Many people who reject the Book of Mormon insist that there is no need for additional scripture or revelation from God, since the modern Bible is perfect, inerrant, and complete. One anti-Mormon ministry mocks the passages in the Book of Mormon where its authors apologize for the possibility of human error in their work, arguing that God doesn’t make mistakes (yes, He’s perfect, but human authors, scribes, translators, and publishers have not yet reached that level). The Bible, we are told, is absolutely free from error – and nothing more is needed.
To those who fulfill Book of Mormon prophecy by saying that they already have a Bible and need nothing more, I would first like to ask, “Which Bible?” Might it be the Armenian Bible, which includes books such as Aseneth and Joseph that are not found in most European Bibles? Will it be the Catholic Bible with its many apocryphal books not found in Protestant Bibles? Perhaps we should use one of two versions of the Ethiopic Bible (the narrower or wider canon) with several books not familiar to most Christians?
But even if we agree upon a given collection of books, such as the standard collections in Protestant Bibles, we must then consider the problem of translations and again ask, “Which Bible?”
In a lesson the other night, just for fun, I handed out several Bible translations and asked participants to read 1 Samuel 13:1. Here are some of the results:
1. Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel,
New International Version:
1. Saul was thirty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years.
New English Bible:
1. Saul was fifty years old when he became King, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.
Contemporary English Version:
1. Saul was a young man when he became king, and he ruled Israel for two years.
The Jerusalem Bible:
1. . . . [yes, the entire verse is missing, with just an ellipsis showing]
New Revised Standard Version (here it is the same as the Revised Standard Version):
1. Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.
Good News Bible:
[The verse is missing: chapter 13 begins with verse 2. Someone has subtracted yet another verse from scripture!]
You can see a few other translations at Bible.cc.
So what’s going on? As is explained in a footnote in some editions, the available Hebrew text for this verse is missing a couple words. The first number is missing entirely, and in the second number, it’s clear that it ends with a two but the first digit is unknown. I like the way the Revised Standard Version puts it: “Saul was . . . years old when he began to reign, and he reigned . . . and two years over Israel.” Other translators made guesses, it seems, to fill in the blanks.
What’s important here is not the fact that the translations differ and involved some degree of guesswork – but that the available Hebrew text itself clearly has problems. How can anyone maintain that it has been preserved without error, without any loss or corruption, when there are many examples like 1 Samuel 13:1 that clearly show corruption of the text, and even the loss of entire words?
True, this verse is not a heavy one in terms of doctrine. But if your rejection of sacred scripture from God in modern times (like the Book of Mormon) is based on the non-Biblical notion that the Bible is complete and perfect, and that no further guidance from God is needed (nor will it be accepted, thank you), then you really need to reconsider your position.
As wonderful as the Bible is, it is not perfect, it is not free from errors, it is not the final authority on all issues: God is! And when we remember that, we might remember that God has never said that He will quit speaking to us. We might realize that it’s possible that God can send prophets and new revelation and new scripture just as He did in the past (like the New Testament – all new scripture to a people who thought they already had the complete word of God). I hope we’ll be open-minded enough to read and ponder the message of The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ – a second witness that verifies the most vital truths of the Bible and confirms the divinity of Jesus Christ.