President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
of the First Presidency
(On the Way to Immortality to Eternal Life, p.201-211)
WE shall say a few words tonight about the sources to which we Latter-day Saints look for our knowledge of the Gospel as restored to the earth in these last days.
Since the Gospel has been preached in all ages from Adam on down 1—Paul declared it was preached to Abraham, 2 and Jesus declared that Moses "wrote of me" 3—we of the Church draw without limit from all the records we have of God's dealings with men as recorded by his holy prophets, for as Amos said:
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." 4
In modern days he has affirmed that whatsoever his servants, duly authorized thereto, shall declare "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." 5
The Articles of Faith (thirteen in number) of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the equivalent of the ordinary church creed, were drawn up by the Prophet Joseph Smith in early March, 1842. The eighth Article reads:
"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."
As to the Bible, the Prophet Joseph on another occasion (October 15, 1843) said:
"I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors." 6
We should keep in mind this appraisal of the Prophet as we proceed in our discussion tonight.
Furthermore, in what follows tonight, we should also keep foremost in our minds that the Christian sectarian world declares as a fundamental belief that the full revelation of God to man is contained in the Bible, and that God no longer gives revelations to his children.
Now, scholars do not deny that the original texts of the Bible have been corrupted, though they do not agree in all cases on the portions that are corrupted nor in which of the variant texts is the corruption found, nor on the probable original text. But we are not concerned with these details tonight. We are interested only in the fact that there are corruptions and in how they came about.
Among the causes for corruption in the original texts, as listed by the distinguished scholars, Burgon and Miller of the Church of England, we may mention these: "inadvertency of the scribes," and later attempts to rectify them, but, as the authors observe: "A systematic and perpetual mutilation of the inspired Text must needs be the result of design, not of accident." 7 These authors then list as accidental causes for corruption:
Errors resulting from the omission or addition of identical or nearly identical letters in close proximity to one another;
Errors arising from the use of uncial "character, without accents, punctuation, or indeed any division of the text;" 8
Errors from "itacism," that is, misspelled words and misplaced words, and from "liturgical influence," that is, "accommodating an ordinary copy, whether of the Gospels or of the Epistles, to the requirements of the Church." 9
Other causes of text corruption, listed as "chiefly intentional," are:
The "harmonistic influence," which resulted from an effort to bring the narrative of the four Gospels into harmony;
"Assimilation," or the improper transfer of the expressions of one Evangelist to the writings of another;
"Attraction," or "the proneness of words standing side by side in a sentence to be attracted into a likeness of ending,—whether in respect of grammatical form or of sound; whereby sometimes the sense is made to suffer grievously,—sometimes entirely to disappear;" 10
"Omission" of words and clauses, "the largest of all classes of corrupt variations from the genuine Text," the authors stating that "omissions are much in favour with a particular school of critics," and citing as an illustration the discarding, as spurious, by some critics of the last twelve verses of St. Mark's Gospel, on what the authors regard as wholly insufficient evidence. 11
The authors add as other intentional causes of text corruption—transposition, substitution, and addition, stating, "All the Corruption in the Sacred Text may be classed under four heads, viz. Omission, Transposition, Substitution, and Addition," 12 the authors further adding as to certain kinds of changes: "they were inserted by men who entirely failed to realize the wrongness of what they did,—the mischievous consequences which might possibly ensue from their well-meant endeavours to improve the work of the HOLY GHOST." 13
To the foregoing "chiefly intentional" causes of corruptions of the sacred text, the authors name:
"Glosses" (usually in the form of additions or substitutions), that is, "those explanatory words or clauses which have surreptitiously insinuated themselves into the text, and of which no more reasonable account can be rendered than that they were probably in the first instance proposed by some ancient Critic in the way of useful comment, or necessary explanation, or lawful expansion, or reasonable limitation of the actual utterance of the SPIRIT." 14
There was also the corruption of heretics. The authors say, "In the age which immediately succeeded the Apostolic there were heretical teachers not a few, who finding their tenets refuted by the plain Word of GOD bent themselves against the written Word with all their power. From seeking to evacuate (sic) its teaching, it was but a single step to seeking to falsify its testimony." 15 Speaking of heretical doctrines concerning Christ's divine personality, and the attack by the heretics on the texts dealing therewith "with restless ingenuity," the author declares: "I do not say that Heretics were the only offenders here. I am inclined to suspect that the orthodox were as much to blame as the impugners of the Truth." 16
Finally, the authors name corruption from "orthodox" sources, and make these preliminary observations to their own detailed study thereof:
"Another cause why, in very early times, the Text of the Gospels underwent serious depravation, was mistaken solicitude on the part of the ancient orthodox for the purity of the Catholic faith. These persons, like certain of the moderns, Beza for example, evidently did not think it at all wrong to tamper with the inspired Text. If any expression seemed to them to have a dangerous tendency, they altered it, or transplanted it, or removed it bodily from the sacred page. About the uncritical nature of what they did, they entertained no suspicion: about the immorality of the proceeding, they evidently did not trouble themselves at all. On the contrary, the piety of the motive seems to have been held to constitute a sufficient excuse for any amount of licence." 17
In an earlier part of their discussion, the authors state:
"Indeed, the Ancient Liturgy of the Church has frequently exercised a corrupting influence on the text of Scripture." 18
Having in mind the effect of all this textual tampering and corruptions upon the understanding and teachings of uninspired men, it is little wonder that the Lord in the First Vision repeated to Joseph what he had said in Palestine to the Pharisees who were complaining that the disciples violated "the tradition of the elders:"
"Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
"Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men....
"And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." 19
This would seem a fitting and sufficient commentary on the traditions of some modern churches.
In another place the author affirms:
"I can but reflect on the utterly insecure basis on which the Revisers and the school which they follow would remodel the inspired Text." 20
A consideration of the whole problem suggests that the virus of modern criticism is found in part, possibly principally, in the fact that these altered texts, including those the heretics and the Church tampered with, are treated by these higher critics, not as texts that have been deliberately corrupted, but as texts of variant readings having equal value and authority as original texts. The approach of the higher critics seems clearly to be to search out and use the corruptions in order to destroy the Bible as an inspired volume that sets out the dealings of God with his children and his commandments to them, instead of attempting to find the corruptions and then eliminating them so as to establish the original text, as nearly as may be, and thereupon to learn its teachings.
It is a challenging fact that the unschooled Joseph Smith, in 1843, appraised the defects of the Bible on the very same points as these modern scholars, that is, that the original texts were corrupted by "ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests." This was not a mere fortunate, haphazard appraisal; it was not based on worldly learning, for he did not possess it; it came only through inspiration.
The Bible accepted and used by this Church of ours is the King James translation.
Having in mind these corruptions, and particularly those deliberately made to make God's words conform to man-made dogmas, surely no one would be so careless as to say there is no more need for revelation from God, that the Bible as it is contains all. It did contain God's words as it came from the original inspired writers; but only part of God's words are there now. Further revelation must come to supply the omissions and to correct the corruptions. That revelation did come and is coming, and as God's work moves on more will come as needed.
Accordingly, alongside the Bible we place the Book of Mormon, which contains an account of God's dealings with and teachings to branches of the house of Israel, who came to this hemisphere in ancient times, of whom the American Indians are a residuary remnant. We have heretofore spoken of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon through the instrumentality of Moroni and Joseph Smith.
At about the time of the issuance of the Articles of Faith (March 1842), the Prophet Joseph published a translation of an Egyptian papyrus—The Book of Abraham—containing a partial history of Abraham and an account of the creation of the earth and the purpose thereof.
The Prophet worked upon an inspired revision of the Bible, correcting and supplementing the text of the King James translation with additional material. But he was martyred before this work was completed. The opening chapters of this revision (under the title, "Book of Moses") and the Book of Abraham, plus a retranslation of the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew (beginning with the last verse of chapter twenty-three) are printed by the Church as the Pearl of Great Price.
From before the organization of the Church (April 6, 1830) until his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph received from the Lord revelations containing principles and doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; as well as commandments, exhortations, directions, and sometimes reproofs—all dealing with the Restored Gospel and the organization of the Church, with its functioning and administration under the Holy Priesthood of God, and all having to do with the work, powers, and duties of the Church and its officers and members in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. These revelations and others received by the Prophet's successors, are printed as the Doctrine and Covenants.
These four books—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants—are of equal authority in the Church and have been so used in our talks. These scriptures declare the divine will of God, reveal his dealings with his peoples, and proclaim the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A further thought should be added: Higher critics are exhausting their learning and acute ingenuity in evilly casting doubt upon the traditionally ascribed authorship of the books of the Bible, as if such ascribed authorship being disproved, the books themselves would fall as spurious and worthless. Their attack seems often based upon such finespun and technical comparisons, innuendoes, and interdependent "ifs," and relate usually to matters of such secondary or little importance as would not be listened to in the practical affairs of men. In the profession of the law their attacks would be called pettifogging.
I am not really concerned, and no man of faith should be, about the exact authorship of the books of the Bible. More than one Prophet may well have written parts of books now collected under one heading. I do not know. There may have been "ghost writers" in those days, as now. The Lord gave Aaron to Moses in an equivalent capacity, and spoke to Israel through Moses by the mouth of Aaron. He may have done the same in other cases. If so, what of it? Shakespeare's literature is neither lost nor dimmed because Bacon may have written it.
Textual corruptions and discrepancies are magnified by the critics, essential spiritual truths are minimized, so destroying, by design or otherwise, confidence in the messages carried by the texts. The critics treasure the husks and throw away the wheat.
But in spite of all this criticism, usually atheistic in its concept, and notwithstanding the corruptions themselves, the Good Old Book stands as a record of God's dealings with and commandments and promises to his children, in their days of righteousness and in their generations of sin. It still, though corrupted, points out the way of righteousness to the man of faith seeking to serve God. It contains some of God's counsel to his children. It has been so treated and esteemed in these talks, along with the other sacred modern scriptures which have been named.
How blessed are we to know that out of our sacred scriptures we may learn the full plan of life and salvation; to know that our salvation and exaltation hereafter depend solely upon our own efforts and lives, under divine guidance and help; to know that we are in no sense dependent upon the goodness someone else has built up in heaven—save only the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ; and to know that we are the full beneficiaries of our own work for ourselves, and that among these works are the unselfish deeds we bestow upon others.
May the Lord give to all of us strength always to live as his scriptures teach, I pray, in the Lord's name. Amen.
1. Moses 5:58-59.
2. Gal. 3:8.
3. John 5:46.
4. Amos 3:7.
5. D.C. 68:4.
19. Mark 7:5-7, 9; Matt. 15:7-9.