One of the criticisms of the Latter-day Saint (Mormon) faith is based on its 8th Article of Faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly;we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
When critics, especially of the Evangelical kind, come across this statement, they frequently believe it to mean that LDS reject the Bible, and can simply reject parts that supposedly don’t agree with their theology as not being “translated correctly”.
Recently, I began to read a somewhat controversial New York Times bestseller, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why“, by Bart Ehrman (Ph.D and M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). In this book, Ehrman discusses (somewhat briefly) what “scripture” is, the evolution of what was considered as “canon” in Judaism and early Christianity, how manuscripts were copied anciently (i.e. by hand), who the scribes were, and the textual variants found among Biblical manuscripts in various languages (English, Greek, Latin, etc).
What does all of this have to do with the LDS church accepting the Bible as the word of God as it is translated correctly? I think that this article of faith of Mormonism touches on something that many non-Biblical scholar Christians do not realize, or perhaps do not think about: the Bible(s) that we have today is a translation, which was translated from another manuscript that may have also been a translation. When we look at the various English Bibles available, such as the King James Version, the New International Version, the New American Bible, etc., we note that the differences between these translations are not just about “modern English” versus “archiac English”. There are actually differences in certain passages, whether certain words are translated differently, certain sentences may be omitted or added, etc. There are of course differences between the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) and the Masoretic Text (Hebrew version of the Old Testament). There are differences among ancient manuscripts such as the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. In some of these comparisons, we find multiple verses missing, differences in wording (some because of similar spelling in the Greek that was misinterpreted), etc. The “Johannine Comma” is a popular example of extra words appearing in 1 John 5:7-8 that supposedly emphasis the Trinity. These words do not appear in the most ancient manuscripts of 1 John, but were added much later (in fact, for example, the KJV includes the “comma” (phrase), while the NIV does not).
So, when a traditional Christian states that they believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, which Bible are they talking about? Is it the Latin Vulgate, the King James Version, or the original manuscripts? I think that all Christians would agree that originals certainly were inspired. However if what we have today includes additions and substractions caused by various issues throughout the ages, then how can we be certain as to what the original authors really said? Some may counter that sure, there may have been additions and subtractions, however they don’t change the meanings of the overall texts. To me, that misses the entire point: if the original text was inspired, then who are we to say that it doesn’t matter if uninspired changes were introduced, some accidently and some intentionally?
This is why I find the LDS article of faith on accepting the Bible as far as translated correctly extremely insightful. The fact is that Biblical scholars and textual critics aim to find the most ancient manuscripts, comparing them to each other, as well as to our modern translations, understanding how and why they vary. Since we don’t have the original manuscripts, it is especially important for this work to continue, and for modern Christians to realize that the Bible that we read from is not the same as the Bible that your neighbor may be reading, or the same as the Bible that someone in Egypt is reading, or that someone in the 300s was reading.
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the work in Biblical scholarship, it is clear that the Bible has not always been translated correctly (whether intentionally or unintentionally), Greek, Hebrew and Latin manuscripts vary to various degrees (some more serious than others, including additions of verses not found in older manuscripts, or in converse, some older manuscripts subtracted certainv erses) and this is something that all have to come to accept and study. Latter-day Saints therefore are right to qualify their acceptance of the Bible as the word of God in light of the historical realities of Biblical textual scholarship (much of which is done by believers).