3. The preservation and authority of Scripture according to Mormonism
Mormonism marshals criticisms against the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of “apostasy and restoration” of Christ’s church, in which at the hands of the Roman Catholic institution, the message of the gospel was contaminated by corrupt clergy, and ultimately went missing from the face of the earth for about 1,200 years, until 1830 with the arrival of the Book of Mormon.
According to the Book of Mormon, the Bible was tampered with by “the great and abominable church” — which is all but identified by name in the Book of Mormon — to the point that its message of salvation was removed, causing Christians to stumble and fall into the grip of Satan. As part of this theory of the Bible’s degradation and the Book of Mormon as a more enduring document, a person who believes only in the Bible is a “fool” (II Nephi 29:3-10).
The following is an excerpt of a Book of Mormon prophecy that allegedly was written by Nephi, who led a migration of Israelites from Jerusalem to what is now Central America, circa 600 B.C. The reader must suspend his disbelief for a moment in order to understand what the passage claims to see in the future:
(I Nephi 13:23-29, emphasis added) “And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles. And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God. Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. 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. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest – because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God – because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.”
The word “gospel” means “good news.” It is integral to salvation. Consider that what the Book of Mormon teaches in sum and substance is that God did not preserve the Bible, but we are to believe he protected golden plates in the side of a hill for more than 1,400 years. The Holy Spirit inspired the words, guided men in the writing of those words, and providentially compiled the Bible. If the Book of Mormon tells us it has been altered, how do we know what from the Bible to believe? If the Book of Mormon came forth with such divine force, why carry the Bible at all? Doesn’t it just risk polluting the perfect understanding that is found only in the Book of Mormon? How many “covenants” could be removed from the Bible? Christ made but one new covenant with his people (Matthew 26:28, I Corinthians 11:25).
If this passage is not a prophecy inspired by the Almighty — and most scholars agree that it is not — then what we have here in the Book of Mormon is essentially a conspiracy theory. Like most forms of deception, it is not completely devoid of some factual basis. No one will deny that the gospel was “hidden” or obfuscated by the medieval Roman Catholic authorities, who denied the laity, and indeed many of their own monastic order, access to the Scriptures in their native languages. But like most conspiracy theories, the Book of Mormon lacks any concrete evidence — in this case, to corroborate its claims of actual corruption to the biblical text.