The facts are, the oldest Book of Mormon manuscript we have is no older than 1830, but the Bible has been preserved for thousands of years, by thousands of manuscripts, in various languages, from various parts of the ancient Near East. True, the Roman Catholic Church uses certain apocryphal books in addition to the 66 books accepted by Protestants, and there are more books that others have argued for inclusion in the biblical canon. But this does not weaken the case for the Bible. Rather, it proves that even portions that some might say were “removed” were far from being lost. The portions excluded from the canon of the Bible are still published and accessible to anyone who is interested. In fact, the modern researcher can gain access to ancient manuscripts of canonical books and those judged noncanonical, as well as the texts of countless commentaries, discussions, debates and arguments by writers of both orthodox and heretical from the early centuries of the Christian church. With the early church leaders and opponents of Christianity debating the sacred writings and one another’s writings, the volumes of such debate certainly would contain some record of any attempt to remove “plain and precious parts” of the gospel.
It has been well-documented that there are more extant manuscript copies of the New Testament that have survived the ages, than any other text of antiquity (see chart). It’s true that there is no known single “perfect” or “complete” early copy, as the ancient parchments of Holy Writ contain many small, doctrinally insignificant variations between each other. But this is not problematic for the case of the Bible’s survival. The science of “textual criticism” has allowed biblical scholars to compare thousands of early New Testament manuscripts in order to reconstruct a master copy, known as a “restored text,” which we can say with statistical confidence is more than 99 percent accurate to the primitive autographs of the New Testament.
The Book of Mormon, by way of its anti-Roman-Catholic rhetoric, goes to great lengths to undermine the authority of the Bible in order to force room for its own authority.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to provide an in-depth treatment on the subjects of textual criticism, the biblical canon and how we arrived at the Bible we have today. This is just as well, in light of the fact that no matter how much tactile evidence is put in front of the skeptic, he will never believe in the Word of God unless he receives the intangible evidence: the “inward witness” of the Holy Spirit (Luke 8:9-10, John 5:37-40, I Corinthians 1:18, 26-31, 2:7-13, 12:3, II Corinthians 4:6, I Thessalonians 1:4-5, 2:13, I John 5:7-10; cf. WCF Chapter 1, line 4).
What we are mostly concerned with here is the precursory point of Scripture’s sufficiency. The “fullness of the gospel” is being reconciled to God through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 10:10, 20:31). The Bible precisely explains the way of salvation, and always has. What could be more plain and precious than a soul’s sure redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ?
Meanwhile, the claim that the Bible is incomplete and has been tampered with rests largely on these verses from the Book of Mormon, so we can examine the reliability of that book as a witness against the Bible. Such an examination does not reveal much to substantiate the veracity of the Book of Mormon, but it does yield substantial changes to its own text.
At this point concerning textual modifications to the Book of Mormon from its original 1830 manuscript, we will enter into an excursus to confront just one major textual change, which is the mention of the “Mother of God” in the Book of Mormon. We’ll examine how that occurrence relates to the Mariology of Roman Catholicism, as well as early orthodox Christian terminology.
According to the original 1830 version of the Book of Mormon, (I Nephi chapter 3 in the 1830 chapter divisions, emphasis added) “And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of flesh.” According to the same passage in the 1834 revision of the Book of Mormon, “And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”
In this verse, among many instances of textual changes, the text was altered by adding “the Son of” before the Father. The earliest available edition of the Book of Mormon seems to have taught the divinity of Jesus Christ in a way that is closer to Sabellianism than Trinitarianism.