Mormonism and the Bible/Biblical completeness

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Biblical completeness

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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]

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."[4]

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."[5]

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[6]
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[7]
Origen (date) Included in canon:
  • Epistle of Barnabas
  • Shepherd of Hermas[8]

Excluded from canon:

  • James
  • Jude
  • 2 John
  • Those disputed by Rome (see above)[9]
Syriac Peshitta Excluded from the canon:
  • 2 Peter
  • 2 John
  • 3 John
  • Jude
  • Revelation of St. John[10]
Armenian Church Included in canon:
  • 3 Corinthians

Excluded from canon:

  • Revelation of St. John prior to 12th century[11]
Ethiopian Church Included in canon:
  • Sinodos
  • Clement
  • Book of the Covenant
  • Didascalia[12]
Martin Luther Considered Epistle of James "a right strawy epistle."[13] 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.

Question: Does the fact that the Bible states that nothing should be "added to" or "taken away" from the book mean that the Book of Mormon is false?

Those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position

Some Christians claim that the Book of Mormon cannot be true because nothing should be "added to" or "taken away from" the Holy Bible. However, those who claim this misuse Revelation, misunderstand the process by which the Bible canon was formed, and must ignore other, earlier scriptures to maintain their position. Their use of this argument is a form of begging the question whereby they presume at the outset that the Book of Mormon and other scriptures are not the Word of God, which is precisely the point under debate. In its proper context, the passage in Revelation actually supports the teachings of the Book of Mormon that many plain and precious things would be taken away from the Bible. It also shows clearly the need for another book of scripture like the Book of Mormon to restore those lost and sacred teachings. If the Book of Mormon and other modern scriptures are the work of uninspired men or the arm of flesh, then of course one ought not to trust them. If, however, they are indeed the word of the Lord to prophets, then all who desire to be saved ought to carefully heed them.

The verse often cited (as by Martin, above) is Revelation 22:18-19:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books

Some claim that this verse states that the Bible is complete, and no other scripture exists or will be forthcoming.

However, the critics ignore that:

  • The book of Revelation was written prior to some of the other biblical books, and prior the Bible being assembled into a collection of texts. Therefore, this verse can only apply to the Book of Revelation, and not the Bible as a whole (some of which was unwritten and none of which was yet assembled together into 'the Bible'). While the traditional date of the book of Revelation is A.D. 95 or 96 (primarily based on a statement by Irenaeus), many scholars now date it as early as A.D. 68 or 69. The Gospel of John is generally dated A.D. 95-100. (For more information on the dating of Revelation, see Thomas B. Slater's Biblica article).
  • The New Testament is made up of first the four Gospels and then second the epistles of the apostles. Since the book of Revelation is neither a gospel nor an epistle, it was placed at the end of the canon in its own category. Therefore, John cannot have intended the last few sentences of Revelation to apply to the entire Bible, since he was not writing a 'final chapter' for the New Testament and since the Bible would not be completed and canonized for some centuries later.
  • Other scriptures (such as Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, and Proverbs 30:6) likewise forbid additions; were the critics' arguments to be self-consistent, they would have to then discard everything in the New Testament and much of the Old, since these verses predate "other scripture" added by God through later prophets.
  • Further evidence that Rev. 22:19 is not referring to the entire bible when it reads "words of the book of this prophecy" is found if one reads Revelation 1:3,11:

Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand...Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send [it] unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.

It is self evident that the book referred to at the very beginning of Revelation is the same book being referred to at the very end of Revelation

Everything that John saw and heard in between these two statements are the contents of that book.

Even if the passage in Revelation meant that no man could add to scripture; it does not forbid that God may, through a prophet, add to the Word of God. If this were not possible, then the Bible could never have come into existence.

Noted Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman wrote:

The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning [quotes Revelation 22:18–19].

This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.[14]

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them

This threat was a real threat in John's eyes. Unfortunately, it appears that the threat went unheeded. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi saw the same things that John the Beloved saw, but was not authorized to write them (1 Nephi 14:21-25). He made this interesting prophesy.

Wherefore, thou seest that after the book [the Bible] hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God (1 Nephi 13:28).

Nephi is later promised that the Lord would send forth other books such as the Book of Mormon to restore those precious and plain things that were taken away.

These last records [The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, etc], which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first [The Bible], which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and previous things which have been taken away from them... (1 Nephi 13:40)

The ancient Book of Mormon prophet Nephi understood how critics would respond to the Book of Mormon. His answer for the critics is this:

Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28:26-31)

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?" [15]: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.[15]: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? [15]:196-197

What is the solution according to Pratt? Divine revelation. Both on an individual basis, and through prophets called by God.[15]: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.[16]

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.[17]

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. [18]

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.[19]

Joseph Smith remarked, "I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers." [20] This is the same thing that the drafters of the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy would state more than a century later.

Question: Is Mormonism in error because Christianity requires a "closed canon" instead of the Church's "open canon"?

The doctrine of a closed canon and the end of authoritative revelation is not found in the Bible

Other churches sometimes claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in error because Christianity requires a "closed canon" (no more authoritative revelation) instead of the Church's "open canon" (potential for more binding revelation).

The doctrine of a closed canon and the end of authoritative revelation is not found in the Bible. To insist upon this doctrine is to place a non-Biblical doctrine in a place of pre-eminence, and insist that God must be bound by it. Such a doctrine would require the very revelation it denies to be authoritative. Even the proper interpretation of Biblical teachings requires authoritative revelation, which are necessarily extra-Biblical.

Critics are free to hold these beliefs if they wish, but they ought not to criticize the LDS for believing extra-Biblical doctrines when they themselves insist upon the non-Biblical closed canon.

God is superior even to His Word

The Bible is an important record of God's message to humanity. However, the Bible—or any other written text—cannot be the focus of the Christian's life or faith. Only one deserves that place: God.

One non-LDS Christian author cautioned believers from placing the Bible 'ahead' of God:

It is possible, however, to stress the Bible so much and give it so central a place that the sensitive Christian conscience must rebel. We may illustrate such overstress on the Bible by the often-used (and perhaps misused) quotation from Chillingworth: “The Bible alone is the religion of Protestantism.” Or we may recall how often it has been said that the Bible is the final authority for the Christian. If it will not seem too facetious, I would like to put in a good word for God. It is God and not the Bible who is the central fact for the Christian. When we speak of “the Word of God” we use a phrase which, properly used, may apply to the Bible, but it has a deeper primary meaning. It is God who speaks to man. But he does not do so only through the Bible. He speaks through prophets and apostles. He speaks through specific events. And while his unique message to the Church finds its central record and written expression in the Bible, this very reference to the Bible reminds us that Christ is the Word of God in a living, personal way which surpasses what we have even in this unique book. Even the Bible proves to be the Word of God only when the Holy Spirit working within us attests the truth and divine authority of what the Scripture says. Faith must not give to the aids that God provides the reverence and attention that Belong only to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope is in God; our life is in Christ; our power is in the Spirit. The Bible speaks to us of the divine center of all life and help and power, but it is not the center. The Christian teaching about the canon must not deify the Scripture.[21]

To argue that the canon is closed effectively seeks to place God's written word (the Bible) above God Himself. Some have even called this practice "bibolatry" or "bibliolatry." Critics are effectively ordering God not to reveal anything further, or refusing to even consider that He might choose to speak again.

Closed canon is not a Biblical doctrine

The idea of a closed canon is not a Biblical doctrine. The Bible bears record that God called prophets in the past. Why could He not—indeed, why would He not—continue to do so?

Ironically, it would seem that the only way to know that there can be no extra-Biblical revelation is via revelation: otherwise, decisions about God's Word are being made by human intellect alone. Yet, since the Bible does not claim that it is the sole source of revealed truth, the only potential source of a revelation to close the canon would be extra-Biblical. Thus, those who insist on a closed canon are in the uncomfortable position of requiring extra-Biblical revelation to rule out extra-Biblical revelation![22]

As one non-LDS scholar observed: "For evidence about what was within the canon, one had to go outside the canon itself." After all, there was “no scriptural evidence to decide what were the exact limits of the canon.”[23]

Throughout Biblical history, the canon was clearly not closed. New prophets were called, and new authoritative writing was made. It would seem strange for this to cease without revelatory notice being given that God's practices were about to change.

Some authors are even now asking if the decision to close the canon was a mistake:

The first question, and the most important one, is whether the church was right in perceiving the need for a closed canon of scriptures....did such a move toward a closed canon of scriptures ultimately (and unconsciously) limit the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church?...Does God act in the church today and by the same Spirit? On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the Church now calls its Bible? must surely ask about the appropriateness of tying the church of the twentieth century to a canon that emerged out of the historical circumstances in the second to the fifth centuries CE. How are we supposed to make the experience of that church absolute for all time?...Was the church in the Nicene and post-Nicene eras infallible in its decisions or not? Finally, if the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern, for example, the use of contraceptives, abortion, liberation, ecological irresponsibility, equal rights, euthanasia, nuclear proliferation, global genocide, economic and social justice, and so on?...[24]

These are striking questions, and those who insist upon a closed canon may have difficulty resolving the issues which they raise. Joseph Smith's insistence that God did not cease to speak, and that the canon was not closed, resolved these issues many decades before modern Christians began to grapple with them.

Early Christians did not have a closed canon

The early Christian Church did not have a fixed canon, nor did it restrict itself to the canon used by most modern Christian churches:

If the term “Christian” is defined by the examples and beliefs passed on by earliest followers of Jesus, then we must at least ponder the question of whether the notion of a biblical canon is necessarily “Christian.” They did not have such canons as the church possesses today, nor did they indicate that their successors should draw them up....

Even in regard to the OT canon, it has been shown that the early church’s collections of scriptures were considerably broader in scope than those presently found in either the Catholic or Protestant canons and that they demonstrated much more flexibility than our present collections regard to the OT, should the church be limited to an OT canon to which Jesus and his first disciples were clearly not limited?[25]

Scriptural interpretation requires revelation

Even if one were to grant that the Bible contains all necessary teachings, it is clear from Christian history that the Bible can be interpreted in many different ways by sincere readers. What else but additional, on-going revelation can settle legitimate questions of interpretation and application of God's word? Are we to rely on human reason alone to do so? Does this not in essence turn to an extra-Biblical source for information about divine matters?


  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  6. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks, "Comparing LDS Beliefs with First-Century Christianity, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, no date). off-site
  7. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  8. 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.
  9. Mike Ash, "Is the Bible Complete?" (FAIR Brochure): 1.
  10. 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.
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. Timothy George, "'A Right Strawy Epistle': Reformation Perspectives on James," The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Fall 2000), 20–31.
  14. Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (HarperSanFrancisco, [2005] 2007), 54–55. ISBN 0060859512. ISBN 0060738170.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt's Works (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945).
  16. 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.
  17. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Section I, paragraph 3.
  18. Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu, 30 September 1943, paragraphs 16-17. (emphasis added)
  19. 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.
  20. Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 327. off-site
  21. Floyd V. Filson, Which Books Belong in the Bible? (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957), 20–21.
  22. Joseph Smith made this observation in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 61. off-site
  23. James Barr, Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983), 24–25. Emphases in original.
  24. Lee Martin McDonald, Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon (Hendrickson Publishers; Rev Sub edition, 1995), 254–255.
  25. Ibid.