An intriguing chapter in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (available online) is John Gee’s “The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity” (pp. 163–204). Dr. Gee shows how early Christians were concerned about changes that were already occurring in their texts, and provides extensive information pointing to potential loss or change in scriptural writings in the period predating the earliest manuscripts we now have. Some of this provides support for the prophecy in the Book of Mormon that some plain and precious things in the Old World scriptures would be lost.
In addition to accidental or deliberate changes introduced in the text, Dr. Gee also raises the issue of the change in the language itself, which can result in the introduction of unintended meanings in the text. He gives an example from Romans 10, where the original meaning in Greek may surprise some of those who often use this passage. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Gee’s chapter:
Lexical reinterpretation is the changing of the meanings of words, such as occurred during the second sophistic period.47 Between the time of writing the New Testament and the end of the second century, the meanings of several of the words changed. Examples include the change of the principle meanings of pistis from "collateral, guarantee" to "belief;"48 of pisteuein from "to trust, rely on; entrust, commit, put up collateral" to "to believe;"49 of homologein from "to agree to terms, accept an agreement, enter into a legal contract, promise" to "to confess;"50 of mysterion from "(initiation) rite" to "secret."51 Such changes in language are common in all languages and in all periods, some deliberate and some not. The Christians, like the Jews before them, used the Greek language in an idiosyncratic way that seemed strange to non-Christians around them. For example, both Christians and Jews used the term ouranoi "heavens", the plural of ouranos "sky", as a term for the dwelling place of God, even though Greeks never used the term in the plural.52 In the second century, however, various sects of Christianity began to redefine terminology to mean something different.53 Irenaeus claims that the Valentinians adopted pagan fables "changing . . . the names of the things referred to" to fit into Christian scripture.54 Because the New Testament is usually read with meanings of the second sophistic period and later—meanings which have often changed—the understanding of the text has sometimes been drastically changed. This can be seen in the interpretation of a passage from Paul’s epistle to the Romans:
The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not
"The word is next to you through your mouth and through your heart." That is the word of collateral that we announce, that if you will make an agreement by means of your mouth that Jesus is Lord and put up collateral by means of your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for by means of the heart is collateral put up toward righteousness, and by means of the mouth are terms agreed upon toward
be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
salvation; for the scripture says: "Every one who relies on him will not be disgraced;" because there is no discrimination of Jew or of Greek, for he himself is the Lord of all, generous towards all who invoke him; for "whosoever shall invoke the name of the Lord shall be rescued."
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Romans 10:8–15, KJV, emphasis added)
How therefore shall they invoke him with whom they have no agreement? How shall they make an agreement with him whom they have not obeyed? How shall they obey without one proclaiming? How shall they proclaim if they have not been commissioned? (Romans 10:8–15, author’s translation, emphasis added)
47. In general, this topic has not received adequate treatment. Preliminary steps in this direction are Hugh Nibley, "Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum," in When the Lights Went Out (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001), 75–76 n 61; Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, 88. For analysis of some of the dynamics involved, see Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else," in The Ancient State (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 243–86.
48. H. G. Liddell, R. Scott, H. S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940; hereafter LSJ), 1408.
49. LSJ 407–8.
50. LSJ 1226.
51. LSJ 1156.
52. LSJ 1273. The distinction between singular and plural in the Greek does not usually appear in the King James Version.
53. James Allen provides an interesting argument that the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten did the same thing, and that his Amarna revolution was not so much monotheistic as naturalistic and ultimately atheistic. See James P. Allen, "The Natural Philosophy of Akhenaten," in Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt, ed. William Kelly Simpson (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1989), 89–101.
54. Irenaeus, Contra Haereses 2.14.1 (ANF 1:376).
Sounds like some covenant themes in Paul’s writings may have been diluted with a change in the meaning of some Greek terms. The LDS nuance, as I understand it, is that we gain access to the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship with Christ, in which there are agreed-upon terms that we keep in order to receive (not earn!) the full blessings of the Atonement. And naturally, the covenant relationship – as taught so frequently and plainly in the Old and New Testaments – involves the concept of obedience. We covenant to follow Christ and, yes, strive to obey him – as sinister or incomprehensible as that sounds to some of our detractors. It is an original early Christian concept, straight from the lips of Christ Himself (Matthew 19:17: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,” for example), the preaching of which can get you branded as a non-Christian cultist these days. In our local newspaper, for example, a letter-to-the-editor a number of years ago from a minister explained why we are non-Christian, citing as prima facie evidence our Third Article of Faith: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” It was the word “obedience” that proved we didn’t really accept Christ as our Savior, and thus weren’t Christian. Ouch.