Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Bible’s “Missing Books”

Mormons don’t entirely trust the Bible. Their eighth article of faith declares, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” One of the reasons they give for having this reservation is the apparent evidence, found in the Bible text itself, of missing books. Here is a list from James Talmage’s Articles of Faith:

1. The Book of the Covenant cited in Exodus 24:4-7

2. The Book of the Wars of the LORD cited in Numbers 21:14

3. The Book of Jasher cited in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18

4. The Book of Statutes cited in 1 Samuel 10:25

5. The Book of the Acts of Solomon cited in 1 Kings 11:41

6. The Books of Nathan and Gad cited in 1 Chronicles 29:29 and 2 Chronicles 9:29

7. The prophecy of Ahijah and the visions of Iddo cited in 2 Chronicles 9:29

8. The Book of Shemaiah cited in 2 Chronicles 12:15

9. The Book of Jehu cited in 2 Chronicles 20:34

10. The Acts of Uzziah written by Isaiah cited in 2 Chronicles 26:22

11. The Saying of the Seers cited in 2 Chronicles 33:19

12. The missing letters of Paul cited in 1 Cor.5:9; Eph.3:3-4; Col.4:16

13. The missing letter of Jude cited Jude 3

14. The Prophecies of Enoch cited in Jude 14

15. The missing text quoted in Mt.2:23

16. A declaration of belief cited in Luke 1:1

That’s a big list; a bit worrying isn’t it? Where’s my blankie? But, not to worry, because Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet, published his own translation of the Bible, “an inspired revision of the Authorized Version.” (Title page, The Holy Scriptures, Inspired Version, Pub. Herald House)

It seems he was commanded in 1830 to produce a new version of the Scriptures “even as they are in mine [God’s] own bosom, to the salvation of mine elect” (Doctrine and Covenants 35:20 [34:5 in RLDS version], December 1830). This is a mighty big promise and reflects the claim Mormons wish to make for their prophet. That, unlike the corrupt Bible of apostate Christendom (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 13) Mormon Scripture was to be exactly as God intended it. No profane hands would touch this work, no corrupt priests defile it, and no careless scribes despoil it.

The picture being built up is of a distinct contrast between the incomplete, “as far as it is translated correctly” Bible and Scripture as it is given through the prophets of Mormonism. The marks of this new dispensation are to be comprehensiveness and trustworthiness as evidenced in the claim to have an open canon of Scripture; fully the word of God as it is in the bosom of God.

This is no better illustrated than in the early Mormon preoccupation with record keeping. From the 26 volume Journal of Discourses recording the sermons of Brigham Young and others to the personal journals diligently kept and still kept by Mormons today the promise is of comprehensive and authoritative accounts of God’s dealings with Mormons.

If the absence of these books is serious enough then to cause Mormons to doubt the reliability of the Bible their absence is serious indeed. This makes their absence from the so-called Inspired Translation all the more puzzling.

How went the Wars of the Lord? What were the Acts of Solomon, or Uzziah? What did the Seers say and Ahijah prophesy? What did Iddo see in vision? What were the statutes that ruled the conduct of kings? We are not to know since the books whose absence Mormons insist fatally compromises our Bible are as absent from Mormon Scripture.

Indeed, Joseph Smith, far from expanding the biblical record by restoring lost books, is one book short because he deleted the Song of Solomon. So we have 66 books while Mormons, so preoccupied with missing books, now have 65 where they might have 86!

One might be forgiven for thinking that the urgent highlighting of their absence serves well to discredit the Bible and give precedence to Mormon Scripture while indifference to their restoration conveniently removes any responsibility to actually account for them.

Define “Missing”

We were having a dinner party, my wife and I. Six guests were invited. Perhaps you know them: Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice and Dick and Dora. A spledid time was had by all, spoiled only by the absence of Bob, who had man flu and so couldn’t make it. We sent Carol home at evening’s end with the charge to be sure and tell him we regretted his being missing from our soirẻe.

During the evening someone asked where Janet and John were and I explained that they hadn’t been invited because our table seats only eight. But I would be sure to include them on another occasion. You see, Bob was missing in the sense that he was meant to be there but was absent, while Janet and John were missing in the sense that they were absent because they were not meant to be there.

Something is only missing in the way Mormons mean it if it is meant to be there in the first place. Just because something is mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended that it should be included in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were included according to certain sound criteria while other gospels were not, based on those same criteria, more of which in a future post.

All the Mormons are doing is complaining that certain books didn’t get invited to the party. But then neither have they been invited to the Mormon party; pots, kettles stones and glasshouses spring readily to mind.

Define Scripture

This idea of ongoing revelation and an exhaustive and comprehensive record is problematic and raises a very important question. It is problematic because the Mormon Church, despite its claims, does not live up to their own expectations of “the true church” since their canon is effectively closed and official sources are seriously proscribed. It raises the question of what exactly is Scripture.

Is the Bible intended to be an exhaustive record that is more, or less complete depending on how it has been translated and transmitted, and to which further revelation is added? Or is the Bible a discrete collection of messages, a closed canon that is nevertheless sufficient for life and godliness? Are we spiritually impoverished because we have no record of Jesus’ childhood, or his life from the age of twelve until he was 30 years old? Or does the Bible give us only those things relevant to our salvation and our saved lives?

The Bible favours the latter:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (Jn.21:25 ESV)

The notion of an exhaustive account of God’s dealings with man is inexpressibly silly since the world would not be able to contain nor humanity be able to make use of such a record.

“As for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you have learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim.3:14-16 ESV)

Paul makes clear in his letter to Timothy that Scripture has the purpose of making people “wise for salvation through faith in Christ”, of making the man of God “competent, equipped for every good work.” The question is not whether we have an open canon but of whether we are wise for salvation and competent, equipped for every good work. It doesn’t take an encyclopaedic knowledge, just knowledge of Christ to be saved and an understanding of what we are to be in Christ to be equipped for every good work.

Timothy was wise for salvation because he knew from childhood the sacred writings (Old Testament) that pointed to Christ and knew the Christ to whom those Scriptures pointed. He was equipped for every good work because he had the example of Paul to follow (2 Tim.3:10). We, too, have that example in the Bible that has been wonderfully preserved for us.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev.22:18-19 ESV)

Mormons are always quick to point out that this dread warning applies only to the Book of Revelation and not the whole Bible; they miss the point. Whether we consider this or similar warnings in Deut.4:2 and Deut.12:32 the offense is not in multiplying books but in adding to the established, sufficient word. We are not limiting God in having a closed canon but obeying God in recognising his purpose in having a message that is sufficient and not a record that is exhaustive.

Does God speak today? Of course he does! We follow prophets who lead us, as they led Timothy, to being wise for salvation, we know the Christ to whom they point, and we follow, as did Timothy, the examples of New Testament leaders like Paul, growing in competence, increasingly “equipped for every good work.” The Bible does speak today (Heb.4:12), the Spirit opens our understanding (Jn.16:13) and we, devoting ourselves to the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42-44), walk in his grace, living our faith before a watching world and looking forward to that day when he will come for his own (Rev.22:20; 1 Cor.16:22)

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