Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Book of Mormon: Fullness of the Gospel?

Here Beyond the Zion Curtain our first encounter with Mormonism will not be the political candidate, the fundamentalist, or the controversialist but The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. It was the 1981 edition that first carried the subtitle, Another Testament of Jesus Christ and included the now familiar introduction written by Bruce R McConkie which begins:

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”

Perhaps you want to read that again. The introduction to the Book of Mormon declares that the Bible contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.” But it is a fundamental of Mormonism that the plain and simple truth, the fullness of the gospel, was substantially lost after the death of the apostles and Mormonism is a restoration of those truths. The Book of Mormon says of the Bible:

1 Nephi 13

24 And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book [the Bible] proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God…

26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have 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…

28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book 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.

But these plain and precious truths, lost through the corruption of the great and abominable church, would be restored:

35 For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious [The Book of Mormon]; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb [through Joseph Smith].

38 And it came to pass that I beheld the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the book of the Lamb of God, which had proceeded forth from the mouth of the Jew, that it came forth from the Gentiles unto the remnant of the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites, or American Indians].

39 And after it had come forth unto them I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb, from the Gentiles unto them, unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true.

40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records [The Book of Mormon], 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 precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. (Words in square brackets added)

The following is from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

A somewhat parallel statement [to that in 1 Nephi 13] came to Joseph Smith in June 1830 while he was restoring a revelation received by Moses, declaring that many things would be taken "from the book" which Moses would write, but that the missing information would be restored through another prophet and thus be "had again" among those who believe (Moses 1:41). Latter-day Saints believe that the "other records" referred to include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, the JST, and other records still to come forth, and that the prophet divinely raised up to begin restoring the lost material is Joseph Smith (see Scriptures: Forthcoming Scriptures).

In light of the foregoing statements, it is worth observing that the principal difficulty in the Bible apparently has been omissions. The remaining text may be generally correct in itself, but many important doctrinal items (resulting from the loss of a single word, a verse, a longer passage, or even whole books in some instances) are now missing. (Words in square brackets added]

how full is full?

Now if the Bible contains the “fullness of the everlasting gospel” what exactly did Joseph restore? How full is full? Here we have a message that declares the Bible contains the fullness of the gospel while claiming that the Book of Mormon is a restoration of that fullness. Matters are further complicated in that much of what we would today recognise as Mormonism is not to be found either in the Bible or the Book of Mormon. The Mormon Church would claim that revelation is progressive in nature and one of the benefits of modern prophets.

This leaves us with the fullness of the gospel being consistently available in the Bible, being restored through the Book of Mormon, though it was never missing and being topped up by modern revelation, though we had the fullness of the gospel all along. How full is full? How did the restoration of “plain and precious truths” come to be so confusing?

In an attempt to appear orthodox and align themselves with the mainstream Christian churches, the Mormon Church must embrace the Bible, the book that everyone associates with the Christian faith. But for Mormons the Bible is the only book of scripture that is not viewed as infallible. Just look at their eighth article of faith:

“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God.”

However, this idea cannot be allowed to enter into the perceptions of the world “out there” before there has been an opportunity to “explain” the Mormon position on the Bible. Having started a religion that is based on an unreliable Bible they have realised what a liability they have in a message that distrusts the Bible and prefers the Book of Mormon.

Of Course we Trust the Bible

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the experience of a friend who met several times with Mormon missionaries. On their first visit he asked about their attitude to the Bible, declaring, “I am a Christian and trust the Bible as the fully reliable word of God. I have been told that Mormons are not Christians and do not fully trust the Bible”. Their reply was an unequivocal endorsement of the Bible and they promised that they took exactly the same view as our friend.

Several meetings later, frustrated by not being able to deal with the Bible verses our friend used to challenge what they were teaching, they declared the Bible to be unreliable and corrupt, “translated incorrectly.” Challenged to square this with their first declaration of full trust in the Bible they struggled to hold two opposing thoughts in their minds at the same time. On the one hand, the “official” stand before the world is that Mormons trust the Bible; on the other, the true position is that the Bible is only reliable “as far as it is translated correctly.”

The typical Mormon’s knowledge of Bible translation generally, and how we got our Bible in particular, is woefully inadequate. The truth is that the popular Mormon account of Bible translation work is embarrassingly fanciful and designed with a built in prejudice against the Bible and for the restored gospel of Joseph Smith. A common Mormon explanation of how we got our Bible is that it is “a translation of a translation of a translation…” Each generation is seen as a translation of a previous translation.

Using this reasoning one might understandably conclude that modern translations of the Bible are merely paraphrases of previous Bibles, subject to the fads and prejudices of translators.

The following is again taken from the same section of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:

‘The official position of the Church is stated in its eighth article of faith: "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." The message of the Bible is held to be true, while details of accuracy and completeness are accepted within certain limits. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained:

"I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." (TPJS, p. 327). And again, "From sundry revelations which had been received, it was apparent that many points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled"’ (TPJS, pp. 9-10)

In addition, Mormon apostle Orson Pratt wrote the following:

“The Bible has been robbed of its plainness; many sacred books having been lost…and what few we have left, were copied and re-copied so many times, that it is admitted that almost every verse has been corrupted and mutilated to that degree that scarcely any two of them read alike”. (The Seer, p.213, 1854)

The very process of translation is seen as having a corrupting effect, the more modern the Bible, the more times it has been translated, the more corrupt the text. Thus the Bible is explained away. Not wanting the world to know this, they are happy to declare that the Bible contains “the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”

Having gained a hearing by posing as Bible believing Christians who simply have more to offer, they can then proceed to teach their message of a corrupt Christianity and an unreliable Bible. The trouble is that this leaves them with a claim to be a restoration of something that has always been here, and with a book that claims to be another testimony of something we knew all along.

 

Coming: The Book of Mormon, Another Testament?

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