“We believe in the Bible so far as it is translated correctly. The Bible has been corrupted by men over the years and cannot be trusted by itself as the Word of God.” This is the bold claim made by Mormons in an effort to subvert the reliability of the Bible and to prop up their claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth and should be seen as the restoration of God’s Word to people. The problems with this claim are too numerous to tackle in one article, so I will do my best to restate some things I have said in conversations with Mormon missionaries. I will also include some information that I gave to the Mormons in order to show them that the Bible is reliable.
The first question I asked after the Mormons made the claim that the Bible was trustworthy insofar as it is translated correctly was, “How do you know which parts are translated correctly and which parts aren’t translated correctly?” I am not joking when I say that their reply was, “That’s a good question. We don’t really know.” I was stunned but also very appreciative of their honesty. I then said, “Okay, as far as I am concerned, if any part of the Bible is wrong, corrupted, or untrustworthy, then you have to throw the whole thing out.” The reality is that we should not trust anything as the Word of God if it has been corrupted or made untrustworthy. That would seem to indicate that God doesn’t have enough sovereignty over his Word in order to preserve it.
It is very common for those who get into conversations with Mormons on this matter to jump right to the contradictions and issues with the Book of Mormon. This has its place, but lets first address the claim that the Bible is corrupt. I am not an expert in biblical transmission, but I know enough to at least be convinced myself that the Bible is totally and completely reliable. And this is exactly where I took the Mormons to show them that the Bible is reliable. I am not going to get into every detail, but there is a brief and easy-to-read article here on Bible transmission from Bible.org.
As is relates to reliable manuscripts, there is no other document that even comes close to the Bible. The Bible has tens of thousands of manuscripts from various text types. You would think that with the number of manuscripts from a number of text types that it would surely lead to significant changes and variations within the biblical text, however, it has proven quite the opposite. No doubt there are variations within the text types, but nothing that has lead to or demanded a change in absolute doctrinal issues. These changes are often noted with some sort of indicator that would lead to a foot note that says something like, “some manuscripts read…”
These were the kinds of things relating to Bible transmission that I explained to the Mormons the first time we met, and by the time I was a ways into it they had to leave. Before they left, they asked if I could explain more about the transmission of the Bible when they came back the next time. Thankfully, there was a next time and I decided to start with the scribal tradition of the Masoretes. You can read about some of the rigorous requirements for copying the biblical text under the Masoretic scribal tradition in section B of the article linked above on Bible.org. Needless to say, I used to make my students do a project that required them to copy a Bible passage using just a few of the standards from the Masoretic scribal tradition, and it was a project that no student has ever forgotten.
Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts in existence were from the Masoretes from around 900 A.D. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, there were Old Testament texts found that date back to as early as 200 B.C. What they realized when they compared those early texts to those of the Masorets is that the texts were virtually the same in every way. This goes to show how careful the Masoretes were in copying the text and that their texts were completely reliable without the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But, it sure is nice to have those scrolls.
In terms of the New Testament, some of the thousands of manuscripts we have date back to the beginning of the second century. The Rylands Library Papyrus P52 is the oldest manuscript fragment of the New Testament that contains a small portion of John’s Gospel and dates to 100-125 A.D. If the dating of of John’s Gospel is correct then that would put the fragment within five to thirty years of its original penning. While many of the early manuscripts of the New Testament are dated later than this, what shows their reliability is their consistency throughout the years of transmission.
If the biblical text has been tampered with, corrupted, or changed in any significant way from the originals, it would have had to be one of the greatest and most successful conspiracies of all time that only the Mormons have noticed. As it relates to the Mormon claim that the Bible is corrupted, I am taken back to the question of how they know which parts of the Bible have been corrupted, because if they are going to use the Bible at all and if it has been corrupted, they would have to know what parts have been tainted. My guess is that, according to them, any part of the Bible that conflicts with Mormon doctrine has been corrupted. This would be difficult for at least one reason. This would mean that the purpose of corrupting the Bible would be to undermine Mormon doctrine. It is hard to spot any hint of explicit Mormon doctrine prior to 1830 when the Mormon church was officially organized. None of the thousands of manuscript copies from the different text types hints at any of the alleged corruption. With the insurmountable manuscript evidence that shows the Bible is reliable, and considering the incredible conspiracy that would have to take place to replace Mormon doctrine in the Bible without anyone noticing until 1830 makes the Mormon claim that the Bible has been corrupted far too fantastic.
There is another significant problem with the Mormon claim that the Bible has been corrupted, especially as it relates to the BOM, that I will illustrate with part of the conversation I had with Mormon missionaries that also included a former Mormon bishop. I said, “In light of you claiming that the Bible has been corrupted despite the overwhelming manuscript evidence against the claim, the Book of Mormon claims to be the most correct book on earth, yet there is absolutely no manuscript support to show that it is the same or at least similar to the original source because the golden plates were taken back to heaven (as the story goes).” The former bishop’s response was, “I have an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon if you would like to see it.” I said, “That’s great, but that is not what I am talking about. I may have a 1611 edition of the King James Bible, but that doesn’t prove that it is the same or similar to the original source texts.” My point is not is not to turn the focus to the BOM. My point is that it’s a pretty audacious thing to claim that the Bible is corrupt despite the manuscript evidence against the claim while at the same time having to come to terms with the fact that the BOM has absolutely no original source text to compare to in order to know that it is reliable.
What I have stated above is just a synopsis of the conversation I had with Mormon missionaries with just some of the evidence I showed to make the case that the Bible is reliable. In the end, I asked them plainly, “After showing you the support for the reliability of the Bible, do you trust that the Bible is actually reliable?” I was stunned when both of them shook their heads in affirmation that they indeed believed that the Bible was reliable. I can’t take credit for the progress because I was merely presenting evidence that God, in his sovereignty, displayed for us to know that his Word is trustworthy. From there, we encouraged the missionaries to read the Bible as if it can be fully trusted. Then, from there, I just prayed that the Holy Spirit would work.
If you are a Christian and are reading this, please understand that Mormons are just as lost as the rest of the world and need the true gospel that the Bible speaks of. We were only able to get to this point with the Mormon missionaries because we did our best to develop trust. We brought them into our home, fed them, and treated them as people who needed the real Jesus. As a result, our conversations with them happened on almost a weekly basis for close to a year. Being confrontational and staying on the offensive does not get anywhere. Knowing the flaws of Mormonism is helpful to a degree, but keep in mind that most people who come out of Mormonism become atheist or agnostic because they are told their whole lives that if Mormonism isn’t true then nothing is. We have to be ready to give them something instead.
If, by chance, you are Mormon and reading this, it is perfectly appropriate to seek out answers to know that something is true besides just praying about it. When we pray to God to know that something is true and evidence comes along that affirms or denies something being true, it is perfectly acceptable to look into it. Having faith does not mean we accept something to be true despite the lack of evidence. We must consider the role that reason plays with faith. But, I also know what you are up against. I asked the Mormon missionaries what would happen if they rejected Mormonism. What they said was heart-breaking. They said they would lose their family, their friends, their community, and ultimately their sense of belonging with everything they have ever known. This is why I know it is so hard for you to think of what would happen if you began to ask questions that might display doubt. I can assure you that the Jesus of the Bible is infinitely worth every bit of loss that would you would incur for rejecting the Jesus of Mormonism. Paul says something like this in Philippians 3:8 where he says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order than I may gain Christ.”