Because Mormons are bold enough to announce their belief in an open canon of scripture, traditional Christians are quick to suggest that the Bible does not occupy as prominent a place in the lives of Latter-day Saints as it ought, observed Robert L. Millet at the BYU King James Bible and the Restoration symposium Feb. 23.
"They could not, of course, be more wrong," declared Brother Millet, professor of ancient scripture at BYU.
Quoting Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brother Millet said Mormons revere and love the Bible and that additional LDS scripture, such as the Book of Mormon, supports it rather than substituting for it. Brother Millet emphasized this statement from Elder Ballard: "The more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ."
Observers of Mormonism point out that the Book of Mormon itself explains that "plain and precious truths" were taken away or kept back from the Bible before it was compiled, Brother Millet acknowledged. "The question is not whether there have been scribal errors through the centuries; there have been," he said. "The question is not whether the Bible is the word of God; it is. The question is not whether the Bible can be relied upon with confidence if, in fact, there have been errors in the text; it can."
He said, "We do not believe the Bible must be translated perfectly to be spiritually normative and eternally valuable. Errors in the Bible should not tarnish its image for Latter-day Saints. For that matter, while we accept the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price as holy scripture, we would not rush to proclaim their inerrancy. The marvel is the greater that an infinite and perfect God can work through finite and imperfect humans to deliver His word to His children."
While Joseph Smith believed that the message of the Bible was true and from God, "I'm not so certain he or modern Church leaders would be convinced that every sentence recorded in the testaments necessarily contains God's words, meaning a direct quotation or transcription of divine utterance," Brother Millet said. "It is the spirit of revelation within and resting upon the one called of God that is the energizing force and, in most instances, God places the thought into the mind or heart of the revelator, who then assumes the responsibility to clothe the oracle in language."
While there are times when a prophet records the words of God directly, "very often the still, small voice whispers to the prophet, who then speaks for God," he said. "In short, when God chooses to speak through an individual, that person does not become a mindless ventriloquist, an earthly sound system through which the Almighty can express Himself. Rather, the person becomes enlightened and filled with intelligence or truth."
Quoting Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve, Brother Millet said that for Latter-day Saints, the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge but, rather, what precedes that source; the ultimate knowledge comes by revelation.
"Clearly, many factors impacted the prophetic message: personality, experience, vocabulary, literary talent," Brother Millet remarked. "The word of the Lord as spoken through Isaiah is quite different from the word of the Lord as spoken through Luke, and both are different from that written by Jeremiah or Mark. Further, it's worth noting that stone, leaves, bark, skins, wood, metals, baked clay and papyrus were all used anciently to record inspired messages. The LDS concern with the ancients is not the perfection with which such messages were recorded, but with the inspiration behind the message. More specifically, Latter-day Saints are interested in the fact that the heavens were opened to the ancients, that they had messages to record.
"In other words, knowing that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and the fact that He spoke to them at all, however well or poorly it may have been recorded, attests that He can speak to men and women in the here and now. After all, the Bible is only black ink on white paper until the Spirit of God illuminates its true meaning to us."