30 May 2016

What to Do with the Record of the Jews?

Among the sentiments in the LDS remnant movement that have troubled me is the idea that the Book of Mormon teaches that the Bible is so corrupt it can't be trusted, that there is little to no value in it, that we should focus entirely on the Book of Mormon and other things we call "modern scripture".

Following are the verses from a vision Nephi recorded in 1 Nephi 13:21-29 most commonly referred to when this topic comes up.
21 And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book?
22 And I said unto him: I know not.
23 And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
 24 And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.
 25 Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.
The record of the Jews didn't go to the Gentiles in any volume until after Christ commissioned His disciples to go and preach the gospel, baptize and disciple all nations. Thus, the "book that proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew" includes the writings that have become the New Testament.
 26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
Some have tried to pin the name of a specific denomination on these verses. I'm of the opinion that it refers to any who follow the flesh as opposed to the Son of God. Just as there is only one conspiracy, headed by the adversary, there is only one "Great and Abominable Church", and it stands in opposition to the Church composed of those who love, follow, and know Jesus Christ.
 27 And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.
This is the fruit of following the flesh. Every time.
 28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.
The phrase "gone forth through the hands" indicates translation, as the record came from the twelve apostles in Greek and Aramaic, and could not be received by the Western world at large unless it was translated. The first example of this is the Latin Vulgate Bible. Latin was the ecclesiastical language of the Catholic church, and until roughly 1500AD that was the main way the Bible was disseminated to the world. Check this out (and read that whole page; it's fascinating):
"In the 1490’s another Oxford professor, and the personal physician to King Henry the 7th and 8th, Thomas Linacre, decided to learn Greek. After reading the Gospels in Greek, and comparing it to the Latin Vulgate, he wrote in his diary, “Either this (the original Greek) is not the Gospel… or we are not Christians.” The Latin had become so corrupt that it no longer even preserved the message of the Gospel… yet the Church still threatened to kill anyone who read the scripture in any language other than Latin… though Latin was not an original language of the scriptures."
It seems very likely that this is one of the fulfillments of these verses. The Latin Bible was the dominant (and only legal) Bible for an incredible number of years. Bible translations into other languages were burned, and their translators (mostly) executed for the majority of that time. Now, back to 1 Nephi 13:
 29 And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them."
Now, add to this historical context (i.e. the issues with the Latin Vulgate) this verse from 2 Nephi 33:
"14 And you that will not partake of the goodness of God, and respect the words of the Jews, and also my words, and the words which shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the Lamb of God, behold, I bid you an everlasting farewell, for these words shall condemn you at the last day."
Nephi here, in his final farewell, specifically includes the Old and New Testaments in the scripture that we are to respect (give weight to/take seriously/not treat lightly/etc.), for they have the weight to damn us. (The angel just defined the words of the Jews as those that come through Jesus' twelve apostles in 1 Nephi 13:26.) If you count the Book of Mormon as scripture, you cannot explain this verse away. Nephi unequivocally urges us, in the portion of his record which carries the most weight, to respect the record of the Jews and the words of Christ.

So, this leads us to the question: "Just how accurate is the Bible?"

Well, that depends on the translation, as the record that comes from the Jews is "pure" (1 Nephi 13:25). For example: King James gave his translators a list of fourteen criteria for translation. Some of the criteria addressed practical issues of translation and how to resolve differences amongst the committee. But there were also points that constrained the meaning and ensured the KJV would support the Anglican church (especially #3 and #4 in the above link).

There have been a tremendous number of ancient manuscripts discovered that date back to as early as 100AD (or earlier), and the accuracy of the later manuscripts is pretty much unheard of.

There are quite a few translations available now, in print, online, and via various Bible apps. (I prefer Blue Letter Bible's app, and the YouVersion Bible app from bible.com. Studylight.org is also great.) Those resources allow you to read the English in various translations, compare them, and (with the exception of YouVersion) see what the original texts contained, complete with exhaustive cross-referencing and detailed definitions and usage guides. As I've heard said, "If you've got a Bible, read it." But if you want to get into the Bible in the way that it was intended, then you've got to do some digging.

Do your research on the various translations. Each one has a purpose and each organization has a motivation. Some are heavily biased. Some not so much. Some have great Old Testament renditions, but their New Testament translations are heavily skewed by their bias (Holman Christian Standard Bible, for example). It's on us to look into the translations, to perform our due diligence in digging out the meanings of the various Greek and Hebrew words when we find something that the Holy Spirit points out, and above all, to read the Bible through the lens of the Holy Spirit--and none other. (I've had some great moments where I've been reading, God has whispered something to me, and then as I've done the word studies in the original language, really awesome things have been revealed to me. It's one of my favorite things now.)

The Bible has been a powerful tool in the hand of God in bringing me to know Him so much better. This blog is ample evidence of that. The Old Testament put on display for me the incredible power of God and His constant willingness to show up and work astounding miracles for the wayward and stubborn Israelites. He is every bit as eager to show up and work miracles for me! The New Testament brought into powerful reality the overwhelmingly tender and unbounded love of God, uncovering an understanding of how God sees and responds to me that I had never grasped before. Reading the Bible has blasted traditions of my fathers, has made me question and search and study and has borne sweet, sweet fruit of radically increased faith and a far greater ability to live in the reality of what God has said, instead of my own thinking or ideas or paradigms.

And, if this post does nothing else, please: allow God the chance to use the "record of the Jews" to work miracles in your life, too.