LDS Perspectives on the Bible

by Kent P. Jackson

Of course, Latter-day Saints believe in the Bible, but it is sometimes stated by some not of our faith that we do not. In fact, we love the Bible and believe its teachings. It holds a special place in our religion that cannot be filled by any other book. On the day the Church was organized, the Lord affirmed the Bible's truthfulness (D&C 20:11), and the Book of Mormon itself bears testimony of the Bible and commits us to it (1 Nephi 13:20–23; 2 Nephi 29:2–13). With many other Christians we have faith that the Bible's ancient writers were inspired, and we reject the trends in modern society that devalue it and its teachings. We can be grateful for the many good people who have held fast to this book, and we join with them in expressing our thanks to God for it.

Why then do some think that Latter-day Saints do not accept the Bible? The reason is that we have significant beliefs regarding it that are very different from those of other Christians.

First, unlike many Bible-believing Christians, we maintain that the Bible did not arrive into the modern world in a pure state. Early in the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi foretold that apostate forces within early Christianity would remove things "which are plain and most precious" both from the scriptures and from the gospel itself. The Bible would not go forth to the world until it had been corrupted, leaving it less pure and reliable than it had been when it was first written (1 Nephi 13:4–6, 20–29). Joseph Smith wrote: "Many important points, touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled."1 He stated that there are "many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me."2 And he believed in the Bible "as it ought to be, as it came from the pen of the original writers."3 But "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors."4 Thus, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly" (Articles of Faith 1:8), with translated presumably including the entire process of transmission from original manuscript to modern-language text.

The second reason why some claim that we do not believe in the Bible is that we reject the idea that it contains the totality of God's revelation to humankind. While this idea is nowhere to be found in the Bible itself and actually contradicts the biblical precedent of God calling prophets to provide continuous revelation to his people (See Following the Prophets home page), many Christians think that believing in the Bible means believing that there can be no additional scripture outside its covers. But because of the Restoration, we understand differently. The Lord brought forth more scripture through the Prophet Joseph Smith than through any other prophet, ancient or modern. In the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, we have 886 pages of new scriptural material (in English-language versions). We also have the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the sermons and writings of the Prophet and his successors, and the ongoing inspired practices of the Lord's Church. The Restoration opened a flood of new knowledge that clarifies, adds to, substantiates, builds upon, and confirms what we know from the Bible. Thus when we read it, we do so in light of the Restoration.

Joseph Smith not only restored and revealed scripture, but he loved the Bible and was a serious student of it. Indeed, his efforts to study and know it well constitute one of the keys of the Restoration. Over the years he learned the Bible so well that he could quote or paraphrase scores of passages without looking at his text. His speeches were punctuated with biblical lessons and biblical examples, showing not only a knowledge of the Bible itself but also a profound understanding of its doctrines.

The Prophet knew that a mastery of the scriptures cannot come without paying the price in serious study. For example, in his personal journals he often recorded his efforts to learn Hebrew so he could understand the Old Testament better.5

Three important results of Joseph Smith's Bible study make significant contributions to the Restoration:

First, the Joseph Smith Translation—the Prophet's inspired revision of the Bible—is a direct result of several years of work and inspiration as he fulfilled his calling to provide a more correct translation for the Church. From this inspired enterprise we have "Selections from the Book of Moses" and "Joseph Smith—Matthew" in the Pearl of Great Price and hundreds of other significant changes and additions, most of which are now included in the footnotes of the Church's 1979 publication of the Bible.

Second, several of the revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants came as a result of questions raised in the Prophet's mind while he was engaged in the new translation. Sections 76, 77, and 91 are obvious examples, but it is likely that many others had their origin in this same process, either directly or indirectly.

Third, to a great extent, it was in the process of his inspired study of the Bible that the Prophet gained much of his understanding of the gospel. From his recorded sermons, we can see that a significant portion of his teaching consisted in expounding on Bible passages.6 It was in these Bible-based sermons and teaching moments that he transmitted much of his revealed knowledge to the Church. We are heirs to what was revealed to him as he used the Bible as a springboard to revelation.

It is clear from Joseph Smith's own words that what had been revealed to him was a surer source of knowledge than what he found printed on the page. This assertion may seem strange to those who do not share the testimony of the divinity of his calling. But those who recognize him as God's prophet—sent to restore truth in its purity for the last days—understand that the light and knowledge revealed to him is the standard against which all other religious ideas, traditions, or texts are to be judged—including the Bible. "God may correct the scripture by me if he choose," the Prophet taught.7 Concerning the Bible, he said, "I have the oldest book in the world and the Holy Ghost. I thank God for the old book, but more for the Holy Ghost."8

Through Joseph Smith, a prophet endowed with the Holy Ghost, the Lord corrected, taught, and led the Saints as he did in the past—through revelation. And through the Prophet's inspired words as he discussed or taught from passages of the Bible, we can see the ancient scriptures in a new light and understand them in ways that would be impossible without divine tutoring. Joseph Smith, the great seer, had the capacity to see on Bible pages things that were not visible to the natural eye. This was possible because the Spirit that animated his interpretive powers was the same that had revealed the words originally through his ancient prophetic colleagues.

Finally, Joseph Smith gave perhaps the most sensible counsel for learning from and loving the Bible: "He who reads it oftenest will like it best."9

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Scriptural Writings home page; The Holy Bible home page)

Notes:

This article is reprinted from "Do We Believe in the Bible?" Religious Studies Center Newsletter (Brigham Young University), September 1999.

1. The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee (1989), 1:372.

2. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (1980), 211; spelling and capitalization modernized.

3. Ibid., 256.

4. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (1957), 6:57.

5. See Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Jessee, 2:87–187.

6. See, generally, Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Ehat and Cook.

7. Ibid., 191.

8. Ibid., 345; punctuation modernized.

9. History of the Church, 2:14.

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