Other Worldviews

The Bible or the Book of Mormon?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/28/2013

Do you know how to show a Mormon person the difference in reliability between the Bible and the Book of Mormon? Find out here.

The question of the authority of the Bible and its divine inspiration can be stated very simply: Is the Bible a book given by God to man, or is it a book produced by man—and merely by man—about God? Those are the only two options I think we’re faced with. The Bible is either a divine product, or it isn’t a divine product, but a mere product of human thinking. If it isn’t a divine product, then human authorship is the whole story.

The way you can attempt to answer the question, “Is the Bible really inspired?”—does it have a divine origin—is to see whether the Bible has marks of the supernatural.

It isn’t enough to simply assume the Bible’s authority from the beginning. Christians assume from the get-go that the Bible is God’s word, and frequently they won’t take it any further than that. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be good enough for most people. Many non-Christians assume from the get-go the Bible’s not inspired. They revere the book, or respect it in some fashion, but as for it being the word of God? No. It’s written by men and men make mistakes. That’s their view.

Now, I think somebody who takes this view has to at least acknowledge, first of all, that they didn’t actually reason to the conclusion that the Bible was not inspired. Unless, of course, they thought it was reasonable to conclude that since men were involved, the Bible must have errors.

That certainly doesn’t follow, that since human beings may be prone to err, they’re necessarily erring in the things they write about God. It may be that they are, but it doesn’t automatically mean they are. It seems to me you have to look a little further before you can draw that conclusion. You have to look at the information itself. You have to look at the evidence. Men can err, but did they err in this case?

Another thing that this view doesn’t take into consideration is that the Bible itself claims to be God’s word. Now, of course, that doesn’t make it true, per se. We’ve got to go further than the mere claim. But it is significant that many who don’t believe in Christianity still respect the Bible. This book they respect makes this claim about itself over and over again, and if the book is worthy of respect, then certainly the claim is worthy of respect. It’s worthy of careful consideration.

I think the way to answer the question is to see whether the Bible has the mark of the supernatural—whether it has God’s “signature” on it—or not, or whether it simply seems to be a book just given by man, having all the marks of natural human beings, and the limitations thereof, and no sign of the supernatural. That’s the tact I take in my defense for the authority of the Scriptures. I give some reasons why I think the Bible is supernatural and not natural. It’s a book given by God to man, not merely a book by man about God.

But, inevitably, what’s going to happen is, even if you make your case, someone is going to say, “All right, even if I accepted that in the originals—the autographs—we have an accurate representation of God’s word, we don’t have those documents anymore. In fact, they’ve disappeared and now we only have copies of copies of copies of copies.” Or, sometimes people put it this way: “The Bible’s been translated and retranslated so many times we can’t trust what we have now.”

Well, that’s not the truth of the matter. Your Bible—your New American Standard, New International Version, King James, New King James, etc.—is not a translation of a translation of a translation. It’s a translation directly from the best Greek manuscripts we possess. It’s a direct translation from the Greek to the English, a one-step process. So, they miscast the problem. But they still have a legitimate concern about the issue of change.

I addressed this issue in a talk this morning (“Has God Spoken?”), and afterwards a friend told me about his visit to a Mormon temple in Utah, how he was taken aside and interviewed about his own religious beliefs. It was a gentle attempt at evangelizing by a Mormon representative there.

My friend has used Stand to Reason materials and has heard the radio show, and he was ready with some very good responses to the Mormon woman about the authority of the Scriptures. One of the things she came back with is, “Yes, we believe the Bible is inspired insofar as it’s properly translated.”

Now, this is a key point Mormons make, and they make it over and over again. I’m not sure why it’s so important to make that point because it’s uncontroversial. As a Christian, I would have to agree with it. I don’t believe in a Bible that’s improperly translated; I believe in the authority of the Bible if it’s properly translated.

But, you see, Mormons take a further step I don’t take because I know better. They immediately presume, as does the man on the street, that the Bible has been changed down through the ages and that we can’t trust what we have now.

I want to give you a couple of reasons why that objection is disingenuous coming from a Mormon. I want to give you some tools to respond to it.

The Mormons say that the Bible is God’s word insofar as it is properly translated. Certainly, I agree with that. I don’t know how anybody could disagree with it. Why do they make such a fuss over something as obvious as that? Because they’re convinced it isn’t properly translated because the texts we possess have been corrupted through transmission over the years.

Several years ago I was staying with a Mormon family for a couple of days and had an opportunity to check out their bookshelf. I pulled down a doctrinal book. This book wasn’t a popular Mormon treatment, but one of their own theological works written by one of their chief theologians named McConkie I believe.

I paged through it and got to the section on the reliability of the Bible. There I found the rule just as I’ve quoted it above, but was stunned to also find the Bible summarily dismissed in the next sentence. This Mormon theologian claimed—totally contrary to fact—that the Bible has been changed so many times in its copying and recopying down through the years that no one knows what the original was like.

I was actually shocked to see a sophisticated theological work by a principle Mormon theologian offer such an academically lame response to this issue.

This is a question in the field known as “lower criticism,” or “textual criticism.” The goal of the textual critic is to reconstruct ancient manuscripts from surviving copies.

The issue of biblical textual reconstruction has been discussed time and time again by secular scholars. The academic evidence shows it’s an open and shut case, not in favor of the Bible’s corruption, but rather in favor of the Bible’s textual purity.

This Mormon theologian did no homework. None. Zero. Zip. Because any homework in this area reveals quite a different thing—99.8 percent purity of the Scriptures—far better than any other manuscripts from antiquity, bar none.

This misleading approach is appealing to Mormon’s for a reason: They don’t want the Bible passing judgment on their doctrine, because their doctrine doesn’t come from the Bible. It comes from Joseph Smith. And it doesn’t fit the Bible; it contradicts it.

So, the easiest way to deal with this conflict is to give lip service to the authority of the Bible, saying, “Yes we believe it is inspired,” and then they take away with the left hand what they give with the right, “but that doesn’t matter, because we don’t have the inspired Bible anymore. We’ve just got a cut-and-paste version that’s nothing like the original. We do have the Book of Mormon, and the rest of Joseph Smith’s writings, though, and my heart tells me these are inspired by God.”

That’s why you won’t find Mormon doctrines in the Bible. You’ll find them in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price and the writings of Joseph Smith. And you won’t hear Mormons quote the Bible very much, except when it helps their case. Then the Bible suddenly takes on authority.

That’s the first reason why I think Mormonism’s qualifier about the authority of the Bible is disingenuous: When they have a verse that seems to make their case—never mind if they lift it out of context, which they do frequently—then they use it. Otherwise, “It’s not properly translated.”

They’ll point to the book of Ezekiel (37:19), for example, where the Lord talks about combining the stick of Judah with the stick of Joseph. This, they say, is a clear prophecy that the Bible (“the stick of Judah”) is to be joined with the Book of Mormon (“the stick of Joseph”) to comprise the full revelation of God. They ignore, of course, the context itself in which God actually gives the interpretation (v. 21), which has nothing at all to do with the Book of Mormon.

Now, I guess they must believe that, even though the Bible in general can’t be trusted, this particular verse has survived intact and has been translated properly, or else certainly they wouldn’t be quoting from it. Odd.

You see, this is cheating, ladies and gentlemen. When the text speaks against the Mormon view, they dismiss it as not being translated accurately. But when it speaks for their view—at least when they can make it look like it does, on first glance—well, then the Bible’s accurate. That’s cheating.

It’s also cheating because they haven’t shown academically that the manuscripts of the Bible can’t be trusted because of the way they’ve been handed down. You’d think that if they were really concerned about God speaking through the Bible—that the only way to get at God’s word is to have it translated accurately—they would do the homework. After all, if they say it’s God’s word, then you think they’d do the work to find out what has come down intact and what hasn’t survived.

But they don’t do that. In fact, when my friend pointed out to the Mormon that the Bible hasn’t been changed and that it is authoritative, his information was just dismissed. She moved on to something else.

It was just dismissed! You’d think somebody who doesn’t trust the Bible because they think it hasn’t been properly translated, when she’s shown that it can be trusted because it is properly translated, would then say (if they were genuine in their concern here), “Well, I’m glad I’ve learned that! Now I can go to the Scripture with full confidence and draw the truth from it, and I can weigh the Book of Mormon against the Bible (since the Bible came first, after all).” But no, it’s just ignored.

You know, if you’ve talked with Mormons very much about the authority of their documents, when all of their quasi-apologetics for their books have been dismembered (and it’s easy to do), they always fall back on an argument that you cannot dismember: “I believe in my heart that the Book of Mormon is really from God.”

We can respect such a belief. But can you see how, if that’s what one ends up falling back on, it’s disingenuous to pretend like there are evidences that really matter for your view and against the Bible’s authority? If what you end up doing is ignoring contrary evidence, and you finally fall back on a defense that cannot be refuted, even in principle—because I can’t change what you think is happening in your heart—then that shows you don’t really care about the evidence at all. What you care about is protecting your own belief system, whether it’s true or not. That is what’s disingenuous. The evidence ultimately doesn’t seem to matter.

By the way, there’s one other point that could be offered here. When a Mormon says, “The Bible’s inspired insofar as it has been properly translated,” your first question should be, “Do you mean to say that if the Bible has been changed, it shouldn’t be trusted?” They’re going to say, “Of course it shouldn’t be trusted if it’s been changed.” Then ask this question, “How many times has the Book of Mormon been changed?”

The Book of Mormon has been changed hundreds of times, as a point in fact. This is very well documented. We do have the original documents of the Book of Mormon and we have the current ones and there are hundreds of changes. So even by their own rule, the Book of Mormon is a fraud. But that doesn’t matter because Mormons have a burning in their hearts.

And that shows why it’s so dangerous to depend on feelings alone when issues of eternal truth are at stake.