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Eight Myths About the Bible

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(Note:  This is an article I wrote several years ago for the Examiner.  I thought you all might enjoy it and that it will lead to interesting discussions.)

 

Latter-day Saints love the Bible and believe it as scripture. Indeed, Joseph Smith went so far as to say that we are the only people who truly believe it as it is written. Modern, sectarian Christians hang Bible verses like ornaments on an artificial tree constructed of man-made creeds, ignoring the passages which conflict with or contradict their doctrines. In the process, they have allowed a number of myths about the Bible to be promulgated because it serves their own ends. The following eight myths are summarized from "Here We Stand" by Joseph Fielding McConkie (1995, Deseret Book) McConkie is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

 

1. The Bible is a single book

 

McConkie points out that the Bible is a collection of books which were gathered together by men over thousands of years. The Jewish Bible consists of 24 books that Christians call the Old Testament. The actual books that are agreed upon by Jews came from a council in 90 A.D. in Jamnia (near Joppa, Israel). At his council, it became so contentious that it resulted in bloodshed. (McConkie, 36)

Christians have divided these 24 books into 39 and ordered them differently. Their version of the Old Testament comes from the Greek Septuagint, which was rejected by Jews, because of the influence of Greek thought and the inclusion of the Apocrypha. Catholics accept the Apocrypha as scripture because they sustain otherwise unscriptural doctrines, such as masses for the dead and the existence of Purgatory. (McConkie, 37-38)

 

The origin of the New Testament begins with two second-century heretics. Marcion, a bishop's son and a wealthy ship owner, was the first to create a canonical list of books. His list rejected the Old Testament entirely as scripture and "was closed to all but ten of the epistles of Paul and the Gospel of Luke." Macrion's false teachings caused him to be excommunicated from the ancient Church. Macrion's excommunication was so final that the Church gave him back all the money he had donated.(McConkie, 38)

 

The second "heretic" was Montanus who declared that he was the incarnation of the Holy Ghost promised by the Savior to come. He denounced the absence of revelation in the church and the lack of spiritual gifts. To counteract his claims, the church began to teach that there would be no further disruptive revelations and that the canon of scripture was closed.

 

Over the next two centuries, Origen of Alexandria divided the books in his New Testament into classes of acknowledged books and disputed texts. The list of disputed books included James, 2nd and 3rd John, 2nd Peter, Jude, the Letter of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. This constituted the oldest Greek manuscript, consisting of 29 books. (McConkie, 39)

 

Eusebius of Caesaria omitted not only the Shepherd and Barnabas from his list, but also the Book of Revelation. Most Greek manuscripts omit it also. Other disputed books which Eusebius rejected were the Acts of Paul, the Revelation of Peter, and the Teachings of the Apostles. (McConkie, 39)

 

In 367 A.D., Athanasius sent an Easter letter to the churches of his diocese, listing the books approved for reading in the church. This list matches the current-day New Testament. Thus it wasn't until the fourth century that there was any consensus on which books comprised the Bible.

 

2. The Bible preceded doctrine

 

Since the Bible didn't exist in its current form in the time of the Bible, how did it then form the basis for the doctrines taught by Jesus, Peter, Paul and the other apostles? "The book was created by the church, not the church by the book." (McConkie, 40) An example of doctrine preceding the Bible would be the Nicene Creed, which was devised by a council in 325 A.D. The doctrine of the Trinity emerged from this council, which took place after the church had declared that revelation had ceased, but before the time that the canon of the Bible was agreed upon. (McConkie, 41)

 

3. True religion is Bible religion

 

Since the Bible didn't exist in the time of Peter and Paul. "No one who lived within the time period of the Bible ever had a Bible." (McConkie, 41) Therefore, their religion was not "Bible religion." The Bible is the testimony that God interacts with man via revelation and spiritual gifts, directly and personally. It was not based solely upon the words of God to ancient prophets, but to living ones. Why should it not be so today?

 

4. Everything in the Bible is the Word of God

 

The Bible is the word of God so far as it is translated correctly, but every word in it was not uttered by God. The Bible contains the words of the devil to Adam and Eve in the Garden and to Jesus Christ during his temptation in the wilderness. It contains the words of Adam, Eve, a serpent, angels, prophets, apostles, and their scribes. It even contains the words spoken by Balaam's mule, who chastened him for his cruel treatment. All these are in addition to the words of God spoken to prophets and the words of Jesus Christ himself. (McConkie, 43)

 

5. The canon is closed

 

Nowhere in the books of the Bible does it say that the canon of scripture is closed. Many will refer to the last lines of Revelation to claim that the book cannot be added to. Since the Bible didn't exist at the time of the writing of the Revelation of John, it couldn't refer to the Bible as a whole. The Revelation remained a disputed book for two centuries after John penned it. Thus the commandment that it should not be added to must refer to that particular scroll which John wrote. We should understand that most scholars believe that John himself "added to" the Bible, because it is commonly believed that he wrote Revelation before the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John came AFTER the book of Revelation in the chronological sequence of Bible texts. The apostle John told us that "...there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one...that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written."

 

A similar interdiction against adding to God's word appears in Deuteronomy. Following the logic of those who say the Bible can't be added to because of John's statement, we must consider tossing anything that comes after Moses and Deuteronomy. Man's rejection of further revelation is an attempt to "mute" God and deny that he has power to reveal anything new or essential to mankind. It defends the status quo, having a "form of godliness" but denies the power thereof. Since the Bible itself doesn't claim to contain all God's words, it would require a revelation from God to tell us that the Bible is inerrant, sufficient, persipicacious, and the final authority in all things. Thus, you can see the quandary: it would require a revelation to tell us that there will be no more revelation. The position is logically untenable.

 

6. The Bible can be interpreted independent of a predetermined ideology

 

McConkie poses a hypothetical situation. Suppose an angel took a copy of the Bible to a people who had no knowledge of it whatsoever and had no predetermined views on its contents. Suppose they built up a church using the Bible as their guide. Can we realistically imagine that they would, using the Bible alone, come up with anything remotely resembling the doctrine of the Trinity? Neither can we imagine that they would come up with a doctrine that one is saved solely by God's grace, without the requirement of faith and obedience to the commandments of God and the ordinances. (McConkie, 50)

 

The Bible doesn't clearly explain how to baptize, who can perform the ordinance, and at what age the ordinance the ordinance can take place. It doesn't explain the duties of bishops, deacons, and elders and what are the limits of their ecclesiastical authority.

 

Thus everyone, including Mormons, must interpret the Bible through an ideological lens. The lens the Jew uses is different than the Christian. The historian will use a different lens altogether. The Mormon's view must necessarily differ from that of Jews, the Christians, and the historian. This realization is important, because we must understand that, without modern day revelation to guide us, one Bible interpretation is no more authoritative than another. The restoration of the Gospel, the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, all provide additional light and knowledge that give us the keys to interpret the Bible correctly.

 

Without revelation, it would be impossible to determine whose interpretation is correct, because each interpretation will be influenced by the world view of its proponents. The same scriptures that convince a Jew that it is unlawful to turn on a light switch on the Sabbath day also convince him that Jesus couldn't have been the Messiah. (McConkie, 48) The same Bible that convinces Christians to proclaim an end to revelation and miracles also led a young Joseph Smith to "ask of God" and receive a glorious vision of the Father and the Son.

 

7. To know the Bible is to understand it

 

The Bible is probably the most misquoted book in existence. Paul is probably the most misquoted person ever. The Bible was written by living oracles of God to people who were accustomed to and accepting of the principle of contemporary revelation from God. The counsel and guidance the apostles gave were to people who had a shared understanding. It makes no sense to preach grace to those who haven't repented, been baptized,and had a remission of their sins. It doesn't add up to teach about spiritual gifts and the fruits of the spirit to those who have no right to them. The scriptures don't ask the reader to accept Christ as a personal Savior or to make a committment for Christ, because it is addressed to those who had already accepted Christ by covenant. (McConkie, 53)

 

The cafeteria-style doctrinal approach of contemporary Christian churches is the result of their rejection of modern revelation as a possibility. Without revelation to guide, one must try to cobble together some theology by picking and choosing what fits into one's world view and reject the rest as "metaphors" or "symbolism." (McConkie, 54)

 

8. The Bible is common ground in missionary work

 

This statement applies especially to Latter-day Saints. We often assume that the Bible is the common ground from which we can build understanding. If there was any semblance of agreement in modern Christianity, do you think there would be a thousand quarelling sects and denominations? (McConkie, 54)

 

Joseph Smith went into the grove to pray because he came to the conclusion that it was impossible to find out which Church he should join by studying the Bible alone. This is a true statement.

 

In this "war of words" and "tumult of opinions" that rages in Christendom, the only way to find the truth is to "ask of God." (James 1:5) Thus the Book of Mormon becomes the preeminent tool for conversion. It offers clear and plain gospel teachings free of sectarian interpretations. It clarifies the Bible's teachings and helps identify the interpolations of men. It also identifies to the sincere seeker, where and how to locate the conduit of personal revelation for himself, independent of anyone or anything else.

 

Latter-day Saints will be more effective by teaching the gospel from the Book of Mormon than from any other source. We should encourage all interested parties to seek truth in prayer and from the Book of Mormon. Finding the truth in this manner identifies the means of obtaining personal revelation, the source of restored authority, how to obtain the ordinances of salvation, and how to live in such a manner as to obtain and keep a remission of one's sins.

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One of the greatest problems with textual criticism of the Bible is that so often we do not find ourselves in a better place for it.   Mostly the concern is with doctrine.  But the truth is that the Bible scriptures are not really about doctrine.  The Christian Bible is divided into two parts that are called Testaments.  This is because Christians in general think the Bible testifies of Christ through his doctrines.  We would be better served if instead of Testaments (old and new) the two divisions were called the Old covenants and the New Covenants.

 

In the days of Jesus Christ the scriptures were referred to as the Law and the Prophets.  The Law was in reference to the laws of the covenants and the Prophets was in reference to the proctors called by G-d to administer the covenants.  As we see in New Testament times when the proctor prophets are removed from the people – the people are no longer the covenant peoples of G-d.  In fact the individuals that claimed to be the officiators of the faith (the Pharisees and scribes) actually rejected – not just the covenants and commandments of G-d but they rejected G-d himself and hung him on a cross.

 

Traditional Christians followed the same path as the Traditional Jews (Pharisees and Scribes).  They began to think their scriptures were the means to define doctrine and thus lost the covenants to which the scriptures testified.  Thus the covenant of baptism was made into a doctrine and various sects began to argue over the doctrine of baptism rather that realize what the covenant was really all about.  Today there is some agreement over baptisms and several sects accept each other baptism – but not really as a covenant with a commandments and laws but a doctrine to be discussed and argued about who understand the doctrine better.

 

Sadder still is that Traditional Christians have become to think of G-d and Christ as implements of doctrine.  And so the doctrines of the nature of G-d have been argued (along with everything else) for 2000 years.  It is generally believed that by believing doctrines one is saved and granted salvation.  This is why so many Traditional Christians argue that the LDS worship a different Jesus – since they interpret our doctrine as different concerning G-d then they think we must therefore worship a different G-d. 

 

The restoration is about the covenant not so much the doctrine.

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