To some not of the LDS faith, it may come as a surprise to learn that we believe, revere, and love the Holy Bible. We do have additional scripture, however, including the Book of Mormon; but it supports the Bible, never substituting for it. In fact, we cross-reference from one book of scripture to another because we are persuaded that the greatest commentary on scripture is scripture itself.
Sadly, the Bible is the most misused and misunderstood book ever written. It has been used to justify all manner of impropriety, wickedness, and falsehood. It has been used for centuries to settle disputes of every imaginable kind, even those that the prophets never intended to settle. Indeed, it has been quoted as often by devils as by Saints and, likewise, has served as an instrument of suppression as often as it has served as a source of inspiration.
In reading and commenting on religious blogs of other faiths, I have encountered numerous individuals who state emphatically that their position is based entirely upon the authority of the Bible. Unfortunately for them, however, God is the only source of reputable religious authority. In fact, the Bible itself points away from itself and instead to that final and true authority, God Himself.
For a time, the established Biblical canon ensured doctrinal orthodoxy as the Church began to grow around the 4th century. An overreliance on the canon, however, tends to shut one off from new truths or insights, and may breed spiritual complacency. For example, non-LDS bloggers often state, “Well, because the matter under consideration is not dealt with directly in the Bible, there is no answer, or God doesn’t care how we solve the issue.”
To that I feel compelled to respond: “If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?” Or: “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls the Bible?”
A knowledge of what the Bible does not claim for itself is important in protecting against its misrepresentations. The following 5 points delineate claims that Bible religions falsely attribute to the Bible, but which the book does not claim for itself:
1) The Bible makes no claim to infallibility. There isn’t one verse within the Bible to sustain this doctrine. In fact, it was in the name of infallibility that Galileo was condemned by the church in Rome for saying that the earth moved around the sun. The idea, it was held, contradicted scriptural passages that spoke of the sun’s rising and setting.
2) The Bible makes no claim to having been supernaturally dictated. Whoever was the first “scholar” to make the terms “the Bible” and “the Word of God” synonymous, did a great disservice to the cause of truth and religion. The term “word of God” is found in scripture hundreds of time, and yet in not one of those instances is it applied to the scriptures.
3) The Bible makes no claim that prophets are infallible. James states that Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, was “a man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17). Paul corrected Peter (Gal. 2:11-14), and Peter said Paul’s writings were “hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3:16). Jonah misunderstood his own prophecy (Jonah 4), and Noah occasionally got drunk (Gen. 9:21). Prophets are mortal and, as Joseph Smith taught us, “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (TPJS, p.278)
4) The Bible does not claim to have all the answers nor that it is God’s only revelation. Instead, the Bible continually directs its readers to implore the heavens for knowledge and understanding beyond what it contains, and often quotes statements and books that are now lost unto it. In fact, nowhere does the Bible purport to give its readers either authority or commission to preach the Gospel or to perform Gospel ordinances.
“What makes us different from most other Christians in the way we read and use the Bible and other scriptures is our belief in continuing revelation. For us, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge, but what precedes the ultimate source. The ultimate knowledge comes by revelation.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading, Revelation, and Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible,” in Plain and Precious Truths Restored, p.2 (emphasis added))
5) The Bible does not claim to be complete nor does it claim that revelation has ceased. As Joseph Smith said, “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 revelation, other than has been previously written by the prophets and apostles” (History of the Church, 2:18) (emphasis added).
The New Testament church was led by Apostles and prophets and governed by the spirit of revelation. The life-giving force of the Church was the Holy Ghost, not some scriptural record that no member of that church ever read. In fact, the New Testament did not exist until several centuries after the apostasy was complete.
The Bible is a magnificent tool in the hands of God, but it is too often used as a club or a weapon in the hands of men and women. Truly, the more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, of which continual revelation plays a major role.