Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Mormon scripture

This is the long overdue second post on Craig Blomberg and Stephen Robinson’s How Wide the Divide: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation. [See the first post.] This post talks about the Mormon view of scripture, with reference to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, volumes of scripture that, along with the Bible, are part of the LDS canon.

It’s worth starting out with a paragraph from their joint conclusion, which emphasizes how similar are the Evangelical and Mormon views of scripture:

Both … agree that all Scripture is “inspired” (theopneustos) of God. Moreover, we are closer to each other in our views of the nature of Scripture than either is to liberal Protestantism, maintaining alike that Scripture is literally true in its teachings, both historically and morally. We hold the same understanding of “inerrancy,” though the LDS would use different terms to say the same things. We agree that the present biblical text is the word of God within the common parameters of the Chicago Statement and the Eighth Article of Faith. At least some Evangelicals believe the canon is open in principle, though virtually all believe it is closed in practice, while Mormons believe the canon to be open in both principle and practice.


As noted, the Mormon canon remains open in practice, although not as open in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century. The most recent addition is “Official Declaration — 2,” added in 1978, announcing the dramatic change in LDS policy as a result of a revelation to senior LDS leaders such that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard to race or color.” The only other addition to the canon in the 20th century is section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants, reporting a vision received by Joseph F. Smith in 1918.

The Evangelical View


Blomberg summarizes the Evangelical view of Scripture as holding that “no ecclesiastical body or individual Christian can make proclamations that are on a par with the authority of Scripture” and that most Evangelicals “would agree that no church hierarchy, pope or anyone else has the right to add to, supercede or contradict the written Word of God” as contained in the Bible. He further explains inerrancy or “verbal, plenary inspiration” as meaning that “the process of inspiration extends to the actual words of the Bible, not just the thoughts and concepts embraced in them” (that’s the verbal part) and “that all sixty-six books in all their parts are inspired” (that’s the plenary part).


Blomberg structures his explanation of inerrancy around the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, produced by a large group of Evangelical scholars in 1978. He quotes and accepts Paul D. Feinberg’s summary of that long statement:

Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with social, physical or life sciences.

Blomberg than adds five qualifications to the statement or to an Evangelical’s present ability to affirm inerrancy: (1) “when all facts are known” (there are some inconsistencies in the text that can’t be resolved at present); (2) “in their original autographs” (not the actual text of the Bible as we have it); (3) “properly interpreted” (requiring “adherence to the standard principles of ‘hermeneutics,'”); (4) “in everything that they affirm” (noting that some cultural assumptions incorporated in biblical writings were not what a writer was trying to affirm or teach); and (5) “whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical or life sciences” (which he notes is the most controvesial of the five qualifications). Depending on your denominational affiliation, you might describe that as an appropriately tailored definition of inerrancy or a carefully hedged definition. In any case, it’s clear that inerrancy is not a simple or straightforward concept.


The Mormon View

Robinson notes that “Latter-day Saints accept the Bible (without the Apocrypha), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price as canonized Scripture and as the word of God to the church and to the world.” He adds that the LDS view takes Scripture “to be literally true,” holding “symbolic, figurative or allegorical interpretation to a minimum, accepting the miraculous events as historical and the moral and ethical teaching as binding and valid.” This view is encapsulated in this statement drawn from the LDS Articles of Faith.

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.


That statement causes Evangelicals a lot of heartache, but when viewed against Blomberg’s five qualifications to the Chicago Statement it seems less objectionable. No one, Evangelical or Mormon, denies there could be incorrect translations or wants to affirm as inspired an incorrect translation. While it’s not explicitly stated, it is certainly true that Mormons believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God only as far as it is translated correctly. In fact, corrections to the text have been made with each successive edition of the Book of Mormon, based on careful review of existing original manuscripts of the English text of the Book of Mormon.

Robinson ties the LDS view of the inerrancy debate to the LDS doctrine of continuous revelation. “For Latter-day Saints, the church’s guarantee of doctrinal correctness lies primarily in the living prophet, and only secondarily in the preservation of the written text. This is, after all, the New Testament model. … [W]hat makes Scripture theopneusos (“inspired,” or “God-breathed”) is not its written character but its revealed character.”


The Same, but Different

In their joint conclusion to the chapter on Scripture, Blomberg and Robinson note that “both Evangelicals and the LDS accept the beliefs and practices of the New Testament saints as normative for the modern church.” Also, “in principle both Evangelicalism and Mormonism ought to be defined by their canonical Scriptures, the Bible and the Standard Works (which includes the Bible), respectively. Supplemental material from either tradition ought not to be presented as the normative word of God or as authoritative beliefs.”

Differences remain, of course. Blomberg and Robinson identify the extent of the canon and the authenticity of the revelation claimed by Joseph Smith and subsequent LDS leaders as obvious points of disagreement. I suspect that for most Evangelicals it is not the actual content of the Book of Mormon that is a problem as much as the idea of the Book of Mormon. I’ll give the final word to Blomberg, who in his own conclusion first applauds Robinson’s rather moderate statement of the LDS position, then sounds his own rather moderate view of Mormon claims.


Since I do not believe that the gift of prophecy has ceased or that God cannot continue to reveal truth to his people at [a] lesser nonscriptural level, I cannot in principle reject Mormonism lock, stock and barrel just because it claims to have received additional prophecy. Even though I cannot accept claims that put this “prophecy” on a par with Scripture, it is surely the case that the LDS provide some important reminders for Evangelicals of wholesome morality and fervent belief through their supposed revelations in areas that agree with the Old and New Testaments as well.

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Clean Cut

posted February 16, 2009 at 12:04 pm

“How Wide The Divide?” was and continues to be a watershed in regards to interfaith understanding. I continue to enthusiastically recommend the book to Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints alike.

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posted February 16, 2009 at 12:34 pm

I absolutely love the book. I have so many evangelical friends and hold them dear to me, yet misguided words can often put a dent in our relationship. I cringe when I hear anyone make fun of or condemn another’s intimate faith. It just isn’t correct human behavior on many levels. This book is a perfect for explaining the differences, yet showing the sameness as it outweighs the differences.
It is a great book to share with others without fear that you are proselyting or condemning, yet dialog can be made and an appreciation for one another can ensue.

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Seth R.

posted February 16, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Problem is, Blomberg’s qualifications on the Chicago Statement pretty much utterly neuter the idea of inerrancy.
Basically, in order to really judge the scriptures correct, you’ll have to know all the facts involved, know the exact original autographs, and then properly interpret them.
In short, you have to pretty much BE omniscient for an inerrant read on the Bible to even be possible. And the Chicago Statement becomes more or less irrelevant.
As Blake Ostler pointedly questioned – “what is left but a pious-sounding noise?”

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posted February 17, 2009 at 12:02 am

There is no denying the differences between Evangelicals and Latter Dy Saints, but those differences are no where near as stark as many would have us believe. If we were to focus more on the similarities (like this article) maybe much of the discord between the two could be bridged.
Great article!

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Mark D.

posted February 17, 2009 at 12:03 am

I believe strict scriptural inerrancy (even as qualified by the Chicago Statement) is a minority position among all Mormons with more than a casual familiarity with Church history and doctrine. We call it the doctrine of continuing revelation for a reason.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that scriptural inerrancy isn’t the working assumption with regard to most passages in actual practice. Innocent until proven guilty, more or less.

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posted February 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Mark, I suspect “innocent until proven guilty” is the common view among Mormons. I personally think it a wise approach myself.

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Your Name

posted February 17, 2009 at 4:55 pm

I appreciate the following, I hope to understand the LDS perspective on scripture….have any GA”s come forward (past or present) to flesh out this thought ??
Robinson ties the LDS view of the inerrancy debate to the LDS doctrine of continuous revelation. “For Latter-day Saints, the church’s guarantee of doctrinal correctness lies primarily in the living prophet, and only secondarily in the preservation of the written text. This is, after all, the New Testament model. … [W]hat makes Scripture theopneusos (“inspired,” or “God-breathed”) is not its written character but its revealed character.”
I certainly don’t agree with the position, but it explains why a thread on almost anything “biblical” can go 50 to 150 posts, and get nowhere……or not so loud…..

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posted February 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Reply to John:
Your argument contains many fallacies that I just had to chuckle to myself. Nowhere in the article above does it say that Evangelicals or Mormons believe in the things you state. The article is discussing belief in the Bible and how can you refute the similarities that both religions believe the Bible to be divinely inspired?
And anyways, you are incorrect on the DNA testing evidence that you claim as fact. The DNA test results are inconclusive and have been unable to track even Jewish people back to their ancestors through the method used.
Perhaps you are the one who is being persuaded by deceitful tactics because I have been to websites like the one you have mentioned above and learned that the creators of websites like that one post items that they themselves know are incorrect to deceive others. Think about who might use some of the tactics you are claiming? You will find many errors that have been acknowledged by Biblical scholars such as Craig Blomberg and others on those websites but the people do not take them down because they simply want to feed the fire.

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Troy Wynn

posted February 17, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Stephen E. Robinson is much too willing to push his ideas toward traditional Christianity. He represents only his own beliefs, which would be foreign to many mainstream Mormons like me.
Inerrancy tends to mean that all knowledge needed for salvation is in the Bible. The Chicago statement says, “We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs,” and “We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.”
That is not what Mormons believe. The Book of Mormon says “there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book” (1 Nephi 13:28); “[and the Lord] shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them” (1 Nephi 13:40).
If essential things were not taken from scripture there would be no need of a restoration, which is one of the essential themes of Mormonism.
I have always believed that Bible to be mostly correct (~90%). But that many “plain and precious things” are missing thus hold only to the Bible will tend to mislead.

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posted February 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

I am sorry to see that you have removed my remarks of yesterday, yet kept a response to it..shame on you.
The book you have reviewed in glowing terms uses word definition manipulations and scripture twisting to make Mormonism seem what it really isn’t.. Christian

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posted February 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Shame on yourself, John, for posting rude and off-topic comments. Go read the rules of conduct set by Beliefnet (there’s a link next to every comment screen) and abide by them if you want to post at this forum. If you don’t, your comments will be delisted — same rules for everyone. It’s not just me — Beliefnet has comment moderators who browse forums and do their own moderating. And no, I don’t have any obligation to go cleanse the entire comment thread of references to your rude and off-topic comments. I have better things to do than clean up your online trash.
And while you’re at it, do a Google search and read up on Ed Decker, the founder of your saintsalive outfit. You can start at the Wikipedia post. You’ll find the lengthy commentary by his ex-wife quite informative. You’ll also find the criticisms of Mr. Decker by other Christian commentators (many of whom are quite critical of Mormonism) rather interesting.

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posted February 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Helen, no you can’t just drop in and post ugly, off-topic comments about Mormonism at this site. If you have that sort of message to broadcast to the world, you can do so somewhere else than in my comments. You can, for example, set up your own website and post to your heart’s content. Or you could purchase advertising to display your message in the ad boxes on this or other Beliefnet pages.
The comments section is for people who want to discuss the subject of the post and who abide by the rules of conduct for the forum. Few people have a problem understanding that. Sorry you don’t get it, but that’s not my problem.

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posted February 18, 2009 at 4:04 pm

this is rather awkward, but I was shocked, and a little offended by the posts of some of my church sibs (using “church” in the broad sense of the word) My , admittedly , weak apology to the LDS audience here, if I were teaching a class in outreach, I would use the posts mentioned as how NOT to do it…. strong convictions do not have to come in that package…in my opinion
thanks, DAVE, for taking out the trash….someone has to

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posted February 19, 2009 at 2:39 pm

This is an interesting article. But my philosophical mind can’t help but wonder something: why should this article presume that the mormon view is consistent? apparently to make a comparison, there must be a consistent view that is compared. but is that presumption justified?
the quote: 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.
one can view this as it is presented here, as a reasonable limit, or, it can be viewed less charitably as license to solve doctrinal issues by insisting on a different translation. Some readers may be familiar with the papyrus that was allegedly translated by Joseph Smith to produce the Book of Abraham. Recent translations have found the papyrus to be nothing more than fairly ordinary funeral and burial texts. no mention of abraham or anything else from the book of abraham. therefore, to insist that the bible is correct “as far as it is translated correctly” seems to hold some texts to one standard and other texts to another. The mormon view cannot be both that only correct translations count AND SIMULTANEOUSLY that revelation and inspiration can float free from the text.

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