In chapter 13 of 1 Nephi in the BOM, Nephi is having a conversation with an angel. The following verses come from that chapter:
23 And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
29 And after these plain and precious things were taken
away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.
Bruce McConkie cites this reference in Mormon Doctrine even with the following statement about the Scriptures.
“That they have not come down to us in their perfect form is well known in the church and by all reputable scholars.”
Some names would have been nice….
As one who is familiar with textual criticism, this kind of statement strikes me as odd. Consider the translation you use today of the Bible. How many translations are in between that text and the Greek and Hebrew texts?
The answer is “One.”
When a new translation is made, the translators go to the Greek and Hebrew texts that we have and they translate them from there. They didn’t translate the Vulgate and then the KJV from the Vulgate and then the NKJV from that and the RSV from that and the NASB from that, etc. Each one is made from the Greek and Hebrew texts that we have.
How accurate are they? Consider the NT. We have over 5,500 complete manuscripts of the NT and we have even more bits and pieces and some of these are quite extensive bits and pieces. The writings can be dated to before 70 A.D. and the time difference between the writings themselves and the earliest copies by standards of textual criticism is minimal. In fact, even if we didn’t have the NT, we could re-create the whole thing save 13 verses from the early church father quotations alone.
This makes it easy for us to cross-reference and check the notes. Consider if you got this message in the mail:
Y#U HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS!
The next day, you get this message:
YO* HAVE WON TEN MILLION DOLLARS!
And the third day you get this:
YOU HAVE WON &EN MILLION DOLLARS!
Do you have any doubt what the original message is? Now you can doubt whether the message is true, but it’s quite clear what the message itself is. You can even doubt the interpretation if you wish, but it cannot be doubted what the text behind the manuscript is.
To throw out the NT is to throw out every work in the ancient world. Nothing comes remotely close to it and if we can’t trust it, we can’t trust any other ancient work. Again, such does not prove the NT is the Word of God. I realize that. It does show though that the text we have is what the authors intended for us to have today.
As for the OT, the Dead Sea Scrolls helped put that to rest. The Jews were extensive in how they copied their manuscripts and the DSS helped confirm that. I urge the reader to get a book on the DSS to see exactly how important they are to understanding the transmission of the OT.
How about missing books in the Bible? There is often this charge brought against the NT. To be sure, there was a vote held at one point in time, but the vote gave nothing new. The church was not surprised as the writings we have of the Early Church Fathers cite as Scripture the very books that were confirmed to be Scripture. The church merely confirmed officially what had always been known.
If someone has a question about missing gospels, there is a simple cure to the problem. Read those gospels. Spend any time in them and it will become apparent why they weren’t accepted. These gospels had gnostic overtones, they weren’t written by the apostles whose names are on them, and they weren’t written within the lifetime of eyewitnesses.
It is because of reasons like these that I trust that we have an accurate Bible today. This puts Mormonism in a tough spot though. Mormonism must rely on this claim that the Bible has been changed and things taken out. After all, if the BOM is Scripture, than that is the Word of God. If that is the case, then it must be God’s Word that it has changed. If it hasn’t though, then either the BOM is not God’s Word, or God’s Word is that it has changed and he’s removed all evidence an given only evidence that it has not changed.
Perchance it’s simpler. There was no great apostasy and there was no huge change in the Bible and the BOM is not the Word of God. Yeah. Maybe that’s it.
For those interested in more reading:
Case for Christ and the Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel both have sections in them on biblical transmission.
Geisler and Nix’s “A General Introduction to the Bible.”
Geisler’s “Systematic Theology Volume 1: Introduction and Bible.”
Bruce Metzger’s “The Bible in Translation.”
James White’s “The King James Only Controversy.”