Scripture
by Woody Brison

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1 The written word has great power. Its fundamental function is to record thoughts for later retrieval, by the author or by others. A Chinese proverb says, "the palest ink is better than the best memory."

Interestingly, Chinese writing in some ways is superior to English. In Chinese, written symbols represent concepts whereas in Western languages they only represent sounds, and in English, not even that very well. Chinese writing is used by multiple peoples who speak very different languages but they can all read each other's writing.
2 In our search for God, we saw how we can gain great power by

a) writing down our thoughts; we can focus our thinking by often re-reading what we wrote, and further, we can improve on those thoughts over time

b) studying the writings of others who are working or have worked on similar problems to ours

This principle works in any topic: auto mechanics, medicine, mathematics, marriage, etc. etc.

3 Such writings in religion might be very valuable, or worthless, or somewhere in between; the difference being whether they help us find the truth about God.

4 The very best of such writings are called scripture. If somebody has seen God, or heard him, or had some experience of him, and they write it down, that would probably be scripture. If somebody found evidence of him somewhere, that might be scripture.

Revelation means that something that was hidden gets revealed. Evidence for God is usually subtle, so if someone finds strong evidence of him, it seems more likely that God has put that evidence in their path, or steered them to it; a message from God. If they publish that message, it would be scripture.

Without revelation from God, we probably can't get very far in the process of finding him, learning about him, finding out what he wants from us, etc.

One caveat: crazy people publish "revelations" which don't come from God.

Also, some revelations are designated that they are not to be written down; for instance, 1Nephi 14:25 or 3Nephi 26:6-12. See John 16:12.

To summarize: Scripture is writing that helps us find the truth about God. McConkie defined scripture as any message, written or otherwise, from God to man. This is probably semantics or philosophy, but I think my definition is more comprehensive. I see it like this:
Revelation isn't scripture (Latin word, means writing) until it's written down. Writing it is a very important step. If you get such a message, whether you publish it or not, if you don't write it down, your memory may change it.

The Great Scott said (and this is from memory now) that every child of God needs a way to write his inner thoughts, good or bad, without anyone else being able to read them. Nephi kept two sets of plates. I keep two journals: one which might be read by others, such as my family; and a second, encrypted.

There's a proverb in the intel community: "Those who know, don't talk; and those who talk, don't know."

5 The most widely recognized Western scripture is the Bible.

I'm going to concentrate on the Bible first because it contains the scriptures of God's covenant people. Anyone can make a covenant with God tailored to their situation, but God has a standard covenant that he makes with his children in order to save and exalt them. He made this covenant with Moses and his people, with the Christians, with the Nephites, with the Ten Tribes, and with the Mormons. So the scriptures of those people are more likely to lead us to God. Scriptures from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. are outside our focus for that reason.

Altho it has been meddled with, cropped and changed, the text of the Bible is quoted and requoted, rephrased, and discussed, by prophet after prophet. This means that some of the corruption has been offset.

6 Every word the word of God

Certain people have pushed the idea that the Bible is 100% scripture, every word is the word of God. This false precept can be dispelled by simply reading. For instance, in 1Kings 14:1, we read: "At that time Abijah the son of Jeroboam fell sick." God didn't say that; it was written by some scribe. There are thousands of statements made by various individuals carried in the Bible - many that came from God (whether directly or via messenger) and many that just came from individuals.

And as Joseph Smith pointed out, there are utterances that came from evil spirits (Matt. 8:28-32, Mark 1:23-26, Mark 3:11, etc.), and even three questions asked by a donkey (Numbers 22:28-30). It isn't all the Word of God.

7 Should we discard the Bible then? No. It contains words from God. It isn't identically the Word of God.

8 Religious people will protest. They are certain of something about it, but what? It's the idea that the Bible is authorized by God. It's his book. He wants us to study it. All that is sort of true. He has endorsed it, not all of it, but as a volume generally.

1Nephi 13:40) ...These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them...

DC 11:22) ...study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, [the Bible] and also study my word which shall come forth... [the Book of Mormon]

DC 20:8-12) ...the Book of Mormon ... was given by inspiration ... Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true ... Thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever...

DC 42:12) And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.

Article of Faith #8) We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

3Nephi 23:1-3) And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah. ... And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
Another way to see it is that "the Word of God" is an euphemism meaning everything in the Bible is absolutely true.

Some things in the Bible are untestable.

Some things in the Bible are very unusual, such as a global flood, people raised from the dead, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread, etc.

Where we have historical records from the same times, they don't always agree with what the Bible says.

We can check for contradictions, and there are some.

Archaeology reveals that biblical cities existed but it can't tell us whether a collapsed roof was collapsed by a single man named Sampson or whether birds really fed Elijah.

9 The Bible is part scripture, part history, and part nonsense. The history parts are valuable. The scripture parts are immensely valuable. Some benefit might be had by studying the nonsense, with caution; it is genuine ancient text and it carries information.

The New Testament comprises every single scrap of known or likely writing by any of the Apostles or other very early disciples of Jesus. Much of it is very lofty scripture but some isn't.

Nonsense: The Song of Solomon for example is a collection of the kind of thing that was chanted while men watched scantily-clad women dance, as a close study of the Hebrew shows. Someone wrote these down, but later, removed from context, monastic priests failed to discern what they were. They were too far removed from marriage, unaquainted with revelation, and too prissy to consider them honestly; they got included in the list as "songs of God's love for his people"!

The NT contains:  
  • four biographies of Jesus  
  • thirteen letters from Paul  
  • a letter from someone (thought to be Paul) to "the Hebrews"  
  • two letters from Peter  
  • a letter from James  
  • a letter from Jude  
  • nine letters and a revelation from John
  • 10 Closed canon

    Paul's letter to Philemon isn't any gospel pastoral; it's about the disposition of a servant. If there had been a shopping list by the Apostle Andrew, it would have been included.
    Some people believe that the Bible is finished, done, sealed, we'll never get any more scripture, and it contains everything we'll ever need. This also is not true.

    11 Anciently, everyone read whatever books they thought would help them find God. People had collections of scrolls; Ezekiel, Kings, Chronicles, Susannah, Daniel, whatever; they would hear of a new one and get a copy, read it, pay a scribe to make them a copy. They traded them and they prized them, and thus the collections of books.

    12 No one had the slightest idea that this was a closed set. When the current Prophet would issue a new book, they would seek to get a copy of it.

    1 Nephi 5:10 - 13
    13 In the first century AD, Jewish leaders were becoming alarmed that so many of their people were becoming Christians. One of the primary causes of this were certain writings by the Apostles. The rabbis made a list of approved books: Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah etc. They said these were the scriptures; anything else about God was bogus. And thus they slowed this exodus from their ranks.

    They also removed passages from the scriptures that predicted details about Jesus' life. Some of these were so explicit that no one could fail to understand them. An example is found in Matt. 27:9-10, a quotation explicitly said to be from Jeremiah, describing the actions of the chief priests in buying Judas Iscariot's "field of blood", which is nowhere to be found in Jeremiah today.

    14 The Christian leaders did the same thing a few centuries later. Their problem was that books about Christianity were proliferating and a lot of them weren't true. So the Christian leaders confined the people to a certain subset. It was established as the standard, or "canon".

    The book of Enoch was quoted by several OT and NT authors; they considered it to be scripture. Yet it was deprecated by both Jews and Christians later, and disappeared. Modern explorers have located fragments in out-of-the-way places like Ethiopia.

    The Greek word, kanonas, means norm, rule, standard, regulation, custom. Originally it was a cane, used to check the length of things I think. The canon of the scriptures is a set of books that could be used to check everything else; a standard that everything else must agree to.

    15 Ye Shall Not Add Unto the Word

    Many traditional Christians claim that Rev. 22:18 closes the canon; it prohibits anyone from coming out with any new scripture.

    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.

    16 This misconception stems from a lack of knowledge. Originally, people collected individual books. Then, they made lists of accepted books; and they began to put several books together in single volumes. The entire Bible was the next step, followed by Gutenberg's printed volume.

    Christianity was probably the force that moved the world to use the codex - the modern book with pages. Before that, people used scrolls, but a scroll holding the NT collection was too large to handle, and you couldn't flip back and forth to prove your points. Christian books were the first large scale use of the codex, and the rest of the world followed.

    The word Bible comes from the Greek βιβλία which means 'little books'.

    17 The order of the books in the Bible varied. Eventually, in the New Testament, the 4 Gospels came first, because they were directly about Jesus; these were followed by the letters of Paul, in order of size. Then letters by other Apostles, and Revelations was generally placed at the end because it talks about the end of the world. Also, it didn't fit in any of the other categories. It wasn't written last.

    Paul never saw the mortal Jesus, he wasn't one of the original Twelve, and it might be that he wasn't one of the Twelve at all. But he was the chief missionary to the Greeks. They held him in such high regard that if he said it, it was so. Peter, the chief Apostle, James, John, all the rest came after Paul in the Greek collections, which is where the Latin and European Bibles came from.

    18 The warning in Rev. 22:18 was intended only to apply to Revelations. John's other letters (1John, 2John, 3John) were written after Revelations, but they were included in the Bible.

    Joseph Smith said that the book of Revelations was the least corrupt book in the Bible. I presume that the warning in Rev. 22:18-19 is the reason. He did make corrections to the book of Revelations, however; it's not 100% pristine.

    19 The book of Deuteronomy, written many centuries earlier, contains a similar warning in chapter 4. Were we to strictly heed that, the Bible would have only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (thru chapter 4). Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Malachi, etc. - all you guys think you're Prophets of God, but you wouldn't be allowed to add your books to the Closed Canon!

    And Proverbs 30:6 gives a similar injunction.

    Deut. 4:2) Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

    Proverbs 30:5-6) Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.

    2Nephi 29:3) And because my words shall hiss forth - many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

    20 Obviously, it's prohibited for unauthorized people to add, subtract, or modify. A prophet can do so, acting under God's direction.

    Suppose a new Prophet comes along, but he doesn't issue any new scripture. Just reads to us from the Bible we already have. What would be the point? We know how to read.

    For instance, Moses gave the Law to the Israelites. Jesus fulfilled it, and his Apostles taught the people that it was no longer to be observed.

    For another instance, Jeremiah issued a book of prophecies, which the king burned. So he issued it again, with more in it the second time.

    And the Bible clearly teaches there will be more Prophets.   Rev. 11:1-12,   Amos 3:7-8.   Why would Jesus give instructions (Matt. 7:15-20) on how to distinguish true prophets from false, if there weren't going to be any more true ones? (A word to the wise: those instructions are crucial.) Need I add, the fruits are an euphemism for results.
    21 God Would Never Allow His Word to be Corrupted

    Before we think thru the logic of this problem, let's examine some evidence. Three examples will suffice.

    22 First, the story of Jesus healing a rich man's servant comes in three different versions. They are sufficiently similar that it's statistically unlikely that there was more than one event. Yet they vary so much as to minute details that it's obvious that the one event is not really described accurately in at least two of the three accounts. Therefore, someone has changed the story. I've placed a full analysis here.

    23 Second, the story of Sennacherib besieging Jerusalem is told in two different places: 2Kings 18 and Isaiah 36. They are closer (more similar) to each other than the first case. But they exhibit a number of oddities. In some places, the wording is identical. In other places, there are small differences. In still other places, one account has a passage that the other does not have. I've placed a full analysis here. I don't know all the details, but it seems inescapable that this text has been corrupted.

    What all this means is that the written text was copied and recopied in two different locations, such as Tiberias and Babylon perhaps. During the copying process, minor changes occured - a word added here, or omitted there, a spelling change or a preposition changed, often a matter of a single letter. But there are passages that are identical, indicating that either people were very, very careful in copying, or else someone corrected one manuscript to match another. (Why then doesn't the whole chapter match?) The missing passages indicate that someone either inserted it into one manuscript, or deleted it out of the other.

    24 Third, the very old story of Lamech. I only know of one traditional version of this (Genesis 4:18-24), but it doesn't look intact. Normally, storytellers (either oral or written) don't just stop a story and wander off to something else just as they get to the most urgent, momentous, intriguing part; nor do they leave the audience with so many huge obvious questions.

    The Jewish copyists began keeping count of words and letters by AD 1000. This vastly (not completely) reduced the copying errors from then on, but it did nothing to correct errors that entered the text before that. It's clear from the DSS, LXX, and many other manuscripts that there were many variants in the text.

    When Joseph Smith used his powers as a seer to correct the Bible, he restored, or added a considerable exposition to, this story. Moses 5:44-55

    25 The logic behind the precept that God Would Never Allow His Word to be Corrupted is almost self-proving by definition. The flaw in it is the hidden assumption that God doesn't keep a copy in heaven. Our copies on earth are not the master copy!

    In elementary school in the 50's, our teacher wrote a 5 on the blackboard and asked, "How many (whole) numbers are there between 4 and 6?" The answer of course is: just one; the number 5 (which was on the board in front of us.) Then he wrote another 5 on a different place on the board. "How is it then that here we have two?" We struggled with this; "because they are the same", etc. He explained, and I shall never forget this: The number 5 is a concept; these are symbols representing it. So you can make as many copies of the symbol as you wish. To this child, it was an amazing epiphany, exposing much abbreviated childhood understanding.

    26 Many religions revere their sacred texts, sometimes to the point of worshipping them.

    "It is possible to stress the Bible so much and give it so central a place that the sensitive Christian conscience must rebel. We may illustrate such overstress on the Bible by the often-used (and perhaps misused) quotation from Chillingworth: "The Bible alone is the religion of Protestantism." Or we may recall how often it has been said that the Bible is the final authority for the Christian.

    "If it will not seem too facetious, I would like to put in a good word for God. It is God and not the Bible who is the central fact for the Christian. When we speak of 'the Word of God' we use a phrase which, properly used, may apply to the Bible, but it has a deeper primary meaning. It is God who speaks to man. But he does not do so only through the Bible. He speaks through prophets and apostles. He speaks through specific events....Christ is the Word of God in a living, personal way which surpasses what we have even in this unique book....The Christian teaching about the canon must not deify the Scripture." [Floyd V. Filson, Which Books Belong in the Bible? A Study of the Canon, 1957, p. 20-21]
    27 New Scriptures

    If our scriptures are fragmentary, and God can reveal new and better ones, then... well, is He going to?

    Yes. He has revealed new and better copies of what we already had. The Dead Sea Scrolls for instance have given us copies of Old Testament books which were copied around 100 BC, about 1000 years older than any we had.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves on the NW side of the Dead Sea starting in the 1940's. The hills there were soon swarming with unscrupulous black marketeers as well as archaeologists. One scroll told where treasure was buried, which added to the frenzy. Dan Peterson says that the Lord gave us the DSS as an exercise to learn how to preserve scrolls and unroll them; many were damaged - some have been reduced to hundreds of tiny fragments. Politics kept most of them locked away for 50 years, and some still are.

    28 Joseph Smith's retranslation of the Bible, and his translation of the Book of Abraham, plus a few other revelations, take us even closer to original authors.

    Joseph didn't finish his retranslation of the Bible. Other matters required his attention, and he was murdered. There is some question about the exact text he determined on, since he didn't publish it. Today, most of the changes he did make can be accessed in the footnotes and appendix of the LDS Bible, and in the Pearl of Great Price. It's obvious that many Bible errors remain uncorrected.

    29 God has also revealed ancient scriptures that were hidden, which we never saw before. The Book of Mormon is scripture from ancient Christians who lived in the Americas over 2000 years ago.

    The Book of Mormon is a summary of Nephite history, with emphasis on spiritual events, made by Mormon, the last Nephite military commander. The Nephites were a colony of Israelites who came to the Americas around 600 BC. They knew of the coming of Christ and ran a 'church of anticipation'; and Christ visited them after his resurrection. The book details these events and provides for us a vital refresh of the principles of Christianity which were redacted from the Bible.
    30 And he has given us new scripture via modern prophets that no one on earth has ever seen before. The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of revelations direct to Joseph Smith and other modern Prophets of God, in English.

    We'd like to say that these revelations to Joseph Smith et al, being given in English, are free from transmission / translation issues; but the process of recording and printing oral utterances in the early 1800's was not perfect, and some of the editing was oddly done. And in 180 years the English language has evolved - there are passages that beginners will struggle to understand today.

    And there will be more.

    1 Nephi 13:39-14:2) ...I beheld other books, which came forth by the power of the Lamb ... unto the convincing of the Gentiles and the remnant ... and also the Jews ... that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true. And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records ... shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them ... and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records ... And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations ... unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks, and ... they shall be no more brought down into captivity.
    31 The Holy Ghost Testifies the Scriptures are True

    Another difference between scripture and most other literature is that when we are reading scripture, we will feel a special feeling: the influence of the Holy Ghost.

    Some people describe the influence of the Holy Ghost as a warmth, some as a comforting feeling, some say it just feels right. It can be a very strong, tangible feeling.

    What the Holy Ghost is trying to tell you via this special feeling, is that the passage of the scriptures you're reading or hearing is true.
    32 People Don't Study the Scriptures Enough

    The Lord has restored his gospel to the earth. We are told to be baptized, attend church, pay our tithing, study the scriptures, pray, hold Family Home Evening, teach our children the gospel, be honest, attend the Temple, share the gospel with our neighbors, be self-sufficient, etc. etc.

    Most of us do pretty well with most of these commandments. The single most important yet most neglected is scripture study. Most LDS do not study them as deeply and diligently as our traditional Christian friends study the lesser compilation they have. A few LDS do. But I have seen Protestants who literally wore their Bibles out studying them - the pages were falling apart from constant wear.

    DC 84:54-57) And your minds ... have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received ... And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them...

    John 5:38) And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
            The Family Bible

      Old brother Higgins built a shelf
      For the family Bible to rest itself
      Lest a sticky finger or grimy thumb
      Might injure the delicate pages some.
      He cautioned his children to touch it not
      And there it rested with never a blot
      Though the Higgins tribe were a troublesome lot.

      His neighbor, Miggins, built a shelf,
      "Come children," he said, "and help yourself."
      His Bible is old and ragged and worn,
      With some of the choicest pages torn,
      Where children have fingered and thumbed and read.
      But of the Miggins tribe I've heard it said,
      Each carries a Bible in their head.

    33 The Lord has repeatedly instructed us to study the scriptures. I think that this is because it will give us information about, and get us thinking about, things he's done. We will more likely understand how he is dealing with us today; his goals don't change. And he's governing the earth. So these are the most vital texts we have. If we study them, the Lord will work with us and help us to understand. We will be able to feel the truth of things.

    Granted, some of our scriptures are fragmentary, but they are the best we have at present. If we don't study them, we can't persuade the Lord to give us better ones. We won't often feel the Spirit, and the best we can do is cling to the church like a baby monkey to its mother. Many will not maintain the grip tight enough.

    Deuteronomy 6:6-7) And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

    Joshua 1:8) This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

    John 5:39) Search the scriptures; for ... they are they which testify of me.

    2Tim. 2:15) Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    1Ne. 15:25) ...I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed, that they would give heed to the word of God...

    34 How to Study the Scriptures

    2Ne. 31:20) ... if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
    I've posted another article on that subject: Know the Scriptures Inside and Out.

    Notes

    1. Woody Brison is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but this website is not affiliated with the church. It may be thought of as an additional, somewhat independent witness.

    2. I want this page to be as accurate as I can make it. If you have a correction, please email me.

    3. All biblical quotations are from the King James unless otherwise noted.

    Copyright 2013 Woody Brison. All rights reserved.