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Some of the Myths Commonly Associated with The Bible

The following information is from;
HERE WE STAN
by Joseph Fielding McConkie
Chapter Three-- The Bible Says

Let us consider some of the myths commonly associated with the Bible.

MYTH I

The Bible is a Single Book

When we hear someone say, "The Bible says . . . ," perhaps our response ought to be, "What Bible? The Jewish Bible, the Catholic Bible, the Protestant Bible?" Each differs markedly from the others. This myth centers on the notion that the Bible is a single book, when in fact it is a collection of books. The word Bible comes from the Greek ta biblia, which means "the books." Thus the "Holy Bible" is a collection of religious writings that have been gathered together over thousands of years. The process of collecting these books did not involve a universal agreement about which books ought to be included and which excluded from the sacred collection. The very fact that Jews, Catholics, and Protestants do not use the same books is evidence of it.

The library of holy writings was originally a collection of scrolls. More than two hundred years after the last scroll of the Christian Bible had been written, the Romans developed a codex, or a compilation of leaf pages. Only thereafter could the content of a collection of scrolls be bound together. A passage often used to sustain the argument that the canon of scripture was intended to be closed is the statement in the last chapter of the book of Revelation that warns against adding anything to that book (see Revelation 22:18). Though translators have chosen to use the word book in this and like texts, a more accurate rendering would be scroll. John's reference was to the scroll on which he was writing, not the collection of books we know as the Bible.

Today's Jewish Bible has twenty-four books known to Christians as the Old Testament. The Christian world has adopted these books but divides them so they number thirty-nine and has ordered them differently. 1 Interestingly, there was no general agreement among Jews about which books were considered canonical until after the events recorded in the New Testament had taken place. That decision was made at a council held at Jamnia (near Joppa in Israel) about A.D. 90. It was, we are told, "a tumultuous assemblage, and in the faction fights of the Rabbinic parties, blood was shed by their scholars. Hence the decision was regarded as irrevocable and sealed by blood." 2 The Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, which had been surrounded with myths designed to sustain its claim to divine origin, was thereafter rejected by the Jews. Its use is now regarded as a more sorrowful event in Jewish history than the worship of the golden calf. The Septuagint was the child of the Diaspora and strongly reflected the influence of Greek thought. It embraced the fifteen intertestamental books known to us today as the Apocrypha. Those books were not a part of the Hebrew tradition and no longer find a place in the Jewish Bible, though they have found their way into the Catholic Bible.

The Catholic world has favored the books of the Apocrypha because they contain at least vague references that can be used to sustain the otherwise unscriptural doctrines of masses for the dead and purgatory (2 Maccabees 12:43-45). The Protestant world rejects them as scripture because they do not sustain the Protestant dogma of salvation by grace. When Joseph Smith asked the Lord if he should include them in his inspired translation, he was told that they contained much that was true and much that was not, and it was not necessary for him to translate them. The Lord also told Joseph Smith that though there were some translation difficulties with the Apocrypha, the greater problem was "interpolation by the hands of men," meaning that designing people had tampered with the texts (see D&C 91).

It ought be asked, What about the twenty-seven books that constitute our New Testament? By what authority were they chosen? And who assumed the prerogative to declare that they constitute the cessation of revelation? The story is both interesting and strangely paradoxical.

Two second-century heretics get leading roles in the drama: one for being the first to close the canon of scripture, and the second for causing the church to declare the heavens closed by maintaining that he was the Holy Ghost. Macrion, a bishop's son and a wealthy shipowner, was the first to create a list of canonical books. His Bible was closed to all but ten of the epistles of Paul and the Gospel of Luke, from which he had taken all references to the Jews. He rejected the Old Testament in its entirety because of its Jewish origins. Jesus, according to Macrion, was not born but sprang, like Zeus, fully grown from God. He came to earth to preach a ministry of redemption as a God of love in contrast with the capricious and cruel God of the Old Testament. So final was Macrion's excommunication from the church that even the money he had donated was returned. 3 This threat to the church was followed by another known to its followers as "the New Prophecy" and to history as "Montanism," after its founder, Montanus, a convert to Christianity from the province of Phrygia in Asia Minor. On the eve of his crucifixion, the Savior had told his disciples that he had many things to teach them but they could not bear them at that time. He then promised that the Holy Ghost would guide them "into all truth" and show them "things to come" (John 16:12-14). Montanus denounced the lack of revelation and the absence of spiritual gifts in the church. In doing so he claimed himself to be the advocate promised by the Savior and said that he had come to give them the promised revelation. 4

Through the course of years, the church solved the problem of dealing with such heretics by announcing that revelation had ceased and that the canon of scripture was closed. Thus the biblical promise of continued revelation led the church of the second century to deny continuing revelation, while the idea of the Bible as a single, sacred, unalterable corpus of texts, which began as a heresy, was adopted in the efforts of the church to define orthodoxy. 5

The Roman and other western churches used a New Testament of twenty-two books for at least a hundred years. Origen, an Alexandrian scholar, divided the books in his own New Testament into two classes: the acknowledged books and the disputed ones. His list of disputed books included James, 2 and 3 John, 2 Peter, Jude, the Letter of Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas. These, with the other books known to the Bible reader, constituted the oldest Greek manuscript. It consisted of twenty-nine books.

Seventy-five years after the death of Origen, another eastern Christian, Eusebius of Caesarea, omitted the Shepherd and Barnabas from the canonical list. The great issue of that era was the reliability of the book of Revelation. Most Greek manuscripts of the New Testament omit it. Other disputed books from the New Testament, which Eusebius himself rejected, were the Acts of Paul, the Revelation of Peter, and the Teachings of the Apostles, all of which have remained in exile.

Another voice from that ancient day was that of Athanasius, the great champion of the dogma of the Trinity. It was his custom to write an Easter letter to the churches of his diocese. His letter written in A.D. 367 listed the books approved for reading in the church. His list, which is the same as our New Testament, is the earliest reference we have to a general acceptance of that particular grouping of texts.

 

MYTH II

The Bible Preceded Doctrine

It is generally held among those who claim membership in the traditional Christian churches that their doctrines originated with the Bible. As we have already seen, that could not have been the case, simply because the Bible did not exist until long after the creation of the church. If we hold that the church was organized by Christ or his apostles, then its organization came before any New Testament books were written. The book was created by the church, not the church by the book.

After the deaths of the apostles, there was no central leadership in the church. The Gospels, the epistles of Paul, and other writings that constitute the New Testament would for various reasons have been inaccessible to many branches of the church. Further, those in circulation would have shared the attention of various congregations with a variety of other manuscripts posing as scripture which have, as judged by history, fallen far short of the mark. These various branches, all calling themselves Christian, simply went their own way.

When Constantine decided to use the Christian church to unite the Roman Empire, he found it necessary first to unite Christendom. To that end he convened the first council of the church, by the authority of the state, at his palace in Nicaea in A.D. 325. The Council of Nicaea, to which all traditional Christian creeds trace themselves, convened to determine whether the Father and the Son could properly be thought of as being separate and distinct or whether orthodoxy demanded that it be believed they were of the same essence. The council determined that they were of the same essence, or that Jesus was his own father. Significantly, this monumental doctrinal announcementcame after it had been declared that revelation had ceasedbut before there was agreement on what books constituted the closed canon.

 

MYTH III

True Religion is Bible Religion

There are those who boast that their religion is Bible religion. Ironically, such a belief is unbiblical. Those so declaring ought to be reminded that no one who lived within the time period of the Bible ever had a Bible. Therefore, their religion was not Bible religion. If we follow their example, our religion cannot be Bible religion, either.

The Bible is not religion; it is a history of those who had religion. The religion of those who live within the covers of the Bible centered in livingoracles and the ordinances of salvation. Theirs was a religion of prophets and apostles. It was a religion of continuous revelationone in which they enjoyed the companionship of the Holy Ghost, entertained angels, dreamed dreams, and performed miracles. It was not a religion that centered on the declarations of prophets made at earlier times to another people. Such records were reverenced as scripture but were always subordinate to the voice of the living prophet. The faith of those of whom we read in the Bible centered on experiences that were immediate and personal.

Those within the Bible to which we turn for divine guidance never claimed direction from the revelations given to previous generations. They always stood as independent witnesses of the principles they taught. They knew God in ways other than by hearsay. In Bible times such was expected. Today, for all of our knowledge, we could not, in a court of law or any place requiring rigorous proof, trace any book on the shelves of our libraries to the hand of its original writer in ancient Athens, Rome, or Jerusalem. We have no signed documents, no signatures of witnesses, no original manuscripts. Neither the Bible nor the Koran can comply with the rules of evidence that would allow its testimony to be admitted in a court of law. Without revelation in our day the revelation of the past is simply hearsay.

When the salvation of men is at stake, a more sure path is required than the one claimed by those whose religion centers on the Bible alone. Nor is it insignificant how perfectly the Book of Mormon marks such a path. Consider the testimony of Alma as he describes the authority by which he preached: "I am called," he said, "according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers [clearly referring to the scriptures]." Then he adds, and this is profoundly important, "This is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God." He then explains that he had fasted and prayed many days to obtain that personal understanding. Thus he is able to say, "It has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true." Then, to assure us of the verity of what he has said, he begins to prophesy by that same Spirit. This, he said, is what constitutes the "holy order of God" (Alma 5:43-49).

Alma's description of how one comes to a knowledge of the plan of salvation is perfect. We start, as he did, with extant revelation—whether it be written or oral matters not. We seek through fasting and prayer to obtain the Spirit's witness of the verity of what we have been given, knowing that when we obtain that Spirit, it will lead us into an understanding of what we have been given and then, as appropriate, lead us beyond it. Rather than claiming the Bible as their religion, the ancients, of whom we read in the Bible, claimed continuous communication with the heavens as the source of their religion.Thus it becomes an everlasting principle that light will cleave to light, and that those having the truths of salvation will have light and truth added to them until that perfect day, in which they will enjoy the fulness of the Father (see D&C 50:24; 93:19-20).

 

MYTH IV

Everything in the Bible is the Word of God

That the Bible contains the word of God is beyond question. That every word in the Bible was spoken by God is a sorrowful myth. Brigham Young identified this myth when he said: "I have heard ministers of the gospel declare that they believed every word in the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them 'you believe more than I do. I believe the words of God are there; I believe the words of the devil are there; I believe that the words of men and the words of angels are there; and that is not all,—I believe that the words of a dumb brute are there. I recollect one of the prophets riding, and prophesying against Israel, and the animal he rode rebuked his madness." 6

In my experience, those who are the most adamant in declaring the Bible to be the word of God are also those who most freely press the Bible to mean and say things it clearly does not. An anti-Mormon book that uses the title God's Word Final, Infallible, and Forever gives its readers three standards that, if followed, will assure that they will not be caught in the Mormon net. Each of these standards, we are to assume, is rooted in the Bible. First, as readers we are warned not to pray about the message; after all, it is reasoned, people have been deceived by their prayers. The second warning is not to trust our feelings, because, we are told, feelings can also be deceptive. The third warning is not to trust our minds, for "our minds are reprobate." 7 So, the book concludes, if we refuse to pray, to trust our feelings, and to use our minds, there is no chance the Mormons will get us. (That was the only conclusion in a lengthy book with which I was able to agree.) What then are we to trust?

The answer is, of course, the Bible. What is really meant by this answer is the interpretation of selected passages of the Bible as given by the fellow who is claiming it to be "the word of God." At issue here is whether the Bible is still the word of God in the countless instances in which it directs us to pray and encourages us to use our hearts and minds. Did not the Savior himself command us, saying, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened"? (Matthew 7:7-8). Is this not an invitation to pray for knowledge and understanding? And did he not condemn those of his day for rejecting their feelings and failing to use their minds when he said: "This people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed [is this not the refusal to use both their hearts and their minds?]; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them"? (Matthew 13:15). Significantly, modern renderings of this verse insert the word minds into the text. For instance, Today's English Version reads:

Caution should be used in making claims for the Bible which it does not make for itself. Not once in the Bible does it refer to itself as the word of God. Certain utterances are referred to as his word, and we regard them as such. They are, however, very specific instances and, in almost every case, are spoken, or oral. For that matter the word bible is not used in the Bible, and nowhere within the covers of the book is any suggestion made as to what writings should be considered scripture and what things should not be so considered. What constitutes scripture is left undefined, and no book in the Bible refers to itself as such. The characters and writers of the New Testament frequently quote from Old Testament books in such a manner as to indicate they esteem them as scripture. They also give that same status to some books that have not survived as part of the canon (see Jude 1:9, 14-15). 9

Without question the hand of the Lord has been over the Bible to protect and preserve it. Had that not been the case, its sacred message would have been completely lost to us. This is not to say, however, that it is unblemished or unscarred. Even if we were to concede that every word in it was of divine origin, those words would cease to be such in the hands of any whose purity and inspiration was less than that of those who originally penned the words. The word of God as interpreted by uninspired men ceases to be the word of God (see D&C 50:17-23). It does not make them spokesmen for the Lord, nor will its promises admit them into his divine presence.

 

MYTH V

The Canon is Closed

"The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." So declares the Westminster Confession. 10 That doctrine of sufficiency extends the "my religion is Bible religion" myth to embrace the idea that everything necessary for the salvation of men is found in the Bible as it presently stands, and nothing need be or can be added to it. One great difficulty with this myth is that there is no general agreement among those who use it about what the Bible means. Another significant difficulty is that the Bible itself does not sustain the myth.Nowhere in that compilation of sacred books does it say that no other books can be added to the compilation. Responding to this issue, Joseph Smith asked, "Does it remain for a people who never had faith enough to call down one scrap of revelation from heaven, and for all they have now are indebted to the faith of another people who lived hundreds and thousands of years before them, does it remain for them to say how much God has spoken and how much He has not spoken? We have what we have, and the Bible contains what it does contain: but to say that God never said anything more to man than is there recorded, would be saying at once that we have at last received a revelation: for it must require one to advance thus far, because it is nowhere said in that volume by the mouth of God, that He would not, after giving what is there contained, speak again; and if any man has found out for a fact that the Bible contains all that God ever revealed to man he has ascertained it by an immediate revelation, other than has been previously written by the prophets and apostles." 11

Many claims are made for the Bible that it does not make for itself. Nowhere does it suggest that those who read it thereby obtain the commission to go forth and represent the Master, preaching his gospel or performing the ordinances of salvation. Nowhere does it declare an end to the principle of revelation or advocate the dogma of a closed canon. Nowhere does it declare itself to be the repository of the "whole counsel of God," nor does it declare itself to be inerrant or infallible. We are left to ask, "Is it not unbiblical to impose doctrines or dogmas on the Bible that it does not teach?"

Is it not somewhat ironic that God himself can no longer speak in what is supposed to be his own church? Is it not strange that a theology claiming the word of angels and prophets as its very foundation refuses now to admit the existence of either? To declare the Bible supreme in all matters of faith is dangerously close to (if distinguishable from) worship of the Bible. The following exchange between a friend and a scholar of another faith illustrates the danger here. My friend was challenged with the statement that there is no way in all the world that Latter-day Saints could ever justify the practice of polygamy. "Look," my friend responded, "if the God of heaven personally appeared to you and directed you to practice polygamy, wouldn't you do it?" "No," was the response, "even if God himself commanded it, I would not do it, because it is not found in the Bible!"

The Westminster Confession of Faith states the matter well: "The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture." 12 The Bible, not God, is being named the "supreme Judge" in such a declaration. In so saying I am aware that the immediate response will be that I have misread and that the intent is that "the Holy Spirit" is the "supreme Judge" as it speaks to us through the Bible. But this is not what is being said and it is not what is being practiced in adhering to such a philosophy.

I heard a rabbi explain this theory once. He told us that the ancient scriptures speak to us "with a fresh spirit" so that they are always applicable in telling us what God would have us know. Yet for him, those same scriptures preclude his turning a light switch on or off on the Sabbath day and have failed to prepare him to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah promised his people. Such excessive devotion to the light of an ancient time leaves many of our day in the dark. And how is it that the scriptures speak to us "with a fresh spirit"? John Henry Cardinal Newman in his classic An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine observes that scripture cannot be confined to its "mere literal interpretation." Were it not for the practice of giving a mystical interpretation of scripture, there would be no defense for such doctrines as celibacy, purgatory, or the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, he explains. "It may be almost laid down as an historical fact, that the mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together." 13 What we are being told here is that what the scriptures say has little to do with the orthodoxy of modern Christendom. Rather, orthodoxy is the result of a "mystical interpretation" of scriptures, which gives them a meaning far different from that suggested by the language in which they are written.

The idea that the Holy Spirit can speak through extant scripture is beyond question. The idea that the Holy Spirit is to be confined to that medium for its expression is itself unscriptural. The greater danger here is addressed by Nephi: "Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!

"And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.

"Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

"For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have" (2 Nephi 28:27-30).

The principle is plain. To declare the heavens sealed and the canon closed is to lose at the same time the very power by which the scriptures must be understood. No scriptural text can be properly taught or learned save it be by that same Spirit by which it was revealed in the first place. "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day" (D&C 50:24).

 

MYTH VI

The Bible Can Be Interpreted Independent of a Predetermined Ideology

Suppose that an angel of the Lord took the Bible (in this instance, meaning the traditional Christian Bible) to a people who had no previous knowledge of it and directed them to read it and then form a theology and a church that were patterned after it. Is there any possibility that they would conclude upon a doctrine and an organization that resembled anything known to the modern Bible-believing world? Unbiased and untutored readers of the holy book could never do it! The Bible could be read from now until doomsday without the concept of the Trinity occurring to any of its readers. Nor could we reasonably suppose that the doctrine of salvation by grace alone would somehow surface to float on top of the ocean of texts that demand obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.

Only by some form of preconditioning can Bible readers be induced to ignore the countless passages that contradict the doctrine of the Trinity or the notion of salvation by grace alone. Both doctrines have an important history that stands independent of the Bible. A sympathetic view of that history is necessary to sustain either doctrine; the Bible alone simply does not do it. And what of Mormonism? Could we expect our unbiased and untutored readers to finish their reading of the Bible and then start the construction of temples, the practice of eternal marriage, and the sealing of families? I hardly think so. Again, the legitimacy of those doctrines stands independent of the Bible.

The Bible has no shortage of zealous defenders, indeed, countless souls profess loyalty to it. Yet their professions differ sharply. The differences are in the predetermined positions from which those holding these various views approach the book. Both Jew and Christian claim a reverence for the Old Testament and read it faithfully. But to read the Old Testament with the knowledge of the New Testament is to read with a different understanding and purpose. This knowledge shifts the book's center of gravity. Critics of Mormonism tell us that we are reading the Book of Mormon into the Bible. Well, of course we do. That is just what we are supposed to do. It would be faithless to do otherwise. Our Christian critics need to be reminded that they do the same thing with the Old Testament. Their faith demands it.

The common ground between Catholics, Protestants, and Jews should be the Hebrew Bible. If there is any hope of reconciliation among religions it should be found there. The arrangement of books, however, is very different in Christian and Jewish Bibles. The Christian order is based on the Septuagint, which the Jews have rejected. The Jewish Bible begins with the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) followed by Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Then come Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets. They are followed in turn by the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, and Job), the Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther), then Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, and finally Chronicles.

This ordering conveys a distinct message. The book divides itself into two parts. The first is the story of the fall of Israel. This sad story recounts how the chosen people lost their chief city, their temple, and their land. It is the story of the rebellion and fall of Israel. It tells the story of the creation and fall of Adam and then the story of the creation of the nation of Israel and its fall to Babylon. The second half of the book is the story of Israel's return to the glory of David's day. The second half has been described as a "Quasi-legal brief on behalf of Israel and its claim to the land. The contention is that even though the original grant of land to them was conditional-provisional—and they failed to maintain the conditions—they didn't fulfill the requirements of the covenant and they lost the land. Nevertheless, overriding this historical truth is the original commitment made by God to Abraham in Genesis 15 (and repeated elsewhere to Abraham and his descendants)." Thus, this line of reasoning continues, "God committed himself by oath to give the land to Abraham and his descendants. According to their understanding, even if they deserved to lose it and lost it, they still have his claim because the original commitment was unconditional, irrevocable—'To your offspring, I give this land' [Genesis 15:18]—and there's no way it can be reversed." 14

The point here is that no one is willing to read the Common Bible (the Old Testament books that most Bible believers hold in common) from a neutral point of view. No one is reading those books to determine truth; for its readers the truth has already been determined. For traditional Christianity, it is the testimony of Christ; for the Jews, it is the claim to their ancient birthright; and far too often for the Latter-day Saint, it has been to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Everyone wants to suppose that the Bible is the key to truth when in reality its primary use has been as a sword to defend what has already been determined to be the truth.

The predetermined position from which a Latter-day Saint reads the Bible is that God can still speak, that revelation is continuous, that God can still call prophets, and that it takes modern revelation to give the true meaning to the ancient revelation, just as it takes the New Testament to give the true meaning to the Old Testament.If we are right, we are the only people on earth who truly understand the Bible.

The real issue is not the Bible itself; it is the a priori position from which it is read. In the world of biblical scholarship, study begins with the predetermination that there neither were nor are miracles. It is assumed that all references to them are unauthentic additions to the text. Could it surprise anyone that the conclusion of these same scholars is that Jesus is not divine, that he made no claim to Messiahship, to being the Son of God, the light of the world, or the bread of life? 15 That which people see and hear from the good book is largely determined by what they have conditioned themselves to expect.

 

MYTH VII

To Know the Bible is to Understand it

Very few people really understand the Bible. There are appre-ciably more who have committed to memory a chain of passages from it that can be made to appear to sustain their dogmas, along with other texts they use to disprove the tenets of those with whom they disagree. Virtually without exception those so doing have no meaningful understanding of scripture or the gospel, and an honest examination of their arguments plays havoc with the fabric of both the immediate source they are quoting and the Bible as a whole.

Paul is perhaps the most misquoted man in earth's history; he is used endlessly in Christian evangelizing. He did not, however, write for that purpose. His epistles were all written to established congregations of believers. That is important because we have no business preaching grace to people who do not understand the nature of the Fall, nor do we sensibly teach mercy to someone who does not understand the necessity of divine justice. Such principles cannot be taught to someone who has not heard that God requires obedience and punishes disobedience. There are no scriptural texts that exhort sinners to "accept Christ," to "make a decision for Christ," to "ask Jesus into their heart," or to "accept Jesus as their personal Savior." Such invitations violate both the spirit and the terminology of the summons given by those Christ commissioned in the New Testament. The twentieth-century invitation "to make a commitment for Christ" is a far cry from the doctrine of the New Testament. Singularly, the word commitment is not used in the Bible. Christ and his disciples were a "covenant people," not a "commitment people." The difference is immense. Gospel covenants are made with God. They presuppose the principle of revelation, of a living priesthood, and that all the terms of salvation originate in the heavens. Commitments are individually determined. They require no revelation, no priesthood, and suppose that the terms of salvation are negotiable.

Further, many Bible readers have felt free to lay claim to the promises made within the holy book to others. Significantly, they have not felt the same disposition to claim the promised cursing that follows disobedience and broken covenants. In like manner, they suppose the commission to preach given to the ancient Saints somehow belongs to them while such injunctions as taking no thought for the morrow or giving all that they have to the poor remain unnoticed by them. This pick-and-choose theology bears little resemblance to the gospel taught by any of the Lord's chosen spokesmen in the Bible.

 

MYTH VIII

The Bible is Common Ground in Missionary Work

For generations Latter-day Saints have attempted to prove the message of the Restoration to other Christian people by using proof texts from the Bible. The assumption sustaining those efforts is that the Bible is common ground. In reality, the Bible is not common ground; it is a battleground and has been for hundreds of years. Thus such efforts frequently result in a spirit of contention, generating more heat than light. Even when successful, such efforts are of questionable value. The testimony that leads to the waters of baptism must center in the reality that God speaks today, that Joseph Smith is a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency are Christ's rightful successors. Such a testimony cannot be sustained from biblical proof texts. A true testimony must embrace faith in the Bible, but it cannot rest on the Bible. For it to be otherwise would be unbiblical, for as we have already noted, the faithful Saints of whom we read in the Bible had no Bible. What they had was a faith founded on personal revelation. That faith was in harmony with and sustained by whatever scriptural texts were available to them, but it was not founded on them.

Like wolves, false notions travel in packs. The idea that we should prove the revelations of the Restoration from the Bible is a companion to the idea that we advance our cause by seeking common ground with those we seek to convert. It is as if we were saying, "Look, we are just like you are," and then acting surprised when our investigators say, "Well, there is no need for me to change then, is there?" If we succeed in convincing people that our faith is the same as theirs, we have simply convinced them that our message is unnecessary.

What is particularly significant in this whole discussion is that it is easier to convert people to the Book of Mormon than it is to convince them of the truths of the Bible. If we convert people to the Book of Mormon, the truths of the Bible will become evident to them. If we convince them of the truths of the Bible, we are still left with the task of converting them to the Book of Mormon. The Lord told Joseph Smith that he gave us the Book of Mormon "to prove" the Bible true,not the other way around (see D&C 20:9-12). Joseph of Egypt was promised that a choice seer would come from his loins in the last days, one who would not only bring forth the word of the Lord but do a work that would cause the world to believe that portion of his word which they already had. Thus one of the great purposes of the Book of Mormon is to convince people that the Bible is true(see 2 Nephi 3:11; JST Genesis 50:30). To truly understand the Bible is to understand the necessity of continuous revelation.

Joseph Smith, in telling his own story of how he was able to obtain the mind and will of heaven, learned that "the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible." Had Joseph not chosen to drink from the fountainhead, we would still be lost in the "war of words and tumult of opinions" relative to the true meaning of the Bible (Joseph Smith-History 1:10, 12). We would, I suppose, still be awaiting what we know as the First Vision and the attendant restoration of the gospel.

 

Notes

1. The Jews combine the twelve Minor Prophets into one book. They also combine 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ezra and Nehemiah.
2. F. W. Farrar, The Bible: Its Meaning and Supremacy (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897), p. 34.
3. See Williston Walker, Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1985), pp. 67-69.
4. Walker, et al., History of the Christian Church, pp. 71-72.
5. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-86), 14:280.
6. Floyd McElveen, God's Word, Final, Infallible, and Forever (n. p., 1985), pp. 139-42.
7. Another illustration would be the New English Bible, which reads: "For this people's mind has become gross . . ."
8. In verse 9 Jude is telling a story not found in the Old Testament text as it has come to us, but it was available to him and he obviously regarded it as scripture. He does the same thing in verses 14 and 15, this time quoting from an Enoch manuscript.
9. See The Westminster Confession of Faith (Inverness, Scotland: John G. Eccles Printers, Ltd., 1983), chap. 1, sec. 6, p. 22.
10. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1974), p. 61).
11. Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. 1, sec. 10, p. 24.
12. John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 342-44.
13. David Noel Freedman, "How the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament Differ," Bible Review 9 (December 1993): 36-37.
14. See Marcus J. Borg, "Jesus in Four Colors," Biblical Review 9 (December 1993): 10.