I was seven years old when my family joined the Church. A few months later, I was presented with my first two Church freebies (even in third grade I could appreciate the virtue of free swag): In primary, I was issued my CTR ring in all of its green glory. And in Sunday School, I was given my first Bible.
Back in the day, when the printing press was still a novel concept (sackcloth and ashes for that pun), the Church had not published its own version of the Bible, so our ward gave us these massive, large-print, red-letter Bibles that we could barely carry, much less read. My sky-blue Book of Mormon looked kind of pathetic stacked up against it. But I loved that Bible and still have it stashed away somewhere.
Some folks might be surprised at the notion of Mormons giving their kids the Holy Bible, since we are often criticized for either not giving the Bible sufficient doctrinal weight or for having supplanted it completely with “Joe Smith’s Gold Bible,” a phrase that only can be said properly with a sneer and a piece of straw clenched in your teeth.
While it is true that Mormons don’t attribute “inerrancy” to the Bible (we don’t consider anything infallible, actually, other than the Godhead and Gladys Knight), and we do supplement the Bible with other scripture, one might be surprised at how important the Bible is to Mormon theology and practice.
For one thing, we take all of the Bible seriously, not just bits and pieces. Except for Song of Solomon, which nudges up against being dirty poetry. That isn’t always the case in modern Christianity. I remember when I was in high school, each year the Gideons came on campus and handed out pocket-size versions of the scriptures. They fit nicely in the pocket given how much they had cut out of it.
All that remained was the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. Everything else, including Solomon’s salacious song, was missing. While I don’t think the Gideons intended to imply that the Old Testament is irrelevant (it’s certainly still there in their hotel Bibles, and I think the world of them for distributing those), it at least suggests that the really important stuff is mostly after Malachi.
Mormons view the Bible very differently. We believe that the covenants established in the Old Testament with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are centrally important to our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation and that those covenants are still in effect today.
We believe that many of the Old Testament prophets were given the fullness of the gospel, that all of them testified of Christ and some of them prophesied specifically about our day, including prophecies of the Book of Mormon.
So, despite some unquestionably weird stuff like talking donkeys and Ezekiel’s four-faced cherubim, we take the Old Testament seriously and integrate it closely into our doctrines and practices.
For another thing, critics of the Church might be surprised to learn that during Joseph Smith’s short life, his sermons were based almost exclusively on the Bible. He taught precious little out of the Book of Mormon. Joseph was raised on the Bible, loved the Bible, and it was at the center of his doctrinal development throughout his life.
It’s also interesting that our curriculum in the Church is set up to make sure that the Bible gets the attention it deserves. In our Sunday Schools and Seminary programs, we have a four-year rotating curriculum, with a year each devoted to the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants/Church History. We teach from the Bible in our Institutes of Religion and at BYU campuses.
We consider the Bible so important that back in 1979, the Church published its own edition of the King James Version, featuring study aids and footnotes that were lauded by Bible publishers throughout the country. That represented untold investments of time and money, but the intent was to make the Bible a more useful tool for personal study and for teaching.
All of that said, we neither worship the Bible nor assume that everything in it is infallible. But, as I said, we’re that way about everything. I have been distracted for years over a comma that I believe is missing in Alma in the Book of Mormon, although no one seems to share my angst. And we aren’t alone in being careful about how we approach ancient texts.
Most Christian scholars, from my understanding, recognize that both intentional and unintentional errors have crept into those books over hundreds or thousands of years. Many, if not most, of the books in the Bible have uncertain authorship, unnamed editors, and questionable dating. But the Bible is still rich with relevant doctrine and vibrant in its vindication of God the Father and Jesus Christ. It is still the word of God.
For me, the Bible was my introduction to God and His dealings with humanity. Its teachings still sit at the foundation of my faith. Christianity could not survive without the Bible, and I think the same is true of Mormonism. While we believe the Book of Mormon to contain the fullness of the gospel, the Lord clearly never meant for it to stand independently. Instead, it is one witness of the divinity of Christ and His redeeming power, buttressed and bolstered by the witness of the Holy Bible and subsequent revelation.
The Mormons may have dug up the golden plates, but we still dig the Bible. We wouldn’t be the same without it.