The eighth article of faith in Mormonism states, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly." Also, Mormons frequently claim that many “plain and precious truths” have been removed from the Bible. What these "plain and precious truths" exactly are we are not told.1
The Reliability of the Bible
There are a number of responses to this bold Mormon claim. First of all, there is substantial historical evidence which demonstrates the reliability of both the Old Testament and New Testament texts. The Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrate that for over one thousand years the Old Testament was preserved with a remarkable degree of accuracy.2 We have over 10,000 Old Testament manuscripts.
Regarding the New Testament, the degree of precision is remarkable. We have over 25,000 New Testament manuscripts. The earliest New Testament manuscripts come from within 30 years after the last book was written.3 Even if we lost all of the New Testament manuscripts, which number over 25,000, we still would not be left without a testimony.
We would then turn to the writings of the Church Fathers. The early Church Fathers cite the New Testament over 36,000 times in the first few centuries after the writing of the New Testament. We could reconstruct the entire New Testament, minus about 11 verses, from their writings alone.
Errors in the Copying Process
It must be admitted that there are errors in the transmission or copying of the Bible from over two thousand years, but these errors do not affect any major doctrine such as there being only one true God in all existence, salvation by faith, Jesus is God in the flesh, etc. Most of these errors are just minor spelling variations, punctuation, or obvious slips of the pen that are known and can be corrected by comparing the large number of manuscripts available. There is a whole discipline of textual criticism that seeks to obtain the most accurate reading of various Biblical texts.
The Translation Process
Many Mormons have the idea that the Bible was translated from Greek, then to Latin, then to English, or another language. They assume that we have to translate the Bible three or four times before we get our English version. This is just blatantly inaccurate. We can translate the Bible directly from Hebrew to English or Aramaic to English or Greek to English. There is no need to translate it a couple of times, through a couple of languages, in order to get the English translation.
Plain and Precious Truths
Another important question to consider is the nature of “plain and precious truths” that were supposedly removed during the transmission of the Bible. It is easy to make the claim the Bible was intentionally corrupted and major doctrines were removed. However, for the Mormon, what evidence is there that any “plain and precious truths” were removed? Where in any of the ancient manuscript copies of the Bible do we find the notion (1) that Jesus was the spirit brother of Satan, (2) God the Father was once a man who attained godhood, (3) God the Father was once possibly unholy and a sinner, (4) God the Father had a Father before Him, (5) humans are preexistent intelligences who can become gods of their own planet just like God the Father, (6) God the Father is just the God of this world, and there are other true gods for other people elsewhere to worship, (7) an ordained Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood authority, etc. 4
There is virtually no textual evidence in any manuscript that supports the notion of any of these major doctrines of the Mormon Church. So for the Mormon to claim that these “plain and precious truths,” whatever they are, were removed from the Bible, he bears the burden of proof.
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- 1. The Book of Mormon likewise alludes to this corruption of the Bible in 1 Nephi 13:26: "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."
- 2. The complete Book of Isaiah Scroll that was uncovered contained only ten or so variations compared with the Masoretic text of 900 A.D.
- 3. The John Ryland’s Papyri comes from 117-138 A.D. which is roughly 30 years after the writing of the Gospel of John in 90-100 A.D.
- 4. It is interesting to note that there is no evidence for any of these major doctrines in the Book of Mormon either! The Book of Mormon is suprisingly orthodox compared to the Doctrine and Covenants and other Mormon works by later LDS apostles and prophets.