Saturday, August 23, 2008

Does the Bible forbid scripture like the Book of Mormon?

      The Book of Mormon is one of the most distinguishing features of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No other Christian denomination has produced additional scripture, and certainly none have claimed any non-Biblical writings to be equal to the Bible. The Book of Mormon is such a unique feature that the Church is most widely known as the "Mormon Church," after the book.
      But does the Bible forbid scripture such as the Book of Mormon?

Critics claim that God intended the Bible to be a "closed canon," that is, his one and only book of scripture.
      In support of this claim, they quote Revelation 22:18-19: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." This scripture makes it clear, they say, that Joseph Smith violated a Biblical commandment by publishing the Book of Mormon.
      There are several major flaws with interpreting the passage from Revelation this way. First, commandments are for humans, not for God. John did not forbid God from revealing new scripture. Of course God has the divine prerogative to explain and clarify his word, reveal the mysteries of God (Matthew 13:11, Ephesians 3:3), and say whatever else he may see fit. The commandment was not meant to end divine revelation, but to forbid men from passing their own writings off as scripture. That is what John wrote: "If any man shall add unto these things..." Humans are not to take it upon themselves to write scripture. They may only do that when directly commanded by God. Luke saw that the Christian church had prophets who continued to reveal new scripture, and he took it as a sign that the church was true and prospering (Acts 6:7). The question remains whether Joseph Smith was commanded by God to translate the Book of Mormon, or whether he wrote the whole thing himself. But the mere existence of the book does not prove the latter to be the case.
      It is also worth pointing out that John was not referring to the Bible when he said "this book." The Bible as we know it today did not exist when John wrote those words. The Old Testament existed as the Jewish scriptures, compiled as the Greek-language Septuagint. The various books of the New Testament circulated independently among Christians as separate manuscripts and had not yet been compiled into one book, and would not be for several hundred more years. The book he was referring to must be the Book of Revelation, not the Bible. He wanted to warn people that they should not alter the account of his vision.
      Many groups have tried to close the scriptural canon and effectively declare God's mouth shut. Scholars believe that about A.D. 90, a group of rabbis held the Council of Jamnia to declare the Hebrew Old Testament the complete canon, and to reject any further scripture, such as the new Christian writings. Of course, such a decision cannot limit God's revelations. When Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon, other Christians tried to do the same thing: to declare that God cannot or will not add new scripture to the current canon. But that is what men have said, ironically speaking for God without authorization. God never said it, and the only scripture they cite for support does not mean what they interpret it to mean. "They that are unlearned and unstable wrest [the scriptures], as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16).

In summary
Argument: The Book of Revelation contains a commandment condemning additional scripture and declaring the Bible a closed canon. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is not of God.
Response: The passage in question forbids humans from tampering with the word of God or speaking for God without authorization. It does not say that God will not reveal new scripture, and it does not refer to the Bible or declare the canon closed.

1 comment:

Samuel said...

I could make an argument that the book of Mormon forbids itself.