What a charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll can tell us about Mormonism

By Sharon Lindbloom
22 September 2016

In June of 1843 Mormonism’s founder, the Prophet Joseph Smith, told his followers,

“There are many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelations of the Holy Ghost to me.” (Jo­seph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310. See also History of the Church 5:425)

biblical-transmissionFour months later, in another sermon, Joseph Smith explained,

“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.” (History of the Church 6:57)

This view of a corrupted Bible has been accepted and perpetuated throughout the history of Mormonism. The Church’s 8th Article of Faith (written by Joseph Smith) clearly states that Mormons believe the Bible to be the Word of God–with a caveat: “as far as it is translated correctly.” An LDS scholar clarified,

“Here the word trans­lated appears to be used in a broader sense to mean transmitted, which would include not only translation of languages but also copying, editing, deleting from, and adding to documents. The Bible has undergone a much more serious change than merely translation from one language to another.” (BYU Professor Robert J. Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, 72. Italics in original).

So, throughout the history of the Mormon Church members have been told that when Joseph Smith’s teachings deviate from biblical doctrine, it is because the text of the Bible has been carelessly transcribed and deliberately falsified (for a refutation of Smith’s assertion see “The Joseph Smith Translation: Inspired by Whom?”). Therefore, an article published this week by the Associated Press is of interest to those concerned with Mormonism.

On Wednesday (21 September 2016) journalist Daniel Estrin reported,

“The charred lump of a 2,000-year-old scroll sat in an Israeli archaeologist’s storeroom for decades, too brittle to open. Now, new imaging technology has revealed what was written inside: the earliest evidence of a biblical text in its standardized form.”

Through the use of digital technology, researchers were able to unwrap (“virtual unwrapping”) the brittle scroll and read the ancient text, finding passages from the book of Leviticus.

“The text discovered in the charred Ein Gedi scroll is ‘100 percent identical’ to the version of the Book of Leviticus that has been in use for centuries, said Dead Sea Scroll scholar Emmanuel Tov from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who participated in the study.

“‘This is quite amazing for us,’ he said. ‘In 2,000 years, this text has not changed.’”

Of course, though the Ein Gedi scroll is ancient, it is many centuries removed from the original writing of Leviticus (believed to be during the 6th century B.C.). Yet, the text has survived the most recent 2,000 years of transcription/transmission and remains 100% unchanged. At the very least, this casts a shadow on Joseph Smith’s assertion of “ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests” who altered the biblical text.

In discussing Joseph Smith’s concept of the Bible, Mormon historian Milton V. Backman wrote,

“The Prophet expressed his view of the Bible by stating, ‘I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers.’ It is a work which ‘came from God.’… Let us not be deluded, the Prophet further preached, by the view that the Bible is infallible. Many plain and precious truths were taken from that work before it was compiled. ‘Igno­rant translators, careless transcribers,’ and ‘designing and corrupt priests’ have also inserted in the scriptures many errors. Because of the mutilations of the original text, the Prophet concluded that there is a significant difference between the actual meaning of the prophets and the present translation.” (Milton V. Backman, Jr., American Religions and the Rise of Mormonism, pp. 335 – 336)

“Because of the mutilations of the original text the Prophet concluded…” But this text has not been “mutilated.” In fact, biblical scholarship does not support the assertion of any mutilated biblical text.

Thus, based on a faulty assumption, Joseph Smith concluded – and Mormons have been taught ever since – that the Bible we have today cannot be trusted to accurately convey God’s truth. This foundational error provided Joseph Smith (and succeeding Mormon prophets) a platform from which to teach “revelations” that do not accord with “many things in the Bible.” Things like:

  • The existence of many true Gods
  • God the Father was once a man who progressed to godhood
  • Jesus and Satan (and all mankind) are spirit brothers
  • Jesus is the literal, physical offspring of Mary and God the Father
  • The Fall of Adam and Eve was a good thing and a blessing to all
  • Humans can become gods just like Heavenly Father
  • Forgiveness of sin is available only to those who make themselves worthy
  • The LDS Church is the only true church

These basic LDS doctrines stand in opposition to the teachings of the Bible, but Mormons embrace them anyway. Why? Because Joseph Smith said the Bible can’t be trusted.

Joseph Smith’s religion would not and could not have ever succeeded if his followers had complete confidence in the Bible. So just like the crafty serpent in Genesis 3:1, the Prophet encouraged doubt in God’s Word – a doubt that continues to be promoted in that church today. Mormonism is what it is because it abandoned the Bible as God’s trustworthy communication of Truth to the world; the eternal hope of every Latter-day Saint is in jeopardy because of it.