Sunday, June 1, 2008

Is the Bible Complete and Sufficient?

I believe the most fundamental difference between the mainstream Protestant view of Christianity and that of Latter-day Saints is what some call call “the authority of scripture.” A Pastor friend of mine once said, “We cannot accept anything that is ‘extra-biblical’ as authoritative. Our creed is the bible, the whole bible and nothing but the bible.”

He and anyone else are welcome to accept such a view, although I believe it to be entirely inconsistent with a correct understanding of God and of historical fact. Let me demonstrate why.

I. First, what is scripture?

This statement from my pastor friend is basically a summarization or restatement of the basic protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. According to this view, all essential belief and practice must be derived directly from the protestant bible (without the apocrypha). This concept originated with certain reformers, but foremost Martin Luther (Bainton, Roland H. The Age of the Reformation. [London: Van Nostrand, 1956], 15). Ironically, Martin Luther had doubts “respecting some of the antilegomena, especially the Epistle of James, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Revelation” (Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, 8 Vol. [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006. reprint], 3:610, fn 1.). In other words, before you can even practice a doctrine of sola scriptura, you have to determine what is scriptura, and Martin Luther, originator of sola scriptura, was unsure as to what was indeed to be included among scripture. By his own private view, accepting James, Hebrews, and Revelation may be accepting something “extra-biblical.”

II. Second, who interprets scripture?

There are many Christian sects that accept the doctrine of sola scriptura but that differ greatly in belief. Here are a few examples:

1. Is man totally depraved or is his nature only partially corrupted?

2. Can salvation, once gained, be lost or is a person “once saved, always saved?”

3. Does predestination dominate over free will, or is free will the center of salvation?

4. Did Christ die for all mankind, including the lost, or is his atonement limited to the saved?

5. Is grace irresistible, or can man continue to fight against God even when God calls him?

These are a few examples of the many doctrinal issues that divide Protestants, although most [all?] accept the sola scriptura doctrine. If all belief is supposed to be derived from scripture alone, how can there be such great divergence in belief? There is obviously a problem of interpretation. Who can authoritatively determine interpretation and thereby belief?

III. Third, is the Bible complete?

In order for the Bible to be the fully and completely authoritative book of scripture, it must be complete. Yet the Bible makes no such claim for itself anywhere. Further, the Bible specifically mentions other books of prophecy that are not found anywhere today.

These books include in the Old Testament time period the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 24:7), the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num. 21:14), the Book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13), the book of Statutes (1 Sam. 10:25), the Book of Enoch (Jude 1:14), the Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), the Book of Nathan the Prophet, and that of Gad the Seer (1 Chr. 29:29), the Book of Ahijah the Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15), the Story of the Prophet Iddo (2 Chr. 13:22), the Book of Jehu (2 Chri. 20:34), the Acts of Uzziah (2 Chr. 26:22), and the Sayings of the Seers (2 Chr. 33:19).

The New Testament mentions other scripture not found in the Bible such as a missing epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9), a missing epistle to the Ephesians (Eph. 3:3), a missing epistle to Laodicea that Paul actually instructs the readers of his epistle to also read (Col 4:16), and a missing epistle of Jude (Jude 1:3).

Not only are there all of these missing books, but Paul, Luke, John and even Jesus mention that there are more teachings which are not written in the Bible. First, in the Gospel of John, usually thought to be the most spiritual gospel written to believers, Jesus said “I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth...” (John 16:12). He had just explained that the spirit of truth or the Comforter could not come until after he had departed (John 16:7). Thus we see that not even Jesus was permitted to teach everything to his disciples since they were not ready. This teaching was to come later. The obvious conclusion is that there are things that Jesus thought his disciples should know but that are not found in any of the four gospels.

If these things are not in the four gospels, are they found somewhere else in the New Testament? If so, what are they and where are they? If we turn to Paul, we see more reluctance to write certain things. “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able” (1 Cor. 3:2). If 1 Corinthians contains only milk, where is the meat? Does Paul anywhere in the New Testament add anything that could be considered “meat” when compared with 1 Corinthians? This is repeated in Hebrews: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age” (Hebrews 5:12-14). So, if these higher concepts are not in the gospels, in 1 Corinthians, or Hebrews, where are they? It would appear that the New Testament contains only "milk," and yet (as pointed out before), this "milk" is interpreted in many different ways by the thousands of competing Protestant denominations!

The reason they were fed with milk and not meat was because they were not spiritually mature. The apostles of Jesus were spiritually mature, however, and they knew the meat. Jesus taught it to them after his resurrection. “[H]e shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Yet, nothing is recorded more than this as to what these “things pertaining to the kingdom of God” are!

According to Clement, as quoted by the earliest and authoritative Christian historian Eusebius (c. 325 AD), Christ did some important teaching after his resurrection. “The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy...” (The Church History of Eusebius, Book II, chapter I in Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry, eds, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Second Series, 14 Vols [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004. reprint],1:104). If this knowledge (gnosis) was passed down orally from Jesus after his resurrection to his apostles and from them to the seventy, where is it today? Does it remain with the Roman Catholics, or was it lost? If everything that is needed were contained in scripture, why would Jesus impart knowledge orally after his resurrection, knowledge that is clearly not recorded in scripture (Acts 1:3)?

Paul and John both wrote that they would give more instructions in persons that they had not given in writing. Some of this must have been very pertinent information since the topics included the resurrection and the Lord’s Supper (See 1 Cor. 11:24; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13-14). There was more to give than what was recorded in scripture. Where is that information today? Do the Catholics have it by tradition, or was it lost? If it was lost, how can it be restored without God calling another “Paul” or “John” to set things in order? For Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith was exactly that.

IV. Scientifically, can we have confidence in the Bible?

I only need to quote two scholars for this topic. First I quote the faithful protestant Christian Philip Schaff.

“The oldest manuscripts of the Bible now extant date no further back than the fourth century, and are very few, and abound in unessential errors and omissions of every kind; and the problem of a critical restoration of the original text is not yet satisfactorily solved, nor can it be more than approximately solved in the absence of the original writings of the apostles” (Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, 8 Vol. [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006. reprint], 3:610).

Next I quote leading New Testament textual scholar Dr. Bart D. Ehrman.

“We do not have the ‘originals’ of any of the books that came to be included in the New Testament, or indeed of any Christian book from antiquity. What we have are copies of the originals or, to be more accurate, copies made from copies of the copies of the copies of the originals. Most of these surviving copies are hundreds of years removed from the originals themselves” (Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities [Oxford, 2003], 217).

In other words, we cannot know exactly what the New Testament originally said simply because there are no originals and the oldest copies are separated from the originals by centuries. We cannot have confidence, scientifically, that even one word found in the New Testament was written by Peter, Paul, John, Luke, Matthew, Mark, Jude, or anyone else. However, scientifically, we could still have high confidence that the books are at least accurate copies of the originals if when comparing the different manuscripts we found internal consistency and accuracy. But does the New Testament pass such a test?

Dr. Ehrman writes,

“The fact that we have thousands of New Testament manuscripts does not in itself mean that we can rest assured that we know what the original text said. If we have very few early copies—in fact, scarcely any—how can we know that the text was not changed significantly before the New Testament began to be reproduced in such large quantities? Most surviving copies were made during the Middle Ages, many of them a thousand years after Paul and his companions had died.

“I should emphasize that it is not simply a matter of scholarly speculation to say that the words of the New Testament were changed in the process of copying. We know that they were changed, because we can compare these 5,400 copies with on another. What is striking is that when we do so, we find that no two copies (except the smallest fragments) agree in all of their wording. There can be only one reason for this. The scribes who copied the texts changed them. Nobody knows for certain how often they changed them, because no one has been able yet to count all of the differences among the manuscripts. Some estimates put the number at around 200,000, others at around 300,000 or more. Perhaps it is simplest to express the figure in comparative terms: There are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament” (Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities [Oxford, 2003], 219).

I should here qualify these statements. I do not believe the Bible to be inaccurate or falsified. The Book of Mormon actually says the Bible is true. The Book of Mormon is, in part, a book written “to the convincing [of men] of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them [i.e. the Bible]” (2 Nephi 3:11). Mormon, the compiler of the Book of Mormon, wrote that “this [the Book of Mormon] is written for the intent that ye may believe [the Bible]” (Mormon 7:9). Because I have received a spiritual witness that the Book of Mormon is true, I also know the Bible is true, notwithstanding the apparent scientific problems of the Bible.

V. How was the canon established?

Once again, I turn to Philip Schaff.

“At the end of the fourth century views still differed in regard to the extent of the canon, or the number of the books which should be acknowledged as divine and authoritative....

“Of the New Testament, in the time of Eusebius, the four Gospels, the Acts, thirteen Epistles of Paul, the first Epistle of John, and the first Epistle of Peter, were universally recognized as canonical, while the Epistle to the Hebrews, the second and third Epistles of John, the second Epistle of Peter, the Epistle of James, and the Epistle of Jude were by many disputed as to their apostolic origin, and the book of Revelation was doubted by reason of its contents. This indecision in reference to the Old Testament Apocrypha prevailed still longer in the Eastern church; but by the middle of the fourth century the seven disputed books of the New Testament were universally acknowledged, and they are included in the lists of the canonical books given by Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Amphilochius of Iconium, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Epiphanius; except that in some cases the Apocalypse is omitted.

“In the Western church the canon of both Testaments was closed at the end of the fourth century through the authority of Jerome (who wavered, however, between critical doubts and the principle of tradition), and more especially of Augustine, who firmly followed the Alexandrian canon of the Septuagint, and the preponderant tradition in reference to the disputed Catholic Epistles and the Revelation; though he himself, in some places, inclines to consider the Old Testament Apocrypha as deutero-canonical books, bearing a subordinate authority. The council of Hippo in 393, and the third (according to another reckoning the sixth) council of Carthage in 397, under the influence of Augustine, who attended both, fixed the catholic canon of the Holy Scriptures, including the Apocrypha of the Old Testament, and prohibited the reading of other books in the churches, excepting the Acts of the Martyrs on their memorial days. These two African councils, with Augustine, give forty-four books as the canonical books of the Old Testament, in the following order: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings (the two of Samuel and the two of Kings), two books of Paralipomena (Chronicles), Job, the Psalms, five books of Solomon, the twelve minor Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobias, Judith, Esther, two books of Ezra, two books of Maccabees. The New Testament canon is the same as ours.

“This decision of the transmarine church however, was subject to ratification; and the concurrence of the Roman see it received when Innocent I. and Gelasius I. (a.d. 414) repeated the same index of biblical books.

“This canon remained undisturbed till the sixteenth century, and was sanctioned by the council of Trent at its fourth session (Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church, 8 Vol. [Peabody: Hendrickson, 2006. reprint], 3:608-610).

In other words, as to what books belonged in the Bible and what the official canon would be, we depend entirely upon the ideas and debates of mortal men. God never spelled out what should or should not be included unless you believe in post-apostolic revelation (which would completely defeat the concept of sola scriptura on its own!).


The doctrine of sola scriptura is problematic and full of contradictions. The Bible itself does not claim to be complete. There are missing books. No New Testament author claimed to be telling all. Further, several promised to tell more in person. There is also evidence for teachings in the early Christian church that were not written, but communicated orally to those who were spiritually mature. Unless passed on in Catholicism, that information must have been lost. Scientifically, the Bible cannot be considered infallible or completely trustworthy. We cannot be certain that even one word of the New Testament is identical to the original manuscripts. Lastly, the canon of scripture as we now have it was a product of debate, speculation, and catholic councils. To accept the Bible as complete is to accept the authority of such debate, after revelation has supposedly ceased.

Latter-day Saints, of course, do not accept sola scriptura. Our belief is based on what the Bible is based on; i.e. revelation from God. We wouldn’t have a Bible if it weren’t for revelation. In order for Christianity to be like it was in apostolic times, it needs to step away from putting too much emphasis on the Bible as the source of all truth. God is the source of all truth, not the Bible! Original Christianity didn’t even have the Bible. The world has the Bible because of the things that were written by those who experienced religion. Spiritual knowledge shouldn’t have to be, or rather, can't be bound in the covers of a book. It is to be found in the spiritual experiences we have ourselves, not in the spiritual experiences of others. We should not have “Bible religions” because the Bible is not religion—it is simply the record of those who had religion. True religion is a living thing. To confine God to past revelation is to place a death sentence on the living God!

I believe that God said it best when he said a day would come when people “shall teach with their learning and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men...Wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost! Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!” (2 Nephi 28:4-5, 26-29)


JayFlow22 said...

Everyone adds to the Bible. It is only if you'll allow God to do so, or if you take upon yourself to do so.
The Roman Catholic Church [the largest group of Christians in the world] has concluded that man’s knowledge of the Gospel must be expanded; while at the same time leaving the deposit of wisdom in the Scriptures unchanged.
Thus, the majority of Christianity has concluded that man, by the exercise of his God-given intellect, may add to the Scriptures. They all unite to say that man may add to it, but God may not.

Andrew I. Miller said...

Interesting point.

The idea of a closed canon itself, is, well... extra-canonical!

BHodges said...

How dare you denigrate the word! ;)

BHodges said...

In a Q&A from Joseph Smith, you can find the following:

"Is not the canon of the Scriptures full?"

If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so.

Andrew I. Miller said...

Thanks, lifeonaplate! That's a classic from Joseph Smith.