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21 January 2018

A Testimony of the Bible

Recently, there were some missionaries standing around with an investigator after church, teaching him a discussion. They were talking about the Bible. And, to my dismay, I realized that they were telling the gentleman that it's not as valuable, not as good as, not as important as, not as inspired as the Book of Mormon. I could feel the resistance rising in the man, as they told him that this amazing book of holy writ that he cherishes is... not that important.

I really can't blame the missionaries; they were teaching the same thing that I've heard in numerous Sunday School classes, sacrament meeting talks, and other conversations in the Church over the years: We believe the Bible to be the word of God -- but only as far as it's translated correctly... and it's not very correct: The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It's not an uncommon attitude to encounter in the various classes. Our missionaries are young; they teach investigators the things that we teach our children and our youth. There's a big problem with that in this instance:

This idea that the Bible is "less than" other modern(better) scripture is false doctrine.

Say it again: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God."

There is no book on earth that has had more effort put into correct translation, time and time again. It is as good as human efforts can make it. Yes, there are translational challenges with the Bible; there is also a wealth of tools available to help us through them. The translators, in every case that I have ever read about, knew full well the weight of the responsibility of translating the word of God. Some of the men who translated the Bible from Latin into English are martyrs for the cause of Christ, and ought to be remembered and honored as such. William Tyndale(1494-1536) is one of the martyrs, and his selfless work has been the basis of every major English language Bible. Elder Christofferson told his story in Conference a few years ago, then said this:

In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.
-D. Todd Christofferson, The Blessing of Scripture

He is not the only one to say good things about the Bible:

In the Bible are the words of LIFE and SALVATION. -Brigham Young

Without the Bible, there is no Book of Mormon: Joseph studied the Bible; that's what lead him to want to know what church to join. It was from the Bible that he learned that God will answer questions. It was the Bible that taught him that there should be one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. It was the Bible that his mind returned to again and again, as he pondered the question of which church he should join in the two years leading up to the First Vision. The Bible continues to be integral to our faith. So much of what we know of Christ's own words comes from the Bible. The Scripture Citation Index tells us that the book of Matthew alone has been cited in General Conferences nearly 10,000 times.

Without the Bible, there is so much that we lose. If we behaved as if we believed the things that people occasionally say or imply about the Bible, then we would have to give up:

And that's just the stuff that's easy to list quickly. The loss of the Bible would be a staggering blow. Hundreds and hundreds of pages that detail the dealings of the Lord with His people, that shed light on His character, that give us His commandments, show the blessings of obedience, and the consequences of sin. I am always so sad when I hear people belittle the Bible, as if it was of little value. Sometimes I think that we fall into the same trap that people are warned of with the Book of Mormon. Let me paraphrase a little:

"A Book of Mormon! A Book of Mormon! We have got a Book of Mormon, and we don't need the Bible anymore."

Is that so very different from the true reading of this verse?

A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.
-2 Nephi 29:3-4

If they are condemned for rejecting the one volume, would not we be under at least equal condemnation for rejecting the other? And, isn't that what belittling and denigrating the Bible is: rejecting scripture? At the very least, it's treating it lightly.

In fact, the Lord tells us that we are under condemnation for neglect of the Bible. Most members are at least passingly familiar with Doctrine and Covenants 84:54 to about verse 61. It starts out talking about the consequences of unbelief, highlighting the loss of revelation that comes when the words of the Lord are treated lightly, "which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation."And the Lord tells us that we will continue under this condemnation until we knock it off and pay attention to the scripture that He has given us:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon (v57) ...

That's as far as we usually  read, but the Lord isn't finished; there's not even a comma in the text to indicate some kind of pause. If we take it all the way out to the next comma, then it looks like this:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them...

Do you see it there? What are "the former commandments"?
There's really only one thing it can be. There's only one volume of scripture that predates the Book of Mormon: the Holy Bible.

The Lord is unhappy with the Church collectively because we neglect the Book of Mormon. He is also unhappy with us for neglecting the Bible. In fact, since it is so clear that the Bible is the only thing that could possibly answer for "the former commandments" we could actually probably get away with paraphrasing the verse like this:

And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the Bible which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—

There it is again: "the Bible which I have given them".
We believe the Bible to be the word of God.

Zedekiah is a name that we often learn as children, because he's mentioned right there in the first verses of the First Book of Nephi: "For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah...", but it's in the Bible that we learn the tragedy of Zedekiah's story, of his pride and his fear that lead to Jerusalem being completely destroyed, to him watching his sons butchered in front of him... moments before his eyes were put out. How is it that we don't use this story to demonstrate the perils of pride? How is it that we don't weep for the lost ones of Israel, the way that we mourn over the tragedy of the Nephites? And what thank we the Jews for the Bible which we receive from them? Do we remember their trials and travails, their labors, and their diligence? I know that I have not always love the Bible the way that I should, and I still do not feel like I know it as well as I ought to. Certainly not as well as I know the Book of Mormon, to my embarrassment. I need to do better.

Wherefore, because that ye have a [Book of Mormon] ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
-2 Nephi 29:10 (paraphrased)

Prophecy talks about how the Bible and the Book of Mormon are to become "one in our hands", and President Packer talked about how the current English  LDS edition of the Bible, with all its study tools, is such an amazing resource. So much so that when they approached the selected printer in Cambridge, England about the project, the initial response was that it could not be done. But of course, it was. He tells a bit of the story of the obstacles they overcame to make it happen, and they he says this:

The stick or record of Judah—the Old Testament and the New Testament—and the stick or record of Ephraim—the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Jesus Christ—are now woven together in such a way that as you pore over one you are drawn to the other; as you learn from one you are enlightened by the other. They are indeed one in our hands. Ezekiel’s prophecy now stands fulfilled.
-Boyd K. Packer, Scriptures

We are the beneficiaries of this prophecy. We have opportunities and tools that no previous generation has had for studying the scriptures, for weaving them together so that they become not only one in our hands, but one in our hearts.

But we must open the books. All of them.

I love the Bible. I am very grateful that the Lord directed me to start writing about the Bible. I was so overwhelmed at first; I told him that I wasn't enough, I don't know enough, and I'm so grateful that He encouraged me to jump in anyway, in spite of my fears. I have only done a serious in-depth study of a few of the Psalms, but at the same time I've been reading the Bible chronologically with my children, and I have learned so much. My love for Christ, and my understanding of Him and His role in the Father's plan, has deepened. I love the truths that I find in its pages; they are in no way inferior to the truths found in the Book of Mormon. We talk about how the entire Plan of Salvation is in the Book of Mormon; it's in the Bible too: the whole thing.

I love reading the Bible. I love my LDS edition -- and I love my chronological edition, published by our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not of our faith. The chronological edition makes the story come alive to me, and placing the characters in their story, in the sweep of history of the House of Israel, gives so much meaning to the truths that their prophets were teaching to them -- and to us. I love the way that the Psalms lead me to Christ, that they open the words of Paul for me: Paul has always been a tough one for me to puzzle out. But Paul loves the Psalms, and so do I, and I am learning to love Paul, too. Joseph Smith loved the Apostle Paul; a scriptural index to the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith lists over 1,000 references Joseph Smith made to Paul’s writings in his own teachings.1

The Prophet Joseph Smith even gave us a physical description of the Apostle Paul: “He is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion”. 
-"Paul", Ensign, August 1999

I love the Bible. I have a testimony of its truthfulness, and of its incredible value. Our canon of scripture would not be complete without it.

In Tyndale’s day, scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand. Today the Bible and other scripture are readily at hand, yet there is a growing scriptural illiteracy because people will not open the books. Consequently they have forgotten things their grandparents knew.
-D. Todd Christofferson, The Blessing of Scripture

Further Reading:
Scriptural Witnesses, Russell M. Nelson, October 2007

This post is part of a series.
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Rozy Lass said...

I love the Bible too! And it wasn't translators who ruined it, as they did their very best; rather, as Nephi tells us it was a result of going through the hands of the great and abominable church of the devil; which is not a particular religion, but any who oppose truth and righteousness and take away agency and liberty. The Old Testament is filled with the prophecies of the Messiah who is to come, and the New Testament is the fulfillment of those prophecies. We are so blessed to have both of them!

Destiny Mawson said...

I am a convert to the Church and always grew up believing the Bible. It was a little off-putting when members would praise the Book of Mormon and treat the Bible as second class. I think it is important for members to remember that we believe and should love both books of scripture because it is through having both that we have the fullness of the Gospel.

Ritsumei said...

I love your phrase, "second class". That's exactly the thing that I'm talking about as being false doctrine. The Bible is NOT second class scripture. It's not "ruined". And it should not be treated as anything less than the holy writ that it is, including speaking well of it to each other and to non-members. It made me so sad to hear the missionaries teaching that gentlemen things that simply are not the case. There is no justification for that kind of attitude in any of our volumes of scripture, indeed, we are under condemnation for treating both the Book of Mormon and the Bible lightly.

We believe the Bible to be the word of God. It takes more effort to understand the Bible than it does to understand the Book of Mormon -- but that effort is richly rewarded in truths learned, when we rouse ourselves and stop making excuses to avoid the work.


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