Sunday, June 1, 2008

Are you telling the truth about the Bible?

Someone not of our faith recently asked me a question I was glad to answer. He was under the impression that LDS people believe the Bible had been corrupted and wanted to know "just exactly how the Bible has been corrupted". I appreciated him for asking the question and for having the chance to respond.

My response is based off of my New Testament class notes with Stephen Robinson while I studied at BYU several years ago. He was a master teacher and his areas of expertise were Biblical Studies (New Testament, Christian Origins, History of Christianity), as well as LDS studies. He reads Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and Coptic—so he’s done his homework. Based off that class I learned some things about the Bible I didn’t know previously—some of which I used to try to answer the question and clear up any misunderstanding.

Our present New Testament dates back to about 367 A.D. when the books of scripture were organized. Sometime between 50 A.D. and 100/175 A.D. some “plain and precious” things were taken out. They were NOT edited or altered (corrupted?). They were just lost. Comparing the books of scripture to a file cabinet—some files were just taken out and lost completely. They weren’t edited—just lost. (For example, 1st Corinthians 5:9—that epistle was lost. Try to picture a letter to Loudicious, or a letter .5 to the Corinthians, versus the first letter that we know of.)

Now, in the copying of the copies of the biblical manuscripts, accidental scribal mistakes were made--that's just historical fact. Also, according to Dr. Bart Ehrman, "scribes occasionally altered the words of their sacred texts to make them more patently orthodox and to prevent their misuse by Christians who espoused aberrant views." Most of these alterations were relatively minor and did not affect fundamental Christian doctrine.

We ought to be thankful the monks preserved that which we have. That which we have (our present Bible) is largely correct—and apostolic. We testify of the miracle of the Holy Bible.

The second century church Hellanized the Bible. (They tried to make it fit into Greek theory). Now there are over 5,000 manuscripts of the New Testament. No two are alike. And there is no such thing as “the original Greek”, only scholarly reconstructions of what we think Paul must have written.

Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, and Greek as a second language. (One side note that I find interesting is that the word always translated “carpenter” in Greek means “architect, builder, contractor”. The Greek “Tekton” means builder. Thus, the “Builder” of the Universe was a builder by profession. (Jesus would have worked in wood and stone).

But the Bible as we know it today is largely correct. The truer LDS understanding is that there were completely lost books--like a file was just deleted from the computer and never was included in the Bible that we have today. Now certainly there are a few things that got changed up in the translations and in the copying of the original scripts, but the truth is we can’t know for sure how much or how many. So I thank God that we have what we have in the Holy Bible--I love the Bible--as well as the further “plain and precious” things contained in the Book of Mormon.


Kris said...

i tend to think that the God who created the heavens and the earth by His mere words could easily oversee the preservation of His word through a couple a thousand years.

just a thought


Clean Cut said...

Yes, I suppose God could easily oversee our lives as well, making sure that we never make any mistakes and that we're perfect too--but He won't do that. All mortals have their agency. He allows things to happen, not because He can't stop it, but because he won't interfere with human agency.

Kris said...

yes, that is true. we are not robots nor does He want us to be nor were we made to be.

it is another story with His Word. This must be infallible, or we are constantly standing on shaky ground. It must be sound and pass the simple test of time.


Clean Cut said...

I have to say that I really appreciate having this conversation. I love to hear others' perspectives, share mine, and then see where we both agree with each other.

I have to disagree with you, however, that the Bible "must be infallible, or we are constantly standing on shaky ground". Because if we stand on any ground or foundation other than Christ, the Word Himself, we are on shaky ground. This is just as true with those who build their whole faith upon the infallibility, or the inerrancy, of the Bible.

I suppose we would both agree that "it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation" (Helamen 5:12)--not the Bible. Therefore, even if the Bible has mistakes--we are never on shaky ground "because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall".

Our foundation is Christ. I also build with the help of prophets and apostles called of God today in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They too are inspired of God. Or as it says in Ephesians 2:20, I am “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone”.

As for the Bible as the word of God--I believe that every single word that God inspired the original authors (the prophets and apostles) to write down were infallible/inerrant. But my belief in biblical inerrancy ends with the original manuscripts.

However, as my original post conveys--we should be grateful that the Bible as we know it today comes pretty dang close to being correct, despite all the scribe copying and textual analysis of the various manuscripts in various languages through time. That is nothing short of a miracle.

Kris said...

i feel we are going to agree to disagree on this one. i had a good friend through my homeschool group who is mormon. we talked around and around this issue. i think this is one of the main areas that our two churches differ. the bible, to a Christian, is the one and only authority for God's word. it is unshakable, perfect and complete. if there are beliefs that do not hold to that basic truth of most evangelical faiths, it is considered heresy.

my sweet friend tried, i believe, to convert me to her faith. she gave me pamphlets and books on her church as a Christmas present. she even came to worship at my church one Sunday. she wanted me to do the same, but I could not. i do believe there are a great deal more differences than similarities in the two faiths.

i can say, that my friend did teach me a thing or two about service and good works. we could all use a bigger dose of that.


Clean Cut said...

I'm okay with agreeing to disagree. I'm certainly not wanting to argue, and I'm not trying to convert you. But I do take issue with you saying that "the bible, to a Christian, is the one and only authority for God's word". Because I, as a Christian (and as a Mormon) believe that God is the final authority on God's word. There's no way I would ever think that God is limited in what he can say to just one book or just one time period.

For me, this isn't an issue of "I'm right, your wrong", but a deep conviction regarding what God has done in the past and what makes sense he would do in the present and in the future.

"Some Christians, in large measure because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles. Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “My Words . . . Never Cease”)

Elder Holland goes on to say that "the fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be, then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and . . . my words . . . never cease.

"One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: 'On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? . . . If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” We humbly ask those same questions.

"Continuing revelation does not demean or discredit existing revelation. The Old Testament does not lose its value in our eyes when we are introduced to the New Testament, and the New Testament is only enhanced when we read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In considering the additional scripture accepted by Latter-day Saints, we might ask: Were those early Christians who for decades had access only to the primitive Gospel of Mark (generally considered the first of the New Testament Gospels to be written)—were they offended to receive the more detailed accounts set forth later by Matthew and Luke, to say nothing of the unprecedented passages and revelatory emphasis offered later yet by John? Surely they must have rejoiced that ever more convincing evidence of the divinity of Christ kept coming. And so do we rejoice..."

"One other point needs to be made. Since it is clear that there were Christians long before there was a New Testament or even an accumulation of the sayings of Jesus, it cannot therefore be maintained that the Bible is what makes one a Christian. In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ “ In other words, “Scripture itself points . . . away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.” So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation." (from “My Words . . . Never Cease”)

Kris said...

some of your new truths set forth by previous lds prophets have now been thrown out. one example is multiple wives. does God change his mind? i do not mean to be bad spirited, but the Bible stands true yet some revelations since, from your leaders, have not.

like i said, this is where the 2 paths leave, and it is a big deal.

my friend could not be a member of one of the homeschool co-op's because she would not sigh a statement of faith. the bible issue was what caused her pause. she could not and would not sign a document that stated she believed the bible was the only word of God. it is a basic tenant of most evangelical belief systems. it is sacred. your argument, though it sounds impressive, could be argued against, quite completely, by one more knowledgeable than myself. you either believe the Bible is what it is or you don't.

there are other issues that my friend and I discussed. i could never get a complete answer form her. maybe i will pose the same questions to you in the future.


Clean Cut said...

I would be happy to answer any of your questions. If I don't know the answer I'll surly try to find out or send you where you can get a sufficient answer. Perhaps you'd like to email me ( for off topic questions.

I appreciate that you said you're not trying to be bad spirited, for it would be so easy to go into "bunker mentality" or "defense mode" when one perceives that they're being attacked. And the problem when people go into "bunker mentality" is that they close themselves off to others and then all dialogue ceases. I'm in favor of open and honest dialogue--but not debate.

You asked if God changes his mind. "God's nature does not change, and absolute truth does not change, but the rules and instructions God gives to man are adapted for our time and circumstances, and DO change. This is part of the reason why we need continuing revelation and living prophets." (See Jeff Lindsay's LDS FAQ: "God does not change, but LDS prophets have changed many commandments. Doesn't this prove that they are false prophets?" ) If you go to that link you will find plenty of biblical examples of how some things that God commanded at one time were later changed.

Such was the case with plural marriage. And I'm pleased to say that it was never the majority of LDS anyway. It was the exception rather than the rule. Monogamy, not polygamy, has always been the standard, even in the Bible. (Adam and Eve versus Abraham and his wives). And to be clear, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) put that behind us over a hundred years ago. I, for one, am most grateful. :)

"Based on the many changes in laws and commandments documented in the Bible, it is entirely incorrect to say that modern prophets are false if they reveal any changes in practices or rules. The real issue is not whether we agree with them, but whether they are true prophets or not. That question, again, can be answered by determining if the Book of Mormon is true. If it is not, Joseph Smith and all successive prophets in the Church were false. If it is true, then we should be careful not to reject those whom the Lord has called." (Jeff Lindsay

PS: It's quite possible that your friend wasn't trying to convert you, but simply wanting to share with you something that was richly influenced her life for good, brought much joy, and helped her find greater faith in Jesus Christ. Usually we share things we hold dear to those for whom we feel love.

Think of how silly it would be if I invited you over for breakfast and began drinking orange juice that tasted great without offering you a glass! Perhaps she was just trying to be unselfish and offer you some too. (I'll give her the benefit of the doubt).

Anonymous said...

Kris, do you know your Bible?

You tell me. Does God changes His mind? Did he change His mind when Jesus was limited to preach to the Jews only (Mathew 15:24), and then Peter was instructed to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10)? Did God change His mind when He changed his followers from following the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I could go on, and on... Things don't stay the same.

Carlos U.

Tom said...

The Bible can't be the "one and only authority for God's word" because it didn't exist until at least 367 AD and even then it was only a canon of accepted documents - not one book.

So either

1) The Christians before 367 AD had no authority for God's word because the Bible didn't exist yet.


2) The Bible is only one medium through which we can receive God's word.

The bible itself does not claim to be complete, infallible, or the ONLY word of God. The Bible itself never defines a closed canon of scripture. The canon was created by men - who under non-LDS Christian doctrine were not authoritative spokesmen for God (because John the Revelator was the last such man).

Clean Cut said...

See Bart Ehrman: "Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Altered Scripture and Readers Who May Never Know"