Saturday, 9 May 2009

Does the Book of Mormon Contain the Fullness of the Gospel?

Anyone looking at the Book of Mormon for the first time today may also find a bookmark inside the front cover directing the reader to key references, including Christ’s alleged visit to America, Moroni’s ubiquitous promise - and the introduction. A relatively recent addition to the Book of Mormon, the Introduction explains that “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible…”

Noteworthy is the statement at the very beginning of the introduction that The Book of Mormon “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”. The significance of this statement might be lost on those who do not understand that Mormonism claims to be a restored religion. It is a fundamental “truth” of Mormonism that the plain and simple truths, the “fulness” of the gospel, were substantially lost after the death of the apostles. The religion of Joseph Smith was a restoration of those truths.

The Book of Mormon itself 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.

A promise is made later in the same chapter that these plain and precious truths, which had been 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] and italics added)

The following is taken from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism under ‘J’ for Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible:

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] and italics added]

Now if the Bible contains the “fulness of the everlasting gospel” what exactly did Joseph restore? In the introduction to the Book of Mormon we have a message which declares that the Bible contains the fulness of the gospel while at same time declaring that the Book of Mormon is a restoration of the fulness of the gospel. Matters are further complicated by the fact 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 that “further light and knowledge” is one of the benefits of having modern prophets. In other words further restoration work as described in the above quote. This leaves us with a picture of the fulness 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 fulness of the gospel all along. How did the restoration of “plain and precious truths” come to be so confusing?

Of Course we Believe the Bible!

In an attempt to appear orthodox and align themselves with the mainstream Christian churches the Mormon Church must embrace the book that everyone associates with the Christian faith, 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. In Mormonism the Bible is the only book of scripture that is not viewed as wholly reliable. 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.

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the experience of a friend of mine who met several times with Mormon missionaries. On their first visit he set out to establish 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 my friend.

Several meetings later, frustrated at not being able to deal with the Bible verses my 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 contradictory 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 average Mormon’s knowledge of translation-work generally and how we got our Bible in particular, is woefully inadequate. They fall back on the myths manufactured by the Mormon Church and trust that their leaders are keeping them reliably informed. The truth is that the popular Mormon account of Bible translation work is embarrassingly fanciful and is 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, a truly ridiculous notion and easily refuted but still fondly adhered to by Mormons the world over.

Using this flawed reasoning Mormonism leads people to believe 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). (Italics added)

And the following was written by Mormon apostle Orson Pratt:

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 presenting themselves 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 fully knew all along.

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