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Why do Christians consider the Bible to be the exclusive source of truth?

By Eric Johnson

The following was part of an email addressed to MRM’s Eric Johnson, dated 9/14/16, regarding the Bible.

My question for you is how you view the Bible as a whole. To me, it doesn’t really make sense to view the Bible itself as a final and ultimate source of religious truth (obviously), but not just because of the introduction of the Book of Mormon and the belief I have that God continues to communicate with His children on earth today. I am talking more about the historical context of the Bible. Through the years, the Bible was assembled, picked apart, and reassembled, no? The Council of Nicea and others were what shaped the Bible as we know it today. I don’t view it as complete or all-encompassing. The Bible itself references 15 different additional scriptural records that are not included within it. Given the unclear history of the assembly of the Bible as we know it today, why is it that many (and based on your articles I assume you fit in this group) view it as such an exclusive source of Truth? 

I hope that my inquiry is received in the good-natured way in which I am trying to deliver it.

Best, T

The following is Eric Johnson’s reply:

Dear T,

Thanks for writing. I appreciate the invitation to dialogue. We have a whole section on the Bible that you can visit here. That first section on the page is especially valuable. As Christians, we hold to what is called “sola scriptura,” or the Bible alone for authority. This is because we believe that God has inspired (literally, “God-breathed”) the pages of scripture and that it can be relied upon for doctrine and guidance (2 Tim. 3:16).

Let me provide a summary to respond to your points:

  1. The Bible we have is accurate.

This idea has been ascertained by your own scholars. Many Mormons like to cite Article 8 (“the Bible is true as far as it is translated correctly.”) Actually, the word “translation” used by Smith is a poor choice of a word. Rather, Mormon leaders have disparaged the “transmission” of the text, suggesting that Catholic priests and others added their own ideas into the text over the years. Such an idea is not accurate and is certainly misleading. After all, we have a wealth of manuscripts (for the NT, more than 5,000 in Greek and 24,000 total, with whole New Testaments from as early as the 4th century).  BYU Professor Lloyd Anderson wrote the following:

One can disagree with the textual assumptions behind some of the modern translations of the New Testament and still not be overly concerned with differences that are immaterial. For a book to undergo progressive uncovering of its manuscript history and come out with so little debatable in its text is a great tribute to its essential authenticity. First, no new manuscript discovery has produced serious differences in the essential story. This survey has disclosed the leading textual controversies, and together they would be well within one percent of the text. Stated differently, all manuscripts agree on the essential correctness of 99 percent of all the verses in the New Testament. The second great fact that such a survey demonstrates is the progress that has placed the world in possession of manuscripts very near to the time of their writing. One would have to be a student of ancient history to appreciate how much superior the New Testament is to any other book in its manuscript tradition (“Manuscript Discoveries of the New Testament in Perspective,” Papers of the Fourteenth Annual Symposium on the Archaeology of the Scriptures, Presented April 13, 1963, pp. 57-58.

Since the time he wrote this, we have discovered even more texts that help us understand what the autographs (originals) would have said! I agree with Anderson, as it is possible to understand the authenticity–more so than any other book–of the Word of God we call the Bible.

For the Old Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls–the first of which was discovered in 1947–provided a whole new understanding about the accuracy of the text; in fact, the earliest text before 1947 was 900 A.D. and the Masoretic Text, yet we now have copies from the DSS from a century or more before Christ was even born! Donald W. Parry wrote an article in the Ensign magazine in 2014:

When we consider the ancient methods of transmitting texts by hand, we realize that the Bible went through a remarkable process to make it into this century. The Dead Sea Scrolls stand as a witness that the Old Testament has been passed down through the centuries with a respectable degree of accuracy (“The Dead Sea Scrolls: Window to the Modern Bible,” Ensign, December 2014, p. 61).

  1. The Bible we have is profitable for scripture.

I challenge you to read New Testament books such as Galatians, Ephesians, and Romans (consider taking the Romans Challenge without any presuppositions. (That’s difficult to do, I understand, especially when you were raised in the church and even served on a mission.) What you will find, I guarantee, is a much different idea of salvation than what is taught in the Mormon Church. The Bible stresses that a person is saved by grace through faith, not works (Rom. 3:28; 10:9-10; Eph. 2:8-9). (Yes, good works are important, but this is called “sanctification,” not “justification.” For more, check out Justification by Faith and the Book of James.) The Bible teaches in a God who is different in nature than the God advocated in Mormonism (i.e. He has always been God and He knows of no other gods–Is. 43:10, 44:6-8, 45:24–whereas in Mormonism God is a glorified human being). It teaches about a Jesus who came as God in the flesh and, as the Word, was always God (John 1:1, 14).

I realize that Mormon leaders have used many Bible verses to support their unique doctrines. However, it is an error to take verses out of context and make them say something that was never intended by the original author, just as I said it was wrong for Christians to use Rev. 22 to disprove the BOM. [Earlier in the email he had sent, “T” had complimented my stance on Revelation 22:18.]   For instance, 1 Corinthians 15:29 is used to say that baptism for the dead is available. However, the context proves that Paul was merely making a case for the resurrection of the body. Throughout that passage the apostle uses first person pronouns, but here he used third person pronouns. The passage should not be cited to support or contradict baptism for the dead, as Paul’s intent was neither view. It was meant to be a passing comment. Yet Mormons have used this verse to create a unique doctrine contradicting the Bible. That’s dangerous.

  1. The Bible says that we don’t need a temple.

Mormons like to say that temple work is necessary to reach the celestial kingdom and obtain godhood (exaltation). They say it is necessary to get married for both time and eternity. However, this was never a role in the one biblical temple found in Jerusalem (in contrast, Mormonism now has 153 temples). Instead, it was all about blood sacrifice of animals to symbolize atonement of sins. Jesus fulfilled the temple sacrifice, as animal sacrifices were merely a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death on the cross. Hebrews 10:3 says that “those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” This is why Christians have never been a “temple-building” people. Mormon temples are mainly about work done on behalf of the dead. Yet Heb. 9:27 and 2 Cor. 6:2 say that there is judgment after this life, with no second chances. Even the Book of Mormon says that there can be no vicarious work done for those who have passed away. Alma 34:32-35 in the Book of Mormon explains,

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

Notice how it says death is “the final state of the wicked” where “the spirit of the devil . . . doth seal you his”? What work could be efficacious if this is the “final state”?

  1. Other books of the Bible?

Regarding other books mentioned in the Bible, you are correct. However, just because Paul wrote a letter to a church or the Old Testament references a writing do not make these scripture. It certainly doesn’t make them inspired by God. These are not lost books of the Bible. A book became scripture when it was recognized as such by the believers, known as the church. Those letters of lesser importance were lost, which seems unlikely if it had been considered scripture. It is an argument of silence to suggest that these “lost books” would have said anything different than what the Bible already teaches.

You ask in your post why I, as a Christian, consider the Bible to be the exclusive rule of truth. It is because it is the authoritative Word of God. When other LDS scriptures are compared, they lack in authority. Let me focus just on the Book of Mormon to show you what I mean:

  1. The Book of Mormon contradicts many major doctrines of Mormonism.

Joseph Smith said that Book of Mormon was the most correct book on earth and claimed that someone could get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book. (It appears he included the Bible as one of the comparison.) If that’s the case, then it seems interesting that LDS teaching contradicts not only the Bible but also the Book of Mormon on essential issues such as:

  • Efficacious work being done on behalf of the dead (Alma 34:32-35)
  • God having once been a man or men having the potential to become gods–in fact, it teaches that God is unchangeable (Mormon 9:9-10, 19; Moroni 7:22, 8:18)
  • The idea that there is only one God (Alma 11:26-29, 2 Nephi 31:21)
  • The idea that God is spirit, not flesh and bones (Alma 18:24-28)
  • No Word of Wisdom
  • No Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthoods
  • No temples
  • No marriage for eternity
  1. The Book of Mormon has undergone changes since it was published–in fact, almost 4,000 changes!

Admittedly, some of these changes are grammatical, but not all of them were. Let me give just a few, as taken from the website:

In the Book of Ether (on page 546 of the first edition of the Book of Mormon) we read as follows:

“… for this cause did king Benjamin keep them … “

In the 1964 edition, Ether 4:1, we read:

“… for this cause did king Mosiah keep them … “

A change has been made in the First Book of Nephi, evidently in an attempt to strengthen the Mormon claim that baptism was practiced by the people in the Old Testament. This verse is taken from Isaiah 48, and appears as follows in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon:

“Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord … ” (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 52)

In modern editions it reads as follows:

“Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord … ” (Book of Mormon, 1964 edition, 1 Nephi 20:1)

In Mosiah 21:28 the name of the king has been changed from Benjamin to Mosiah. In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon we read as follows:

“… king Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings …” (Book of Mormon, 1830 edition, page 200)

In modern editions of the Book of Mormon this verse has been changed to read:

“… king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings …” (Book of Mormon, 1964 edition, Mosiah 21:28)

According to chronology found in the Book of Mormon, king Benjamin should have been dead at this time; therefore, the Mormon Church leaders evidently felt that it was best to change the king’s name to Mosiah.

Read the introduction to Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s chapter titled 3913 Changes in the Book of Mormon for more examples. In addition, consider reasons why Christians don’t accept the Book of Mormon.

  1. The Book of Abraham is a major problem to Mormonism.

If Smith was unable to properly translate the papyrus pages containing Egyptian hieroglyphics–and those pages are in existence–how can we accept his “translation” of the Book of Mormon? Check out this video on the Book of Abraham and see if this unique LDS scripture ought to be trusted.  Joseph Smith–the “translator” of the unique LDS scriptures–has a number of problems of his own. Was he someone who could be trusted? I don’t think so. To read more about him, you can go here.

Wow, I have given you a lot more than you probably asked for. But I take your questions very seriously. It is very meaningful to determine truth. If Mormonism is true, we all ought to join and do what we can to do what the LDS Church tells us to do. However, if it’s not true, then we have major problems. I do believe it is possible to have a personal relationship with God without the rules and regulations imposed upon you by the Mormon Church. Click here to see what Evangelical Christians believe on this topic of how a person can have a personal relationship with Jesus.

May the Lord bless you as you consider these things and verify what is truth.

Eric Johnson

Check out a week-long series on “What is Truth” on Viewpoint on Mormonism that originally aired Feb. 18-22, 2019   Part 1  Part 2  Part 3   Part 4   Part 5

For more articles on the Bible, click here.


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