Is the Eighth Article of Faith a Cop-out?

A personal response from Jarron.

Challenge: The Mormons’ eighth Article of Faith says that they “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”  This is a cop-out.  It means that when they don’t agree with something in the Bible, they can just say it was translated wrong.

Daniel in Lions' Den MormonYes, we do believe the Bible “to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” (That’s from the eighth Article of Faith.)  But what we wonder is: who doesn’t believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly?  Indeed, anyone who is a true Christian should be able to say the very same thing.  For example, suppose you happened to be reading a particular translation of John 3:16 and instead of the correct reading, namely “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life;” let’s say the translation you happened to be reading said, “that whosoever believeth in him might perish anyway and not have everlasting life.”  If you read this, you would be appalled.  You wouldn’t believe that translation, and neither would we.  We hope no one will ever make such a gross error, but you get the point: whether the error is big or small, if what is written is not what the original prophets and apostles intended, it is not scripture—it is not the word of God.  This is what we mean when we say that every Christian ought to say that he or she believes “the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.”

Dr. Robert J. Matthews, a religious scholar, has said about the phrase “as far as it is translated correctly”:

Here the word translated appears to be used in a broader sense to mean transmitted, which would include not only translation of languages but also copying, editing, deleting from, and adding to documents. The Bible has undergone a much more serious change than merely translation from one language to another (A Bible! A Bible!, Bookcraft, 1990, 72).

This principle of being translated or transmitted correctly applies to more than just the Bible.  Suppose, for the sake of argument, that you were reading a website about elementary mathematics and instead of reading 2 + 2 = 4, there was an error that somehow made it read 2 + 2 = 5.  Maybe the author was trying to type too fast and accidently moved his finger slightly to the right.  Or perhaps there was an error in the programmer’s code.  Or maybe someone purposefully changed the number in order to play a practical joke.  Believing in anything—whether we are talking about the Holy Scriptures or religion or whatever—believing anything to be true only as it is transmitted or translated correctly is not a cop-out.  It is simply being cautious.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

How ironic it would be if the very translation we happened to be using “for correction” was itself incorrect.  If the Bible isn’t translated correctly, then it isn’t the word of God, nor can it be.  A translation can only be completely correct if it is translated under the same spirit with which it was originally written—in the case of the scriptures, that spirit is the Spirit of God.

There has been a lot of research on the Bible, and we can’t reproduce it all here.  But suffice it to say that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts of the Bible.  The manuscripts we have are all “copies of copies of copies” (Matthews 72).  The different manuscripts we have of the Old Testament, for example, all differ in various places: the Hebrew manuscripts, the Greek Version (known as the Septuagint), and the Samaritan Pentateuch are not always consistent with one another (Bible Dictionary, “Bible”).

So how does one know what is translated correctly and what isn’t?  How does a person know whether or not he or she is actually reading what the ancient apostles and prophets intended to be written?

This is why we must have prophets and apostles on the earth today.  We need  them not only to help us receive true interpretations of the scriptures, make sure we are getting correct translations, and teach us truth, but also to continually edify us and guide us with the specific help we need in our day.  God is the same “yesterday, to day, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), and if He helped and delivered and taught His children because of His love for them through prophets and apostles in ancient times, then He must also call prophets and apostles in these latter-days, the days right before His second coming, with all the wars, rumors of wars, diseases, famines, and pestilences that precede it.  We need living prophets and apostles today more than ever.

Book of Mormon and BibleMormons read from the Bible constantly.  They spend two years out of every four studying it in Sunday School.  The messages of salvation that are found in that book are glorious and beautiful.  The gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in the Bible, inspires men and women to be better people, to love, to forgive, and to serve one another.  Many times when we need help with a trial, or knowledge on how to overcome some difficulty, we turn to the Bible and receive wisdom, courage, and strength from its pages.

But just as “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1, emphasis added), the Bible is not the only witness of Jesus Christ, nor is it the only record containing God’s dealings with His beloved children.

Somewhere in theAmericas, 600 years before Christ, a man named Nephi had the gift of prophecy.  He wrote about the Bible,

“…a record of the Jews which contains the covenants of the Lord, which [God] hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets” (1 Nephi 13:23).

And then he says something that I think is wonderful.  He says that this record—the Bible—is “of great worth unto the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 13:23).  Indeed, the Bible is of great worth.  It has brought many men and women closer to Christ.  It has brought Mormons personally closer to Christ.

But, the ancient American prophet Nephi also wrote, speaking of the Bible (remember that the Old Testament prophets as well as the first New Testament Apostles and Prophets were Jews):

“…when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fullness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record . . . And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away”  (1 Nephi 13:24, 26).

This is one reason why, as we have said above, so many of the manuscripts we have of the Old and New Testaments do not agree with one another.

Nephi wrote the gospel of Jesus Christ in reformed Egyptian on gold plates.  He passed the plates on to his children, and the plates stayed in the hands of his posterity for many generations.  The posterity of Nephi eventually migrated North, and  the plates were buried in a hill in what is now the state of New York.  The plates were uncovered by a man named Joseph Smith and translated by power of God.  The translation was—and is—called The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  Joseph called it a correct book, not just because it validates the witness of Jesus Christ that we find in the Bible, and not just because it teaches the gospel of Christ in plainness, but that it was only translated once, and that through the power of God.  Any corrections have been in versification, and punctuation.

Service MormonIn addition, Mormon scholars are active with scholars from many faiths in seeking out correct biblical scripture.  You can see that evidence in the “50 Answers to 50 Questions” section, where biblical passages have been cited incorrectly by contending ministries.  We’ve given the correct translations with our answers.  These correct translations have been determined through research, and not by citing other scriptures from the Mormon canon.  Instead of forcing the Bible to agree with our other scriptures, we search correct meanings through scholarship and through the power of God through His prophets.

Here’s an example.  Some Christian sects teach that we are saved by grace no matter what we do, that our works “mattereth not.”  To uphold that belief is to discard huge sections of the Bible that talk about works, commandments, and the Lord’s expectation of obedience and sacrifice, including all of James.  Mormons, on the other hand, do not believe that we can earn our way into heaven by our works, but that obedience to the commandments, sacrifice, and good works are signs of Christ’s followers.  We believe James, that the Lord expects us to be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and to progress towards perfection, which we can attain in the eternities through the grace of God.  Mormons accept the Bible every whit (including Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead, and the apostles’ references to an ongoing priesthood), and we seek mightily to thoroughly understand every line.

We testify that God has called prophets and apostles in our day to teach us and guide us.  They continually remind us that God has not forgotten His people.  God knows that life is not easy—for He lived a painful and sorrowful life.  We testify of His divinity.  We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal Son of God.  We know that the Bible is the word of God.  Indeed, we are grateful for the record that “proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew” and the witness that that record gives of the Savior.  We are also grateful for the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.  It helps to explain what John wrote when he quoted his Lord, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).

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