling errors, and then for giggles threw in some inadvertant errors to boot.

The LDS Church has tried to restore the text to the translation manuscript copy quality, and so over the years has done over a dozen reprints and re-edits. Since we believe the LDS President is a prophet, seer and revelator, he has authority to do such things. Recently a decade long project to gather all such information was [mostly] completed by Royal Skousen.

Mormons teach the Bible in their Sunday School and Seminary program. In fact, on the four year rotating schedule of scripture study used for LDS Church cirriculum, fully half of the time is spent studying the Old and New Testament. But with a healthy dose of realism that some of the text may be corrupted.

"Oh?", you say. Certain passages are known to be fraudulent. 1 John 5:7-8 was added to find justification to support the non-Biblical doctrine of the trinity. Matt 5:22 had the phrase "without a cause" added to justify anger at a brother. The correct end to Mark 16:9-20 is not at all sure. 2 Peter 3:10 is completely unclear over whether at Christ's coming the works of the earth will be "burned up" or "laid bare". Frankly, that is a pretty significant difference.

There are many such significant doctrines which have been altered because the plain and precious truth has been lost. More pointedly is the loss of fluency and understanding of the grammar of the New Testament. For example, Granville Sharp was a gifted 18th century linguist who discerned a pattern of written speech in Greek which has now come to be called the Granville Sharp rule. So a verse like Rev. 1:6 which the KJV renders as "Hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father". So, is this verse a perfect proof text of the LDS believe that God had a Father? Sharp's rule says that it should be interpreted as an emphasis type of application. So it should properly say "unto God, even his Father".

Is that the only "new" rule? The truth is, since the New Testament is totally composed of copies of texts in a language no one is still natively speaking, we have no idea what the truth is.

The Book of Mormon is also often maligned by Morg for not being perfect. They twist a statement made by Joseph Smith of the value of the Book of Mormon:

I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book. (November 28, 1841.) DHC 4:461.

Notice he said "most correct". Not perfect. The BoM itself acknowledges it will have errors in it, but urges people to be led by the Spirit and not skepticism.

So we can accept any self serving translation of the Bible, or we can do like any rational Christian should do, and accept as the word of God only his accurately translated word. And as to the value of the Book of Mormon or the Bible? They are both necessary and beautiful. But if nearness to original documents and the number of unresolvable errors within the text are the measuring stick, there is no question the Book of Mormon is a superior text.

So this stuffs another body into the Morg.

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