During the past several years, scholars, religious leaders, journalists and the general public have steadily shown an increased interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Much of this attention has been focused on the question of whether it is a Christian faith. Central to this inquiry is the Church’s relationship with the Bible. Many have wondered whether Latter-day Saints believe in the Bible at all. Still others have supposed that the Church uses the Bible only when convenient, while shrugging it off as an inessential part of scriptural canon. With so many conflicting voices participating in this discussion, it may seem difficult to know where the Church stands on this issue.
The truth is that the Church reveres the Bible as a sacred volume of scripture. Latter-day Saints cherish its teachings and engage in a lifelong study of its divine wisdom. Moreover, during worship and instruction services the Bible and its teachings are pondered and discussed. To increase biblical understanding, the Church provides extensive resources and tools: lesson manuals, cross-reference materials, Bible maps, a Bible dictionary, and articles in various magazines. Thus, the Bible is much more than simply a collection of antiquated writings and revelations that have only scant relevance to the modern world. On the contrary, it stands in the center of the Latter-day Saints’ spiritual lives.
In a recent sermon, Church apostle Elder M. Russell Ballard characterized the Bible as the “bedrock of all Christianity” and one of the “pillars” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Furthermore, he described the Bible as a miracle: “It is a miracle that the Bible’s 4,000 years of sacred and secular history were recorded and preserved by the prophets, apostles, and inspired churchmen. … It is a miracle that the Bible literally contains within its pages the converting, healing Spirit of Christ, which has turned men’s hearts for centuries, leading them to pray, to choose right paths, and to search to find their Savior.” It instills real, tangible power in the lives of Latter-day Saints and offers practical solutions and spiritual guidance that inspire them to overcome challenges and trials.
There is a broad range of approaches within the vast mosaic of biblical interpretation. For example, biblical inerrancy maintains that the Bible is without error and contradiction; biblical infallibility holds that the Bible is free from errors regarding faith and practice but not necessarily science or history; biblical literalism requires a literal interpretation of events and teachings in the Bible and generally discounts allegory and metaphor; and the “Bible as literature” educational approach extols the literary qualities of the Bible but disregards its miraculous elements.
The Church does not strictly subscribe to any of these interpretive approaches. Rather, in the words of Joseph Smith, it regards the Bible to be the word of God, “as far as it is translated correctly” (8th Article of Faith). Accordingly, Church members believe that during the centuries-long process in which fallible human beings compiled, translated and transcribed the Bible, various errors entered the text. However, this does not override the overwhelming predominance of truth within the Bible. As Elder Ballard noted, “Without the Bible, we would not know of His Church then, nor would we have the fullness of His gospel now.” Part of that fullness is the Bible’s seminal instruction that God reveals Himself to those who seek Him. The Bible is a living invitation to know personally the sacred revelatory experience that fills its pages.
The scriptures, or “standard works,” of the Latter-day Saints comprise the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. According to Elder Ballard, these scriptures constitute a “great, indivisible whole” of God’s revealed word that help humankind understand the past, present and future. The great gospel plan contained in these works does not apply to one generation or one people alone but to all of God’s children throughout all time. Thus, in the words of Elder Ballard, “those who think that one part is more important or more true than the other parts are missing some of the beauty and completeness of the canon of ancient scripture.”
During previous periods of time when God organized His church, He added new revelations to pre-existing scripture, forming a connection between believers of the present and believers of the past. For example, the Old Testament book of Isaiah gives shape and meaning to the Gospel of Matthew. The two revelations need not be viewed as rivals competing with each other: the existence of one does not negate the relevance or legitimacy of the other. This ongoing revelation of scripture gives uniformity and continuity to an unfolding gospel narrative and unites people under one standard of doctrine.
Of all the standard works, the Bible remains the best source for an intimate understanding of the character and personality of Jesus Christ during His mortal mission. While the Old Testament offers a prophetic foretelling of that mission, the New Testament provides an unmatched account of the events, experiences, teachings and personal interactions of Christ. The Book of Mormon strengthens and reinforces His teachings through additional witnesses and provides moving accounts of the personal experiences many individuals had with Him. According to Elder Ballard, “The Book of Mormon does not dilute nor diminish nor de-emphasize the Bible. On the contrary, it expands, extends, and exalts it.”