By Eric Johnson
While Christians may use the word “scripture” when speaking to Latter-day Saints, they ought to understand that Mormonism holds to more than just the Bible as scripture. Let’s take a look at the different meanings that could be understood by Mormons with the word scripture.
The four scriptures–also known as the Standard Works–are the Bible (officially, the King James Version), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
The Old and New Testaments (66 books, no Apocrypha) are authoritative in Mormonism. However, many leaders have minimized the accuracy of the transmission of the text. The Eighth Article of Faith, written by Joseph Smith, says that the Bible is true only as far as it is translated correctly.” Apostle Neil Maxwell explained, “By faulty transmission, many ‘plain and precious things’ were ‘taken away’ or ‘kept back’ from reaching what later composed our precious Holy Bible” (“The Wondrous Restoration,” Ensign, April 2003, p. 35). The First Presidency reported in 1992: “The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts” (Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas Monson, “First Presidency Statement on the King James Version of the Bible,” Ensign, August 1992).
Leaders have critiqued the Bible because there are no autographs, or originals, of any pages of the Bible. In that same First Presidency letter, it says,
Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations (“Letter Reaffirms use of King James Version Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, p. 3).
Consider this citation from one BYU professor concerning the accuracy of the New Testament:
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 any book in its manuscript tradition (BYU Professor Lloyd Anderson, “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).
Meanwhile, the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in 1947 and help ascertain the accuracy of the Old Testament. Christians would fully agree with second President Brigham Young: “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126).
The Book of Mormon is a book Latter-day Saints believe was translated by Joseph Smith. It tells the story of ancient Americans from Israel who came to the North American continent. One people group called the Nephites were destroyed by the other people group, the Lamanites, in the 5th century AD.
The Book of Mormon is a sacred record of some of the people who lived on the American continents between about 2000 B.C. and A.D. 400. It contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (see D&C 20:9; 42:12; 135:3). The Book of Mormon tells of the visit Jesus Christ made to the people in the Americas soon after His Resurrection (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 46).
An official church manual explains how this scripture is more reliable than the Bible:
The Book of Mormon is another witness for the truths taught in the Bible. It also restores ‘plain and precious’ truths that have been lost from the Bible through errors in translation or “taken away” in attempts to “pervert the right ways of the Lord” (see 1 Nephi 13:24–27, 38–41) (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, pp. 157-158).
Two church manuals explain the scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants:
The Doctrine and Covenants contains revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It also includes a few revelations given to other latter-day prophets. This book of scripture is unique because it is not a translation of ancient documents. It is a collection of revelations given by the Lord to His chosen prophets in the latter days (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 158).
The book contains the revelations regarding the Church of Jesus Christ as it has been restored in these last days. . . . God has commanded us to study His revelations in this book: “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled” (D&C 1:37) (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 47. Ellipsis mine).
The Pearl of Great Price contains the book of Moses, the book of Abraham, and some inspired writings of Joseph Smith. The book of Moses contains an account of some of the visions and writings of Moses, revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It clarifies doctrines and teachings that were lost from the Bible and gives added information concerning the Creation of the earth. The book of Abraham was translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith from a papyrus scroll taken from the Egyptian catacombs. This book contains valuable information about the Creation, the gospel, the nature of God, and the priesthood. The writings of Joseph Smith include part of Joseph Smith’s inspired translation of the Bible, selections from his History of the Church, and the Articles of Faith (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 48).
Teachings from the Church Leaders
Finally, the teachings of the church’s leaders in official venues such as General Conference and official manuals should also be considered scripture. Fourteenth President Howard W. Hunter explained the importance of the May and November issues of the church magazine Ensign:
Our modern-day prophets have encouraged us to make the reading of the conference editions of our church magazines an important and regular part of our personal study. Thus, general conference becomes, in a sense, a supplement to or an extension of the Doctrine and Covenants (“What Modern Day Prophets Have Said About Conference,” Church News, October 23, 2004, p. 4)
Verses used by LDS leaders to support their view on this topic
- Ezekiel 37:15-20: Books or Sticks
- Isaiah 29:4-12: Prophecy about the Book of Mormon
- John 10:16: Other sheep
- Revelation 14:6-7: Moroni delivering the Book of Mormon?
What does Christianity Teach
The Bible is the Word of God. It is God’s special revelation and is to be used to understand God’s mind and desire for humans. The other scriptures recognized in Mormonism are rejected since there is no evidence that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God or that any of what is supposed to be historical (such as the Book of Mormon) ever took place.
For issues related to the Bible, click here.
For issues related to the Book of Mormon, click here.
For issues related to the Pearl of Great Price or the Doctrine and Covenants, click here.