Mormons and the Bible: Part 1 (of 3)

Part I
General Information
Anyone interested in a thorough investigation of Mormonism and the Bible should read Philip L. Barlow’s book Mormons and the Bible, The Place of the Latter-day Saints an American Religion published by Oxford University Press (here).
Also read a 1989 essay by Philip Barlow in Dialog Journal of Mormon Thought, "Why the King James Version?: From the Common to the Official Bible of Mormonism." (free content)

Related Posts: Mormons and the Bible Part II ; Mormons and the Bible Part III

The traditional Protestant Bible consists of 66 books: 39 in the Old Testament (OT) and 27 in the New Testament (NT). The Greek word for testament is “diatheke…[which] in classical Greek [means] an arrangement, and therefore sometimes a will or testament, as in an arrangement for disposal of a person’s property after his death.” (“Bible”, LDS Bible dictionary). Diatheke corresponds to an OT word meaning covenant.

The LDS’ attitude toward the Bible is stated in our Articles of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). The LDS cannon is referred to as the Standard Works which consists of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. (FYI: when these books are bound into a single volume it is referred to as a quad.)

“As far as it is translated correctly” needs to be explained. Mormons believe that after Jesus’ apostles died off, the church he established quickly fell into apostasy. This apostasy affected the records that would eventually become the New Testament: “many plain and precious things” were lost (1 Nephi 13:28). Also, many books were omitted from the OT (1 Nephi 13:23). The words “translated correctly” have been taken to mean a faithful language translation as well as the faithful transmission of the text.[1][2] Speaking for myself, I believe the Biblical text is mostly correct, and, for the greater part, authoritative.

The Old Testament
As mentioned above, there are 39 books in the standard Protestant OT. The Catholic Bible includes a few additional books that are authoritative for Catholics, but do not have the same weight for non-Catholics. These books are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and First and Second Maccabees, as well as additions to Esther and Daniel. These additional OT books are known as the Apocrypha. (The Catholic collection of New Testament writings is the same as the Protestant one.) The LDS position on the Apocrypha is given in the Doctrine and Covenants.

…concerning the Apocrypha…There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men.…whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom; And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited. (D&C 91:1-6)

There are several books of scripture mentioned in the OT for which there is no known manuscript: The book of the covenant (Ex. 24:7); book of the wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14); book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13 and 2 Sam. 1:18); book of the acts of Solomon (1 Kgs. 11:41); book of Samuel the seer (1 Chr. 29:29); book of Nathan the prophet (2 Chr. 9:29); book of Shemaiah the prophet (2 Chr. 12:15); acts of Abijah ... in the story of the prophet Iddo (2 Chr. 13:22); book of Jehu (2 Chr. 20:34); and the sayings of the seers (2 Chr. 33:19). ( “Scriptures, Lost”, LDS Topical Guide)

The New Testament
Though the New Testament is considered authoritative and therefore scriptural, the books comprising the NT were never intended to be scripture. For example Luke writes his gospel (as well as the Acts of the Apostles) to a person by the name of Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). “It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to
write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught” (NASB, Luke 1:3-4; italics mine). Most of the epistles of Paul were written to congregations in cities such as Ephesus, Corinth, Laodicea, and Colosse. Other epistles were personal letters: for example to Philemon, Titus, Timothy, Gaius, “to the church in thy house”, and to “an elect lady and her children.” The only revelatory book in the NT is the book of Revelation.

Of the NT writers considered to be apostolic, we have writings from Mathew (1), John (4), Paul (14), James (1), Peter (2), and Jude (1). The remaining three NT books were written by Mark (1) and Luke (2), neither of whom were apostles. This means we have writings from only five of the original twelve apostles. It could be that the others simply chose not to write letters, but this explanation is (to me) unbelievable. I think it much more likely that they wrote many epistles which are now lost to us. At the very least it strains reason to suggest that Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, James (son of Alpheus), Simon (Zelotes), and Matthias didn’t bother to write a single letter throughout their entire career as witnesses of Jesus Christ. And further, why did it turn out that we have so many of Paul’s epistles and few to none from the other apostles? There is no way of knowing for certain why this is. But it does cast considerable doubt on the notion that we have most to all of what was written. Another more likely explanation is that the early church became so flooded with counterfeit epistles and gospels that only those with wide circulation were considered reliable, and thus survived.[3] And during times of persecution, when Christians were required to give up their books, they would most likely give up their less reliable ones--I believe that what we do have is more or less in its original form.

Some NT writings did received wide circulation. For example the first epistle of Peter begins with “to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Pet. 1:1)--These Roman provinces covered most of what is now Turkey. The letter to the Galatians begins, “unto the churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2)--Galatia was a Roman province located in present day Turkey. The second epistle to the Corinthians begins with, “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” (2 Cor. 1:1)--Achaia is a Roman province in southern Greece. The book of Revelation was sent to seven cities in the province of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11). There is also evidence of letter sharing: “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren” (1 Thes. 5:27); “And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Col. 4:17). [Note: there is no known epistle to the Laodiceans.]

By the end of the first century the books now comprising the NT were in existence. At the beginning of the second century many of the NT writings had been collected and were available to Clement (c. A.D. 95), Ignatius (c. A.D. 100), and Polycarp (c. A.D. 120). Eventually consensus on the books of the NT emerged and by the end of the second century most of the current NT books were considered authoritative, with Hebrews, James, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Jude, and Revelation being disputed.

There is nothing known about the autographs of the NT writings: exactly when they were written, when or by whom they were copied, who transported them, and (except for the epistles written to specific congregations) who owned them after the original owners died. How many congregations had copies? Which congregations owned copies? And why do we have so few letters out of what were likely so many? Also, why was the book of Acts never finished?[4] And what happened to the epistle to the Laodiceans? Why do we know so much of the missionary journeys of Paul but very little to nothing of the other apostles? I have never come across clear answers to these questions. We know the extant epistles were written from the middle to the end of the first century. By the beginning of the second century they were available to prominent Christians like Polycarp, but little to nothing is known about the in-between time.

Biblical inerrancy

Many Christian churches profess a belief in Biblical inerrancy: that the Bible, written according to divine inspiration, contains no error, self-contradiction, or inconsistency with scientific or historical fact. And, though there are errors in transmission and translation, these latter copies do not interfere with the fact of inerrancy. Since the original writings no longer exist, and since human error does corrupt a text, allowances are made for historical, geographical, and chronological errors; as well as errors in parallel accounts, numbers, secular history, and genealogy. Inerrancy is further qualified by the belief that human language (ancient Greek or Hebrew, or modern languages) does not diminish the inerrancy of Holy Scripture. They also affirm that there is no further scripture after the New Testament, thus all knowledge required for salvation is found in the Bible.

The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy is one such statement. Here are some excerpts. “Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself”; “…that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic [original] text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy…[and] that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs…[and] that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.” “No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again…The Church’s part was to discern the canon which God had created, not to devise one of its own.” “Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored… for the present [where] no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true…[and] that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.”

From what I have been able to gather the Catholic position is similar. In addition to inerrancy they would add Papal infallibility and put scripture, the Christian creeds, and church tradition on equal footing. They would deny that the authority of the church is subordinate to the authority of scripture, and would affirm that Papal authority has continued unbroken through the centuries.

One of the difficulties with Scriptural inerrancy is that there is no statement in the Bible about the Bible being inerrant.[5] It is admitted that this is the case.[6] Further, the belief in inerrancy means the definition of doctrines made in synods or counsels (in the form of creeds) must reflect what the Bible teaches. However, such expositions are rarely, if ever, given in scripture--which is why counsels were necessary in the first place. No matter how one looks at it, the Bible needs interpretation. As such, authority to interpret Scripture must come from the Spirit. But teaching an inspired interpretation places the interpretation nearly on par with scripture: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This reliance on the Spirit is, in fact, the position of Mormonism.[7] Though “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (ESV, 2 Pet. 1:20; emphasis added), scripture does need authoritative interpretation, and a person’s authority to interpret cannot come from the thing he is interpreting. Though one is free to believe in Biblical inerrancy, understanding and explaining the Bible’s message depends on Spiritual authority. And therefore, to a large extent, what the Bible teaches depends on that authority.

Our Articles of Faith says, “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” This means that the original scriptures were the word of God, but were not translated (transmitted) intact; that many vital books of scripture were lost; ordinances were changed; and that essential elements of the gospel were lost or corrupted.[8] The Book of Mormon teaches that corrupt men had “taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away” (1 Nephi 13:26). Then “after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 13:29). In the Mormon faith there is no analogue to scriptural inerrancy. We believe there are significant omissions in the Bible, and possibly minor errors in the Book of Mormon.[9] We have many (if not most) of the original documents from the Doctrine and Covenants, so great confidence is placed in it. And the same is true for Joseph’s translations of ancient scripture found in the Pearl of Great Price. Because the idea of inerrancy tends to mean there can be no further scripture, we cannot agree with it in concept or in practice. Though we believe the true gospel has been restored, along with all things necessary for salvation and exaltation, we nevertheless affirm this: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9).

End Notes--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
[1] See Joseph Smith: The Choice Seer chapter 28; Book of Mormon Symposium Series page 207; A Bible! A Bible! part 1 chapter 6.

[2] Early in the history of the church (1830) Joseph Smith began his inspired translation of the Bible. What this means is that Joseph Smith restored much of the Bible’s original meaning. Non-LDS persons would say that he rewrote the Bible to make it say what he wanted it to say, and if Joseph had not been a prophet that would be true. In the Doctrine and Covenants this process is described as translation. For example D&C 77:15-18: “For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty–ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows--Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man: And shall come forth; they who have done good in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust. Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit ” (italics mine). This “translation” reads differently from the KJV of John 5:29. This is how the word “translation” in the Articles of Faith should be understood. This revision of the Bible is often called the Joseph Smith Translation (JST), the Inspired Version, or the Inspired Translation. (See here for JST excerpts.)

[3] Paul speaks of “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (
2 Cor. 11:13) and John records that some false apostles tried to influence the church at Ephesus, “thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2).

[4] The book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome. “He received all that come in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no account of his trial before Caesar, its outcome, and where he went afterward. Had he been released (he almost certainly was) it would be a triumph for the Gospel. Had he been executed he would have been a great martyr. Yet we have no record. Paul was an extremely important apostle and I think it unlikely that none of his companions or friends recorded what happened. Also, to where did he travel afterwards: Spain (Rom. 15:28), Colosse (Philem. 1:22), Philippi (Philip. 1:26), or to somewhere else.

[5] Some quote Revelation 22:18-19 as supporting the nothing-is-missing view of the Bible: “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” (22:18-19). Given that this passage is among the last in Bible it has the sense of a final pronouncement. However, it applies only to the book of Revelation, not to the Bible. Further, it contains very strong judgments (actually curses) against those who would alter its contents, suggesting a real possibility of alteration. This curse was included even though seven copies were distributed. Therefore, replication was not enough to assure the integrity of the text.

One can also make comparisons with the Received text (essentially the KJV) and the Majority text to get a feel for how many alterations have been made to the book of Revelation. (Note: The Majority Text is based on existing Greek NT manuscripts and is made by statistically comparing these texts and retaining the most common elements.) If you compare the differences between the Received text and the Majority text for all the books of the New Testament the book of Revelation has the greatest number of discrepancies at 385. The book of Acts has the second highest number of discrepancies at 91. This is interesting since Acts is about twice as long as Revelation. Most of these differences are not important, but they illustrate that the book has been extensively tampered with, more than any other NT book. (For a list of differences between the Majority text of Hodges and Farstad and the Received text go to

[6] The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy reads, “Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture…”

[7] “whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation” (D&C 68:4).

[8] A list of NT fragments with their date and corresponding passage can be found at Wikipedia (
here). Below is a histogram of the number of fragments plotted against their date. According to the Wikipedia list there are 11 fragments dated to the second century and early third century. Here is a list of their corresponding NT passages.

Year __ Passage

150. . . . . John 18

150. . . . .
John 18-19
. . . . . Revelation 1
. . . . . Matthew 21?
. . . . . Titus 1-2
. . . . . Romans 5-6,8-16; 1 Cor; 2 Cor; Gal; Eph; Php; Col; 1 Th; Heb
. . . . . Matthew 3,5,26
. . . . . John
. . . . . Matthew 3,5,26
. . . . . Matthew 23
. . . . . Matthew 13-14

[9] The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni writes, “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn no the things of God” (Title Page 1:2; see also Ether 12:23-28 and 1 Nephi 19:6).


  1. See also, "And it came to print: Creating a new LDS version of the Bible," by Michael De Groot, Mormon Times.

    The head of Cambridge University Press started out the meeting by telling Mortimer and Rasmussen what Cambridge would do. Ellis and Mortimer looked at each other and knew the meeting wasn't heading in the right direction. "Everything he was saying was not what we wanted, it was what they wanted," Mortimer said. "To be honest, I don't remember (what the problem was), all I know is that it was wrong. The Spirit was working within me and saying, 'He doesn't understand. You've got to set him straight.'"

    Wm. James Mortimer, former publisher of the Deseret News, at his home in Salt Lake City. Photograph by Mike Terry, Deseret News.

    Mortimer interrupted and explained the church's goals. "I'm not really sure what I said, but when I finished I was a little embarrassed that I had interrupted him and began to tell him what to do," Mortimer said. "But he very politely said, 'Thank you, Mr. Mortimer. Please tell us what you want, and we will try to do it.'"

    "He accepted it, and we had a wonderful, wonderful working relationship with Cambridge. What we needed, they provided," Mortimer said.

  2. Grant Hardy in "Why LDS should use other Bibles, too" (Salt Lake Tribune), wrote

    • "The KJV is not as accurate as many modern translations, which are based on much better Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (including the Dead Sea Scrolls) and several more centuries of linguistic expertise.

    • "The archaic language of the KJV, similar to that of Shakespeare, is quite difficult to understand, particularly in the Hebrew prophets and Pauline epistles. It may be beautiful, but Mormons are trading clarity and comprehension for aesthetics and tradition. Even Isaiah is fairly understandable in modern English.

    • "The KJV is no longer the common Bible of English-speaking Christians, most of whom now use the New Revised Standard Version or the New International Version. Indeed, the LDS use of the KJV looks increasingly like the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Investigators will wonder why Mormons can’t support their claims with ordinary Bibles, and new converts will be reluctant to give up the Bibles of their youth.

    • "Some of the verses we use to support Mormon doctrine are odd renderings or even mistranslations. As the church becomes more global, it is awkward to translate talks, manuals and magazines for Latter-day Saints who use more accurate, foreign language bibles.

    • "Because of our exclusive use of the KJV, most Latter-day Saints have little understanding of issues of biblical manuscripts, transmission, translation or interpretation. This makes it difficult to explain our faith to knowledgeable Christians.

    By Grant Hardy
    Special to The Tribune
    First published Feb 18 2011 01:18PM
    Updated Feb 18, 2011 05:09PM