Paul Derengowski, ThM
It has been stated before that Mormons do not trust the Bible, mainly because they believe that it contains “great perversion[s]” (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 422), “many errors” (TPJS, 327), or massive—“even cataclysmically”—corruptions (Matthews, A Bible! A Bible!, 75) that have been created by unscrupulous scribes of days gone by through the removal of “many plain and precious things” (1 Ne. 13:28).
Of course, those Mormons faced with such a conclusion argue to the contrary. They love and “revere” the Bible and those who would dare charge them with seeing the Bible with an untrustworthy eye are guilty of misrepresentation. But, is the counter-charge warranted? Does anyone really “love” anything that is perverted without that person being at least slightly perverted himself?
This article will show that not only is the conclusion accurate, that Mormons do not love the Bible, but that any Mormon counter-claim is unwarranted. That one cannot hold to a perverted Bible, while at same time boasting how much it is loved without engaging in irrational double-talk and that while claiming to be a “Christian.” And Mormons love to believe they are Christians—even though that has claim has been effectively countered as well elsewhere.
To prove the points we will look at what amounts to overstatements about the alleged “great perversions.” While it is conceded that the biblical manuscripts have undergone an evolution of variants in transmission, none of those variants constitutes “great perversions,” much less do they have any impact on any essential Christian doctrine.
Moreover, what the Mormon really means by the removal of “many plain and precious things” amounts to nothing more than preconceived notions they wish to impose upon the Bible, that they falsely assumed have been removed, things such as the humanization “Heavenly Father”and the divinization of humanity, among other eccentricities.
When all the arguments are understood, it will be clear that it is impossible for anyone to extol the virtues of the Bible in one breath while damning it as “corrupt” or perverted in the next. That is, unless one is a Mormon, where believing in the impossible is common, even if it means exchanging the truth for a lie and doubting what God has said (see Gen. 3:1).
Bible Perversity or Overstatement?
Critics of the Bible love to overstate their case by frequently using hyperbolic language in their criticism. Variations in how the Bible was transmitted suddenly become magnanimous alterations whereby nothing can any longer be understood from the original writers. The impression is left on the reader that all is lost and the only alternative is to either abandon the Bible completely or accept the advice from those whose spiritual leader received special insight, which is now found in extra-biblical revelations to fill in the lacuna.
Such is the case when discussing the subject of textual criticism of the Bible and Mormon commentary on the subject. One is faced with a mountain of gloom and doom in terms of a lack of Bible reliability and integrity, with no possible place to turn except Mormon solutions. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, made this clear early on in his career when he wrote,
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. As it read, Gen. vi:6, “It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth”; also, Num. xxiii:19, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the Son of man, that he should repent”; which I do not believe. But it ought to read, “It repented Noah that God made man.” This I believe, and then the other quotation stands fair. If any man will prove to, by one passage of Holy Writ, one item I believe to be false, I will renounce and disclaim it as far as I promulgated it (TPJS, 327).
From the outset, Smith was being either devious or ignorant when he asserted he believed the original biblical text, because by 1830, when Smith founded the Mormon Church, the original Bible had long since become extinct. By original is meant the inaugural parchments upon which the biblical writers wrote their messages, especially speaking of the New Testament. Due to the short lifespan of parchment paper, and unless scrupulously handled, those originals had long since crumbled to dust. Hence, Smith never read the original biblical text to begin with.
Secondly, he overstates his case by maligning those who did most of the transcribing of copies of the original texts. While some copyists may have been “ignorant” or “careless,” they were in the minority. Most of the scribes either were skilled professionals or highly dedicated to the task of transmitting what they believed was “Holy Writ.” This is particularly true when considering the transmission of the Old Testament. Birger Gerhardsson argued,
It is just because it is the Sacred Word, the source of endless riches, which is found in the Scriptures, that each and every syllable must be both preserved and used. These two tendencies [flexible and dynamic] are also psychologically associated: the perception of the text as sacred leads partly to a desire to preserve the text without corruption, and partly to a desire to appropriate all its incomparable riches. Furthermore certainty that the sacred words of the text have in fact been preserved without distortion adds to the frankness with which the very letter of the text is drawn upon for teaching purposes (Memory & Manuscript, 41).
Later, when the Christian Church first began, transmission of the “original” message was verbal, not written. The gospel message was literally repeated thousands of times and Christianity rapidly spread throughout the Roman Empire. Given the presence of Jesus’ apostles and disciples, any story or doctrine that ran contrary to the testimony handed down by those same apostles and disciples would have been dealt with and corrected immediately. The decision handed down at the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a classic example of such a correction.
It would not be until about 48 A.D., with the writing of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, that verbal transmission of Christianity would add a new dimension of conveyance to its message. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke would follow shortly thereafter, but by that time, the gospel message and the doctrines of Christianity had been spread far and wide. Moreover, due to the emphasis of memory instilled from Jewish pedagogy, since most of the early Christians were Jewish, the written message would reflect the same effect, namely precision.
Although there would be variations in how the gospel message was transmitted, the storyline would remain the same. It would be no different than asking several credible persons who witnessed an event today to write down the details of what they experienced. There would be varying accounts of that event, but as long as those persons expressed thoughts consistent with reality, there would be little difficulty in providing an overall narrative that accurately told the truth of the event.
When we return to Joseph Smith’s hyperbolic criticism of those who did transmit either the Old or New Testaments, the criticism is filled with “many errors,” simply because he was clueless as to the transmission process. His textual critical examples make that clear by projecting Noah in the place of Yahweh at Genesis 6:6, and then abusing Numbers 23:19 as a cross reference. Worse yet, he provides no manuscript evidence to support any his claims. He merely states it and everyone is supposed to kowtow. Thankfully, God has provided a more sure revelation and one need not be swayed by what amounts to irrational assertions contrary to fact.
Finally, Smith claimed that he would recant of a previously belief held, if someone would simply prove to him the contrary from Holy Writ. The reality is, several ministers during his day tried to do that very thing and he ignored them. In fact, he mocked and ridiculed them, if not provoke those willing to listen to his weird tales of spiritistic encounters to anger with embellished accounts of personal persecution. That, in turn, would lead him to conclude early on that he could join none of the churches around him, as well as denounce them all as “corrupt” and “having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (History of the Church, 1.6).
In short, Joseph Smith had no intent on listening to anyone. His mind was already made up what he believed belonged in the Bible and no one was going to tell him otherwise. The same self-centered attitude remains intact among many Mormons today. The “prophet” has spoken and what he says fits their preconceived notions of godliness. Therefore, regardless of the error told by Smith, et al, or the truth shared by those exposing the Mormon error, the staunch Mormon will ignore the truth and remain in error. In terms of distrusting the Bible, it has led to the further propagation of the idea that the biblical text is now missing many doctrines once taught. But, is the Bible really missing anything or did Smith merely project that idea as well? If something is missing, doctrinally, from the Bible, what would it be and how would it comport with what remains?
Missing Doctrines or Doctrinal Impositions?
If one were to ask the typical Mormon just exactly, what is missing from the Bible, one would be hard-pressed to get an answer. The reason for this is simple. They have no idea. Most Mormons are under the impression that the Bible is another standard work, similar to that of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, even though the Bible is also subordinate to those works because they have been told something is missing, even though they do not exactly know what. It is only stated, but never proved, and then when so-called evidence or examples are presented, it is more of the same, “I said so” type of argumentation that is to be accepted without question.
On other occasions a person will come across certain Mormons willing to pose what they believe are biblical omissions, even though they supply nothing but conjecture as evidence for their claims. A case in point is the person of Robert Matthews, a late professor at Brigham Young University. He wrote in his book A Bible! A Bible! that with the coming of the Joseph Smith Translation a person would “gain an insight into the Prophet’s understanding of various scriptures; second, he will learn many things about the gospel not found in other sources; and third, he will obtain a clue as to the content and meaning of the Old and the New Testaments in their original form” (116). So, just what were these insights, gospel tidbits, and clues?
According to Matthews, the gospel was taught to Abraham and with that teaching came the revelation of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son (as well as the Son of Man), repentance, water baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and atonement for original guilt (as well as denial of original sin being passed on to Adam’s progeny). Of course, Matthews’ sole source of authority is the say-so of Joseph Smith. He provides nothing apart from his circular reasoning to prove anything and by doing so actually contradicts biblical chronology and doctrine.
Later, Matthews confides, “There are some very basic doctrines that are prominent in the JST that are not presented so clearly in other Bible translations.” And just what would those doctrines be? Information about God and man’s natures, Satan’s origin, the premortal existence, the Grand Council responsible for okaying Jesus as the Savior, and the anachronistic War in Heaven that even the JST places in the Book of Revelation, rather that before the creation of the world. Add to those Joseph Smith’s rejection of God repenting (regretting) that He created mankind (Gen. 6:6), as well as God hardening men’s hearts, and salvation (resurrection) coming via the atonement, and one has a ready-made doctrinal mess that, once again, undermines biblical doctrine. It does not clarify it.
Despite Matthews’ effort to demonstrate Mormon fidelity toward the Bible, his illustrative argument only proves that Mormons do not trust what God has inspired and preserved. That the Mormon faithful have absolutely zero textual critical support for anything they believe that runs counter to biblical revelation. That without extra-biblical “revelation,” which amounts to nothing more than the presupposed ideas of someone totally dissatisfied with what little he knew about the Bible, the Mormon ideological framework crumbles like a house of cards.
Nevertheless, lack of textual critical support does not hinder the typical Mormon from insisting that he loves the Bible. So long as he is allowed, he will keep right on using and abusing the Bible, as if there was nothing wrong with it, all the while espousing beliefs and doctrines about the Bible, God, Jesus, sin, salvation, etc., that clearly infer that there is something wrong; he simply cannot or will not elaborate on the contradictions. It is a simple case of double-minded double-talk like that already discussed above. They love it even though their real sentiments have been tainted by the presuppositions of their “prophet” to degrade it.
Do Mormons “love” the Bible? Sure they do. So long as loving the Bible means to look elsewhere for instruction concerning matters of faith and practice, which is what Mormons have to do. Moreover, Mormons “love” the Bible, as long as it is acceptable to overstate textual critical variants and build mountains out of molehills arguments that leave only the naïve under the impression that there is something significantly untrustworthy about the Bible. Also, Mormons “love” the Bible as long as it is okay to engage in double-minded double-talk, stating in one breath how much reverence is paid to the Bible, while in the next breath stating how “cataclysmically” the Bible has undergone changes at the hands of unscrupulous scribes, which was precipitated by the “abominable church.”
On the other hand, the Mormons cannot love the Bible as long as they are consistent and words have any meaning whatsoever. If the Bible is perverse, corrupt, imperfect, incomplete, or any number of other adjectives or epithets used by Mormon authors and leaders to disparage the Bible, then they cannot love it. To argue otherwise is to engage in schizophrenic lingo unbecoming of rational discourse. To love what is perverse is to implicate oneself in perversion as well. And as proud as most Mormons are when it comes to distancing themselves from perversion, it makes absolutely no sense for them to suddenly embrace something as perverse as the Bible, if that is what they truly believe about it.
Unfortunately, for anyone who disdains the Bible as perverse or corrupt that person is immediately left wandering in a quandary of uncertainty or guidance about anything. He is without the light of God’s Word (Ps. 119:105). To try to dispel the darkness the person must deny either the darkness exists or he must find an alternative. In the case of the Mormon and Mormonism, it is the latter. The Mormon alternative to biblical light is the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, a severely embellished Joseph Smith Translation, or even worse yet, “personal revelation.” And just how great is that darkness!
Jesus and his disciples did not view the Scriptures as perverse, but as the very Word of God that could not be broken (Jn. 10:35). In fact, Jesus said, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). That because the Scriptures spoke of Jesus (Lk. 24:27, 44; Jn. 1:45; 5:39; Heb. 10:7; Rev. 19:10) and Jesus personified the Word of God as God (Jn. 1:1), any presupposition that concluded humans were capable of distorting, perverting, corrupting, or eliminating those same Scriptures that were written for human instruction (Rom. 4:23; 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11) to the degree where they were untrustworthy is distorted, perverse, and corrupt in itself and needs elimination.
Of course, if the Mormons truly loved the Bible as they say they do, then they would agree. Yet, it is clear from the preceding that they disagree and do not love the Bible, because their presuppositions will not allow it. Hence, they are left to walk in the darkness of extra-biblical revelation, which tells of stories antithetical to the doctrines taught in the Bible, which includes the humanization of God, the deification of man, and a belief that God is incapable of preserving, in writing, what He has said.