If you're one of those people who believe that the Bible descended from a cloud and is perfect the way that it is, that's cool. Go be a Christian fundamentalist. Maybe that's what God wants you to be.
One time I actually saw Jerry Falwell preach in Lynchburg Virginia, on my LDS mission in 2002. Falwell said that the Bible we have today is exactly as it was when the inspired prophets wrote it down centuries ago. He said the Bible was the infallible Word of God. He said there was not a single error in the entire book.
I have nothing against those who interpret the Bible literally, and consider it to be infallible. I just don't agree with them. For the most part, Christian fundamentalists are wonderful people. Perhaps God is behind their belief in an infallible Bible. And I would rather have people believe in a literal, infallible Bible than to believe in nothing.
On the other hand, I don't want people to get so loose and allegorical in their interpretation of scripture that they turn into liberal Unitarian Universalists. There's got to be some happy medium between extreme literalism and extreme liberalism.
It does seem like history and science has called the Biblical account into question. The Bible has undergone numerous changes and translations. Some books were accepted into the canon by councils, and some were rejected. Perhaps the changes to the Bible were inspired by God. Perhaps the changes were inspired by Satan, as 1 Nephi 13: 24 - 28 asserts. Perhaps the changes weren't really inspired by God or Satan. Maybe they were just changes. Maybe the supernatural powers of the Universe didn't care enough about the changes to intervene. I have no idea.
Here's a clear contradiction in the account of Christ's crucifixion:
Mark 15:25 says, "And it was the third hour, and they crucified him."
John 19: 14 - 16 says, "... about the sixth hour... they cried out, away with him, away with him, crucify him... and they took Jesus, and led him away."
So, did they nail Jesus to the cross in the third hour or in the sixth hour? We don't know. Mark tells us one thing, and John tells us another thing. With this clear error in the Bible, how can it be considered infallible?
There are more contradictions and errors in the Bible.
To hear God's voice, to know Him, we need more than just the Bible. We need loving people in our lives. We need sunsets and rainbows that show God's handiwork. We need personal revelation that comes from prayer and meditation. And it probably doesn't hurt to have more scripture. So Joseph Smith went ahead and wrote some! I think that's what Joseph Smith was trying to get at when he wrote much of 2 Nephi chapter 29.
2 Nephi 29: 8 - 11:
"Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? ... And because I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be finished until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever. Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them."
And here's my modern paraphrase and interpretation of those verses:
"Why do you complain when you get more scripture? Why do you complain when I, God, want to talk to my children more? Just because I caused the Bible to be written, that doesn't mean I can't cause other holy books to be written also. The Bible is not the end-all be-all of all my works and all my mysterious ways. I inspire people everywhere, all over the world, throughout all history, to write down spiritual things."
In addition to the Bible, Mormons accept the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. More revelations are added periodically to the Doctrine and Covenants. (Although the last one, section 138, was added in 1918. It's been almost a hundred years since a revelation has been added to the Doctrine and Covenants. But now we get our revelations in General Conference, I suppose.)
So, Mormons still believe in an open canon. This, I think, is the right way to believe. And Mormons do not believe in sola scriptura, which is the idea that everything necessary for salvation and holiness is obviously explained in the Bible. Over at EWTN, the global Catholic Network, Patrick Madrid does a good job of debunking sola scriptura here.
Joseph Smith also explains why the notion of sola scriptura doesn't hold water. He writes in the Joseph Smith History, verse 12, "for 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." In other words, no text can interpret itself. A reader has to interpret a text. And millions of different readers have interpreted the Bible very differently.
Joseph Smith was confronted with a real problem. In a way, it's the problem that we're all confronted with. It's the problem of conflicting claims of religious authority.
In Joseph Smith's day, the clergy of the various Protestant denominations all were studying the same Scriptures, yet they rarely agreed on what the Scriptures meant. So Joseph Smith prayed to get some answers to his questions and then he had the First Vision. Or, he fabricated the story of the First Vision. Either way, Joseph Smith produced some creative answers to the major theological questions of his day. To answer the questions that the Bible leaves unanswered, Smith wrote down his own revelations, which can be found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
The only problem though - and it's a serious, major problem- is that these "revelations" in the scriptures of the Restoration aren't really "revelations." They're more like, "stuff Joseph Smith made up."
But the bottom line is, I'd rather have made-up revelations than no revelations at all.
I believe that 2 Nephi 29 teaches true principles. I believe in an open canon. Mormons believe in a beautiful idea of a fluid, evolving canon. For this and other reasons, we should stay LDS.
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