What do Mormons believe about the Bible being the final word of God?

From a conversation between me and a friend of mine.

Q: The Bible is the final and only Word of God written to man.

A: If the Bible is God’s final word to man why doesn’t it say so? I know Revelations 22:19 says “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” but “this book” refers to the book of Revelation, not the Bible, because the Bible didn’t exist when the book of Revelations was written. Plus the book of Revelations wasn’t actually the last book to be written in the Bible, it just happens to be placed in the Bible as the last book. It says virtually the same thing in Deuteronomy 4:2 – “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it…” but we don’t reject everything that comes after Deuteronomy.

In addition, the early Christians accepted many books as scripture that aren’t included in our modern-day Bible, including the Book of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocryphal writings of the Septuagint, Psalm 151 of the Septuagint, etc. In Acts 20:35 Paul quotes the words of Christ when he says “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and yet the scripture Paul is quoting isn’t found in the Bible. Where is the scripture that contains the prophecy that Christ would be a Nazarene, which is cited as fulfilled in Matt. 2:23? If someone were to dig up a 2,000 year old scroll in Jerusalem that contained the books those scriptures come from which are quoted in the Bible but not contained in the Bible, would you say they’re not the word of God because they’re not in the Bible?

Comments

  1. You said, "I know Revelations 22:19 says “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” but “this book” refers to the book of Revelation, not the Bible, because the Bible didn’t exist when the book of Revelations was written. Plus the book of Revelations wasn’t actually the last book to be written in the Bible, it just happens to be placed in the Bible as the last book."

    MATTS RESPONSE: It is interesting that Joseph Smith added and removed words from the book of Revelations in his own Bible version. A short time later he was killed by a mob.

    You said, "In addition, the early Christians accepted many books as scripture that aren’t included in our modern-day Bible, including the Book of Enoch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocryphal writings of the Septuagint, Psalm 151 of the Septuagint, etc."

    MATTS RESPONSE: Of course, if we dig up an old manuscript that says it was part of the Christian Bible, then we should put it to the test, as I have done with the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon fails the test.

    The Bible is the Canon of Scripture and it is inspired by God from history. Here is some information that might help you understand how the Bible books came to be.

    The term "apocrypha" was coined by the fifth-century biblical scholar St. Jerome and refers to the biblical books included as part of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament), but not included in the Hebrew Bible.

    Several works ranging from the fourth century B.C.E. to New Testament times are considered apocryphal–including Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, First and Second Maccabees, the two Books of Esdras, various additions to the Book of Esther (10:4-10), the Book of Daniel (3:24-90;13;14), and the Prayer of Manasseh.

    The apocrypha have been variously included and omitted from bibles over the course of the centuries. Protestant churches generally exclude the apocrypha (though the King James version of 1611 included them). The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches include all of the apocrypha (except for the books of Esdras and the Prayer of Manasseh),

    but refer to them as "deuterocanonical" books. In this context, the term "apocrypha" generally refers to writings entirely outside of the biblical canon and not considered inspired (such as the Gospel of Thomas). These same books are referred to by Protestants as the "pseudoepigrapha."

    The Alexandrian library contained the greatest collection of books in ancient times, the story thus far is in accord with history. It then goes on to relate that Demetrius suggested the inclusion of the Jewish books of the Law, but explained that these works were written in another language and alphabet and would have to be translated before they could be used to any advantage. The king sent an embassy (of which Aristeas himself was a member) to Jerusalem with lavish gifts for the Temple and a formal request that seventy-two men, six from each of the tribes of Israel, be dispatched to Egypt to make an official translation of the Scriptures. The high priest, flattered, acceded.

    When the seventy-two elders arrived in Egypt, the king entertained them at a magnificent banquet during which he engaged them in philosophical conversation and was much impressed with their wisdom. At the conclusion they were taken to a secluded estate on an island and there began the work of translation.

    (Some versions of the story assert that the elders worked in separate cells, and proof of their divine guidance was that the finished products agreed in every detail.) By a strange coincidence the work was completed in exactly seventy-two days, after which it was

    solemnly read in the presence of the king. The story ends with an account of how the elders were sent back to Palestine, laden with honors and more tangible rewards.

    Because some versions of the legend say seventy instead of seventy-two translators were involved, the name Septuagint (often abbreviated by the Roman numerals LXX) came to be attached to the work. The story told by Aristeas relates only to the translation of the Law (the first five books of the Bible), but the name commonly is applied to the

    whole Greek version of the Old Testament.

    Although the tale cannot be accepted as historical truth, it does show the esteem in which educated Alexandrian Greeks held the Jews. Long awed by the cultural accomplishments of the Greek world, the Jews kept alive the legend in The Letter of Aristeas and took pride in the Septuagint because it witnessed to their own former national achievements and testified to the nations that subjugated them that Jewish culture was equally worthy of honor. This understandable motive much later inspired Josephus to write the Antiquities of the Jews to show that the history of the Jewish people was as ancient as that of the Greeks and Romans.

    The Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria had a different understanding of the canon of Scripture from that of the Jews of Palestine, for the Septuagint included among their sacred books a number of works which had either been composed in Alexandria or had become popular there. The Jews of Palestine did not accept as canonical in any sense

    the extra books which were so popular in Alexandria. These extra books are called the Apocrypha, which can be defined as those books, or parts of books, that are not found in the Hebrew Old Testament — with one slight qualification:

    Our English Apocrypha contains all these books plus three more of somewhat special character: II Esdras, which was never a part of the Septuagint; the Prayer of Manasses, which appears in some Septuagint manuscripts among the canticles appended to the Psalter, but seems to have had no official status; and I Esdras, which is regularly

    included in extant manuscripts of the Septuagint, but appears to be merely a

    fragment of an alternative (perhaps older) translation of the canonical books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, which are also present in the Septuagint in their complete form.

    The early Christian Church was a Greek- speaking Church (the New Testament was written in Greek) and its Gentile converts, who could not read Semitic languages naturally considered the Old Testament to mean the Septuagint.

    Although the Jews had once esteemed the Septuagint as inspired as the Hebrew scrolls read in their synagogues, they repudiated it as soon as it became the Christian Bible. Confronted by proof texts quoted by Christians on key doctrines, especially the Matthew-Isaiah one (although "young woman" was a maiden of marriageable age, which in those

    days did mean a virgin), the Jews then claimed the Septuagint was an imposture and a fraud of the devil. One of their later rabbis picturesquely expressed the prevailing view when he proclaimed that darkness fell upon the earth for three days when their Bible had been translated into Greek. So completely was the Septuagint condemned by the

    Jews that even the text of it would have been lost if it had not been preserved by the Church.

    However, the Jews who could not read Hebrew still needed a Greek version of

    the Scriptures, so they made other translations that followed the Hebrew text meticulously. These newer versions are known by the names of their translators, Aquila and Theodotion. They did not, of course, include the extra books of the Alexandrian canon, the Apocrypha.

    Despite the acrimonious controversy between Jews and Christians over the Septuagint, the Church felt no essential doctrine depended on discrepancies between it and the Hebrew scriptures and the Septuagint, or some translation of it such as the Old Latin, continued to be the official Bible of the Church until the end of the fourth century when

    Latin became the official language of the Western Church. (The Western Church was the church of Rome; the Eastern Church meant the Greek-speaking churches and their converts elsewhere, which now are known collectively as the Eastern Orthodox Church.)

    In A.D. 383, Pope Damasus commissioned one of the greatest Biblical scholars of all time, St. Jerome, to make a new and more accurate translation of the Bible into Latin. Jerome already knew some Hebrew, but set out to master it, consulting Jewish rabbis (at least one of whom aided him at the peril of his life) to ensure accuracy. Jerome

    decided that only books found in the Hebrew (or partly in Aramaic, as in the case of Ezra and Daniel) were authoritative, assigning lesser status to the extra books of the Greek Old Testament. He named these the Apocrypha, meaning "hidden away." Two of them, Tobit and Judith, he translated from existing Semitic manuscripts, but translated the Septuagint additions to Daniel and Esther from Greek; the others he left in their Old Latin form.

    Jerome's translation came to be called the Vulgate (Latin for popular version), which soon became the standard Bible of the Church in the West and remains the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church to the present day.

    Strangely enough, although the Roman Catholic Church accepted Jerome's great translation, it did not accept his theory about the Old Testament canon, The official Old Testament of the Roman Church today has no separate section called the Apocrypha; its canon of Scripture is that of the Alexandrian Jews, and Jerome's apocryphal books are included at various places among the books translated from the Hebrew Old Testament. Roman Catholic scholars refer to the books outside the Hebrew canon as deuterocanonical, but the term is not meant to imply that they are of less authority.

    At the end of the whole Bible, the official Vulgate has a supplement containing three books which were widely read, but were either not a part of the Septuagint or had only a dubious claim to be regarded as such. These are the Prayer of Manasses and the books which the Vulgate calls Third and Fourth Esdras. (The two latter are included in our

    familiar English versions of the Apocrypha as First and Second Esdras.)

    The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century reconsidered the Apocrypha. Martin Luther removed the apocryphal books from the strictly canonical books and put them into a separate section by themselves between the Old and New Testaments. In addition, books of the Old Testament were put in a new order and some were restored to their

    ancient Hebrew names, so I-IV Kingdoms became I-II Samuel and I-II Kings;

    I-II Paralipomenon became I-II Chronicles. The books which the Septuagint,

    and consequently the modern Roman Catholic Bible, calls First and Second Esdras became once more, for the Reformed Churches, Ezra and Nehemiah, and this made it necessary to rename the old Third and Fourth Esdras to First and Second Esdras. This reshaping of the Old Testament was according to the plan laid down nearly one thousand years before by St. Jerome.

    Although this was a better chronological order, it also marked the beginning of a decline in the appreciation of the apocryphal books. While the reformers were well aware of the historical importance of these books, they were unanimous in refusing them any canonical recognition. This was partly the result of taking St. Jerome's theory

    seriously and recognizing that the Jews themselves denied their authoritative character. These abstract considerations were undoubtedly reinforced by the fact that one of the apocryphal books, Second Maccabees, countenances the idea of the intercession of saints

    (15:14) and the practice of prayers for the dead, and could even be quoted in support of the custom of offering requiem masses (12:43-45). Since these were fundamental matters of dispute between the Protestants and the Roman Catholic Church, it is not surprising that their attitude toward the Apocrypha sometimes tended to change from objective tolerance to active hostility.

    However, Protestants continued to read and study the Apocrypha because it was printed as an integral part of the King James Version. Then in 1827, the British and Foreign Bible Society, followed by the American Bible Society, decided not to include the apocryphal books in their editions of the Bible. For obvious reasons of economy, the practice swiftly spread to other publishers, and it soon became difficult to obtain ordinary editions of the Bible which included them. The present disregard for the Apocrypha dates

    from this comparatively recent event.

    Yet the demarcation between what may be considered inspired scriptures and what may not be, is not as clear as Jerome and the Protestant reformers supposed. An impartial reader has difficulty in discerning on what basis Ecclesiastes is canonical, and the apocryphal books Ecclesiasticus (also called the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach) and the Wisdom of Solomon are not. Or why the ferociously nationalistic book of Esther (in which even the word God does not appear) stands wholly within the stream of divine inspiration, while the book Judith is omitted. Or why the apocryphal Song Of The Three Children, Susanna, and Bel And The Dragon (in which the prophet Daniel figures prominently) should be thought less inspired than the canonical book of Daniel. Examples could be multiplied.

    The real issue is not some abstract theory of inspiration, but the historical fact of canonicity. "Canonical" means prescribed by authority. For the Old Testament, it means those books Jews regard as inspired and authoritative. For the New Testament, it means those books the Church regards as inspired and authoritative. There were good reasons why several hundred years elapsed after the life of Christ and the Apostles before the

    Church could decide on the canon.

    First, the books had to be written. Immediately following the Crucifixion, the first Christians (almost exclusively Jews) lived out Christ's teachings in small, self-sufficient communes. Events were fresh in their memories; no one needed a written record. But by A.D. 70, the Apostles had too many converts to rely on oral transmission of the gospel, and written records became necessary. A great many documents were produced, most of which are no longer extant.

    Second, the Church was too busy surviving intense persecution to have enough leisure to decide many pressing issues. For a long time dissensions and internal controversies had been brewing, but not until after the last persecution at Rome (A.D. 303-311) and Constantine established official toleration of Christianity by the Edict of Milan (A.D.

    313) could the Church deal with its urgent but postponed matters. Now great

    general meetings could be convened to resolve doctrinal disputes. Bishops,

    the leaders over a jurisdiction of area churches, jointly were able to summon priests and deacons from their congregations to represent virtually all of Christendom to these ecumenical councils. In A.D. 325 the heresy of the Arians was condemned in favor of

    Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea.

    The Gospel of Thomas, popular among the Gnostics, was rejected on a vital point of accepted doctrine: it opens by saying that he who understands the words of Jesus will be saved. This, of course, is in direct contradiction to the chosen Gospels and Paul's Epistles,

    which say that it is he who believes that will be saved. Of other accounts of the life of Jesus that were rejected (including those presented in this study), many were considered supplementary rather than false. This was true of the accounts of Christ's infancy, I and II Infancy and The Protevangelion. Although The Gospel of Peter was once held as highly as those of Matthew and Mark, and more highly than those of Luke and John, it was ultimately rejected because it differs too much in its details from the three chosen synoptic ones.

    The Gospel of Nicodemus includes a vividly dramatic account of Christ's descent into hell between the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and describes his expulsion of Satan from hell. Because Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4 already gave an account of Christ's conclusive victory over Satan in the forty days in the desert this was not considered

    necessary for the New Testament canon.

    The Shepherd of Hermes (a trilogy of Visions, Commands, and Similitudes) was recommended for use at one time or other by Jerome, Origen, and Tertullian, was not ultimately esteemed truly divine. As long as he was an orthodox Catholic, Tertullian approved it, but when he later became a Montanist, he called it "foolish." (The Montanists, a zealous but sometimes overly-emotional sect emphasizing extreme moral purity, nonetheless were the first to begin formulating the doctrine of the Trinity with a definition of the personality of the Holy Spirit.)

    Much has been made over the sometimes divisive and bitter debates at the ecumenical councils, but the final decisions were based on one supreme criterion: what have all Christians, at all times and in all places, believed to be true? It was irrelevant what odd interpretation of doctrine was championed by some Christian in some place. Did all

    Christians at all times and places hold that view? This standard dispensed with heresies and established dogma alike. It also was the guide to establishing the canon of sacred scriptures.

    Two major councils in North Africa, in Hippo in 393 and in Carthage in 397, finally tackled the matter of the canon. The two great authorities at both councils were Augustine (the bishop of Hippo) and Jerome. The Old Testament canon of the Alexandrian Septuagint (which included the Apocrypha) was easily established, but deciding the New Testament presented difficulties. So many books existed from which to

    choose: those in our present New Testament, the twenty-five included later on in this study, and sixty-eight others which are not now extant, but were mentioned in the writings of Church leaders in the first four centuries!

    Unofficial but substantial agreement by various Church Fathers in the first four centuries on the most authoritative books already existed:

    • Origen (circa A.D. 210), a Presbyter of Alexandria who went to incredible means to know the Scriptures, omitted The Epistle of James and The Epistle of Jude from his catalog of authoritative books but seemed to accept them fully in other parts of his writings.

    • Eusebius Pamphilus (circa A.D. 315) whose writings show his care in determining which books were genuine, listed all the books of the canonical New Testament, but noted that the epistles of James, Jude, II Peter, II John, III John, and Revelation had not yet been accepted by all churches.

    • Athanasius (circa A.D. 315), the Bishop of Alexandria, cataloged all the canonical New Testament books.

    • Cyril (circa A.D. 340), the Bishop of Jerusalem, listed all the canonical New Testament except Revelation.

    • The Bishops who had assembled in the Council of Laodicea (circa A.D. 364) accepted all books of the present New Testament except Revelation.

    • Epiphanius (circa A.D. 370), Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, cataloged all the canonical New Testament.

    • Gregory Nazianzen (circa A.D. 375), Bishop of Constantinople, cataloged all the canonical New Testament except Revelation.

    • Philastrius (circa A.D. 380), Bishop of Brixia in Venice, listed all the canonical New Testament, except he mentions only thirteen of St. Paul's epistles (probably omitting the Epistle to the Hebrews), and he left out Revelation.

    • Jerome (circa A.D. 382) listed as canonical all the New Testament but spoke dubiously of the Epistle to the Hebrews, although in other parts of his writings he seemed to accept it.

    • Ruffin (circa A.D. 390), Presbyter of Aquilegium, listed all the books of the canonical New Testament.

    • Dionysius the Areopagite, a pseudonym of an unknown author (circa A.D. 390), did not mention the books by name, but quoted from all the New Testament canon.

    • Augustine (circa A.D. 394), Bishop of Hippo in Africa, listed a catalog in perfect agreement with the canonical New Testament.

    • Finally, in 397 AD at the third Council of Carthage, the forty-four Bishops and Church representatives assembled finally agreed to all of the present New Testament canon.

    I hope that this helps.

    In His peace,

    Matt Paulson

    CARM

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