Editor’s Note: November 24 is International Day of the Bible. In celebration, readers and believers of the good book are asked to share something about it on social media sometime throughout the day.
The Bible—a Gift from God
The Bible is a priceless treasure. It is a miracle—a genuine marvelous work and a wonder.
- It took centuries to write,
- Contains the essential elements of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind,
- Was the first book ever printed on a printing press (the Gutenberg press in 1455 AD),
- Was among the first books entered into computers to create text-indexing and text-retrieval software (Wordcruncher created at Brigham Young University in the 1980s),
- Is printed in more languages than any other book in the world,
- Contains some of the world’s most quoted phrases and authors,
- Is an annual best-seller—outselling Harry Potter and the Twilight series every year!
But best of all—it comes with a longer than lifetime guarantee—the only book that pays readers the highest royalties.
The LDS Church’s respect for the Bible is deep and profound: “We love and revere the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. It is always identified first in our canon, our standard works.”(1) Representing the doctrine of the entire Church, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Twelve Apostles said in a General Conference: “I bear solemn witness that we are true and full believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His revealed word through the Holy Bible. We not only believe the Bible—we strive to follow its precepts and to teach its message.”(2)
The Miracle of the Bible’s Genesis
It’s no easy task to produce scripture. In 384 A.D. Pope Damasus commissioned his linguistically skilled secretary (Jerome, a Greek, Hebrew and Latin scholar), to produce a Latin translation of the Bible. Although he began the task with much reticence and reluctance, Jerome spent the remainder of his life engaged in the work and eventually produced the Latin Vulgate, from which the modern Catholic Bible (the Douay-Rheims translation) originates.
Jerome expressed his greatest fears about translating God’s words: “You have urged me to make a new work out of an old, and to sit in judgment, as it were, on the copies of the scriptures which are now scattered throughout the whole world; and, inasmuch as they differ from one another, you would have me decide which of them agree with the Greek original. This is a labor of piety, but at the same time one of dangerous presumption; for in judging others, I will myself be judged by all; and how dare I change the language of the world’s old age and carry it back to the days of its childhood? Who is there, whether learned or unlearned, who, when he takes up the volume in his hands and discovers that what he reads therein does not agree with what he is accustomed to, will not break out at once in a loud voice and call me a sacrilegious forger, for daring to add something to the ancient books, to make changes and corrections in them?”(3)
Jerome felt his translating efforts were important, yet inferior to the originals. He compared his efforts to trying to recreate the original Tabernacle of Moses with poorer materials. He said: “I beg you, my reader, not to suppose that my labors are in any sense intended to disparage the ancient translators. For in the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can: some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goat’s hair. And yet the Apostle [Paul] pronounces our more contemptible parts the more necessary. Accordingly, the beauty of the whole tabernacle and of its various parts … was covered with skins and goats’ hair cloths, and so the heat of the sun and the injurious rain were warded off by those things which were of less account.”(4)
The fact that the words of God were received by prophets, recorded, and then preserved through generations of time is an absolute miracle. The process of transcribing revelation, transmitting texts from one generation to the next, translating texts into multiple languages, and publishing the word of God, has cost not just time and money, but the best blood of Saints—including (and most significantly) the redeeming blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Believe the Bible
Latter-day Saints don’t just believe in the Bible, we believe the Bible. We believe the people and prophets are real, the history it describes is authentic, and the testimonies it provides of Jesus Christ are true. Every Latter-Day Saint Prophet from Joseph Smith to our beloved President Thomas S. Monson, have all born witness of the Bible’s truthfulness, quoted its teachings, and testified of its eternal truths. In answer to the question “Do you believe the Bible?” the Prophet Joseph answered boldly that “we believe the Bible,” while “other sects profess to believe their interpretations of the Bible, and their creeds.”(5) That was an inspired observation. As the Prophet Joseph Smith declared in 1842, one of the thirteen primary articles of our faith is “We believe the Bible” (8th Article of Faith).
Divisive views about the Bible continue today. There is an “ongoing international controversy pitting biblical minimalists—a relative small but influential group of scholars who find little or no history recorded in the Scriptures—against those who consider the Bible a generally reliable window on the past.”(6)
Even the world’s largest body of Bible scholars (with over 10,000 Bible professors from universities all over the world), refer to themselves as the SBL—the Society of Biblical Literature, not the Society of Bible Believers! I’ve been to many of their meetings and the vast majority view the Bible as a mere collection of stories, myths and legends, meant to teach meaningful life-lessons, but not necessarily a reflection of true history. The editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review, for example, observed that among these modern Bible scholars: “Few of us accept the story of Adam and Eve, for example, as literally true. Yet, even for us, the Bible remains a religious document. What if there were no patriarchal age, no Exodus from Egypt, no conquest of the Promised Land as recounted in the Book of Joshua? What if, as some scholars now contend, there was no David or Solomon?”(7)
Prophets commanded to record God’s words were assured that their work would stand (see Mormon’s concerns and the Lord’s response in Ether 12:23-26, for example). Moses was also promised that although his account of the creation of the world would suffer textual losses—in the latter days, his record would be restored to its original in order to further God’s work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of all mankind (see Moses 1:39). The Savior declared to him: “And now, Moses, my son, I will speak unto thee concerning this earth upon which thou standest; and thou shalt write the things which I shall speak. And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men—among as many as shall believe.” (Moses 1:40-41)
Nephi was similarly shown in vision that over time, many plain and precious truths would be “taken away” and other truths would be “kept back” from books in the Bible (see 1 Nephi 13:26, 32, 34, 40). But an angel assured him that in the latter days, “other books” would be brought forth, and that “these last records…shall establish the truth of the first [the books of the Bible] 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; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.” (1 Nephi 13:39-40)
As Dr. Hugh Nibley pointed out, these other books have come and are still coming: “The substantial historicity of biblical tradition has been vindicated [by the discovery of parallel ancient documents] to an extant which few unprejudiced bystanders could…have deemed possible a generation ago.”(8)
In just the last few decades, there has a literal flood of ancient near-eastern historical and religious documents unearthed containing confirming writings verifying the authenticity of the ancient biblical record. “They’re not found as separate documents,” Dr. Nibley wrote, “but in batches—whole libraries turn up.” And their discoveries are not coincidental. “These new finds are the originals, and we’ve never had anything like this happen before….The people who hid them were aware that they were hiding them for a long term, a long rest, to come forth at a later time, so that when they would come forth they would not be distorted and changed.”(9)
Dr. Nibley pointed out that one scholar, Edward Meyer, announced in 1908 that “’twenty-five years ago there existed not a single historical document’ to confirm the early history of Israel as given in the Bible. It was quite suddenly in the late 1800s that such documents began to appear, and then it was like the coming of our spring floods, with great collections of stuff—no mere trickle—pouring out year after year in breathtaking sequence that appears not yet to have reached its crest.”(10)
Dr. Nibley further added, “The texts that have turned up with such dramatic suddenness in the past few years, as if a signal had been given, are the first ancient documents which have survived not by accident but by design. They were hidden away on purpose, to be dug up at a later date.”(11)
Of course, besides these extra-biblical sources, Latter-Day Saints have additional books of scripture that bear witness the Bible is true (the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Joseph Smith Translation of the King James Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants).
The Bible as a Guide
We do indeed believe the Bible is real, but we also believe that the Bible teaches the covenants and ordinances essential for eternal life, illuminates the strait and narrow path leading to exaltation in God’s presence, and gives hope for a better world and a place at the right hand of God, to all who bear burdens and feel they are forever coming short of the glory of God. As the Psalmist surmised: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105).
As the Savior declared several times during his mortal ministry, those who believe the Bible and teach its truths to others will receive eternal blessings: “Whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled, the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven” (see KJV Matthew 5:19 and the JST of that verse as cited here from JST Matthew 5:21).
The Bible contains the words of God and the words of many others. More important than the words, are the doctrines that are contained in the Bible. As Brigham Young noted, “I have heard some make the broad assertion that every word within the lids of the Bible was the word of God. I have said to them, “You have never read the Bible, have you?” “O, yes, and I believe every word in it is the word of God.” Well, I believe that the Bible contains the word of God, and the words of good men and the words of bad men; the words of good angels and the words of bad angels and words of the devil; and also the words uttered by the ass when he rebuked the prophet in his madness. I believe the words of the Bible are just what they are; but aside from that I believe the doctrines concerning salvation contained in that book are true, and that their observance will elevate any people, nation or family that dwells on the face of the earth. The doctrines contained in the Bible will lift to a superior condition all who observe them; they will impart to them knowledge, wisdom, charity, fill them with compassion and cause them to feel after the wants of those who are in distress, or in painful or degraded circumstances.”(12)
The Bible contains a cosmology of all mankind and of mankind’s eternal journey—capturing the depth and breadth of the human experience. It illustrates God’s dealings with His children throughout history, and the cosmic battle between good and evil, waged in the pre-mortal world, which now continues here in mortality. But even more, the Bible testifies that God has always been in control and that in the end, evil will be totally overcome (see Revelation 20-21), the Savior will return, and the earth will enjoy His presence for a thousand year Garden-of-Eden-like experience.
The numerous journeys in the Bible serve as a reminder that we’re all on a cosmic journey to get back into God’s presence. For those with eyes to see and minds to understand, the Bible is rich with symbolism that can assist us in this journey. Nephi’s hero is Moses (see 1 Nephi 4:2-3). He compares his family’s journey in the wilderness to Moses and the Children of Israel exiting Egypt, traveling through the wilderness and eventually arriving at a Promised Land. This chart is not original with me, but consider these comparisons:
There truly is relevancy within antiquity! When we begin to read and understand the words and stories of the Bible, and discover their relevance to our lives, we’ll feel as Nephi did who exclaimed: “My soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord.” (2 Ne. 4:15–16)
What can we learn from Moses’ journey and our need to follow the prophets who are guiding us back to God (to the promised land)? The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “Search the scriptures…. and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. … For when men receive their instruction from Him that made them, they know how He will save them. … Again we say: Search the Scriptures, search the Prophets and learn what portion of them belongs to you.”(13)
Just as Nephi discovered, the exodus from Egypt and Wilderness Wanderings of Israel is a Type of the Mortal Sojourn of Covenant Saints. Consider these symbols:
The Written Word – How the Bible Came to be in English
According to the Joseph Smith Translation of the KJV Bible, Adam and Eve were the first commanded to keep sacred records: “And then began these men [in the days of Adam and Eve] to call upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord blessed them; And a book of remembrance was kept, in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the spirit of inspiration; And by them their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled.” (Moses 6:4-6)
This continued for succeeding generations. The Bible Jesus knew (the Old Testament) was handwritten on scrolls made from goatskins or sheepskins sewn together to make rolls ten to thirty feet long. It was first recorded in Hebrew and by the time of Jesus Christ, scrolls were translated into Greek and some Aramaic. The scrolls were kept in the synagogues. The oldest copy of the Old Testament was written 200 B.C. but was only recently discovered (the Dead Sea Scrolls originating from the Qumran community).
The first Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament is called the “LXX” (Seventy), or Septuagint. About 100 B.C., seventy-two scholars were called by the Greek King of Egypt (Ptolemy II) to render the Old Testament books into Greek. The Septuagint contains all thirty-nine of the KJV Old Testament books, as well as the fourteen books of the Apocrypha (fourteen books written between the time of the Old and New Testaments).
As mentioned earlier, Pope Damascus persuaded Eusebius Sofronius Hieronymous (St. Jerome) to translate scriptures into Latin. Jerome worked for over twenty years (mostly in a monastery in Bethlehem) to translate from original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek ) into everyday Latin. The word “Vulgate” comes from “vulgus” or the “common, ordinary” language of the day). He first translated the whole Bible from Greek into Latin, then made a fresh translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. Jerome’s translation is still the official text of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the 14th Century, John Wycliff believed the Catholic church had been corrupted by it’s worldly possessions and needed to be reformed. He believed that “scripture” was more authoritative than church “traditions” (decrees of the popes, etc.) In 1380 A.D. Wycliff began a hand-written translation of the Latin Vulgate Bible into the English of his day. A second revision of Wycliff’s Bible was completed a short time later by John Purvey. The 1382 Wycliffe Bible was the first complete Bible rendered into English, earning him the moniker “Morningstar of the Reformation.”
Church authorities were threatened by his translation and tried to destroy it. Anyone found with pages was burned at the stake. Wycliffe was arrested, but died in 1384 before he could be punished. Church authorities were still so angry, that in 1428, fourty-four years later, they ordered his body to be dug up and burned. His ashes were thrown into a nearby stream. But Wycliffe’s translation continued to be used through the 15th Century.
In 1525 A.D., William Tyndale produced the first English Bible translated directly from the Greek and Hebrew, rather than from the Latin Vulgate. He is thus the Father of the English Bible. In speaking to a learned man who had told Tyndale, “We were better to be without God’s law than the Pope’s.” Tyndale replied: “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, shall know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Tyndale was burned at the stake by Henry VIII. While being strangled and then burned, he prayed “Lord, open Thou the King of England’s eyes.” Both of Tyndale’s pleas were answered. Many of the succeeding translations of the scriptures (which were endorsed by Henry VIII, including the Coverdale Bible, the Matthew’s Bible by John Rogers, and the Great Bible by Coverdale) relied heavily upon Tyndale’s work, as does the King James Version (printed later in 1611). And as for the bold declaration that a “simple ploughboy” would one day read the scriptures and know them, the Prophet Joseph Smith, a very humble farm-hand living in upstate New York, read and re-read James 1:5-6 in the King James Version—which contains Tyndale’s translation of those verses! His discovery led to the Restoration of the Gospel. (See Joseph Smith-History 1:10-20.)
The English Bible gave rise to great movements in literature as well as the Protestant Reformation across the world. Martin Luther’s translation into German would fire the flames of the Reformation with his 95 scriptural objections to Church practices. Later, the Geneva Bible (translated in Geneva, Switzerland in 1560 A.D.) would become the source for William Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays, and would be the Bible Governor William Bradford carried across the ocean on the Mayflower (his original Geneva Bible is on display at Yale University).
In 1611, the masterful King James Bible, authorized by King James I, translated by a team of fifty-four scholars under the direction of Richard Bancroft (the Bishop of London) would draw upon all previous translations in order to produce a Bible in English that would not contain the objectionable marginal notes of the Geneva Bible, and which would “sing” when read over the pulpit. It stands as a literary masterpiece, and captured the English language at its zenith. Try reading this verse out loud and experience the Bible the way the King James translators meant it to be experienced: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Here is the title page to the 1611 first edition of the KJV Authorized Version by Cornelius Boel. Sadly, this title page has been removed from almost all printings of the King James Bible. It shows the Apostles Peter and Paul seated centrally above the central text, flanked by Moses and Aaron. In the four corners sit Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, authors of the four gospels, with their symbolic animals. The rest of the Apostles (with Judas facing away) stand around Peter and Paul.
Why the King James Version?
Of all the modern translations of the Bible, the Latter-Day Saints continue to use the King James Version. In 1992, the First Presidency of the Church explained why:
“Since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used the King James Version of the Bible for English-speaking members.
“The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts. ‘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.’ (A of F 1:8.)
“Many versions of the Bible are available today. Unfortunately, no original manuscripts of any portion of the Bible are available for comparison to determine the most accurate version. However, the Lord has revealed clearly the doctrines of the gospel in these latter-days. The most reliable way to measure the accuracy of any biblical passage is not by comparing different texts, but by comparison with the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelations.
“While other Bible versions may be easier to read than the King James Version, in doctrinal matters latter-day revelation supports the King James Version in preference to other English translations. All of the Presidents of the Church, beginning with the Prophet Joseph Smith, have supported the King James Version by encouraging its continued use in the Church. In light of all the above, it is the English language Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“The LDS edition of the Bible (1979) contains the King James Version supplemented and clarified by footnotes, study aids, and cross-references to the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These four books are the standard works of the Church. We encourage all members to have their own copies of the complete standard works and to use them prayerfully in regular personal and family study, and in Church meetings and assignments.”
Sincerely your brethren,
Ezra Taft Benson
Gordon B. Hinckley
Thomas S. Monson
(Ensign, August 1992.)
As the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “He who reads it [the Bible] oftenest will like it best, and he who is acquainted with it, will know the hand wherever he can see it.”(14) As we read it, we will come to know the hand of the Lord among all His children in all ages of time, as well as in our own lives in these modern times.
- Ensign, May 2007, 82.
- See Frederick C. Grant, Translating the Bible [Greenwich, Conn: The Seabury Press, 1961], pp. 36-37.
- Grant, pp. 41-42.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 119.
- Jeffery L. Sheler, “The Fight for History,” U.S. News and World Report, 24 December 2001.
- Biblical Archaeology Review, July/Aug 2001, p. 59, Editor Hershel Shanks.
- Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 52.
- Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, pp. 120-121.
- Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, pp. 11-13.
- Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, p. 74.
- Journal of Discourses, 13:175; 29 May 1870.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, pp. 11–12.
- History of the Church, 2:14.