by Sharon Lindbloom
11 May 2020
Last month Meridian Magazine (for Latter-day Saints) published an article online titled, “Putting the Bible in its Honored and Rightful Place.” Author Wallace Goddard notes that evangelical Christians hold the Bible in high regard and goes on to explain that Mormons do, too, but:
“we don’t believe that it does the work of informing humanity about the work of God all by itself. The testimony of the Bible is joined by the testimony of other witnesses: the Book of Mormon, the witnesses of Moses, Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Matthew, and Joseph Smith gathered in the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Proclamations, and the abundant teachings of prophets in our own time.”
Dr. Goddard, a retired professor of Family Life, demonstrates the value evangelical Christians place on the Bible by introducing the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (i.e., ”Scripture alone”: the belief that the Bible is the highest and ultimate authority in the life of a Christian). He says it’s “understandable” why Christians hold the Bible is such high regard, but:
“most Christians know very little about the messy process for transcribing the manuscripts or the arbitrary processes for choosing books for the Bible. Christians argued for centuries about which books belonged in the canon.”
Dr. Goddard’s implication of a haphazard biblical text and canon lacks historical merit. I’ll not dig into these criticisms here, but I encourage readers to take the time to learn about these issues. A place to start might be the teachings of Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary (New Testament canon; New Testament transmission).
Undermining the reliability of the Bible is foundational within Mormonism, so it’s no surprise to find Dr. Goddard starting his article off with these allegations. But the main focus of his remarks, as he seeks to help people put the Bible in its rightful place, is the process by which he suggests Christians came to erroneously (he believes) embrace the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Summing up his argument, according to Dr. Goddard at the time of the Reformation many Christians recognized that the church “had become contaminated. Doctrines had been distorted and many leaders were corrupt. So where were the reformers to turn for an authoritative guide? The Bible, of course.” Furthermore, he says, the Bible became their basis for “calling, commission, and authority,” leading to the Protestant idea of a “priesthood of all believers.” And with no confidence in papal declarations and no “continuing revelation,” the Christians were forced to use the highly-regarded Bible to guide them, but:
“it is clear that the Bible was never intended as a comprehensive guide to faith and practice.”
The biblical “limitations,” he says, are evidenced by “doctrinal divergence” and conflict between the Reformers.
Additionally, Dr. Goddard highlights what he says is a “new wrinkle,” in that within the last couple of centuries, some Christians have argued for biblical inerrancy and biblical sufficiency. “These are very bold claims,” he says, “claims that the Bible never makes for itself.”
Of course, those who adhere to Sola Scriptura disagree with many of Dr. Goddard’s stated opinions, as does history itself. The Reformers did not elevate the Bible because they had rejected church authority and had nowhere else to turn. Rather,
“by the time Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, the principle of Sola Scriptura was already well established in his mind and work. Only the Scripture carries absolute normative authority. Why? For Luther the sola of Sola Scriptura was inseparably related to the Scriptures’ unique inerrancy. It was because popes could and did err and because councils could and did err that Luther came to realize the supremacy of Scripture. Luther did not despise church authority nor did he repudiate church councils as having no value… Luther and the Reformers did not mean by Sola Scriptura that the Bible is the only authority in the church. Rather, they meant that the Bible is the only infallible authority in the church.” (R.C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, 17)
Dr. Goddard asserts that the doctrines encapsulated in Sola Scriptura are not found in the Bible. It would certainly be odd for a people who profess the inerrancy, sufficiency and supremacy of the Bible to step away from that Bible to formulate an unbiblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura. This they did not do. In his excellent article dealing with common objections to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Christian theologian Ken Samples began his response to the objection articulated by Dr. Goddard with this:
“The doctrine of sola scriptura need not be taught formally and explicitly. It may be implicit in Scripture and inferred logically. Scripture explicitly states its inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, and its sufficiency is implied there as well. This passage contains the essence of sola scriptura, revealing that Scripture is able to make a person wise unto salvation. And it includes the inherent ability to make a person complete in belief and practice. Scripture has no authoritative peer. While the apostle Paul’s reference in verse 16—to Scripture being “God-breathed”—specifically applies to the Old Testament, the apostles viewed the New Testament as having the same inspiration and authority (1 Tim. 5:18; Deut. 25:4 and Luke 10:7; 2 Pet. 3:16). The New Testament writers continue…” (Please read Mr. Samples’ full response here: “Countdown to Reformation Day: Responding to Objections to Sola Scriptura”)
Because Mr. Samples also addresses mistaken ideas promoted by Dr. Goddard regarding when the truths included in Sola Scriptura appeared on the scene (Objection #5) and what Dr. Goddard calls the Bible’s “limitations” evidenced by denominationalism (Objection #6), I encourage you to learn about them there.
Finally, Dr. Goddard suggests that this high view of the Bible, this Sola Scriptura, may be a “dangerous trend” which could end up putting the Bible above God Himself in evangelical faith. (A lengthy quote from a 1957 book by Protestant theologian Floyd Filson is offered to readers in support of this claim. It should be noted that the quote has been misused and cannot be taken at face value — please see Robert M. Bowman, “Does Belief in a Closed Canon Elevate the Bible above God? How Mormon Apologists Misrepresent Floyd Filson”). In truth, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not elevate the scripture above God, but rather reflects what Christians believe about God: that He always speaks the truth, that He never contradicts Himself, and that He is faithful, dependable, and trustworthy. If these things are true of Almighty God (they are), then so too of His Word. The Bible’s inerrancy, sufficiency and supremacy above the pronouncements of popes, councils, and even latter-day prophets is sure.
After condemning the Christian (and biblical) doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Dr. Goddard is finally able to put the Bible in what he deems to be its rightful place. “The Bible is vital,” he says, but:
“it cannot replace prophets, or priesthood authority, or most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ. It fits joyously and uniquely in the great tradition of continuing revelation—which includes not only God’s revelation in the Middle East but also in ancient America and in upstate New York…and in Salt Lake City.”
The Bible’s rightful place in Mormonism, though “vital,” is not even near the top of the list of LDS scripture sources; its “honored and rightful place” is more accurately expressed as “devalued” and “last place.” Mormon apostle Bruce McConkie taught,
“By way of perspective, as far as gaining salvation is concerned, the Bible is far excelled—immeasurably so—by the Book of Mormon and the other latter-day revelations. These modern scriptures are in fact the ones that must be believed and accepted in order for us to be saved. If it came right down to it, those of us who live in the dispensation of the fulness of times could be saved if there were no Bible at all, because the gospel truths and powers have all been given anew to us by direct revelation” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Bible: A Sealed Book,” a BYU speech given to LDS Seminary and Institute teachers, August 1984).
Tenth LDS prophet/president Joseph Fielding Smith taught that until Joseph Smith “restored” the church, religious people had to rely on the “dead letter of the Bible” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 1:97).
BYU Professor Emeritus Robert Millet taught that Mormons “do not depend on the Bible or on traditional biblical interpretations for our theology. We do not know that the Book of Mormon is true or accurate from what we might find in the Bible. It is the other way around…” (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 6:1, pp. 198-199.
The doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not claim that there is no truth outside of the Bible. It does not imply that everything God has ever done is written within its pages. It does not say that there is no value in traditions or councils or creeds. What it does say is that the Bible alone is the supreme arbiter of God’s truth. If any traditions, councils, creeds, or so-called prophetic pronouncements are contrary to biblical truth, they must be rejected.
Christian pastor John MacArthur explains,
“The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. It…means that everything necessary, everything binding on our consciences, and everything God requires of us is given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3)…Scripture is therefore the perfect and only standard of spiritual truth, revealing infallibly all that we must believe in order to be saved and all that we must do in order to glorify God. That—no more, no less—is what sola Scriptura means.”
And that is what Mormonism unequivocally rejects. Indeed, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints afforded the Bible its true position of honor and its rightful place of supremacy, that would be the end of Mormonism, just as it was the end of the universal unquestioned authority held by sixteenth century popes and other divines. In the early sixteenth century,
“Martin Luther asked things like: How can I be right as a sinner with a holy and perfect God when I cannot obey his law and fall short of his perfect standard? [He] was full of angst because he understood that no matter how hard he tried, he fell short… He resented God because he could only see God as his condemning judge. But then something happened. Luther’s eyes were opened to what Scripture said. Luther started to lecture and study books like Psalms, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, and he noticed that Scripture actually teaches something very different than what the church of Rome was teaching. He realized that a person is justified not by faith and good merits, but by faith in Jesus Christ alone and by God’s grace alone. We are not justified by our own righteousness but by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” (Zondervan Academic, “What is Sola Scriptura?”)
In the Bible Luther discovered not only Sola Scriptura, but also the good news of Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), and Solus Christus (through Christ alone). Latter-day Saints, if you study the Bible to know and understand what God says there, as Luther did, you will discover that it actually teaches something very different than what the church in Salt Lake City is teaching. Please — put the Bible in its honored and rightful place. If you do, you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32).
To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.