Doctrinal completeness of the Bible

FAIR Answers Wiki Main Page

Articles about the Bible



Doctrinal completeness of the Bible


Question: Does the Bible alone contain all necessary or essential knowledge to assure salvation, thus making the Book of Mormon and modern prophets unnecessary?

The Bible nowhere makes the claim for sufficiency or completeness

Other churches claim the Bible contains all necessary or essential knowledge to assure salvation. Therefore, things like modern prophets or additional scripture (such as the Book of Mormon) are unnecessary or even blasphemous.

Claiming inerrancy and completeness:

  • is not a Biblical doctrine
  • has not been sufficient to prevent a vast range of Biblical interpretations and Christian practices, all of which cannot be correct
  • ignores that the Biblical canon is not unanimous among Christians, and ignores non-canonical books which the Bible itself cites as being authoritative
  • ignores that the Bible contains some errors and internal inconsistencies

However, Mormons cherish the Bible. Those who claim otherwise are mistaken. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:

Occasionally, a few in the Church let the justified caveat about the Bible—“as far as it is translated correctly”—diminish their exultation over the New Testament. Inaccuracy of some translating must not, however, diminish our appreciation for the powerful testimony and ample historicity of the New Testament...

So when we read and turn the pages of the precious New Testament, there is a barely audible rustling like the quiet stirrings of the Spirit, something to be 'spiritually discerned.' (1 Corinthians 2:14). The witnessing words came to us—not slowly, laboriously, or equivocally through the corridors of the centuries, but rather, swiftly, deftly, and clearly. Upon the wings of the Spirit these words proclaim, again and anew, “JESUS LIVED. JESUS LIVES!”[1]

The Bible nowhere makes the claim for sufficiency or completeness.

Furthermore, the thousands of Christian sects and groups provide ample testimony that the Bible has not been sufficient to encourage unanimity among Christians about proper authority, doctrine, or practice. Critics would like us to accept that their reading is the correct one, but this means we must appeal to some other standard—one cannot use their reading of the Bible to prove their reading of the Bible!

There is also no unanimity among Christians concerning what constitutes the "true" Bible canon—once again, some other standard is needed to determine which Bible is the "true" or "inerrant" version.

There are also other writings which the Bible itself refers to as authoritative, and yet these books are not in the present Bible canon. Either the Bible is wrong in referring to these writings as authoritative, or some modern Christians are wrong for arguing that the Bible is a complete record of all God's word to His children.

Mormons consider the Bible an inspired volume of scripture of great value, but they also recognize that there are some errors and contradictions

While the LDS do not like to denigrate the Bible or call attention to its errors, since they consider it an inspired volume of scripture of great value, they also recognize that there are some errors and contradictions in the Bible which are the result of human error or tampering. This does not reduce the Bible's value in their estimation, but it does call into question any claims for the Bible's "inerrancy."

Said early LDS leader George Q. Cannon:

This book [the Bible] is of priceless worth; its value cannot estimated by anything that is known among men upon which value is fixed. ... But in the Latter-day Saints it should always be a precious treasure. Beyond any people now upon the face of the earth, they should value it, for the reason that from its pages, from the doctrines set forth by its writers, the epitome of the plan of salvation which is there given unto us, we derive the highest consolation, we obtain the greatest strength. It is, as it were, a constant fountain sending forth streams of living life to satisfy the souls of all who peruse its pages.[2]

∗       ∗       ∗

We are not called to teach the errors of translators but the truth of God's word. It is our mission to develop faith in the revelations from God in the hearts of the children, and "How can that best be done?" is the question that confronts us. Certainly not by emphasizing doubts, creating difficulties or teaching negations.... The clause in the Articles of Faith regarding mistakes in the translation of the Bible was never intended to encourage us to spend our time in searching out and studying those errors, but to emphasize the idea that it is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found.[3]

Notes

  1. Neal Maxwell, "The New Testament—A Matchless Portrait of the Savior," Ensign (December 1986), 20. (italics in original)
  2. George Q. Cannon, "The Blessings Enjoyed Through Possessing The Ancient Records, etc.," (8 May 1881) Journal of Discourses 22:261-262.
  3. George Q. Cannon, "?," The Juvenile Instructor 36 no. ? (1 April 1901), 208.

Question: What does the Book of Mormon mean when it says that "plain and precious" things have been taken out of the bible?

So called "lost scripture" is in reference to writings mentioned or cited within the present Biblical record, but which are not in the Bible itself

I've heard about "lost scripture" mentioned in the Bible. What is this about, and what implications does it have for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency?

1. Biblical writers considered writings not in the present canon to be scriptural writings.
2. Christian groups do not agree on what constitutes the Biblical canon—any claim that the canon is closed, complete, and sufficient must answer:

a) which canon?
b) what establishes this canon as authoritative and not some other?

3. Differences in canon between Christian groups and Biblical authors' clear belief in the scriptural status of other non-Biblical texts argue against a coherent doctrine of Biblical sufficiency and inerrancy drawn from the Bible itself. Such a claim must come from outside the Bible.

Stephen E. Robinson said the following of this subject:

"The Book of Mormon teaches that "plain and precious" things have been taken out of the Bible (1 Nephi 13:24-29). Both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals often assume this means that the present biblical books went through a cut-and-paste process to remove these things...However, I see no reason to understand things this way, and in fact I it is largely erroneous. The pertinent passages from the Book of Mormon give no reason to assume that the process of removing plain and precious things from Scripture was one exclusively or even primarily of editing the books of the present canon. The bulk of the text-critical evidence is against a process of wholesale cutting and pasting...

It is clear to me, therefore, that "the plain and precious truths" were not necessarily in the originals of the present biblical books, and I suspect that the editing process that excised them did not consist solely or even primarily of cutting and pasting the present books, but rather largely in keeping other apostolic or prophetic writings from being included in the canon. In other words, "the plain and precious truths" were primarily excised not by means of controlling the text, but by means of controlling the canon."[1]

So called "lost scripture" is in reference to writings mentioned or cited within the present Biblical record, but which are not in the Bible itself. Some of these writings are known from other sources, and some are not.

Examples of "lost scripture"

Lost writing Biblical citation to the lost writing
Book of the Wars of the Lord Numbers 21:14
Book of Jasher Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18
Book of the Acts of Solomon 1 Kings 11:41
Book of Samuel the Seer 1 Chronicles 29:29
Book of Gad the Seer 1 Chronicles 29:29
Book of Nathan the Prophet 1 Chronicles 29:29, 2 Chronicles 9:29
Prophecy of Ahijah 2 Chronicles 9:29
Visions of Iddo the Seer 2 Chronicles 9:29, 2 Chronicles 12:15, 2 Chronicles 13:22
Book of Shemaiah 2 Chronicles 12:15
Book of Jehu 2 Chronicles 20:34
Sayings of the Seers 2 Chronicles 33:19
Lament for Josiah 2 Chronicles 35:25
Paul's epistle to Corinthians before our "1 Corinthians" 1 Corinthians 5:9
Paul's possible earlier Ephesians epistle Ephesians 3:3
Paul's epistle to Church at Laodicea Colossians 4:16
1 Enoch 1:19 and The Assumption of Moses Jude 1:14-15
1 Enoch "It influenced Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 John, Jude (which quotes it directly) and Revelation (with numerous points of contact)…in molding New Testament doctrines concerning the nature of the Messiah, the Son of Man, the messianic kingdom, demonology, the future, resurrection, the final judgment, the whole eschatological theater, and symbolism."[2]

Examples of canonical differences among Bibles

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Christians have not always agreed on the "canon"—that is, they have not always agreed upon which writings were "scripture" and which were not.

Some examples of these variations:

Christian Person or Group Difference in canon from Protestant Bible (e.g., the KJV)
Catholics Apocrypha is canonical
Orthodox Apocrypha is canonical
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 200) Included in canon:
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Epistle of Clement
  • The Preaching of Peter[3]
Roman Christians (circa A.D. 200) Included in canon:
  • Revelation of Peter
  • Wisdom of Solomon

Excluded from canon:

  • Hebrews
  • 1 Peter
  • 2 Peter
  • 3 John[4]
Origen (date) Included in canon:
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Shepherd of Hermas[5]

Excluded from canon:

  • James
  • Jude
  • 2 John
  • Those disputed by Rome (see above)[6]
Syriac Peshitta Excluded from the canon:
  • 2 Peter
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation of St. John[7]
Armenian Church Included in canon:
  • 3 Corinthians

Excluded from canon:

  • Revelation of St. John prior to 12th century[8]
Ethiopian Church Included in canon:
  • Sinodos
  • Clement
  • Book of the Covenant
  • Didascalia[9]
Martin Luther Considered Epistle of James "a right strawy epistle."[10] Also didn't agree with Sermon on the Mount because didn't match his "grace only" theology.

Implications for inerrancy and sufficiency doctrine of the Bible

All these canons cannot be correct. Why must we accept that the critic's Bible is complete and inerrant? By what authority is this declared? Such an authority would have to be outside the Bible, thus demonstrating that there is some other source for the Word of God besides the Bible.

Furthermore, one should remember that Biblical writers were not aware of the Bible canon, because the Bible was not compiled until centuries later. Thus, Biblical writers cannot have referred to completeness and sufficiency of the canon, because the canon did not exist.

The clear evidence of "lost scripture" from the Bible was a common early LDS argument. See, for example:

  • J. Goodson, "Dear Sir," Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 3 no. 1 (October 1836), 397–99.

{{endnotes sources}

Question: Do Latter-day Saints consider the Bible "insufficient?"

Half of all of the organized study of the scriptures for members of the LDS Church is spent on the Bible

Some Christians interpret the following statement by Orson Pratt to mean that the Bible is "insufficient."

"Add all this imperfection to the uncertainty of the translation, and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment, suppose that the Bible in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one verse of the whole Bible has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same sense now that it did in the original?" [11]:195-196

One of the fundamental programs for teenage members of the LDS Church is the Seminary program. Over the course of the four high-school years, a year is spent on each of the following standard works: the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants/Pearl of Great Price. This is a revolving course of study, and guarantees that each teenager will get all four courses. Of course, this is merely an indicator that the Bible is held in as high a standing as the other standard works. The LDS Church's Sunday School curriculum for those over fourteen years of age likewise follows a similar pattern. The Book of Mormon was the subject for Sunday School lessons in 2000, the D&C was the subject of Sunday School lessons in 2001, while 2002 and 2003 will be devoted to the Old and New Testaments respectively. Half of all of the organized study of the scriptures for members of the LDS Church is spent on the Bible.

Pratt's observations at the time were valid. There is no question that the manuscripts of the Bible are not in agreement

What is the imperfection of which Pratt speaks at the beginning of the citation? He spells it out in his text as follows:

We all know that but a few of the inspired writings have descended to our times, which few quote the names of some twenty other books which are lost, and it is quite certain there were many other inspired books that even the names have not reached us. What few have come down to our day, have been mutilated, changed and corrupted, in such a shameful manner that no two manuscripts agree. Verses and even whole chapters have been added by unknown persons; and we do not know the authors of some whole books; and we are not certain that all those which we do know, were written by inspiration.[11]:195-196

Pratt also makes the following observations:

Would God reveal a system of religion expressed in such indefinite terms that a thousand different religions should grow out of it? Has God revealed the system of salvation in such vague uncertain language on purpose to delight Himself with the quarrels and contentions of His creatures in relation to it? Would God think so much of fallen man, that He would give His Only Begotten Son to die for them, and then reveal His doctrine to them in a language altogether ambiguous and uncertain? [11]:196-197

What is the solution according to Pratt? Divine revelation. Both on an individual basis, and through prophets called by God.[11]:198 This is his theme, and it reflects the core beliefs on scripture of the LDS faith.

Pratt's observations at the time were valid. There is no question that the manuscripts of the Bible are not in agreement. We have the addition or subtraction of whole chapters, particularly in the Old Testament where differing traditions place two substantially different versions of the Book of Jeremiah for example. Or, the only English translation of the Bible available to Pratt, the King James Version, which contained the Johanine Comma: a passage in 1 John long recognized as a corruption which has since been removed from nearly every modern translation of the text. The fact that the oldest manuscripts did not agree in all points everywhere has not changed since Pratt wrote this. Does this invalidate the text? No. Does Pratt indicate that this invalidates the text. No, he does not. Instead, he suggests that because of these evidences-evidences which are based in clearly observable facts, that the Bible itself cannot stand as its own witness to its truth.

This concept has been repeated again and again, and not just within LDS circles. The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy admits that only in the original autographs (the original documents penned by the apostles and the other inspired writers) were the Biblical texts inerrant. Do we have such a document? No. Can such a condition or belief guarantee then that the inspired word is provided with complete accuracy? No.

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appears to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.[12]

This same document also stresses the need for the witness from the Spirit of God as to the truth of the document

Here, the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy indicates that the scripture is insufficient as its own witness, just as Pratt wrote:

The Holy Spirit, Scripture's divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.[13]

Would not this witness of the Spirit of God qualify as divine revelation?

The Roman Catholic Church in 1943 issued a Papal Encyclical by Pope Pius XII entitled Divino Afflante Spiritu. This document officially recognized within the Roman Catholic Church the need for the church to recognize textual criticism to restore the text of the Bible to as close to its original form as was possible. Of the Encyclical, the following two passages are noteworthy:

Wherefore let him diligently apply himself so as to acquire daily a greater facility in biblical as well as in other oriental languages and to support his interpretation by the aids which all branches of philology supply. This indeed St. Jerome strove earnestly to achieve, as far as the science of his time permitted; to this also aspired with untiring zeal and no small fruit not a few of the great exegetes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, although the knowledge of languages then was much less than at the present day. In like manner therefore ought we to explain the original text which, having been written by the inspired author himself, has more authority and greater weight than any even the very best translation, whether ancient or modern; this can be done all the more easily and fruitfully, if to the knowledge of languages be joined a real skill in literary criticism of the same text.

In the present day indeed this art, which is called textual criticism and which is used with great and praiseworthy results in the editions of profane writings, is also quite rightly employed in the case of the Sacred Books, because of that very reverence which is due to the Divine Oracles. For its very purpose is to insure that the sacred text be restored, as perfectly as possible, be purified from the corruptions due to the carelessness of the copyists and be freed, as far as may be done, from glosses and omissions, from the interchange and repetition of words and from all other kinds of mistakes, which are wont to make their way gradually into writings handed down through many centuries. [14]

We may ask, what is the difference between Pratt's remarks and the above? To most of us there is very little difference. The major point of disagreement is that Pratt sees that only God can restore the original truth given the likelihood of producing the original text. Both of the other documents state that scholarship can restore to us the original text as far as is both possible and necessary.

Now, let's examine the LDS Church's characterization of the Bible. Brigham Young said in July of 1853, in a General Conference of the Church:

I have acknowledged the Bible from the time I could be taught by my parents to revere it. They taught me that it was the sacred word of God. And as far as it could be translated correctly from the Hebrew and Greek languages, it is given to us as pure as it possibly could be given. The Bible is mine, and I am not prepared to have you rob me of it, without my consent. The doctrine in it is mine, which I firmly believe.[15]

Joseph Smith remarked, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers." [16] This is the same thing that the drafters of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy would state more than a century later.


Notes

  1. Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 63. ISBN 0830819916.
  2. E. Isaac, "1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch," in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. J. H. Charlesworth, 2 vols, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), 1:10; cited in Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  3. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  4. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  5. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site; citing Clyde L. Manschreck, A History of Christianity in the World, 2d. ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1985), 52.
  6. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  7. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site; citing Kurt Aland, Nestle-Aland Greek-English New Testament, 5th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1990), 769–75; see also Craig A. Evans, Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1992), 190–219, who provides almost 1,500 quotations, allusions, and parallels between noncanonical sources and the New Testament.
  8. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site
  9. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson, "The Evangelical Is Our Brother (Review of How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation)," FARMS Review of Books 11/2 (1999): 178–209. off-site
  10. Timothy George, "'A Right Strawy Epistle': Reformation Perspectives on James," The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Fall 2000), 20–31.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945).
  12. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Section III, Paragraph e. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was produced at an international summit conference of evangelical leaders sponsored by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) and held at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in the fall of 1978. It is nearly universally accepted by Evangelicals and holds wide support among other groups of Protestants.
  13. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Section I, paragraph 3.
  14. Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, paragraphs 16-17. (emphasis added)
  15. Brigham Young, "Effects and Privileges of the Gospel, Etc.," Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 24 July 1853, Vol. 1 (London: Latter-Day Saint's Book Depot, 1854), 238-239.
  16. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 327. off-site